Despite the disappointment of last week’s loss, the Riders enter this week with a very real chance at first place. We need to win out and then hope that Winnipeg beats Calgary at least once. As I’m sure anyone in Manitoba can attest to, counting on the Bombers for anything positive this late in the year is a recipe for disappointment but it’s the best chance we’ve got. For now the Riders can’t worry about other teams. They need to take care of their own business and that starts with a road trip to face the 5-11 Lions.
I get the narrative about how much improved the Lions are in the back half of the season. They’ve won 4 of 5, offensive line is playing better, blah blah blah. And I’m here to tell you its all a bunch of BS. The Lions have not improved. They happened to hit the easiest portion of a schedule imaginable playing Ottawa twice, Toronto and Montreal on the road without their QB. And all the talk of their improved O-line? That 4 game stretch was against 3 of worst pass rushes in the league. Low and behold when they played Edmonton (not even a top end team) they lost and gave up 4 sacks. Here’s the true facts on the Lions. They are 0-8 against the west and in those western games average just 18 points scored to 35 points allowed. And that was with Mike Reilly. They have the second least offensive yards on the season… and that was with Mike Reilly. Are they as bad as Toronto and Ottawa? Lord no. But does that make them a good team? No, it makes they a slightly brighter shade of awful.
If the Riders are serious about finishing first place they should waltz into BC Place and lay a beating on the Lions so bad that PETA ends up protesting. Let me reiterate that the Lions are 0-8 vs. the West… and that was with Mike Reilly… AND that was when they had something to play for. Do you really think that a team led by Danny O’Brien playing for pride will somehow magically manage to cure themselves of the craptastic play that has plagued their 2019 season? Anything less than a convincing win has to be a disappointment.
It really starts with the defense. A stat (courtesy of the CFL Game Notes) I found very interesting was that in our 10 wins we have allowed an average of 16.1 points per game… in our 5 loses 33.8 per game. So its no secret that we perform best when our D is playing at a high level. And man oh man does our D have a juicy match-up this week. Danny O’Brien has a career completion % of 54 and has not thrown a TD since 2014. Add in a shaky O-line and it should add up to a good night on D. I honestly don’t get what people keep seeing in O’Brien. I thought it was pretty obvious in Ottawa that he didn’t have it, but here he is 2 teams later still getting opportunities (and still not looking very good). The run game has improved so we need to make stopping that a priority. I don’t care that he has Bryan Burnham (currently the bet receiver in the CFL) to throw to, Danny O’Brien is not winning this game with his arm. Be physical, dictate the play to them and we should be in for a defensive performance much like last time we travelled to BC… only this time we get to feast on O’Brien not Reilly. I just hope we manage to play so dominant on defence that they end up playing Brandon Bridge. After suffering through him here last year, I feel I’m owed this moment of joy.
Much like we need to set the tone physically on defense, I want to see the same on O. These guys are playing for nothing, do you really think they will be committed to repeatedly stopping us running down their throats? Get the O-line attacking, get Powell running at them and wear them down. As the game wears on what’s left of their care factor will dwindle. Run early run often. That will also open up the pass game. With Aaron Grymes done for the season there will be open receivers. Outside of TJ Lee, nothing in that secondary scares me. I expect a bounce back game for Shaq with a couple crossers and at least one deep one. Basically as long as we don’t turn the ball over, we should be able to do enough to get and maintain a lead.
Special teams could also be a factor in this one. BC has the worst punt return average (almost 2 yards less than us, and we aren’t very good). They also allow the second biggest punt returns. Last time we played in BC 2 big special team plays were all they really had. It would be nice to flip the script and have the big plays go in our favour this time.
As long as the Riders show up and put in full effort they will win. Can’t afford to sleepwalk through this one even if the Lions are not very good. As long as we take this game seriously…
Riders by 16 minimum