Saturday the 6-1 Riders travel to Edmonton for the 2nd time this season to play the 1-6 Eskimos. Traditionally Commonwealth is a place where the Riders find it hard to win but this season it is the Esks who finding it hard to win there. In fact, Eskimo fans haven’t witnessed a home win since Oct 13 of last year (when they beat us coincidentally). Edmonton is yet another team that we should beat but doing so damn sure won’t be easy. The fact that we struggled against the Als last week should help us stay focused and not take our opponents too lightly.
In the season opener, we thoroughly embarrassed the Esks in all phases of the game. For them to be any more embarrassed they would have had to lose their clothing or change their name to Blue Bombers. They have been improving steadily over the last few games though so I don’t see the win being as easy to come by this time around.
From a player perspective, I actually don’t think the Esks are that bad of a team. You can see Reilly developing into a decent QB and they have talent at pretty much every position (minus a crap OL and an unreliable kicker). Their biggest issue is that I’m not convinced Kavis Reed has any clue about football. His team is undisciplined (despite the threat of consequences), underperforming on D and seem to find a new way to embarrass themselves each game. There was the game where they changed QBs every second play, the abysmal clock management that lost them the Montreal game, or last week when they lined up for a game losing FG attempt only to have Kavis save things by running out onto the field to distract the refs… and they still looked lost after that. Honestly if I just add the circus music to that highlight reel I’d win $10,000 for sure. I really believe the Esks could be contenders if they had a competent coach. Fortunately for the rest of the West Division, they don’t.
Defensively they should be looking for a refund on all the $$$ they invested in their D-line because they have been woefully underperforming (who would have thought a unit coached by Greg Marshall would ever be described as underperforming?). The D-line is also a big reason why the Esks have the worst run defense in the CFL. Kory Sheets, meet the worst run defense who also no longer has JC Sheritt wreaking havoc in the middle. This is just the match-up Sheets is gonna love coming off a lowly 74 yard game (talk about altered expectations, there were years when 74 would have marked a good day rushing for us, now it’s disappointing). Game plan should be simple: run until they prove they can stop it and spread the ball around the field. The Esks secondary isn’t anything special. Only Winnipeg has allowed more points so this should be a good chance for Durant to get back on track. Only twice this season has the Esks D allowed under 30 pts… both occurred in torrential downpours, making Mother Nature their leading candidate for Defensive MVP this season.
On defense we need to be prepared for an air show. The Esks live and die on airing it out. They have no run game… or rather they inexplicably choose to have no run game. In their only win this season they managed 123 yards rushing from their RBs, in every other loss they have failed eclipse 65 yards rushing from Charles/White. Mike Reilly is the extent of their run game. Part of it is their aforementioned awful OL (John Chick meet Matt O’Donnell playing tackle). Part of it is that they just choose not to run. Hugh Charles is averaging just 10 touches per game… Kory Sheets calls that a light 3rd quarter. Charles has the ability to score at any time so we need to stay disciplined against the run but in all honesty it shouldn’t be a big concern.
Through the air is where this one will be decided. Reilly loves to throw so our DBs better be ready. The primary concern is Fred Stamps who leads the league in receiving and in is arguably the best receiver in the league at this point. Limiting him should be priority #1. I assume Dwight Anderson will be tasked with that assignment (which gives me cause for some concern). Cary Koch is also developing nicely into a scoring threat (remember when we chose to let him leave via free agency in favour of keeping Efrem the Rabbit?). The Esks also like to use Nate Coehoorn as an outlet on the wide side so we can’t give him too much of a cushion out there. With Macho’s closing speed I’d be tempted to match him up on Coehoorn and let him bait Reilly into throwing a pick.
A big key will be taking advantage of the favourable match-up of our DL on their OL. We should be able to dominate the trenches and harass Reilly. Reilly is developing but he’s still relatively inexperienced and a risk taker. Risk taker forced to throw under duress should lead to bad throws and INTs. After that embarrassing pick 6 to Rey Williams in Week 1, I expect Reilly to direct all his throws away from #48 just to be safe.
A quick mention of special teams, assuming Jock Sanders remembers to actually catch the ball this week, we should have the edge in the return game. As for kicking, Milo has not missed and Grant Shaw seems to honour his role in the Ricky Ray trade by missing a FG for every incompletion Ray throws (actually Ray’s accuracy % is better than Shaw’s).
Esks will make a game of it, I will spend a portion of Saturday cursing out the secondary for not covering Fred Stamps but in the end a solid outing for Durant, a defensive TD and typical Kory Sheets performance will win out.
Riders by 10.