Thursday, June 23, 2022

Riders vs. Alouettes: Thursday Test

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.

 Offensively as much as all eyes are on Bandy, my eyes are on that unit as a whole. If our tackles remain incapable of blocking 1 on 1 then who good Bandy does or not matters a whole lot less. One would expect the Als to throw stunts and delayed blitzes to try and take advantage of the rookie centre. It’s a pretty good front 4 in Montreal. Sewell and Moore give a strong push up the middle and Usher and Ellis are pretty descent off the edge. Given that as recently as Saturday we failed to block 3 man pressure from an Elk D-lineman who was cut based on his performance, I’m very concerned. Fortunately we have a pretty obvious way to help out that line in #25. Running won’t be as easy as it was against the Elks but everything I’ve seen from Morrow says good things will happen if we feed him the ball. He already has 5 carries of over 10 years. Over 2 games Montreal has the 7th ranked run D so they can be run on. Fajardo is nicked up a sporting a knee brace so his mobility may not be able to be as big a factor. I mean, he’s still going to run but his Houdini abilities may be lessened. Lean heavy on Morrow/Hickson. Have fullbacks and extra O-linemen help out in protection. Most importantly get the ball out quick… and I don’t mean throw it sideways. Some slants, ins, outs to get the ball out quick and get out receivers moving in the right direction. Montreal has a pretty good D but they will be missing two top guys in Ackie and Reid and that makes their LBs and Secondary suddenly a lot less dangerous. Having Duke back will be nice. We shown we can survive with just Shaq and Baker but adding Duke back should really open things up as he will draw some attention away from those 2. Cody has done a good job protecting the ball. He is the only QB to go 2 games without throwing a pick (I apologize profusely in advance for jinxing him). That will need to continue. Montreal does not allow a ton of pass yards so not forcing it will be key. On the positive side we already have 4 passing plays of over 30 yards. Last year it took until Week 8 to hit that mark. It’s still stunning to me that that is not a typo… Week 8.

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.


Bryce Taylor said...

If nothing else, we're getting the 'burn the tape' game out of the way early in the season. Yikes.

Rider Prophet said...

Yikes doesn't begin to describe it

Anonymous said...

OL terrible. Rodgers hasn't been good. Explosion plays again vs DBs. Penalties over 100 yds again. What's new? Lots to be worked on. Evans hurt, hopefully not long.