Don’t get me wrong, I think the Riders are a talented enough team to compete with the best in the CFL of which the Lions clearly are among. But the caveat there is “when healthy”. We have an elite defense and an offense that survives on a good day. Remove Robertson, Marino and Leonard from the D-line and it completely changes that D. They are still very good… but no longer elite. Remove anything resembling a receiver and the structural integrity of Fajardo’s knee and our offense goes from surviving to acting like a weight belt and pulling this team down. Throw in playing on 4 days rest and the prospects of a much-needed bye week on the horizon and let’s just say I don’t see this going well... except for maybe the booze vendors.
First let me address the QB situation. My love of Cody Fajardo has been well documented. Dude is a tough SOB and gives his all every time he’s on the field. Legitimately he is our best chance to win under centre. That said, this is one of those times when we need to save him from himself. It’s in both his and the team’s best interest to rest him this week (even though I know the team had no intention of doing that). With the bye week next week, a game off gives him 3 full weeks of rest. We need Cody healthy for playoffs. With this “barely limping through each week” thing we are currently doing I can guarantee he will not still be playing come November (or if he is he will be such a shadow of himself that he will make Tino Sunseri look like an offensive juggernaut by comparison). Maybe if we had a good O-line (we don’t), maybe if this was a must win game (it’s not). But I think the risk in playing him in this game far outweighs the reward of a much healthier Fajardo for a very tough August/September run. But he’s starting anyway so let’s get to the game.
With their only loss coming against the undefeated and 2 two defending champs, its pretty clear that BC is a very good team. They are led by a hotshot young QB in Nathan Rourke who is taking the league by storm early in the season. Now we all know that hype is based on science and never wrong, right? Or do we need to take a closer look under the hood of the Lions’ first 5 games to see if they really are the juggernaut they are portrayed to be?
Let me preface this next section by saying, that I still think BC is a very good football team and will be in the mix for the lead in the West… but I think the hype has been overinflated and each week we are seeing more and more weaknesses start to appear. You want some evidence?
· Of their 4 wins, only 1 has come against a team with a winning record. That being Toronto and given that Toronto barely beat a team with no D-line and a practice roster offense, forgive me for saying that the Argos aren’t very good. Their other 3 wins came against teams with a combined 3-16 record.
· After a blazing start we are seeing Rourke regress to the mean a bit each week. In his first 2 games (again against bad opponents) he was completing over 85% of his passes and threw 7 TDs to 0 INTs. In the next 3 games his completion percentage dropped under 75% and he threw 2 picks in each of those games.
· Their points scored have gone down each week from 59 in Week 1 to 17 last week. Defensively, in the first 2 games they averaged 9 points allowed. That ballooned to 29 points over the last 3 games
All that to say that while they are a good team, I don’t think they are unbeatable. As teams get more and more film on this offense, their production is slowing down. (Remember the first 3 drives of 2021 when we looked to have an unstoppable Maas offense? How did things go from there?).
Defensively we face an offense loaded with weapons. Despite my previous criticisms of Rourke he is very good and what you are seeing is the ups and downs of what is essentially a rookie starter. He is protected by a very good O-line. They have allowed just 4 sacks on the season, which the Riders would consider a good half of football. (Mike Reilly is rolling over in his grave with jealously). BC has the #1 rushing attack (did not see that coming). And they have very good receivers. With Burnham out, Rhymes has stepped up and established himself as their #1. He’s playing good football (tied for most 30+ yard catches and most receiving TD in just 5 games). Whitehead is inconsistent but still has the speed to make you pay on any given play. Hatcher and Cottoy are no slouches as the 3rd and 4th options. Crazy stat about the Lions: one third of all their drives end in a TD… the next best is 19%.
Normally I’d say that the key is getting pressure up front but until Leonard, Marino and Robertson get back I think we are reduced to hoping they can survive. The way our defense is playing I expect Rourke’s 2 picks per game streak to continue. But also given that we allow the 2nd most passes of 30+ yards, I expect some long TDs to balance that out. Our offense is not good enough to win this on their own so as with every week we will need to rely on our defense to keep it close and force turnovers. I can tell you that BC won’t make that as easy as Toronto did.
Offensively Fajardo is leading the charge. Despite my reservations about the long-term logic of playing, he gives us a better chance of winning than Dolegala does in this game. Getting some actual receivers back like Duke and to a far lesser extent McInnis will help. The BC D is actually a decent match-up for us. They are #1 against the pass but #5 against the run. I like our chances of victory a lot more with Morrow pounding it rather than trusting our passing attack when facing the likes of Peters, Purifoy, Lee and Sayles. We need to find a way to get Schaefer-Baker the ball early and often in this one. Even if its on that designed run we saw earlier in the season. I still would like to see us run more crossers and timing outs. Without Shaq we seem to suck when chucking it deep but we also can’t just throw sideways. Some 8-15 yard completions are a more reasonable goal. Can’t forget the impact of a re-jigged OL. Vaughn steps back in for Lauderdale so that should be an upgrade. While I like Ferland, it will be his first start at centre in a meaningful game (remember the last time we started a new centre on a short week?). Morrow needs to hit 100 for us to have a chance.
If special teams could chip in with a big return again that would really help. Also if the decent kick covers from last week could continue that would be great.
The Riders are good enough to beat the Lions when healthy. Our identity is elite defense and adequate offense. We can win with that. But while our defense is still very good, without 3 starters on the D-line we are not elite. And with a gimpy Fajardo and a rejigged OL, I’m not sure adequate offense is realistic either.
I think this game will be a lot closer than many expect. This will be one of those games where the Riders give you just enough hope to draw you in and then break your heart. Better days are coming in Riderville but this won’t be one of them.
BC by 10