Saturday the Riders are back at it looking to stay undefeated against the visiting RedBlacks. Coming into the season, it was pretty much universally concluded that the RedBlacks would be the worst team in the league. So its not super surprising that their supporters are basking in their week 1 win and calling out their detractors for writing them off too early. As someone who actually watched that game, I remain steadfast in my belief that they are not a good team (for reasons I will detail below). I hate being overconfident but there is no reason we should lose this game. But… there is one memory in my brain haunting me and holding me back from being as cocky as I should about this game.
Flashback, June 20, 2019. It was another early season match-up between he Riders and the used to be Riders. An objective assessment of that RedBlack roster showed no reason the Riders should lose that game either. We were right, the RedBlacks were awful and won only 1 more game the entire season. But on that day (shudder), Dominque Davis clearly sold his soul to the devil for one day of superhuman ability. Two years of pondering that game and that is the only plausible explanation I have come up with. He shredded our D in a performance he would never recreate. So every ounce of me wants to scream from the rooftops how terrible Ottawa is but the ghost of bad defeats past is keeping me somewhat reserved.
So let’s get into this. Why do I still think the RedBlacks suck despite an opening week win? Look closer that the result. They produced 94 net yards on offense. Allowed 423 yards on defense and won by 4 points thanks to a pick 6 that resulted not from great defensive play but rather from the receiver accidently bobbling the ball into the defender’s hands. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like a sustainable recipe for success. I will admit their defense played better than I expected but given that I expected awfulness, that’s not exactly saying much.
Here’s how we go about ensuring we don’t repeat 2019.
Defensively we need to keep a terrible Ottawa O down. Some stats from Ottawa’s week 1 win for your consideration: 71 passing yards (that is not a typo), 5 sacks allowed, 16% on second down conversions (20% lower than the next worst team), 7 first downs (again NOT a typo). The issue is not coaching. LaPo is a great offensive mind. The issue is that his GM has essentially provided him with spam and expects him to prepare a gourmet meal. Sure when you have the best OL and talent like Harris, Demksi and Adams, you can lead a competent attack with Matt Nichols. But an unproven OL, talent level at WR that would embarrass a U-Sports team and a decent but not great RB… well that’s another story.
Another strong game from our front 4 will go a long way to keeping Ottawa down. Take away the run game and make Nichols’ life miserable. Small sample size but we have the best run D so far in the CFL averaging just 39.5 yards allowed per game. While Ottawa has no real receiving threats outside of RJ Harris our DB’s can’t take this too lightly. Hopefully Marshall remembers how many yards he gave up in that 2019 game. Expect LaPo to compensate for a lack of offensive fire power by getting creative (reverses, misdirections, maybe even a trick play). I’d be looking to get Coombs or Devonte Dedmon involved (similar to how he used Demski in Winnipeg). Stay aggressive, force turnovers, don’t play down to the opponent’s level.
Much is being made of Ottawa’s defense after Week 1 but I think it’s a bit overblown. They looked good and actually earned 2 of the 3 turnovers they got. But they also allowed 426 yards and a league high 75% completion rate against an offense that we are finding out just might not be very good. So while their defense isn’t a complete joke (like their offense it) they aren’t world beaters just yet. They have solid LBs and a mostly decent secondary.
We come in firing on all cylinders. We are averaging a league high 28.5 offensive points per game and completing 75% of our passes (conveniently, exactly what Ottawa allowed in week 1). How we are doing it is the interesting thing to me. We have no passing plays of over 30 yards (we 0 for in that department so far… though I like our odds of breaking that this week). Where we are thriving is the short-medium stuff. Fajardo is completing 84.6% of his passes 10-19 yards. We just need to stick with the game plan. Strong run game. Spread the ball around and get it out quick. All of that will keep Fajardo upright. Losing Shaq hurts a lot but I think we are well built to survive his absence. Lambert can step into his spot and provide us with a big bodied reliable receiver. We spread the ball around so much that we weren’t overly reliant on Evans in the first place. Moore is now the go to and we will need guys like Lenius to continue to step up. Also it finally gives us a chance to see Paul McRoberts. After 2 years of hype I would like it settled once and for all whether he is the next Terrence Nunn or the next Namaan Roosevelt (who was also stuck on the bench for the start of his Rider career).
The one thing that legitimately worries me about Ottawa is DeVonte Dedmon on returns. He’s dangerous and we can’t let him be a spark to another improbable win. Add to that the fact that Nigel Harris, Gary Johnson and one of the Herdmans are hurt and potentially 25% of our stating cover team is out. The other thing that worries me is our discipline. In a winnable game you can’t give your opponent free yards. We were handing those out against Hamilton like it was an STD at Craven. We are the most penalized team this year (apparently the Jason Maas influence is extending beyond the offense). Gotta cut that down.
If we want to keep pace with Winnipeg in the race for tops in the West and continue to widen the gap between us and the bottom feeding Alberta teams, we need to win this game. The team can’t afford to get overconfident but as long as they play at the level they have been (and not down to their opponent) there is no reason they should lose. Please, please, please no repeats of 2019.
Riders by 14