Thursday the Riders are in Edmonton for their first road game against a western opponent. The Riders will be looking to right the ship after a disappointing outing against Calgary. The 4-2 Esks will be looking to keep their 2 game win streak going. Edmonton’s 2 loses have come against teams that we have beaten this season. Then again they also pounded the Als, something we failed to do so I’m not sure how much inferring you can do.
To me this is a very interesting match-up of contrasts. The Esks have a powerful (though at times inconsistent) offense and an underperforming D. The Riders have an over-performing D and no offense to speak of. So in a sense this will be their strength vs. our strength and their weakness vs. our… well weakness seems like too flattering of a word for our offense, let’s go with glaring lack.
After a frustrating game last week where more boos were hurled at the Riders than the much hated Stamps (I was saying McAdoooooooooooo), the stars seem to be aligning for the Riders. Collaros is healthy and will play, Roosevelt seems unscathed after bouncing his head off the turf like a pogo stick and Carter will to return to O with Nick Marshall healthy. While on the surface it would seem like a negative, I would add the release of Jerome Messam to that list. Look Messam wasn’t playing that well or holding onto the ball. Turning our 3 man RB rotation into a 2 man should help with consistency and production for the remaining 2.
Edmonton is averaging 28 points per game and given that we have no offense, keeping them under that mark will be key. So, like every week, it’s all on our defense. And it’s a tough task. Reilly is the best QB in the league. His O-line has allowed the least sacks. He’s got a strong running back and many talented receivers at his disposal (Williams, Walker, Stafford, Behar). D-line will need to get to Reilly. If he has time he will pick us apart. They also need to stay disciplined in their rush to not let him escape and run for first downs. Gable is a good runner but overall the Edmonton rushing attack is not that worrisome. They have the second lowest yards per carry in the league. We have the #1 run D so we should be OK there. That leaves our secondary to limit the big plays to receivers (Williams in particular). We will need a turnover or 2 in this one and for the love of god return it for 6 because that’s our best chance for a major.
Offensively it’s hard to know what to expect. Collaros will be the primary QB but Bridge will also play (and possibly Watford) so get ready for a confusing QB rotation. I don’t suddenly expect our offense to magically turn into a juggernaut with Collaros back. Jones wasn’t lying when he said our offensive game plan is run and short passes. Edmonton allows the second most rushing yards so staying committed to the ground is a good idea. I would prefer if we add in a run or 2 that isn’t just up the middle just to spice things up a bit. That said, that secondary does not scare me. Grymes is as good as they get but the others can be beat. I would lean heavy and often on Duron in this game. He’s been away from O for so long and you know would love nothing more than a monster game so we need to get him involved early and keep riding him. Caleb Holley’s struggles this season have landed him on the bench. Duron is so dangerous and Roosevelt is so reliable that Collaros will need to lean heavy on them (Bridge too when he’s in though that means neither could run a route over 10 yards). While the opportunities will be less for Williams-Lambert in that #3 spot (the one Bakari was so productive in last season) he should be open for a few big plays and needs to capitalize on those chances. The biggest challenge though, starts up front. Esks lead the CFL in sacks and you can bet they will be sending pressure given that our O-line is improving but not great and stuffing the middle eliminates 80% of our playbook. Keeping the recently over a concussion Collaros from having a relapse will be important. Move the pocket add in some screens. I get that I may sound hypocritical for advocating screens after blasting our OC for using them that week. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with screens and runs up the middle as your base offense. But you need to build off those into other plays in order to not become predictable and ineffective. We also need to control the ball. Turnovers are killers. We are winless in games where we lose the turnover battle and undefeated in games where we win.
Two other things that I think could play into this game. First is penalties. Edmonton leads the league in penalty yards (hard to imagine why a Jason Maas led team would struggle with discipline). We need to play a clean game and not hurt ourselves. Second is big plays, particularly on kick returns. Edmonton has given up the most “big plays” which are runs of 20+, passes of 30+, kick returns of 40+ or punts of 30+. No one has allowed more passes over 30 yards. I know pushing the ball downfield is not something we are big on but we need to try in this game. They have also allowed the second most kickoff return yards. Blair Smith is their best special teams player and will miss the game due to injury. Paging Christion Jones.
Another thing to watch will be the first quarter. To put it bluntly, both teams suck in the first quarter. Edmonton has trailed after the first quarter in their last 5 games. We have scored a total of 11 points in all our first quarters combined (failing to score at all in 3 of them). If one of the teams can overcome their early game blahs it would give an edge.
Bold prediction time. I think we manage 2 offensive TDs (bold indeed) and add a defensive or special team TD. That means if we can hold the Esks under 20 points we can win. Toronto managed to do it twice and I think we have a better defense than Toronto. This is another game where logic says bet against the Riders. Comparing Mike Reilly to whatever we will be serving up at QB should be enough to settle that for you. But I have another gut feeling about this game. With the exception of Moncrief we are essentially as healthy as we will get this season. The Esks are a good team and certainly better than us on paper but their O has shown a lot of inconsistency this season and their defense hasn’t been all that great (yet again injuries play a role in this). Provided our defense plays like they can this will be a very close game. I know I am seeing things through green tinted glasses but I think our O can do just enough in this game to squeak out a narrow victory.
Riders by a Lauther FG of 45+ yards.