Friday night the Riders roll into Montreal looking for their 4th straight win. They will face what has to be the surprised team of 2019 in the mysteriously not awful Alouettes. Apparently all that was needed for them to emerge from their 4 year slump was to fire their head coach after the preseason and fire their GM after they finally started winning. Had they stumbled upon this knowledge years ago, who knows where they might be now.
Despite being a train wreck for a number of years now, Montreal remains a tough place to win for the Riders. They are 2-5 in their last 7 trips to La Belle Provence having been beaten by double digit margins 3 times. When you look at the state of the Alouettes over that timeframe it becomes apparent that there must be more than football talent at play here. Possibly some kind of off field distraction. I can’t think of any potential distractions in Montreal, in the evening, that would tempt young men… particular men who have been enduring the infamous Regina social scene for 2+ months. Let’s just say if I was Jeremy O’Day I would offer the plays a deal: Don’t leave the hotel Thursday night, win Friday and the first round is on me Friday night. Can you write off a lap dance as a business expense or would that count against the cap as a player bonus?
2019 is quickly becoming a year of injuries. Pretty much every team has dealt with injuries to top players (especially QBs). The top teams in the standings come November may not be the best teams on paper but rather the teams that are best able to overcome their injuries. This will be on full display Friday. For the Riders, pretty much our entire D-line is on IR. Shaq Evans is questionable. Brett Lauther is still out (why is it our kickers always follow up a great year with injury? Same thing happened to Crapigna). For the Alouettes, Vernon Adams is out and so is William Stanback. Those 2 account for 10 of the 16 offensive TDs Montreal have scored. This game will come down to which depth players can step up and which coaches put their depth players in the best position to be successful with their schemes.
A big reason behind Montreal recent return to relevancy has been their defense. We knew coming into the season that they had the talent on paper: Muamba, Loffler, Campbell, Evans, Ackie. The question was did they have a coach who could get them playing to their potential. There were rampant doubts about Bob Slowik given that his only CFL experience was a guest coaching spot in 2018. Well it took him a while but he proved many wrong. Here are the yards allowed by the D starting from Game 1 through to last week: 607, 526, 436, 365, 320, 241. Notice a trend? Add to the steadily improving yardage, 18 turnovers (leading to the second most points off turnovers in the league). This is a physical unit that has playmakers. Their main weakness is their front 4. They have just 5 sacks (by far the worst in the league) and allow 5.2 yards per rush (3rd worst). That’s where our attack needs to start. Establish the run with Powell (with some Thiggy mixed in) and take the physicality to them. Their secondary is very good. In addition to the guys previously mentioned, Greg Reid is playing some solid ball. That leaves CB Ryan Carter as the place I would focus my attention when passing. Possibility of no Shaq hurts (last year I would have laughed if you told me I’d be typing that) but Stafford can be a deep threat even on a limited playbook. Roosevelt, Moore and Manny will have to step up. Oh, who am I kidding? Moore and Roosevelt will have to step up and Manny will get his token catch. Fajardo needs to be smart with the ball and not create turnovers and smart with his body and not take unnecessary hits. Muamba has a bit of a history with hits on QBs that lead to fines. We need Cody healthy come November and limiting the hits now will go a long way in that regard. Hell the way our injuries have been piling up, just getting to the bye week would be a victory.
Defensively we get lucky for the second week in a row with a team missing their QB and top offensive weapon. Now the back-up RB is Jeremiah Johnson who has 30 TDs over the past 4 seasons so he’s no slouch (though he is a downgrade from Stanback). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if a team is missing all but 1 starting D-linemen you should run… a lot. Expect a heavy dose of Johnson. They are the #1 rushing team and I don’t expect that to change. That will also help mask the fact that Antonio Pipkin is not very good. I have never understood the hype on this guy. Career completion % of just over 50%. 4 passing TDs as compared to 8 INTs. He had 2 decent games and then defenses got film on him and he hasn’t done much since. Coming into camp I was surprised that Pipkin was viewed as the unquestioned guy over Adams but then again that didn’t even make the list of top things that were weird in Montreal. Do what you need to limit the run and force Pipkin to throw to win… I honestly don’t think he can do it. With our tackles hurting, Elimimian will need to step and have a big game to help them out in the middle. One thing Montreal does really well is protect the ball. They have turned the ball over a league low 8 times. Ball control, strong running and defense is how they have been winning. They have the 2nd least passing yards and a league low 60% completion rate. We will likely need to send some blitzes to get pressure so there will be additional pressure on the secondary but if we can limit the run and get pressure Pipkin we’ve got a good chance.
Montreal allows the most punt return yards and as last week showed are susceptible to big returns. In a game where we are depleted and on the road, winning the special teams battle would be a huge boost.
I saw this as being a tough game even before I got to page 2 of our injury list. Generally speaking we have been winning the battle in the trenches and while we should be OK on offense, its going to be a grind on D (Henry and Dabire don’t scare anyone). I’m envisioning a game very much like the Hamilton one. Very close, we’ll go through an extended part of the game where we just quit playing and a narrow victory that is best described as ugly... or since the game will be played in Quebec, laid.
Riders by a William Powell TD in the final 2 minutes… then start the bye week off in style and put it on O’Day’s tab!