It’s weird to be into October and be facing a team for the first time all season (or at least it seems weird... I’m too lazy to check and see if it’s happened before). But that’s what we get on Thanksgiving Monday when the 7-6 Riders travel to Toronto to take on the 7-6 Argos. While this game will be a huge deal for us Rider fans, despite the fact that the Maple Leafs are locked out, the Blue Jays are no longer playing and the Raptors haven’t started, the Argos still rank somewhere behind elementary school red rover and seniors bowling league in the hierarchy of local sports.
The big question heading into Monday’s match-up is whether Ricky Ray will be healthy enough to return. Coach Chamblin said it will not affect the team’s preparations but it will definitely affect the game. I mean one is a hall of fame candidate and the other would only be a hall candidate if there was a wing for clipboard holding... or least outstanding Buono QB recruits. Some may point to Jackson’s last game as a sign he can be effective but I’ll remind you that it was against Winnipeg and the Argos’ mascot could probably have been just as effective a QB in that situation.
Actually regardless of which QB is under centre I’m not overly concerned. For one, Toronto just doesn’t score a lot of points. They have scored the least TDs of any team not named Winnipeg and are the 3rd lowest scoring offense in the CFL. They have been relying on good defense and a ton of FGs... and in an unfortunate coincidence they also currently have the least accurate kicker (not a great combo). Also, all signs point to Chad Kackert missing the game due to injury meaning Gerald Riggs will get the call. Given that we have handled the likes of Cornish and Harris just fine in recent weeks, Riggs (who essentially amounts to the Argos’ 3rd string RB) does not scare me.
Two guys the defense will have to keep in check are Chad Owens (who Ricky Ray has suddenly molded into an impact receiver) and Andre Durie (who is just one of those unheralded guys who is dangerous when he touches the ball. Our secondary should be up to the challenge. The task for the front 7 will depend on the QB. Ray lives on quick accurate passes, key is harassing him relentlessly (like we did with Lulay last week). If Jarious is in (and that’s what I’m expecting), he has 2 moves chuck it deep and run. That means the key for the front 7 is keeping him contained and forcing him to try and beat us through the air. As long as we don’t give up the big play, I have no doubt that Jackson will not be able to lead repeated sustained drives against us.
Our D has been playing phenomenal of late. We are #2 in terms of points allowed, rush yards allowed and pass yards allowed. I foresee a low scoring game on the Argos’ part.
Offensively it will be a lot tougher. In what should come as no surprise, Chris Jones has put in place a solid defense and it’s a stereotypical Jones D... high risk, high reward. They lead the league in turnovers created (including an amazing 20 INTs) but are middle of the pack in terms of yards and points allowed. Their strength is against the pass where there are allowing a league low 56% pass completion rate. Up front they are not so effective, they are dead last in the league in sacks and are #5 against the run. Their achilles heel though is the fact that they show a complete inability to avoid taking penalties. They are averaging over 100 penalty yards per game (which makes it really astonishing that they have a winning record). They have more penalty yards than rushing yards. It’s a by-product of the Chris Jones scheme though, as in Calgary, they play aggressive, in your face, man coverage in the secondary and sometimes it leads to picks but just as often leads to PI calls.
The Riders need to keep building on the offensive success of the past few weeks. That all starts with a reliable playmaker stepping up to take the place of Jack Sanders. It’s no coincidence that our offense got out of its funk when a weapon not named Sheets or Dressler emerged. We now need someone else to step up, West, Carr, Foster if healthy... don’t care who just somebody. OK that’s not entirely accurate I want it to be someone not named Smith, McHenry or Hargreaves.
Offensively we need to start with a heavy dose of Sheets. Argos are vulnerable to the run and we need to exploit that, plus Sheets is kinda good (for all the Cornish hype, Sheets has as many TDs and more yards from scrimmage). We also need to continue to lean on Dressler. Not sure if Durant is ready to run yet but that would certainly help, if not at least he has proven that he can be damn effective from the pocket. We need to take shots downfield to try and stretch the D and draw some of those PI calls the Argos like to handout. That said we can’t be careless about the shots we take, the Argos are very adept at turning off target throws into turnovers. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT even think about attempting the wide-side out to McHenry! It would be an act of charity to the Argos and we wouldn’t even get a tax receipt for it. Younger is a veteran safety so unfortunately I don’t see us embarrassing him like we did Muamba. Need to come up with a new plan. Those short passes that get Dressler the ball in space should be effective as should running two receivers to the middle on medium to deep routes to make Younger think about which to cover.
I’m expecting a low scoring, grinding type game between 2 great defenses and 2 offenses missing some key playmakers but I see the Riders pulling out the victory: our defense is better than their defense; we are starting our top QB and RB, they are starting the 2nd and 3rd stringer respectively; we are on a hot streak winning 4 of our last 5 with the last 2 coming against 2 of the better teams in the league, they are 1 for their last 3 with the lone win coming against the hapless bombers.
Its Jarious Jackson people! It would be a kick in the nuts to beat Lulay and then turnaround and lose to a slightly more intelligent version of Michael Bishop.
Riders by a Korey Sheets TD.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.