Friday the Riders travel to BC looking to salvage at least one win in the 3 game season series against the Lions. Based on how everything has gone this season, a road games against the Lions would normally be as close to guaranteed loss night as you are going to get. But there is a shred of optimism because of the absence of phenom Nathan Rourke. Let’s be honest, if he was playing our chances of winning would be lower than my chances of winning the lottery (note: I don't buy lotto tickets). But his absence presents an opportunity for the struggling Riders.
I hate to be that guy, but I’m going to throw some cold water on that optimism. Here is a list of things that Rourke’s absence does not impact: the quality of our O-line play, the performance of our QB, the health of what little offensive weapons we have, the quality of BC’s defense. To be blunt, even if O’Connor is a trainwreck, we are a team that managed only 10 points at home and now have to go on the road without Duke and Morrow (I mean based on how Maas uses him, the absence of Morrow may have a negligible effect but still). So for me to feel confident about this game I would need to assume that our defense can hold BC to 8 points or less. Our only 2 road victories have come in Edmonton… and those were not exactly confidence inspiring performances.
I’m not saying we can’t win. I’m just not all buying into the idea that BC is suddenly a very beatable team. We remain firmly underdogs heading into this game.
Defense won’t have Lanier but does get Hughes back and is otherwise healthy. They need to dominate in this game. Even playing well won’t be enough. It has to start up front. Any thought that a 3 man rush is a useful call should be thrown out the window. Our front 4 need to be aggressive and put pressure on O’Connor. Even the odd blitz would be helpful to ensure we get some hits on him. He still has an all-star cast of WRs at his disposal so even if he’s not Rourke, if we give him time I’m sure he’ll figure something out. We can’t make it easy on him. I would be in favour of a Richie Hall-style bend but don’t break philosophy here. We can’t get lazy in coverage or assume that we can play great zone (we can’t) and allow long bombs to the likes of Whitehead. Make O’Connor work hard to string together long drives. With the playmakers we have, odds are at some point they will force a mistake. I don’t feel confident about much in Riderville these days but one thing I am confident in is Shivers’ ability to throw some unexpected looks at an inexperienced QB. O’Connor is not Rourke but I’m willing to bet he plays a decent game. Now if for some reason Pipkin is forced into action, then my confidence would increase (I’ve honestly never understood what people see in him).
Offensively, please for the love of all that is good do something. Anything. The bar is set so low that even a 5 play drive that results in a punt would be welcome news. Here is a list of things the Riders lead the league in taking penalties, giving up sacks, going 2 and out, smallest gains on first downs and least amount of yards gained through the air. Again, Rourke doesn’t play on defense and they may be getting Bo Lokombo back this week. Expect them to play well at home. But Prophet, you ask, is it hopeless? Pretty much yeah. I mean if our defense consistently gives us the ball in FG range we’d be ok. Or if a sure fire pick bounces off a BC defenders hands over the rest of the defenders and flukily into the hands out our WR who walks in untouched.
Ok. More seriously, if the Riders think they are going to cobble together a mildly competent offense it needs to start with Frankie Hickson. We’ve seen what he can do with his speed and a small crease. He averages 6.7 yards per carry highest among any RB in the league. Long drives aren’t our thing. Hell first downs aren’t are thing. So let’s give him a heavy workload and pray he can break a couple long ones. If I could afford a cameo by Morgan Freeman I would have him interject here as the narrator and say “But Jason Maas did not in fact acknowledge the existence of the RB after the first drive”. Receivers are super thin this week. Normally I’d be pumped about the return of Moore. I flat out love the guy. His ability to break tackles will be a boost but he can’t suddenly reinvigorate this offense by himself. It would be helpful to go back and watch tape of Schaefer-Baker in the first 4 games and maybe remember that in an offense desperately short on playmakers, he can be that guy. Cut back to Mr. Freeman “But Jason Maas did not in fact acknowledge the existence of Mr. Baker.” For me that’s the template to production: Hickson, Baker, Moore in that order.
Realistically for us to win, our defense needs to hold BC under 15 points, our offense needs to produce 10 and then we hope that defense our special teams can produce the difference making TD. Rourke’s absence upgrades our chances from “Michael Bishop getting into the hall of fame” to “Garret Marino getting through a game without a fine, suspension or ejection”. It’s a winnable game… I’m just not betting on it.
BC by 14.