Who would have thought?
Look, we are not a franchise that finds itself in first place at the end of the season very often. We win the West only slightly more frequently then we change our clocks. So you’ll forgive us if not many thought that odds of us finishing first in a year where our GM/Head Coach/D Coordinator/Supreme Overlord (complete with all black apparel) bolted unexpectedly in January and our starting QB was concussed on the 3rd play of the game in June, that this would be the year we end the first place drought. As someone who use the terms “screwed” to describe both the Jones and Collaros events, I’m as shocked as anyone. But as improbable as it may be we sit just one win away from finishing first for just the second time in the last 30+ years. A generation of Saskatchewan children may actually know what a home West Final is instead of assuming its something that is against the law in this province (like a wedding that doesn’t play Cotton Eye Joe).
But we can’t celebrate just yet. We need a win on Saturday first.
Note: I had a super cocky draft of this post already to go and then Fajardo had to go and hurt is back. And throw the whole cocky narrative out the window. I mean, sure Isaac Harker can beat an Eskimo team resting their top players… but my certainty of that fact has dropped and my stress levels suddenly sky rocketed. Damn Riders can’t do anything the easy way!
As much as the potential for no Fajardo adds some drama to this match-up, here are the facts: Edmonton couldn’t beat us at home, with all their starters, having been spotted a 14-point lead. Do we honestly think their odds improve playing at Mosaic, resting many starters (including Harris and Ellingson), in a meaningless game for them? Knowing Fajardo, if there’s a chance he can play, he’ll be out there but even with Harker I still like our odds.
Offensively, for the love of god can we please do something at any point before 3 minutes remaining in the first half?!? Since Labour Day, we are averaging 2.8 points in the first quarter and have scored 3 or less points on 5 of 7 occasions. In just our last 3 games we have been outscored in the opening quarter by a combined 30-8. Whatever we’ve been doing at halftime just do that before the game starts. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but we should lean heavy on the run… even more so if Fajardo is not playing. Want to suck what little life is left out of a team going through the motions? Run it down their throat early and often. We also need to be quick at adjusting to Edmonton’s pass rush. If they continue getting pressure up the middle early then start swinging it outside or running off tackle or running quick slants or outs. Or just ignore everything I said and chuck it like crazy as we saw in that final drive last week… a strategy I would only advise if Fajardo plays. As much as we need to be aggressive, we also need to be smart and play the long game. The run game might not get huge gains early but as the game wears on, if we keep pounding it at them it will become more effective. Above all control the ball. If we play turnover-free ball I like our chances even without Cody…. But seriously we need some Jesus sprinkles ASAP. Is there a line of Jesus Sprinkle-infused Robaxacet?
Defensively, to say Logan Kilgore offers a different kind of challenge than Trevor Harris is like saying Cheez Whiz that a hobo has stuck his junk into offers a slightly different taste than a platter of gourmet cheeses. He’s less accurate, more likely to toss a pick and generally just not as good. One thing we will need to do is limit Shaq Cooper as you know they will want to lean on the run game to take pressure off Kilgore. I also hope, that our D-line actually makes their presence known. I can forgive not getting pressure on a quick release guy like Harris but if we don’t knock Kilgore around at least a bit, I’ll be concerned (Kilgore has taken 14 sacks to Harris’ 8 in roughly a third of the playing time). Be aggressive, hit hard, suck the will out of the Eskimos. No better way to enter the playoffs than with a dominant defensive performance. D will need to step up and lead in this game whether it’s a limping Cody or Harker playing QB. Make life easy on the O and dominate.
I realize that the Esks aren’t just going to hand us the game by virtue of us showing up. We need to play and we need to ensure we don’t play down to the level of our competition. But assuming the players play with a level of effort that matches the opportunity we should win. If the prospect of being one win away from the Grey Cup and getting a week off while Winnipeg and Calgary beat the hell out of each other isn’t enough incentive, I don’t know what is?
If Fajardo plays - Riders by at least 14. I expect one of LaFrance or Bennett to score a rushing TD in this one.
If Harker plays – Riders by 50 yard Lauther FG that damn near kills me with stress.
Let’s F’N Go! First Place Baby!