Friday, October 5, 2018

Riders vs. Eskimos: Liberty Bird and Football

Remember back in the post 9/11 era when the US was so angry at countries that wouldn’t support them that they encouraged people to stop using those country’s names in food? French Fries became Freedom Fries. Turkey became Liberty Bird. This is the kind of quality useless information I have floating around in my brain. I could use that space for things like learning a new skill or remembering my anniversary but instead I use it for things like liberty bird, Simpsons quotes and Intercontinental champions of the early 90s. I’m good with my choice. By the way if the current US administration tried a campaign to rename food/drinks for political reasons would that make Black Russian a "Bad Guy Ally"? OK enough of my poor attempts at political satire. Onto the game.

This is a big one. Bigger than the obligatory turkey TSN will show between Rob Black and Duane Forde as Black lamely comments about Forde eating the whole thing. A victory puts us 3 games up on Edmonton. A victory of 8 points or more means that Edmonton is guaranteed to finish below us in the standings and leaves us 1 win away from clinching a home playoff game. A loss drops us right back into the middle of an “anything can happen” scenario in the west. We have built up some breathing room, it would be nice to keep it.

Our defense really needs a bounce back game. I get that they allowed less than 200 yards in Montreal but they have been okay at best over the past 3 games. Definitely not dominant. And dominant is what you need if you want to take down Mike Reilly. He leads every pretty much offensive statistic. But as good as he is, he’s been struggling of late.  After starting 5-2 the Esks have dropped 5 of 7 since. Reilly threw 6 INTs through the first 7 games but 5 INTs in just the last 4 games. The last 2 games have been especially brutal: 1 TD to 3 INTs; shut out in 5 out of 8 quarters with just 18 total points. To their credit the Esks have taken the appropriate remedial steps and fired their Special Teams Coordinator. Its his fault their O-line has allowed the 3rd most sacks, its his fault the Esks have turned the ball over more than any team. With the headset and Gatorade jug having already taken the fall, Jason Maas needed a new scapegoat. Its unclear at this point if Duke Williams plays. If he doesn’t a massive hole for an already struggling unit. If Duke sits, between him and Walker that 18 TDs and 2200 yards gone… or put differently, over 50% of Reilly’s production.

We need to dominate the line of scrimmage in this one. Take away the run and put Reilly under duress. We also need to stay disciplined in the secondary. We’ve had too many busts of late. I like a lot of Matt Elam’s skillset but man coverage is not his strong point. I’d rather him at safety or LB if Butler or Purifoy are healthy enough to check back in. Last week, we broke Hughes’ sack slump. This week we break out of our turnover slump. I’m guessing 2, one of which goes for a TD. In our last meeting, we held Reilly to 257 yards and that was with Derel Walker playing. The D should feed off the home crowd and have a performance like what we’ve come to expect from this group. Reilly will make some plays and keep things close because that’s what he does but I expect the D to come out on top.

Offensively, hopes are running high after a 4 TD performance in Montreal. As much as I’d like to believe that was the turning point for the offense, I’m not yet convinced. If they can produce against a team with a chance of making the playoffs I’ll start to believe. Here’s the good news though… Edmonton’s defense is the 3rd worst in the CFL behind only Montreal and Toronto (not great company to be in at this point). Two places I think we can attack them with some success. First is on the ground. Esks allow 5.5 yards per rush, second worst in the league. Keep Mason running hard and mix in some Thiggy. The second one goes against my better judgement to suggest but its chucking it deep. Esks have allowed the most pass plays of 30+ yards. Also, Collaros actually has been very good at the deep ball of late. His deep completion % is better than Reilly and Mitchell (he’s second among starting QBs). This of course requires Shaq Evans to continue playing not like Shaq Evans. It requires targeting Lambert and Moore. It requires not even thinking about targeting Stanford. Not sure at this point if Shaw stays in or if Roosevelt returns (likely Shaw) but either provide Collaros another quality passing option. The key though is balance. He can’t just rely solely on the deep ball (that’s some of the Esk O's issue this season). We had great success in Montreal because we exploited some short slants. We need to find some underneath completions to open up the deep shots. As much as I think our D will step up, you need to be prepared for the possibility of a shootout anytime you play Reilly. A few weeks ago I would have laughed/wept at our chances in that scenario. Now I’m cautiously optimistic.

Special teams will likely play a factor. As much as I joke about the Esks Special Teams Coordinator being a scapegoat, they do rank dead last in average return yards so its not like the firing was completely without merit. You can bet the new guy will throw some wrinkles at us. Given that we have allowed 3 kick return TDs this season there is some concern. Need to play solid in this phase if we want to win.

I hope the magnitude of this opportunity is not lost on the team. Our remaining schedule is brutal. After this we have a road game in Winnipeg on 5 days rest. A road game in Calgary. And a home game against a BC team that is not about to go down without a fight. This is actually one of the best chances we have at a win left. A loss is not devastating but a win is huge.

Struggling or not, Edmonton is a tough opponent. Plus there’s that whole “the Riders never do things the easy way” thing. Here’s 2 stats that reinforce for me the way I think this game will go. The Esks are 2-5 on the road with their only road wins coming in Chris Streveler’s first ever game (and just barely) and in Montreal. Also, the Esks have been horrendous in the 4th quarter. In the past 5 games they have been shutout in all but one 4th quarter and produced a solitary FG in the other. I like us at home and I like our ability to find ways to win (no matter how ridiculous or improbable) over Meltdown Maas and his 4th quarter futility.

Riders by a Lauther FG

Bonus Stat I could not fit into this write up:
The Eskimos have scored just 4 more points than the Riders in 2018. Sure our stats are padded by 12 return TDs but I still found that crazy.

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