Riders 17 - Argos 30
In a telling sign that last season pulled fans down to rock bottom, the prevailing sentiment among people I've spoken too since the season opener is "that was actually pretty good"... this despite the fact that we lost. I find it a bit weird. I mean there have wins where people were more upset than they were at this game ("we should have won by more", "there was too much showboating, show some professionalism", "there was not enough showboating, show some emotion", "the fact that Chris Szarka is not the focal point of our offense is a travesty" and so on). But the sentiment is generally positive at least for now.
And why not? What we saw on Thursday was pretty much what we expected... a team that looked like it had been blown up and rebuilt from scratch. There will be mistakes, there will be growing pains but we seem to be headed in a positive direction. Also on the positive side, our star receiver didn't knock down a coach, our coach didn't execute a dive worthy of a berth in the Rio Olympics and we are not the dumpster fire that is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Actually I think people are upbeat because if you takeaway two plays, we win that game. Take away that long punt return that put our defense in an awful spot and Bryant Moniz channelling his inner Tino Sunseri, that takes 14 points off the board and has us squeaking out a narrow victory. In fact, take away a predictably rough first quarter and the score was 17-16 for us over the final 3 quarters. Of course moral victories are worth about as much as my stash of Club Z points (does anyone get that reference?) and in the end we lost (again) but there was a lot of positive stuff to build on from that game. That said, after watching the Argos for 2 weeks they certainly are not a top end team.
Offensively, we are very much a work in progress. Durant threw for over 300 yards which is good but he'll be the first to admit there's a lot of room to improve. He through what should have been 2 picks sixes had Toronto had any ability to catch, he missed a wide open Rob Bagg a couple of times and by the end it was painfully obvious that every pass was going to Roosevelt. Don't get me wrong Roosevelt is a great player but it would help if the defense at least had the illusion they had to cover someone else. I thought Steele put in a good performance. I also thought the O-line did a decent job (giving up just one sack). I had a mild panic attack when Coleman went down. Had I been coaching I may have pulled Durant just to be safe but it wasn't a jail break when Hazime was briefly in so that was nice.
Defensively I was actually very happy. There was of course the long TD to Hazelton where Dixon got burned like a pasty skinned ginger who stayed in the sun too long but you have to expect these things when you have new guys in the secondary (especially with Dixon playing halfback). But aside from that one play the defense held Ricky Ray to 130 other yards and no second half TDs. We will certainly play better offenses than Toronto but you have to be very happy with how this unit played in their first game. They will get better as thay secondary starts to gel. One name you didn't hear at all was Brandon McDonald and given that he was playing halfback that is a good sign.
I still hate losing and the fact is the Riders didn't do enough to win. But the Riders gave us something in that game that we haven't had in a while... hope. Better days are coming in Riderville. Though given that our next 3 opponents are Edmonton, BC, Ottawa, it may be a bit longer before that hope materializes into that elusive win.
Other random thoughts:
- Attendance was pretty poor considering it was the final home opener. They announced 29,000 but that was clearly tickets as there was no way actual attendance was close to that high.
- That said, I thought the Riders did a piss poor job of the pregame festivities. Someone should tell them that if you spend weeks pumping up the "last home opener" you should actually do something different than what has been done at every single game for the past number of years. The only notable thing about Thursday's intro was how fast the anthem singer powered through O'Canada (record time, dude had places to be). They failed to make the game "special" in my opinion.
- I'll end with a commentary on the whole Lemon trade. I wish it didn't have to come to this (especially after giving him an $85k signing bonus) but all things considered we have the depth to withstand losing him and actually got a really good return considering we were forced into dealing him midseason. Sewell adds needed OL depth and given that I currently have zero confidence in any Rider QB not named Darian, Gale is welcome competition.
- I have openly expressed my concern with our OL depth but in the past 2 weeks the Riders have added Josiah St John, Dillon Guy and Matt Sewell. That certainly gives it a big boost.