Riders 30 – Hamilton 8
Now that is a game! It was about the polar opposite of last week. We started slow but finished strong. That game had everything. Strong play in all 3 phases. Big plays on both sides. Even a big brawl. The crowd may have been small but those that came were into it and loud. Great night of football all around.
Gotta start with the defense. They won us that game. I was pretty critical of them after Game 1 but they dominated this week. They allowed 1 TD, forced 6 turnovers and didn’t allow a point after the 8 minute mark of the opening quarter (on one of the most infuriating series of plays I have ever seen… more on that in a second). The front 4 came to play in a big way. Consistent pressure all night with very little blitzing. That was one of the best games I have seen from Micah in a while. Stat sheet won’t reflect it but he was fired up and made a huge impact up front. Gates looked a lot better and Woodward stepped up out of nowhere (even though his 3rd sack was a ridiculously early call that made we wonder if the ref had money riding on the Riders going over 5 sacks). Hamilton had no run game and seemed to base their entire offense on those swing passes/screens that we shut down pretty consistently. Middle of the line looks pretty solid 2 games into the season. Secondary was making plays including that outstanding pick by Blace Brown and the other by Hendy. Hamilton clearly has protection issues so take the results with a grain of salt but its nice to see us take advantage of the opportunities presented.
The only fault with our defense was the penalties. The biggest example of that ridiculous goal line series where we lined up offside 3 times. Goal line is the simplest alignment in the CFL for the defense. If your hand is touching anything but white you are offside. One time? fine rookie mistake by Adams. Twice? It was a borderline call but common guys. Three times? Like 3 people were offside. What in the blue hell is wrong with you dummies?!? Add in a needless earhole hit by Henry and a hilariously blatant Marshall PI late in the 4th. He made no attempt to play the ball and just overtly shoved his guy out of bounds. Given the time and the score it was entertaining but it was another reminder that you take the good and the bad with Marshall. Gotta clean up those mistakes going forward.
Offensively I was pleasantly surprised by our O-line. They were not a liability. I specifically watched Lauderdale and while he was not perfect he held his own a lot better than I thought Boyko did in week 1. Hopefully we have something in him. Yet again Maas called a great game. Teams have cracked 30 points just 3 times this season and 2 of those are us. You can just tell that he and Fajardo are on the same page. Reads a quick, passes are accurate, ball is being spread around. We lost our best WR and didn’t lose a beat offensively. We just have so many weapons with Moore, Lambert, an emerging Lenius and now Picton is suddenly a factor. And Fajardo even missed a couple open seam routes that could have led to a bigger night. We also remembered to run with the lead. My favourite offensive series was in the 4th when everyone in the province knew we were running down their throat and Powell (with that O-line opening things up for him up front) run for 8, 8, 9, 3 and 12.
My only problem with our O was the needless hits that Fajardo took. Look, I know his legs are a big part of what make him effective and I have no problem with him running but both he and the team need to be smarter about how and when. There was a play where he took off and got the first down. He could have stepped out untouched for an 11 yard gain but cut in and took a hit to gain 2 more yards. Those extra hits will add up over a season and he can’t have him crippled come the playoffs (see how well 2019 went). Then with a 3 score lead and 4 minutes left in the game he shockingly was not glued to the bench. He was clearly banged up during the game. Not bad but he’ll be sore today. Any chance to cut down on the wear and tear on his body without impacting the outcome of a game we gotta take. But overall this is a versatile offense that can beat you many ways and is well coached.
I also need to comment on special teams. If you have followed me for any length of time you know how painful these next few words are for me to type… That was Jon Ryan’s best game as a Rider. Every single kick was great. All placed outside the hash marks. Credit where credit is due. That is a game where I have no problem with people cheering loudly for our punter. Quietly Lauther has been perfect on the season as well. Coverage is good. My only knock is that I don’t like Murphy on returns. Too many mistakes and even when he has the ball he doesn’t look like a guy who is a risk to break one anytime soon. Maybe he will improve with more experience but with Ryan suddenly learning how to directional kick Murphy is climbing up my hatred rankings quickly.
It was an emphatic win that instilled confidence in the team and the fans. Riders need to make good use of the home game heavy from half of the session and so far they are. Realistically a win over Ottawa and a split with Winnipeg could have us sitting very pretty early in the year. Especially with Alberta seemingly having outlawed winning for their football teams (hockey as well).
Other random thoughts:
· I love that when the players come out Nick Marshall goes to the mid-field logo to chirp the other team. That mentality of “this is our house” has been lacking in recent years. A couple years ago we let opposing kickers practice on our logo while we were coming out with no pushback. That attitude and swagger from the days of Tad Kornegay and Kitwana Jones defending our turf is back and I love it.
· TV did not do justice to that brawl. It was heated. Harty really got into it (and totally earned his ejection). It was a big melee and even the practice roster players broke from behind their velvet rope enclosure to get into the action.
· Gary Johnson had a solid day on kick coverage and even made plays when he saw some reps on defense. Riders were very high on him coming into the season and we are starting to see why.
· The Riders actually went with Jay Onrait’s idea to play Abba’s Fernando and yell out Fajardo instead of Fernando… Gold!
· Last week it was Yamasucky. This week it was Bertoilet. We have faced some bad kickers so far. Yes awful word play with opposing kicker names is about the best the comedy will get around here. Might as well get used to it.