Fresh off spending a day practicing on Parliament Hill, the Riders continue their Eastern road trip with a stop in Toronto. Given the hype surrounding Austin Matthews and the Jays, I'm not sure anyone in Toronto will actually notice or care except for the few Rider fans and families who show up.
The Riders and Argos enter the game on very different trajectories. The Riders have the second longest winning streak in the CFL after rattling off 3 straight wins and the mood is generally pretty positive. The Argos enter on a league worst 4 game losing streak (and have lost 7 of their last 8) and the wheels appear to be coming off both on and off the field. Between the still mind-boggling Willy trade and the sudden cutting of their entire receiving core, the Argos seem intent on tanking for the 1st overall pick in the draft. Only problem is they can't even manage to tank effectively because they gave their pick to Winnipeg. Don't forget that this was once a team that had Ricky Ray, Zach Collaros AND Trevor Harris in their QB stable. Now all they have is a battered old man Ray and a useless Willy.
Offensively the only consistent thing they have going for them is Brandon Whitaker. He quietly has close to 1300 yards from scrimmage. Priority 1 defensively is shut him down (both as a runner and receiver). Shaw and Spencer are good receivers but I will gladly take my chances with Willy throwing behind an O-line that gives up the 2nd most sacks. Not sure what happened to Willy but it really looks like Winnipeg broke him mentally (hell I'd breakdown too if I had to live there). He's a shadow of the young (dare i say) up and comer that started his career here. Toronto turns the ball over lots and our D is vastly improved. So, provided we can limit the big plays (which the Argos rank dead last in), we should be okay.
Were it not for a rash of injuries I honestly think we would steamroll the Argos but it will be somewhat of a patchwork offense. Fulton is gone. Edwards and Fuller are injured (side note the only knock on Fuller is his tendency for appearances on the injured list so something to keep an eye on). Demski is banged up and may not play. For reasons I don't yet know Steele will be replaced by Joe McKnight at RB. The only positive news that Ricky Collins seems ready to step back in. Now the Argos allow the 2nd most points so they are vulnerable but they also force the 2nd most turnovers so we need to be careful. Also you can bet Shawn Lemon (and his damn near more sacks than our entire team) will be fired up to make an impact. I hope we continue the recent trend of coming out guns a blazing. Between Holley, Bagg, Collins and even Craig we have the weapons to put up points if Durant keeps throwing like he has been. The key will be sustaining that though and not having our offense disappear for large portions of the middle of the game. Remaining committed to run game would help, as would knowing when to dial back the long bombs and just take 5-10 yards passes.
It seems wrong to be cocky about our chances given how dismal the season has been but as I mentioned, if we were fielding the same offense as last week, I honestly think we would have destroyed the Argos. Fielding a new offense levels the playing field a bit. I think the biggest factor will come down to confidence. We are a confident group right now and it shows in our play. The Argos look anything but confident and it shows in their play. We need to attack them early because if they fall behind I don't see them showing much fight. But if we start slow and let them get an early lead it could be the opposite and their confidence could build.
There's always a chance that Willy plays he first non-craptastic game of the year but I far prefer the odds of that not happening.
Game will be closer than it should be but in the end...
Riders by a Rob Bagg TD
The only good news is that Willy picked the best city in the country to suck in. In Toronto, not only will Willy's poor performance not lead to laughter and ridicule. It will largely go unnoticed. Many Torontonians may even comment that they didn't know Willy was in yet.