Thursday night your undefeated Saskatchewan Roughriders open the final season at old Mosaic Stadium. They will host the Argonauts under the lights… at least assuming no confetti canons blow the power again. It’s the home opener, it’s a night game and Friday is a stat holiday… the atmosphere in the stadium should be electric… and inebriated.
This will be the first meaningful action for the newly assembled Rider roster (at least the parts of the roster that Jones doesn’t change between now and kickoff). Questions abound on offense and defense. About the only 2 things we are reasonably convinced of is that it can’t possibly be worse than last year and Jones will be wearing black. They will be facing a Toronto team that is fresh off getting embarrassed by Hamilton in their home opener. You can bet Milanovich and Ray will be anxious to get back in the win column.
Offensively we don’t get an easy start as they will be facing Rich Stubler, one of the best defensive coaches in the league. The good news is that the personnel at his disposal is not as top tier as he had in Calgary. The secondary features 2 rookies and their starting MLB got injured in game 1. All the chatter centres around Durant but for me the #1 thing is for our O-line to be strong in the trenches. Their success will go a long way to determining our fate this year. They need to give Durant time and they need to power our run game. Durant is a competitor and will want to come out guns blazing but I would rather see us lean on the run game early to take the pressure off him and open up the passing game for him later in the game. I see Bagg being used extensively. He’ll be the new safety blanket for DD on second down. Running and short passes early will open up deep shots to Chiles and Roosevelt later.
Defensively the prospect of Ricky Ray and Toronto’s big 3 receivers against our secondary is concerning. That said I think Toronto is in a bit of a conundrum. Their best chance to beat us is through the air (I have repeatedly professed my love for our front 7). But in order to take advantage of that they need to expose a weakness of theirs… pass protection. That O-line gave up 6 sacks to Hamilton despite the fact that Ted Laurent missed the game due to injury. Had Laurent played, Ray may be dead. If they let Cappy and Lemon start pinning theirs ears back then they will be giving up a lot more sacks (particularly if Milanovich is stupid enough to only run 3 times again). The logical adjustment will be to focus on short passes to guys like Whitaker, Coombs and Durie, which is what I would expect them to do. The quick passes will keep our pass rushers from impacting things and those guys can chew up the YAC yards. Sound tackling will be a must. Also our DBs can’t get lazy in covering the deep routes, one guy cheating up short is all it takes for Ray to find a guy for six (I’m looking in your direction Gainey). I also imagine they will run a bit more but keep in mind that in 2015 the only team to run the ball less than Toronto was the Birmingham Barracudas. In fact, since taking over in Toronto, Milanovich has been dead last in rushing attempts all but one season. So the run concerns me about as much as deciding what colour to wear on Thursday.
I’m on record as saying I think we get 3 wins in the first half of the season but I think this will be one of those wins. I like how we stack up in the trenches and I think that will be a big factor in this game. It won’t be easy (do the Riders ever do things the easy way?). Forecast calls for mostly ineffective Argo O with intermittent bursts of long passes and 100% chance of me cursing at at least 2 of our DBs. I think our offense will start slow which will put a damper on the raucous crowd but the D with force a turnover and the O will punch it in at some point in the second quarter and it will be game on.
I say we go up two scores late and manage to piss away that lead but win a nail bitter in the end.
Riders by 3
I am jacked to be back in the stands and hear them filled with thunderous cheering as opposed to the quiet disappointed muttering that dominated last year. Bring Em Out! Bring Em Out!!