Fresh off a bye week, the 6-8 Riders are in Winnipeg (as if our losing record isn’t punishment enough) to face the 12-2 Bombers. If this were a TV show, we would do one of those “Previously on” montages right now… only in this case it would just be Cody getting sacked and me swearing over and over again. In case you forgot over the bye week, things aren’t good in Riderville. And somehow not only did things not improve over the bye week, they got worse. No I’m not talking about Jake Dolegala. Our 3rd string QB was an idiot and got rightfully punished. About the only thing noteworthy about that is that the Riders managed to somehow be proactive in addressing the issue instead of doing their usual “wait until you are pressured into responding and then do it poorly” routine. No, I’m talking about Frankie Hickson, one of the few bright spots on the team, likely being lost for the season.
Two weeks ago the Bombers got whooped by Hamilton so they aren’t invincible. I still don’t understand how that happened but it shows that anything is possible. So how do the Riders go about pulling off an equally improbable win? Well the best options are illegal and highly unethical and my lawyers advised me not to encourage anything of the sort so let’s focus on the more traditional approach.
It needs to start with the defense. They are unquestionably the strength of this team and any chance of success needs to be led by them. They are coming off 2 of their worst performances of the season and need a rebound. The ongoing absence of Lanier is a major blow to our pass rush. Robertson and Leonard are good but add Lanier in the middle and that’s when we have dominated. Though after watching Thursday Night Football I do have to say I prefer the teams’ cautious approach to returning Lanier from his head injury as opposed to the Dolphins’ approach of YOLO.
D needs to play physical. As much as they will not admit it or do it consciously, the Bombers are in full coast mode. They are going to host the West Final and everyone knows it. So their goal is be healthy for that game. We need to show we are the hungrier team (might even be worth skipping the pre-game meal… or at least picking a different place than the last trip to Winnipeg). Stuff the run and pressure Collaros. That’s our only chance. I know he has been nicked up and has also been creating space for other lineman to get sacks but AC Leonard has yet to really dominate a game since we paid him big money. If there was ever a time for him to step up, this is it. Nik Demksi has been singlehandedly killing us this season so another key will be limiting him. I know it was with the benefit of Labour Day home crowd energy but we held the Bombers to 20 points less than a month ago. We have it in us.
Offensively there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we get back Vaughn, Ferland and most importantly Dan Clark along the OL, legitimately our best 3 OL. The bad news is that the bar for our “best” OL is pretty low and while this certainly improves our OL, its does not suddenly make it good. My only hope is that Clark brings some much needed grit and leadership back to the offense. I would say we should run the ball but a) we have no RBs left and b) Jason Maas doesn’t do that anyway. I still think we should run the ball. LaFrance is nowhere near as dynamic as Hickson or Morrow but he’s serviceable. Again, the Bombers are in coast mode, a physical run game is a chance to level the playing field. I just think it would be the cruelest twist of irony that after months of calling for more runs, Jason Maas finally gives 30 touches to the RB the week after all our good RBs are hurt. LaFrance or not, we need to run regardless. We are not good enough to go one dimensional on O (though in fairness 1 dimensional would be an improvement over the no dimensional we have grown accustomed to). Cody needs to up his game. His reads and throws need to be quicker. He needs to move better in the pocket to help his OL. He needs to not just assume that spin left is a CFL cheat code. When he’s on, he’s a solid QB. He can feed it to Shaq and Moore and Lenius and lead drives. The problem is he’s on so sporadically. Yes his O-line sucks and yes his OC is questionable but at some point we need our QB to lead the team and make some plays. We also need Maas to step up. Last game he seemed dumbfounded by the Chris Jones drop 9 defense (I mean, who saw that coming?). This week I hope to hell he has prepared for the bend but don’t break Hall D. It’s only been around since before Maas was a QB. Patience will be the key. Getting greedy will cost us. We need slow methodical drives and take what he gives us. I completely understand that as I type this Maas is planning an offense based on deep shots, most of them coming in short yardage situations.
Winnipeg has few weaknesses but kick coverage has certainly not been a strength. They are bottom half of the league in return yards allowed and have allowed the 3rd most big plays (very uncharacteristic of O’Shea). Going to need some help from Alford to stay in this one.
I think this game will be closer than many expect. Banjo Bowl was an aberration. We proved on Labour Day we can play Winnipeg close. Most have written the Riders off (myself included) but I think this is a game where they show some pride and hang with the big dogs.
However, I know this team well enough to know that they will build up just enough hope in us to crush it epically in the end. Just don’t see us winning this one.
Bombers by a Leggio FG after a late Cody INT.