Friday night, Chris Jones leads the Riders in Edmonton for a match-up with the team he won a Grey Cup with and then left before the confetti had even settled. It was like the sporting equivalent of a one night stand. “Look this has been great but I’m not really a spend the night kinda guy and besides, I gotta get up early for work tomorrow and also… there’s someone else”. Predictably it intensified an already budding rivalry. So expect the home crowd to be a little extra jacked up and looking to stick it to their old coach. Both teams enter this game looking for their first win of the season.
We have a pretty small body of work to judge the 2016 Esks on as they’ve only played one game. The early observations though pretty much coincide with what was expected. The offense under Maas may actually be more potent than last year. The defense… well it looked terrible. While the loss of Jones is certainly a factor in that, the bigger factor is the loss of Grymes, Ojo, McCoil and Foster. That is a ton of talent to just lose all at once (hell that is probably 2-3 times the talent we had on defense total last season). To be fair their only game was against arguably the top offense in the CFL so they certainly aren’t a trainwreck… but still they looked bad. They allowed over 500 passing yards and allowed an eye popping 80% of passes to be completed. It honestly made me check to make sure it was Benevides calling the D and not Corey Chamblin.
Offensively, I would follow the Ottawa blue print and go on the aerial attack. The secondary will improve but it’s currently their weak point. Now I don’t mean just recklessly throwing deep bombs all night. We need to get guys like Bagg and Lawrence more heavily involved and not just lock in Roosevelt (though I fully expect him to crack 100 in this). We need to work some short crossers, swing passes and layered routes to make the new guys in that secondary have to think and make decisions. That said we can’t become one dimensional. There’s too much talent in that d-line to let them pin their ears back. Runs and short passes will help take pressure of them.
Defensively, this could get ugly. I saw some great things against Toronto but let’s be honest, Toronto’s offense has looked marginal at best. This will be an infinitely tougher test. This is a pick your poison scenario. Too much focus on shutting down Walker/Bowman and John White will run all over us. Too much focus on shutting down the run will leave many 1 on 1 chances for Walker and Bowman (which does not bode well for us). Given the choice though, I think priority 1 needs to be keeping White in check. They have a good O-line so our D-line will need to step up their game and create pressure as well as keep blockers from getting to the second level. The loss of Williams hurts but of our starting 4 he is the guy we can most afford to lose. A combo of Leonard (because, hey why not?) land Kashama ike fills that spot. The other thing our front 4 needs to be aware of is keeping Reilly contained. He’s dangerous with his legs whether he’s running or just extending plays. This could be a game where Kevin Francis’ inexperience really gets exposed. We will need his help over top to help keep Walker and Bowman somewhat in check. I imagine Maas is smart enough to run plays where 2 guys go deep and Francis is forced to choose.
I actually expect our offense to have a good game. Edmonton’s D has weaknesses our O will be better now that they’ve had a full game’s experience. The problem is that also expect Edmonton’s O to have a good game. And if this game devolves into a shootout I like Edmonton’s chance of getting a timely stop on D better than ours.
As much as I would love to see Chris Jones stroll in a steal a win (mostly just so I can watch the ensuing chaos in Edmonton) I just don't see it happening. I think we will be competitive and give them a good fight but in the end....
Esks by 10