For the first time in franchise history, the Riders will play the Elks on Friday night. I’m fairly certain most expected a late game match-up between the two western rivals to have a bit more hype to it. I mean it is a meaningful game… but only for one team participating in it. And when it comes to the Elks’ recent performance “participating” may be an overstatement.
The Riders have a prime opportunity sitting in front of them. In terms of the last 3 games, things could not have lined up better. We have Edmonton twice and close on the road against Hamilton. If we beat the worst team in the CFL (I’m ranking them below Ottawa because they somehow managed to lose to them twice) two times, we clinch a home playoff game and can rest our key starters against Hamilton. Its very doable. Except having been a Rider fan for as long as I have, I know they rarely do things the easy way so I have this lingering dread that we are somehow going to screw this up and end up needing a win in Hamilton on the final week.
I could probably write a novel about how awful the Elks have been this season. For the purposes of this post I’ll try and keep it concise and stick to the most pertinent onfield reasons they suck. But you also can’t ignore all the off field stuff from all the garbage surrounding Brock Sunderland to this ongoing feeling that Jaime Elizondo is not cut out for head coaching. There is too much talent on that roster to be this bad. They are actually the opposite of Ottawa who has a good coach but a roster so devoid of talent that they might as well just have employed an intern who flipped a coin to decide on roster moves. Edmonton has done worse in every consecutive season since Sunderland took over in 2017. If he stays just 2 more years he projects to find a way to lose 24 games in 2023. I’ll remind you that both Sunderland and Elizondo were at one point on the list of people the Riders were interested in for GM and Head coaching vacancies. May have dodged a couple bullets there.
I’m trying to be more positive so let’s start with our defense since it’s the only thing I tend to be able to say positive things about. I could give you litany of stats to show how awful the Elks’ are but I’ve narrowed it down to 3 key ones. They are 2nd last in points scored, 6th in sacks allowed and a massive -17 in the turnover ratio. Taylor Cornelius once again gets the start. Man I wish I could find someone to love me and overlook all my many glaring faults like Elizondo does for Cornelius. He has shown nothing and they keep staunchly putting their support behind him. He’s not particularly accurate, he doesn’t run and there are only 3 QBs in the league worse then him at the deep ball: Fajardo, Dominque Davis and… Arbuckle ironically. So if you overlook all that, I guess he’s an ok QB. For me the one stat that tells the story of the Elks O more than anything is that Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson have a combined 1 TD on the year, tying them with guys like Mitch Picton. Walker in particular seems completely checked out. He couldn’t catch VD at a low end brothel right now. It’s actually a shame that both he and Ellingson won’t play because I think his replacement may actually try. Wilder seemed to have been about the only guy who seems to be trying and he’s not playing either this week (due to an injury he apparently suffered trying to execute a double leg take down on Simoni Lawrence last week). Defense just needs to stick to what’s working. Edmonton O-line is not great, particularly on the edges. Both of their tackles are rookies and Nielsen (a global player) is making his first start of the year. Make like miserable for Cornelius and he’ll make mistakes. We can’t take them too lightly as guys like Armanti Edwards, Tevaugh Smith and even Shai Ross have the talent to do damage but if we play physical up front and tackle hard I can’t see them producing much points as long as Cornelius is the one throwing.
Offensively I have one piece of advice: “Hit em in the mouth, hit em in the mouth, hit em in the mouth”. This is a team with nothing to play for and with 4 games coming up in the next 14 days. Sure some of the young guys will be trying but the vast majority of them are in “collect a cheque and don’t get hurt mode”. I would pound it at them with Powell and LaFrance (I would add in Morrow but for whatever reason that seems to no longer be a thing). Make them play a super physical game and they will fold. As luck would have it they are also the worst run defense in the league so it should be a pretty fruitful strategy. If we have less than 20 runs in that game, we have screwed up. Maybe the gains will be small early but by the second half of the game they will get bigger and bigger as Elks wear down and check out. Coming in to the year the Elks looked to have a solid D with the only clear weakness being the linebackers. Well they sit second last in sacks (with a D-line featuring Boateng, Betts, Moore and Ceresna… I don’t understand how that is possible). They have forced a league low 7 turnovers. And they allow more points than anyone not named Ottawa, 28 points per game which is a hell of a dubious accomplishment in a year where scoring is universally down.
I know our offense is not big on starting fast (or starting in general for that matter) but an early score is needed in this one. Punch them in the gut early (not literally, I feel the need to clarify that given our tendency for dumb penalties) and get out to a lead and it will take whatever little life is left in them out of the equation. The longer we let them stick close in this one, the more their confidence and effort level will build. Run a lot and don’t turn the ball over. No need to force bad passes in this one. Take what’s there and make life miserable for the D.
I would say that special teams could play a factor since the Elks allow the most punt return yards but from what I’ve seen of Davis on returns I’m not holding any hope there. At least Edmonton has next to no return game themselves.
I would love to be super confident about this but I think back to just before the first Calgary game and how well we seized that opportunity. Now clearly Edmonton is a much worse team than Calgary. Let me remind you again that the only reason Ottawa has any wins this season is because they got to play the Elks twice. They are the only team without a home win… and at their current trend will soon be the only team without a home fan in the stands. We are the better team and need to go out and prove it.
Riders by 14