Friday the Riders take on the Eskimos at Commonwealth. Both teams are 3-2 and looking to earn a share of first place with BC. Of course last time we played the Esks, the fans were almost treated to the lowest scoring game since the introduction of the forward pass. With any luck the Esks will pick up right where they left off and our coaches will tell the players that the fourth quarter has been eliminated and replaced with a really long 3rd quarter.
It’s an interesting match-up. The Riders could be 5-0 if not for 2 epic fourth quarter collapses and the Esks could be 4-1 if not for the fact that they chose to put their fate in the hands of Steven Jyles. If you predicted the Riders and Esks would be dominant forces in the West prior to the season, then you obviously have one hell of a dealer.
I hate to bring up the Ricky Ray thing again since that’s been beaten to death by the media but good lord, can you imagine how good this team would be if they had a competent QB?! Their defense is arguably the best in the league at this point. For how good they are playing the Esks would honestly be better off most games to just kick the ball on first down and let the defense win the game for them.
And therein lays the biggest challenge for the Riders, handling that ferocious Esk D. I won’t lie when Stubler took off over the offseason I assumed they would regress a great deal but they have certainly proven me wrong. Hell they are so far outperforming the Stubler led D of last year. They lead the league in turnovers and are allowing a microscopic 15.8 points per game (there is a chance Jyles might give up more points to us than the D). That said, injuries are taking their toll on the highly touted font 4 of Edmonton. Sewell, Robinson and most importantly Howard will sit out… and that right there represents a third of the Esks’ sacks so far. Williams and Laurent are still there so our O-line will have their work cut out but it should be moderately easier than last time.
The key to victory for the offense is follow the blue print of last game… don’t turn the ball over. In all honesty the Esk offense is awful so as long as we don’t hand them the ball repeatedly even a mediocre offensive showing combined with our talented special teams will be enough to win (remember our first meeting?). Normally I would recommend going to the swing passes to Dressler and other low percentage passes in this case but JC Sheritt is a demon at busting those up so they will be of limited value. A strong dose of Sheets (you hear that Bob Dyce? Run the damn ball!!!! Especially in the second half) mixed with some increased use of the wideouts (Hill or Smith or, even god forbid, Sisco) should work early and eventually open things up for Dressler and Getzlaf later. Edmonton likes to bring the pressure so hot routes and quick reads will be important for Durant. Also it would really make me feel a lot better if for just one game we could stop using the empty backfield as our base formation.
We are averaging 30 points per game… even half that much will be enough to beat the Esks. We also have the least turnovers and without turnovers the Esks have no shot at winning.
Defensively, the key will be don’t give up in the 4th… that goes for both coaches and players. As I mentioned, the Esk offense is about as intimidating as non-African marathon runner. They have 7… count that 7 offensive TDs on the year and have only put up more than 1 offensive TD in 2 games this season. Their leading receiver… is Hugh freaking Charles! Their most productive actual receiver just cracked 200 yards (Dressler damn near did that in the first game of the season). They are the lowest scoring offense outside of the Bombers (and by a very narrow margin I might add). They have the third worse run game. People this is not an offense than can win anything if the defense and special teams don’t gift them the ball in FG range… and even then Jyles will find a way to screw things up.
We have Russ back at half which moves Maze back to CB which will dramatically improve our secondary. Though that will be slightly offset by the fact that Nick Graham will be manning the other corner… well to be more accurate he will be hopelessly trailing whatever receiver he was supposed to be covering. The good news is Jyles is a terrible QB so maybe the combination of Jyles’ errant throws and Graham’s errant coverage will inadvertently result in a pick.
Eliminate Charles, get pressure up front and force Jyles to throw and this should be a very manageable match-up for the D. It’s not like they are going to repeatedly drive the field on us unless we give up the big play.
I know the game will actually be a lot tougher and tightly contested than it looks on paper but still this is not a game we should lose. I mean the Esks managed to lose to Winnipeg for goodness sake.
I’m expecting a very slow, grinding defensive showdown type game that will have all the entertainment value of the world series of chess but I could care less as long as we win.
Riders by 10..