Saturday the Riders are in Edmonton to face the 8-8 Eskimos. The Riders will be looking to lock down a home playoff game and keep their hopes of first place alive (though they are admittedly slim as they rely on the Bombers being useful). The Eskimos have really nothing to play for as they are already locked in as the crossover team. Trevor Harris returns so they will be looking to get their offense clicking again but other than pride they really aren’t playing for much. Weird schedule this year as this will mark the first meeting of the year of these 2 teams. I think the CFL had a bit more dramatics in mind for this season ending head-to-head. Way to screw that up Edmonton!
Despite having nothing to play for, I expect the Esks to put up a strong fight. They actually have a pretty solid defense and with getting a healthy Harris back they have enough offensive weapons to be dangerous. Last week we played down to the level of the inferior Lions and slept through half that game. Edmonton is a better team and will make us pay if we try doing that again. We have a chance to finish in 1st place and be one win away from the Grey Cup (something we haven’t done since 2010) … it would be nice if we showed up with intensity matching the size of the opportunity.
Our offense will need to actually show up at kickoff as opposed to having a leisurely nap and then deciding to start trying part way through the game as they have been. In our last 3 road games we have scored a total of 9 first quarter points… compare that to a total of 32 second quarter points. We have the ability to score we just choose to make life difficult on ourselves by not flexing that ability until later in the game. It would be nice to start correcting that now so we are good to go for the playoffs.
The primary challenge you face in the Eskimos is an aggressive pass rush. Lots of blitzes, lots of pressure, lots of guys who can get after the QB (they have 4 players with 5+ sacks). O-line will need to have a strong game. We also (and I know I say this every week) need to run. The Esks are #1 against the pass but #5 against the run. If you just drop back and try to beat them through the air, you play into their strength as pass rushers. Use Powell to slow down that rush. Also, given the aggressive front there should be holes for Fajardo to exploit with his legs. The other way to slow things down is slow, patient drives to wear down the d-line. If the deep shots are there don’t be afraid to take them but more important to take what they give you and string together long drives. If you keep pounding at them and make them work, a team with nothing to play for with eventually check out. You can’t fake caring. I love that Arceneaux is back for this game. Facing a blitz heavy team, having vet receivers who can read the blitz and adjust their routes to help their QB are import. Look for a lot of Manny, Roosevelt and Watson.
The Eskimo offense features a ton of talent with guys like Harris, Ellingson, Daniels and even Collins. The problem is that their offense is built around a core philosophy of complete avoidance of the endzone and reliance on FGs. Bold strategy Cotton. The Esks have 32 TDs (second least) and 46 FGs. By comparison the Riders have 46 TDs and 35 FGs (And we complain that we settle for too many FGs). The Esks are 47% in the redzone second only to the RedBlacks. The Esks allow the least sacks, due in large part to Harris’ quick release. So it will be tough to get pressure on him but we need to try. He’s just back from injury and wanting to make sure he’s good to go for playoffs so he’ll be trying to avoid any contact. We need to takeaway those quick releases and force him to hold the ball longer to give our D-line (bolstered by the return of Micah) a chance to get there. With Gable out Shaq Cooper will be the RB and I actually think he offers the Esks more explosive ability out of the backfield. Gotta keep him in check. What I really want to see is us set the tone physically. The Esks are playing for pride. If we hit them hard and hit them often they will eventually wear down and check out.
This game will feature the two most penalized teams in the CFL. For the love of god Al Bradbury better not be assigned to this game or it make take 5 hours to complete. We need to be disciplined and not retaliate when the Esks do stupid things. Let them hurt themselves. Let their coach hurt the Gatorade jug. Stay cool. Be smart. Be physical. That said I'm already calling that Marshall takes his usual 15 yarder and AC Leonard gores offside at least twice. It's gonna happen.
This is not gimme game. If we walk in there and half ass it, we could lose. But here’s a dose of reality for you. The Esks may be a .500 team but 7 of their 8 wins have come against the 3 teams who are eliminated from the playoffs. Their only other victory was week 1 over the Als… who were still starting Antonio Pipkin at that point. Remember how awful he was? Point being, the Esks are better than the bad teams but not on par with the good ones. So that leaves a good team playing for first place versus a not good team playing for pride. We should win. Based on how this season has gone I’m already mentally preparing myself for a game that we make way more difficult than it needs to be. It will take another late game sprinkle of Jesus comeback but in the end…
Riders by a Roosevelt TD