Saturday the Riders return home to face the 6-4 RedBlacks. They will be looking too stretch their win streak to 5 games, something they haven’t done since 2014. Incidentally we lost our QB in a winning effort in the Banjo Bowl that year as well… hopefully the parallels stop there. Ottawa will be looking to rebound from a dreadful stretch of football. They have lost 3 of their last 4 games. Their opponents in those loses were Toronto, Montreal and BC aka the 3 worst teams in the CFL. Once again the Riders have a chance to pounce on a team that comes in struggling.
The Riders have 3 East games followed by 4 West ones to end the season. They realistically need to go at least 2-1 in this East stretch and ideally 3-0 if we are serious about playing football at Mosaic Stadium in November. A lot of football to be played before then so we just need to keep winning games and let the rest sort itself out… but it is refreshing for it to at least be a possibility once again.
Going to change things up and start on offense where the collective sigh of relief across the prairies when we heard Collaros had passed concussion protocol could have powered a wind generator for many hours. I know he’s not exactly lighting up the scoreboard but he gives some semblance of life to an otherwise lifeless offense. Tough challenge for him and our O in facing a Noel Thorpe defense. They come in with the second least points allowed and third most sacks. The good news is that even if Thorpe manages to reduce our offensive production by 50% it will have a barely negligible effect on the game (look at me focusing on the positives). Priority #1 has to be keeping Collaros’ melon from bouncing off the turf. Strong play in the trenches and a committed running game obviously are key. But we also need to get that ball out quicker (and I’m not talking about the stupid screen play that a blind man could see coming). It would be nice to hit some slants or timing outs or slotback hooks and really work those medium passes to move the chains. We need something in between stupid screen plays and chucking up prayers into double coverage and praying our WRs can bail us out. Marcus Thigpen remains our best chance of scoring on O so we bloody well better use him. We need a TD from our O and ideally 2.
On the other side of the ball, Trevor Harris is probably very happy that Matt Nichols is drawing all the attention because we’re it not for him people would be focusing a lot more on how bad Harris has been of late. Just over 50% completion in both of his last 2 games, had 3 interceptions and just one offensive TD (finally an even match-up for our O). Ottawa is a confusing team. They are stacked with offensive talent: Powell, Sinopoli, Spencer, Ellingson but are just 7th in offensive TDs and have the 2nd worst running attack (both in terms of yards and average gain per carry). They have the ability to break out at any point so we can’t take them lightly. It starts up front with what is their biggest offensive weakness and what is really holding them back: their O-line. Second most sacks allowed so far and our D-line should be able to push those numbers even higher. Game plan should be very similar to last week: attack the line, shut down the run, pressure Harris, force turnovers. Pass coverage will be tougher as Ottawa has talent across the board at receiver. I mean we had trouble containing Drew Wolitarsky last week. We really need to focus on taking away the short and intermediate passes. Ottawa has the least pass completions over 30 yards and Harris has one of the worst completion % on passes over 20 yards. If we can limit Powell and force Harris to go to his second/third reads then we should be able to keep the RedBlack offense in the funk it currently finds itself. Calling 3 sacks and 3 turnovers.
The reality is that at some point a let down game will happen. Despite our win streak we have not exactly been playing consistently good football and its highly unlikely we go undefeated the rest of the way. I think this one has some potential for a letdown but I think the home crowd will give the team a needed boost. Plus, this team believes in its ability to find ways to win. Even if its grinding out ugly ones. I expect our defense to continue their level of play and keep the score low. So it comes down to our Offense finding a way to get on the board (or at least not let the RedBlack D put up points). It will be a low scoring affair but in the end…
Riders by a Thigpen TD.
Side note: I will not be at the game (so cheer loud for me). I’m headed to Saskatoon for Metallica. You’ll be happy to know that the Riders are undefeated in home games I have not attended this year. You’re welcome.