It seems like we’ve been hearing for months how the Riders would have no chance of beating the Bombers if by some fluke we ever made it to the West Final. Certainly the results of our regular seasons meetings would support that theory. But here’s the thing… zero expectations means zero pressure. Last week all the pressure was on the Riders. Pressure to finally win a playoff game at new Mosaic, pressure on Fajardo and Dickenson to deliver their first playoff wins, pressure not disappoint the home town crowd. This week, all that pressure shifts off the Riders and onto the Bombers. They are expected to win (as they should be), so worst case scenario the Riders meet expectations and lose. Anything beyond a resounding defeat is just a bonus at this point. That lack of pressure on the Riders could be an important factor. But the Riders aren’t just coming for a participant ribbon. The CFL playoffs are littered with teams that were better on paper not being better in a playoff game. Remember that Marcus Crandell has as many Grey Cup wins as Ron Lancaster.
Look, the Bombers are damn good. There’s no arguing that point. Pick a stat: most wins, most points scored, least points allowed, most takeaways, least giveaways, least sacks allowed, lowest average fan IQ /teeth count, least penalized… the list goes on and on. So I agree that they come into this game the heavy favourite. But I stop short of buying the theory that the Riders have no chance. Yeah the final scores in our two previous games are not flattering but dig a bit deeper and you will find that in both games we kept it close in the first half. On Labour Day we were actually leading at half time (Micah Johnson did not play that game). At Banjo Bowl we were down just 3 points at half (in a game with no Leonard, Purifoy or Marshall and lost 4 more players to injury/ejection). So the issue is not ability, its longevity (I’m told that’s a perfectly normal issue that lots of people deal with).
So how do we go about engineering the massive upset? I was going to use an expression to describe looking for their weakness but I don’t think I can say the one about looking for that certain something in their armor and given how 2021 started, I don’t really want to say we need to find their Achilles heel.
Defensively, I think we have a few things going for us over the regular season. This will be the first time we face the Bombers with both Micah and Leonard in the line-up. Winnipeg has the best OL so we need all the firepower we can get up front. We also have much more stability in the secondary then the last time we met. LBs are a bit more interesting as Hendy went crying home, Dearborn is hurt and Tietz is nicked up. Key is obviously stopping the run first. Andrew Harris hasn’t played in close to 2 months and so you know he will be jacked up (probably on a supplement that some mystery assailant put in his water against his knowledge) to prove himself. Gotta limit that. D-line needs to at least make Collaros uncomfortable. Sacks will be hard to come by but if he has time and a clean pocket he’ll pick us apart. Bombers give up very few turnovers but I have a feeling we are going to need one or two of those if we want any chance in this one. Also, based on the fact that we know our offense won’t produce until the 4th quarter, we need to not let Winnipeg get up early. The longer we keep the game close, the more our odds of grinding one out go up. We are not built to come from behind and Winnipeg is very much built in all aspects to play with a lead.
Offensively, someone just tell Cody that it’s the fourth quarter all game. Fourth quarter Cody is deadly. First quarter Cody is responsible for my kids learning a lot of curse words. Let’s help him out though. Question, do we want Cody chucking it 40 times a game relying on Lauderdale and Boyko to stop Jefferson and Jeffcoat 40 times? Simplest way to avoid that is give another big workload to Powell. It will be tough slugging as Bighill is a formidable force but if we don’t run a lot, we’re in trouble. Also, the logic would say that Fajardo needs use his legs again but I’m guessing Richie Hall has heard of game film and will basically assign Bighill to scheme that away. There will be chances to run but there will be fewer than last week. May have success running Powell one way and Fajardo another and forcing Bighill to decide who has the ball. Maybe this is the week that we realize before the 3 minute warning that Duke is our best receiver and lean on him. Maybe. We are going to need to spread the ball around but if you have watched any film of our receivers since Duke arrived and come to the conclusion that other receivers deserve more targets then him well then you just might qualify for citizenship in Manitoba. Nothing good came of trying to get Evans going last game… but you gotta go back to him because we’re going to need all the help we can get for our lackluster offense to score points on the best defense in the league. I still believe Shaq has some big plays in him. Help our tackles anyway you can: run the ball, add extra blockers, dump offs to Dupuis, timing outs. Hell if they are going to be aggressive, why not throw a flea flicker at them? Who am I kidding, the 2021 Rider flea flicker would result in a swing pass somehow.
Lots of talk of the Bombers being rusty since they have been playing meaningless football since September. Probably some truth to that but I’m not counting on it too much. That said, we gotta hit ‘em in the mouth early. Not literally ala Shawn Lemon but we need to set the tone early that we can hang with them and not let the crowd to too riled up. An early score would be ideal but I will settle for the much more realistic trade early FGs and keep the score low.
Here’s how I see it. On paper our odds of victory are about on par with my chances of making through the game without rye. But pretty much every game this season we seem to end up in a situation where our odds of victory are slim. As despite all his faults this season, the one thing I will never do is doubt Fajardo’s ability to deliver a score when it matters most. So why not this Sunday?
Fully prepared to have my heart broken but against all logic…
Riders by a Lauther FG.