After a rough game in Edmonton on Saturday, the Dan-Clarkless Riders have a quick turnaround as they are back at it just 5 days later in Montreal. Normally I’d worry about the notorious Montreal nightlife being a factor on our team’s performance but with such a quick turnaround and us being there on a Wednesday night I sense it won’t be as big a factor as in past years… I mean we are talking about a group of 20 year olds so I can’t completely rule out a weekday trip to the “urban ballet” but it’s just less likely.
Under normal conditions I would be fairly confident about this match-up. Ugly as it may be at times we consistently find ways to win. Conversely, Montreal is wildly inconsistent and finds ways to lose games. I mean they couldn’t beat a not great looking Argo team because they missed a 21 yard FG. When they are good the Alouettes can hang with most teams but they keep proving over and over that they are consistently inconsistent. The problem is, that this game will not be played under normal conditions. While Montreal will be playing on a full week’s rest, we will be playing on 4 days rest with only one practice… oh and just happen to be forced into playing a centre playing in his first ever start to anchor an already struggling OL.
As will likely be an ongoing theme this year, I’ll start with the defense because that’s what currently drives this team. All offseason I heard people predicting the Riders would have a better defense than 2021. I scoffed at that idea. I knew we would have a very good defense but to lose Micah, Woodard, Gainey and Purifoy and only really shore up the LBs seemed like a stretch to say we would improve. In another recurring theme, what the hell do I know? Through 2 games we have 5 more sacks than 2021, 2 more turnovers and have allowed 4 less TDs. Small sample size but there may be some truth to the notion we are better. Secondary is still a question mark a bit but with how well the front 7 and Edem are playing we seem to be able to compensate for that.
With Vernon Adams sick/benched, we will face Trevor Harris. Harris is a “safer” option than Adams. His highs aren’t as high, but his lows are not nearly as low. Though for context, while Harris is more accurate than VA (60% vs. 55%) he’s still so far the least accurate starter on the season. Lots is being made of Antwi as Stanback’s replacement at RB but if you remove that one 70 yard romp, Antwi has a pedestrian 14 carries for 57 yards (4.1 per carry). Geno Lewis is the guy we need to worry about… particularly since Jake Wieneke will not play. Lewis is arguably one of the top WRs in the league (though he doesn’t always get the same fanfare as other big names). Given what Lawler (who plays on a much worse team) did on Saturday, there’s some concern in facing Lewis. Normally you take away the run as a priority on this one but I almost wonder if Shivers goers the opposite route. Antwi doesn’t scare me as a runner, Harris is a checkdown machine and Lewis is the only Alouette receiver who scares me with Weineke out. Montreal OL is nothing special (they have allowed the most sacks of any team not to play us yet) so I can see Shivers trusting his front 4 and leaving his LBs and DBs to concentrate on Lewis and taking away the patented Trevor Harris short pass. (Side note: For all his love of hitches and swing, I’m surprised Jason Maas didn’t petition us to have Harris as his centre piece). Double Lewis, play smart on the short routes and let the D-line continue to do their thing.
Special teams could also play a factor in this. Our kicker is pretty damn good. Their couldn’t knock it in from 21 to win. They have a good punter. Vedvik has been pretty mediocre so far. Placement has been pretty good but distance is nothing too impressive. One area that has been lacking for us is kickoff return. We are dead last in average returns. If Morrow is going to continue to be a key offensive piece then we need someone else to step up as a returner. Not ready to write off Emilus after one mistake. Either way it would be nice to find someone who can make a difference there. Or rush Hickson more to save Morrow a bit to be able to return.
By now you are used to ugly Rider games. Well buckle up because a road game on a short week has ugly written all over it. I anticipate my cursing to be at or above Elks game level. I expect another game where we outplay them but are unable to capitalize and let them stick around. I expect at some point we’ll fall behind and need to make a small comeback. This is going to be about as pretty as a tub of O-lineman laundry after a summer afternoon game.
But here’s the thing, ask yourself honestly: In what will likely be an ugly closely contested game, who ae you betting on to deliver that one score when its needed? Fajardo/Lauther or Harris/Cote?
Riders by a Lauther FG of at least 50.