Friday, November 7, 2014

Riders vs. Eskimos: Regular Season Finale

Saturday the regular season will come to a close and the Riders hope that their current losing skid will come to an end as well as they host the 2nd place Eskimos.

Doing a game preview for the last week of the regular season as about as difficult as doing one for a preseason game. A bunch of starters will be rested and the teams generally don’t care about the results. Only one of the games on this week’s schedule features a match-up where both teams actually care… and we are not one of those match-ups. As you can see there is a reason TSN doesn’t employ me to write the narratives for CFL commercials.

The outcome of the BC game on Friday night will dictate just how meaningful this game is to the Riders. If BC wins, we are headed East for the playoffs. If BC wins we have a chance to stay West with a victory. Essentially we will be left with option to “do your best to stay west” or “do the least to head east”. Logic would dictate East being the preferred option as Edmonton is a more formidable opponent than anything the East has. That said, we have played like garbage out East this year (and that’s putting it nicely) and generally seem to play western opponents with more intensity. So I’m not sure that there is a clear cut preferred route (especially with Mike Reilly’s health up in the air). I am of the opinion that we should be playing to win this game and let the chips fall where they may in terms of opponent next week.

Standings-wise the game may be meaningless but I don’t for a second believe that winning this game is not important. We are a team that has forgotten how to win. Our last victory was September 21 when we barely beat the lowly RedBlacks. Our last victory before that… September 7th against Winnipeg. Our last victory over a playoff-bound team… August 24th over the Lions. So anyone who is truly confident in our ability to magically rediscover how to win come playoff time is relying mostly on blind faith (and possibly alcohol). In all phases of the game (not just QB), we are not playing at a high enough level to succeed in the postseason. We have seen flashes… let’s not forget we went toe to toe with the #1 and #2 teams in the CFL and had chances to beat both of them. But shoulda, woulda and coulda have a cousin, his name is nobody gives a crap. Winning is all that matters and Saturday the Riders have a chance to go out and prove that they are indeed a team that can win.

All the talk in Riderville is of course the Darian Durant watch. He is practicing, there is a remote chance he activated for spot action this weekend and a somewhat better chance he plays in the playoffs. Not to downplay the importance of the return of our franchise player but he is the least of my concerns this week. I have long been of the opinion that he won’t play again this year. If he does, it’s a massive bonus but I am not counting on that and neither should the team. We need to prove we can win with Joseph at the helm. And the thing is I think we can. The Riders have played some great football at times with Joseph under centre (as I’ve said a remotely competent QB makes all the difference). Our problem has been that our inability to keep up that level of play for 4 quarters.

Offensively the key on Saturday will be spreading the ball around. Last game, Joseph and the offense were effective early when he involved everyone in the passing game. Things deteriorated late in the game when Joseph completely locked onto Getzlaf and Bagg and we abandoned the run. We are not a super powered offense but we do have the talent to be effective is we just spread the ball around enough to keep the defense from keying in on exactly what we are doing. Also let’s not over complicate things. Joseph has shown a good arm but we are a team that is most successful when we pound teams on the ground. Our starting OL should be back so let’s revive the run game.

Defensively, having to deal with Nichols as opposed to Reilly is a huge difference. Nichols is nowhere near as mobile or good as Reilly. Key will be limiting John White (which is becoming a pretty tough task). If we can force Nichols to throw, either the pressure from our front 4 will get to him or he will make errant passes. We are likely to see a lot of Pat White too. Which really flips things as he is a very effective runner but a so-so passer. Playing contain on him will be key as he doesn’t scare me if he’s forced to pass consistently. Hard to say how much we will see of guys like Bowman and White. I’m expecting a lot of rotation with the Esks wanting to limit the expose to risk for their offensive stars. 

Sounds like Neal Hughes will be back which should improve our blocking but more importantly our special teams (a major reason we lost to the Esks last time).

A loss is not catastrophic but I think this team really needs a win to get that monkey off our back and regain our confidence heading into the playoffs. For me this game comes down to the care factor… the Esks don’t care at all, we care somewhat and are playing at home. If for no other reason than that I think we will win. There is a lot of talent and a lot of pride on that team and I think we will see both on full display.

Riders by 7

With that I will leave you to carefully contemplate the pros and cons of stocking up on drink tokens in case of a price increase next year.

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