The third and final edition of Stamp-toberfest goes down Saturday in Cowtown. I spent the bye week reflecting on how much things have changed since this 3 game series kicked off at the start of the month. They were 2-5 and hanging out in the basement with the Elks. Were 5-2 and still had a mathematical chance at first. They were on the verge of missing the playoffs. We were a sure thing. The Stamps were philosophically against running the ball. Bo Levi led the CFL in interceptions… well I guess not everything as changed. We somehow went from a legit chance to bury them by simply winning 2 of 3, to praying we can salvage a solitary win to keep us relevant in the race for second in the West. October has not been a good month.
But both the team and their prophet are refreshed after a week off and ready to try and get things back on track. I mean I can’t promise that. I fully intend to be as error prone and nonsensical as I ever been, just a more refreshed form of nonsensical. But the team is looking to get back on track and they should have two huge (both figuratively and literally weapons) to help them in that regard in Shaq Evans and Duke Williams.
So let’s start on offense since Duke and Shaq are all the talk. I do agree that these two boost our offense. But I will remind you that over the bye week neither converted to an all-star level offensive tackle, so they are not the miracle cure that some are expecting. The deep ball still requires some amount of protection for Cody to throw. But I do think that their presence will help in 2 key areas. The first is Fajardo’s confidence. Its obvious Shaq is his guy. He trusts him. Its also obvious that he doesn’t trust the others (he even said so before quickly apologizing). At the start of the year Fajardo just seemed to be reacting to plays naturally and not having to think about it. Without trust in his guys he’s second guessing his reads and not throwing some throws that might be there even if they are tight. Duke is a big, but more importantly, a physical receiver. He will fight for a ball and everyone on the field know it, Cody included. The other way it will help (and Commenter Gov touched on this in the comments of the last post), is the ability to win one on one match-ups. The answer to protection issues is leaving more guys into block (FB, RB, extra OL) but that leaves less receivers to get open so they need to win their match-ups. I like our current guys but none of them strike me as someone that can absolutely get open when they need to. Shaq and Duke can. So you can leave more protection in if you know your receivers will be able to make use of the time it gives your QB. I honestly don’t think either Duke or Shaq go off in game 1. Duke needs to round back into CFL form and Shaq is just back from injury. But if they can 2-3 key catches that may be just enough to win in what has been a very tight series.
I hope in all the hoopla around the new receiving weapons we don’t forget about a guy named Willie Powell. The more workload we give him the easier it makes life on the O-line and Fajardo. I also despise how often we go empty backfield (we might as well just yell out, please come sack Cody at this exact spot as he tries in vain to pass) and how often we do that stupid switch motion where Powell goes out to receiver and Lenius comes in to block. It’s fooling no one. Stop it. We also need to use the attention that Duke and Shaq will draw to our advantage and not forget about guys like Moore and Schaefer-Baker who should have more space out there. I think Jamar Wall is an underrated piece that Calgary D that has been a key part in their resurgence. They went 2-4 during his 6 game absence and are 3-0 since his return. He’s not the only factor but he’s an important one. Honestly I know everyone wants to see us chuck it to Williams on the first offensive snap. If it were me I would run Duke deep and look like we are throwing there and then hit a crosser or an out underneath that. It will be open. In true Maas style the more likely scenario sees us pump the deep shot and check down do the swing route. The swing route is a lot like Sex Panther… 60% of the time it works every time (though 60% is being awful generous).
Defensively for the love of god can we not spot them a TD to start the game?!? Last 2 times we have and then late in the first smartened up and started playing actual D. Its kinda wild to me how relatively consistent our D has been despite a constant churn of injuries. This week the wheel of injury will see Campbell and Brown sit (jury is out on whether that is a bad thing or not), Leonard is trending out (which would be a huge loss). Also as of writing this, Bouka is out and Oneyka is not looking promising. Honestly not sure how we will coble together a secondary... so that's concerning. Who we really need back is Edem to solidify the safety spot and get Purifoy back in his normal spot but that’s a ways off yet. Key will be shutting down Kadeem Carey. He killed us last game and at least half his yards came after the initial guy should have made the tackle. Despite his resurgence, Bo is still throwing picks so putting pressure on him to win with his arms will help. Calgary has an extremely good OL so the challenge is big for our DL but we need to see some disruption from them. Ucambre Williams is out with an injury so that does create a potential weakness to be exploited. Kamar Jorden looks to be back for the first time this series… which is not good for us given our struggles to contain receivers with half his talent. I’ve just come to expect with our D that they will turn in a performance that is ugly but ultimately good enough to give us a chance to win. We are like the football equivalent of a girl with a butter face. (Google it if you don’t know the term).
There’s been a lot of negativity around the Riders the last 3 weeks (and I have been a large part of that) but here’s the thing… despite not playing great football on either side of the ball, we lost to Calgary by 6 and 3 points respectively. We have no offense, a defense that takes a quarter to wake up and we are still one TD or one defensive stop away from victory. The Stamps are a team on the rise and Calgary is never an easy place to play. So there is a legit chance we lose a third straight time.
That said, maybe its just my green coloured glasses or a deep seeded desire to have my hopes built up and then crushed (which is mandatory for long-term allegiance to the Riders)… but I have faith in this team to show some grit. Any chance of a home playoff hinges on a win. Hell another loss and the possibility of missing the playoffs creeps into the picture. We have been close despite playing some bad football. The combination of a bye week to refresh minds and bodies and a morale boost from Evans and Williams should be just enough to limp us across the finish line on the third attempt.
Riders by a Lauther FG… but like picture the ugliest scenario that leads to a win in your mind and it will be an uglier win than that. Beggars can’t be choosers at this point.