Thursday the Riders travel to Hamilton to open the 2019 season against the Ti-Cats. The last 2 times the Riders opened the season against Hamilton (2014, 2012) they won so hopefully that continues. Its interesting on both sides of the field as both teams remain relatively unchanged from the previous season… except for fairly major coaching changes. Both Dickenson and Steinhauer are entering their first seasons as head coaches.
If you believe what people are saying in the media and on social media (which as we all know are always correct), the Riders are screwed and should just give up the season and go into full rebuild mode now while the Ti-Cats should just sit back and wait for homefield advantage in the East Final to be handed to them. I suppose based on that I could stop my pre-game analysis here and save us all some time.
Problem is I don’t buy it. Look I get that the Riders are not the favourites to win the West. Not going to try and argue that but personnel-wise they are essentially the same team as the one that won 12 games last year and had the best record against west teams of any team. Obviously losing Jones hurts and there’s no way they score that many return TDs again so maybe a bit of a regression there but the defense is still very good. As for the offense they were damn near historically awful last season… and still won 12 games! Run game will be better, receivers will be better, back-up QB can’t be worse. Based on those offsets, even if you factor out the "lucky" wins from last season why is it so crazy to think 9-10 wins is realistic? Maybe I’ve just hit the rye too early, I don’t know... ok well full disclosure I definitely hit the rye early but it may or may not be the reason for my optimism. As for Hamilton, yes they are the best team in the East but that’s like being the least racist guy at a KKK convention, not really something to brag about. They only won 8 games last season and haven’t really improved a great deal on paper. Long winded way of saying think this match-up is far closer than people think.
Might as well start on the defense since it’s no secret they will need to carry us. We finally get to see our new look front 4 unleashed. A fresh and healthy Hughes-Johnson-Evans-Leonard, look out! It needs to start up front with them. If we can be disruptive just with rushing 4 then our defense has a huge advantage. Two things you need to take away to beat Hamilton. Need to contain Brandon Banks (which I assume will fall to Ed Gainey again, who did well with the assignment last year) and need to keep Masoli in the pocket and not gaining yards with his legs. That requires the D-ends playing contain and the LBs staying clean and making sure tackles. They are going with Thomas-Erlington at RB. He’s an underrated runner but our front 7 should be up to the challenge. Outside of Banks and Tasker, their WRs aren’t anything special… certainly not for our secondary. Hamilton averaged 26 point per game against west teams last season and I see us keeping them under that. Probably not the flashy game changing plays people are expecting but just solid suffocating D. That said Masoli is a turnover machine with 18 INTs and 6 lost fumbles last season.
Offensively if we can find a way to score 3 offensive TDs, we win. Given that we averaged less than 2 last season that’s a big ask. Its no secret that we will be a run first offense. Hell we will probably be a run second and possibly third offense. Key to the game is Powell… and of course the OL creating holes for him. Add in a little Thiggy here and there and we should have a solid, ground game. Passing? Well that’s the big question mark. Hamilton has a very good front 4 in Davis-Laurent-Wynn and the other guy who I know relatively little about. They also have Adrian Tracy and Jamaal Westman on the IR so will only get better. Clearly we will look to help our line with running and short passes (behold the return of the hitch screen in all its glory!). We are going to need to stretch the field at least a bit to sustain drives. Roosevelt is the key guy there but he will most likely see a heavy dose of Delvin Breaux so guys like Cannon and Evans will need to step up. I would also look for ways to get Kyran Moore the ball in space. I expect Steinhauer to have the Ti-Cats playing really good D. So this could be a low scoring affair. We don’t need Collaros to do much just not make mistakes and sustain drives.
I don’t have much to base this off other than gut feel but I do think the Riders will win. It will be nail bitter and it will likely be ugly but they don’t ask how they just ask how many.
Riders by a Fajardo QB sneak TD.