Saturday the regular season comes to a close. In a stark turn of events this final Rider game is extremely relevant and has a huge bearing on the playoff picture. The loser of this game will be headed East via the crossover. The winner is guaranteed third and the Esks could even get as high a second and a home playoff game depending on what happens with the Dan LeFevour led Bombers (aka a loss). For all the talk of the weaker East division (most of it justified), my preference remains to win this game and play the West. We don't need to fear any team at this point. The last time these 2 teams met the Riders shocked the country by obliterating the Esks as if we were Jason Maas and they were a defenseless headset. While this game is at home it will have a very different complexion as last time the Esks were without the services of such notable players as Walker, Gable, Grymes, Konar, Bowman and Cummings.
Offensively we need to get out crap together. It's been a long time since we played really solid offense other than a few token series here and there. The old adage is "defense wins championships" and we certainly have defense but you can't win in the CFL without scoring. Just ask the 2008 Riders how far great defense gets you in the playoffs when your offense is non-existent (to be clear I'm not saying our offense is near as bad as when Michael Bishop was at the controls but my general point remains). The fate of our offense is in the hands of our O-line. Chick-Sewell-Cummings-Willis... that is among the best front 4s in the league and if we let them out muscle us a pin their ears, we are done. Glenn will get smothered. Bridge will be forced into panicked bad decisions. We NEED protection. The logic way to help is with a continued focus on the run. We'll see is McAdoo continues to lean on the run with Thigpen as the lead back or if he reverts to his pass happy tendencies. The Esks aren't great at stopping the run so its a logical place to attack. I would supplement the run with those sweeps to Owens and some quick passes to Thigpen and Jones. The other way to ease pressure is by not being afraid to take shots. Carter is due for another big game so lets feed him and balance it with Owens on the short/medium routes and mix in Holley and Grant (who hopefully will now protect that ball like his life depended on it... his employment may). I would love to see Glenn play a full game... but I fear that protection struggles will lead to a Bridge appearance.
Defensively the Esks pose a big challenge. They can come at you with so many weapons: Zylstra, Bowman, Walker and Gable... at that doesn't include the damage Reilly can do with his legs. They lead the league in offensive yards because its tough to shut down that many weapons simultaneously. We need a strong game up front. If we can't get pressure on Reilly he will carve us up worse than he carves up Matt Scianitti. Our secondary needs to avoid giving up big plays. If we can force Reilly to string long drives together I think the advantage switches to our D. Keep them in front of you and make tackles on the first opportunity... not the 4th or 5th like we sometimes do. We will need our D to create a turnover or 2 for us to have a chance in this. I don't see us getting 5 like last time but a couple will be needed.
The Esks are the second most penalized team. Who would have thought that they would have discipline issues given the cool collected demeanor of their coach? That could be the difference in a game I expect to be tight.
This is not a must win but I think Jones is trying to sustain a "win the next game" mentality and the momentum that can create is a powerful force headed into the playoffs. While a loss is far from catastrophic (and may have the consolation prize of screwing the Bombers) I think we can make a huge statement in this game and gain a huge wave of momentum at the most important time of the season. The Riders have been playing to the level of their competition so I see us coming out very strong against a team on a 5 game win streak. Let's grab an early lead and force the Esks to overcome a deficit and a rowdy crowd (how else are you going to stay warm?).
Close game where we will need a comeback in the 4th but in the end:
Riders by a Bakari Grant TD. He'll win back our love and secure a west division playoff spot in the process.