Sunday the Riders host the 1-2 Ti-Cats looking to end a winless start to the season and finally give the fans something to cheer about at Mosaic Stadium rather than just covering the stands with our tears… and curse words. For all the lamenting about the start to our season, if we win (and that’s a big if I realize), Hamilton (aka the unquestioned superpower in the East coming into the season) will drop to 1 and 3. Bottom line is the post-game news conference will feature one of Angry Kent Austin or Angry Corey Chamblin (good time to be a reporter I guess).
It will be an interesting match as the Riders and their #1 ranked offense face off against the Ti-cat defense which has allowed the least yards of any team. They are allowing a microscopic 68 yards/game rushing and are #2 against the pass. It will be interesting to see how that holds up against the powerhouse combo of Messam and Allen which is chewing up over 160 yards per game. What I’ll be curious to watch is how Orlando Steinhauer game plans for the Riders. He likes to send a lot pressure and do it frequently. That would likely be unwise against the quick release pass game of Kevin Glenn and the ability of Messam catching out of the backfield. Will he dial back the pressure and force us to make plays or will be play his game and hope we buckle?
We finally get some good news on the injury front as both Ryan Smith and Nic Demski will play. Depending on your opinion of Taj Smith you may also view us shutting him down as good news (also curious to see if his December court date suddenly gets moved up). As good as that defense is (and it is damn good), I don’t think we should try and get fancy. Our offense it built on running the ball well and spreading passes around to everyone (including the RBs). It will likely be very tough running for Messam/Allen (I don’t see us getting close to our 160 yd/game average) but we need to remain committed to it. We may need to use quick passes to Dressler/Smith/Getz to open up the run lanes. One thing we do need to fix is our slow starts. We have only 1 first quarter TD and 2 FGs so far this season… given our ability to epically collapse defensively late in games, building a large lead early would be helpful.
Our defense is a perennial concern a) because I’m never sure if we will be able to find enough healthy people to actually field one and b) because even our relatively healthy D has been horrible. We are now down 3 of our 5 starting defensive backs, replaced by Hollins, Tisdale and Pep Suber. Zach Collaros leads a potent passing attack but if you look closer at things you will find that strong defense and special teams are masking a lot of offensive issues in Hamilton. The Ticats defense and special teams have a combined 5 TDs… the offense has just 4. Part of the offensive struggles are due to the fact that they have no run game (ranking dead last with 62 yards per game). In fact their running backs have a total of just 27 carries this season (by contrast ours have 72 carries). Their offense is simply way way too pass-centric (I find typing these last couple lines ironic given the preseason concerns over Chapdelaine being too pass-centric). They do get CJ Gable back this game which should jump start that run game (at least until he gets hurt again).
We really need our D-line to step up if we have any hope of winning. Hamilton’s O-line is not that great (allowing the second most sacks thus far) and if they want to keep throwing way more than they should our D-line needs to make them pay by harassing Collaros. Assuming Hamilton is aware of the existence of game film I imagine they will try to test our ability to contain with Collaros running the ball (we had some minor issues there last game). I imagine they are also smart enough to test Pep Suber (likely with Bakari Grant). We have just 2 turnovers in 4 games… if we can’t generate at least a 3rd we will be dropping to 0 and 5.
If goes without saying also that Brandon Banks is dangerous. He has 2 kick return TDs and has had 2 more called back due to penalties. Our cover teams better be rock solid in their assignments… and we should probably find ways to no kick the ball in Banks’ direction.
I have gone back and forth a lot between thinking we will lose and thinking this will be the game where things finally go right. My head says take Hamilton. They have a great D and are getting healthy (Gable and Norwood will be back). By contrast we have a terrible D and have had so many injuries they are considering adding a hospital ward to the new stadium.
But my heart says that despite all logic we will find a way to win at home. The return of Smith and Demski will give us a boost (though the boost would admittedly be bigger if they played D) and we have been so close week in week out. I wouldn’t wager any money on this but I’m going with my gut.
Riders by a rushing TD.