Its football, on a Saturday night, the Riders are opening the season, at home, against the arch rival Bombers... simply put if you have a voice on Sunday morning there is something wrong with your circuitry. I have been pumped for this game for a long, long time. The preseason game gave us a small taste but nothing compares to Rider game day when its for real.
Winnipeg started last season on fire but ended with barely a whimper. Their O-line was a train wreck (thanks in large part to Joe Mack's inability to manager talent... its not like that was his job or anything) and they also had embarrassingly bad defense... particularly run defense. They were easier to beat on the ground than a CFL drug screening program. But they've vastly improved their OL with additions of Picard, Stanley Bryant and draft pick Suhk Chung. It's ironic that Suhk is a key to improving the team given that in previous years they had more suck than they knew what to do with. They've also jettisoned Gary Etcheverry for the more reliable and fundamentally not insane Richie Hall. So admittedly they are a vastly improved team. But are they ready to content with the big boys yet? I don't think so. I think they've improved to the point where they can go toe to toe with most teams but they aren't quite there yet.
Offensively we need to attack Sam Hurl and that linebacking core. You can bet Richie will be dead set on proving you can't run all over the Bombers so I don't expect the run game to be a huge part of what we do but I would run at him early and often. I would also use RBs out of the backfield and WRs coming across in motion to try and get favourable match-ups on Hurl. Chris Randle (a converted DB playing LB now) is a top cover guy so he's a guy I'd look to run it at so we aren't playing to his strength. We have no Dressler but I'm sure if Ryan Smith just wore a #7 jersey most people wouldn't notice. A big key will be if our revamped OL can stand up to a pretty strong Winnipeg DL. Stating the obvious here but if Durant has time he will eat that defense alive. I expect we will need to use some screens and quick hitters to ease the pressure off of him. Medium passes and crossers to attack the middle of the field would be good to. Aside from Randle I'm not sold on Winnipeg's other LBs and they will be missing Maurice Leggett (one of the top safeties in the league) so that should help open up the middle too.
Defensively, I expect Willy to come out guns blazing and go on the attack early. Our secondary had better have their heads in the game from the first snap. It's no secret that our D-line is an intimidating force and that most teams would prefer to not them them pin their ears back and attack their QB (they do a good enough job of that regardless). That means Paris Cotton will see the ball lots. This is where the value of having a true middle linebacker should pay off. Between our DL, Emry and Clark, I think we should be able to hold the run in check and force Willy to throw. Willy is a good QB and improving steadily but with the pressure our front 4 can bring I don't think he can succeed in a hostile environment if he is forced to throw a lot. With Maze and Brown at HB we have as solid a combo as there is in the CFL. Not having Brack will hurt but we don't need MacDougall to be a superstar, just be solid and keep the plays in front of him. Hell if Scott Gordon can make a career as a safety surely MacDougall can be useful for one game. My bet is Hall and Chick force Willy into at least 2 turnovers.
Here's a fun fact Chamblin is 3-0 is season openers and has won those games by a combined score of 113-44!!! We have dominated opening day under him. I expect this game to be a very close game, we may even be behind at half time. But I think we have the edge at QB, D-line and LB and in the end, the Riders will prevail.
Riders by a Taj Smith TD.
See you in the stands. Let rock the stadium so much that we prematurely start the demolition process... given the current state of Winnipeg's "new" stadium, any visiting fans won't even notice the difference.