Thursday the Riders (fresh off a season opening win) will face the RedBlacks (who will be playing their first game of the season after a Week 1 bye). The game is in the capital city which means the Riders get to experience Ottawa... it clearly can't compare to Experience Regina, but hey, what can? The last time these teams met it was in the East Semi and the Riders, thanks in large part to a massive day from Thigpen, ended the RedBlacks' season. In retrospect that performance may have been powered by vitamin S.
I think people have the impression that the RedBlacks are a better team than they are. Sure they did win a Grey Cup in 2016 but they also haven't finished above .500 in 2 years. Take away a well timed post season hot streak in 2016 and the fact they they play in a weak division and history would likely view the RedBlacks in a very different light. I'm not saying that they can be taken lightly or that they will be a pushover but they have 16 wins in 2 seasons... by comparison the Riders have 15 wins over the same time frame and one season was an abysmal train wreck for the most part.
Ottawa's defense was the main reason they struggled last year. No team forced less turnovers and only two teams allowed more passing yards. Hell their D-Coordinator wasn't smart enough to figure out that not sending pressure at Kevin Glenn was a bad idea. Now he was promptly fired and replaced with a far more competent DC in Noel Thorpe but as much as their coaching will improve, I don't think they have the talent on D. They lost their their only really good DL in Evans. They lost their best LB in Taylor Reed and their best DB in Jerrell Gavins. They have some additions like Josh Johnson, Louchiez Purifoy and Kyries Hebert that will help. But their answer along the DL appears to be Mike Klassen and AC Leonard. I was never a Leonard fan and think he is a product of playing opposite of Jefferson. I see their D-line as weak, their LBs a not bad and their secondary as nothing I'm too worried about. So offensively it starts up front. We need to dominate the line of scrimmage with a heavy emphasis on the run. Collaros should have plenty of time in the pocket so he just needs to make smart decisions, spread the ball around and not turn it over. Could be a big game for Tre Mason (just like Thigpen in the ESF). I could also see a big game for Holley. Collaros seems to trust him and he will get more chances with Duron on D.
As much as I have belittled Ottawa's record and defense, their offense is legit. Good protection up front. A powerful runner in Powell. A trio of dangerous weapons in Ellingson, Sinopoli and Spencer. And a quality QB directing it all. Their only real offensive weakness is a tendency to turn the ball over. I think we have a talented enough D to handle them I just would be more confident if we weren't starting our best WR at CB against this trio of receivers. Look, Duron is a decent DB but certainly nothing special. Given how clean his first game was I expect a minimum of 2 penalties (just to be safe we should assign someone to ensure he steers clear of Rick Campbell. I would recommend that person bring goggles because for how good a diver Campbell is they may get wet). D-line will need to lead the way again. This will be a tougher test for them than Toronto but I have a hard time believing Hughes, Evans and Jefferson aren't up to it. They have a rookie starting at LG... it would only be right for Hughes to properly welcome him to the pros. I imagine Ottawa will try and establish Powell early to try and take pressure off the OL and Harris. I mean, if I were an OC I would be leaning on the run early if I saw Sam Hurl as one of the primary means my opponent had of stopping it. I think we need to avoiding giving up the big plays. If we can force them to string together long drives it definitely shifts things in our favour.
I would like to see Christion Jones rip off his first big time return of the year. Special teams could be a deciding factor with deadly returners on both sides. Big pressure on the cover teams. Not a good time for one of our best special team tacklers in Radford to be hurt.
As much as I think Toronto is a better team than Ottawa, I think this will be a tough test none the less. We are traveling, on a short week playing a team who is well rested. I think we will struggle out of the gate but our defense will keep it close and force multiple turnovers. Offense will hit their stride in the second half and we will narrowly escape with another victory in a relatively low scoring game.
Riders by a Shaq Evans TD in his debut.