Thursday is what we call a measuring stick game for the Riders. After back to back games of beating up on a team that seems destined to dwell in the CFL basement much like their QB is destined to dwell on the turf, the Riders now have to face a credible opponent. Are we legit contenders or just a team capable of bullying the weaker teams? We will soon find out.
Hamilton is arguable the best team in he CFL having knocked off 3 west teams including Winnipeg who on paper was the best team… and they managed to do so without their #1 QB. I’ll admit that I was in the “the Ti-Cats are only good as compared to other East teams” boat but the last few weeks had me thinking they might but good but objective standards as well. But while the Riders come with a question of whether they can hang with actual good teams, the Ti-Cats come in with a big question as well… can they keep up their winning ways without Jeremiah Masoli?
Most objective people would look at a QB making is first start on the road and think, advantage other team. Anyone who has been a Rider fan for any length of time has developed a healthy fear of new QBs. We are like a performance enchancing drug that only works on opposing back-up QBs. Hell we did it just 4 weeks ago with Nick Arbuckle. Between Dane Evans looking competent in limited action (hell there were some Rider fans already plotting how we could poach him this coming offseason based on his preseason play) and the Riders’ track record against unproven QBs, there is real reason to think this game will be anything but a pushover. One school of thought on Evans would see the Riders with the advantage as they can game plan specifically for him with film to help (something Winnipeg could not do). The other school is that the Ti-Cats have an advantage as they have a chance to build an offensive specifically for Evans that there won’t necessarily be film on. We’ll see which side takes the most advantage.
Offensively Hamilton will be a depleted unit. Masoli is done for the year and on top of that Brandon Banks and Darius Ciraco will not play. That removes the leagues leading receiver who is responsible for 6 TDs already and a very good starting guard from an offense already missing their #1 QB. Defense has to pounce on this opportunity. Ti-Cats have one of the better O-lines in the league so our front 4 will have their work cut out for them in getting to Evans (though the absence of Ciraco creates an opportunity to line up Micah on the relatively inexperienced Kay Okafor). For all the good things about Hamilton, their rushing attack is actually not very good. #6 rush attack overall. The injury to Sean Thomas-Erlington really hurt them here. Best way to make life difficult on a young QB is eliminate the run and force him to throw to win. This would be a good game to mix in some real blitzes with ones where we show blitz and drop a lot into coverage to confuse Evans. Even without Banks we can’t lose focus and need to avoid giving up the big plays. Forcing long drives should eventually lead to Evans mistakes… and hopefully turnovers, though those seem to be harder to come by this year than offensive TDs were last year.
Defensively Hamilton is pretty solid. 3rd in points allowed, 3rd in turnovers, 3rd in sacks (despite not having their numbers inflated yet by playing BC). I would put their front 4 up there in terms of the best in the league (though no Adrian Tracy is a loss for them). Ja’Gared Davis is a top 3 DE in the CFL, a fact that will always bother me since the Riders traded his neg rights away in 2016 for Philip Sims (the QB that looked like an O-lineman)… not that I’m bitter and dwell on things too long. This well be a far more difficult test for our OL than the Lions (though I think the only thing easier than blocking the Lions D-line would be blocking garden gnomes). One weakness the Ti-Cats do have is run stopping. They allow the 3rd most rush yards, 2nd most rush TDs and a League worst 5.8 yards per rush. Don’t gotta be Vince Lombardi to figure out that maybe we should run, a lot. That will have the added benefit of slowing down a strong pass rush. We will need to be patient as well. Hamilton has only allowed 6 deep passes this season. So while we can’t shy away from stretching the field, we need to balance that with smart underneath passes. Fajardo should be oozing confidence after the Riders traded Collaros and made him the unquestioned leader of the team. (I still like Collaros and honestly wish things had turned out better but I think this is for the best). It took 6 turnovers for the Ti-Cats to beat the Bombers last week. Their defense will be looking to carry an offense that may struggle so we can’t help them in that regard by turning the ball over. Work some crossers to Evans and Moore. Use Roosevelt as the safety valve and I would test a deep ball to Arceneaux.
If you look at offensive TDs scored and offensive TDs allowed the Riders are actually 1 better than the Ti-cats in both categories. The main difference between their 5-1 record and our 3-3 record has been the 5 Defensive and ST TDs they scored and 13 more turnovers than us they have. So by simply not giving up big returns and not turning the ball over (or heaven forbid, forcing our own turnovers) we level the playing field immensely. I have faith in our ability to control the ball. I have less faith in our kick coverage.
Much like we did in BC, we need to come out and set the tone early. Make things uncomfortable for Dane Evans and get the crowd into it. Don’t let him get his confidence going. The only thing giving me a bit of concern about the game is the short week. I’m having Calgary flashbacks. That said it’s a short week for Hamilton plus a traveling week for them. Add in their injury depletion and this is a game we can and should win. Will it be a domination? No. Will there be times where we make Dane Evans look like the second coming of Doug Flutie? Probably. The over under on me cursing loudly is set at 7.5, should you take the over? Yes. But in the end…
Riders by a Marcus Thigpen TD.
Side note: Just to be safe can we not run any QB draws until the 2nd or 3rd drive?