Saturday the Riders are on the East coast for a showdown with the 1-3 Argonauts in Touchdown Atlantic. It marks the first time that the Riders have been part of Touchdown Atlantic. The match-up highlights the vast differences between the East and West divisions. The Riders have a 4-1 record yet sit 3rd in the west. Toronto has 1 win and sits 1st in the East by virtue of losing the least amount of games so far.
Let’s face it, this will essentially be a home game. Rider fans will travel. Argo fans won’t even travel to their own stadium. There will be more Brett Lauther fans there then Argo fans. So unless Nova Scotia has a large Samoan population that I’m not aware of, expect it to be a largely pro-Riders crowd (too soon?).
There has not been a lot going right for Argos in 2022. Their only win came in their opening game because Montreal’s kicker couldn’t manage to connect on a 20 yard kick. They got thoroughly embarrassed by the Lions. And what was likely their best game of the season ended in a loss because their kicker missed a game tying convert (though let’s face it, they would have lost in overtime anyway). About the only thing they are leading the league in is temper tantrums by over the hill receivers who are underperforming.
I remain confused by the Argos’ continue belief in Bethel-Thompson. He’s just not very good. I mean he can put up ok stats but just watching him you have zero confidence in his ability to win a game. People will point to his 7-2 record as a starting QB last season (a real Michael Bishop-esque argument) but come the East Final he produced 0 TDs. The Argos have exactly 3 TDs on the season. For comparison, we have loudly lamented the lack of firepower from our offense. Well Fajardo is producing TDs on 16% of his drives. Bethel-Thompson is at 8%. They are allowing an average of 3 sacks per game. They have turned the ball over 11 times… in 3 games! Their most productive receiver is not Daniels or Banks or even Ambles… is Kurleigh Gittens. Andrew Harris is about the only good thing they have going for them at this point. They get to face a defense that is allowing the least offensive points, the least rush yards and leads the league in takeaways, sacks and two and outs forced. This match-up doesn’t exactly scream offensive revival possibility. At some point Banks is going to break out for a solitary game, can’t let that happen in this one.
Key match-up will be our run D vs. Harris. Over the course of the season I don’t think he can keep it up, but early in the season he looks to be running strong. Maybe that was just the emotion of playing the team that dumped him, maybe it was just someone else putting something in his supplement that he totally wasn’t aware of. But for now consider Harris dangerous. I expect him to have a decent day rushing. You can’t just take away half your D-line starters and not have an impact. I still like our front 4. Lanier, Leonard and Hughes can carry the load. Adams and Dabire are adequate players. But what really gives me confidence is our LBs. Harris will get his yards, probably more than we normally allow but we should be able to keep him in check overall. Henderson being out is a loss but we did ok with Lkombo at corner and Clark at half early in the season.
Need to limit the big plays on offense. I’ll remind you again that this is a team with 3 TDs and 11 turnovers… if we force them to put together long drives, the odds favour mistakes over points scored.
Offensively, it will be strength against strength and weakness against weakness. The Argos’ major weakness defensively is pass D. They are the second worst pass defense, allowing teams to complete 76% of their passes. We are very good at running. Their run D is not bad and that’s because their front 7 includes Ja’Gared Davis (big concern with our tackles trying to block him), Wynton McManis (their best defender right now) and Henoc Muamba (still an impact player after all these years). But we can’t outthink ourselves on this. We run the ball well, so continue running the ball. Morrow already has 14 runs of over 10 yards and we’ve seen what Hickson can do with a little space. But we will need to pass in this one and based on how well the Argos defend the pass the yards are there for the taking. Schaefer-Baker is the guy we need involved early and often and I think with a secondary this vulnerable a guy as talented as Duke could have a massive game if Cody has any time at all to work. The Argos have 3 total TDs this season… let’s just say I like our defense’s chance of keeping them under 20 (something they have done in all but 1 game). That means our offense just needs 21 points. 2 TDs and a few FGs. I expect very little of them but that seems achievable. Just keep protecting the football and we will be fine.
That just leaves special teams with my weekly “if you aren’t going to help us, at least don’t hurt us” plea. Toronto is the only team worse than us at punt returns, something I’m sure our crappy cover teams will rectify. I expect Mario Alford to start returning some kicks for us. He’s a great returner but so is Morrow so the issue is more a lack of blocking than the talent of the returner.
I’m torn between 2 competing thoughts on this game. On one hand, the Riders are objectively a better team than the Argos. Even with our shortcomings we should be able to win. On the other hand, we are beat up, just lost 2 studs on our dominant D-line, have faced a ton of distractions all week, are traveling across the country and playing a team coming off a bye. Legitimate chance we come out flat in this and get beat by a rested team.
Where I settled was that while the circumstances certainly level the playing field and will make this game a lot closer than it otherwise would be, we keep finding ways to win and this is a winnable game. I expect us to struggle, I expect us to need to fight and claw, I expect curse words to echo in my house throughout the game. But in the end…
Brett Lauther plays the hometown hero by kicking a game winning FG of 50+