Friday the Riders are in Montreal to face the 4-3 Alouettes. Leading the Als are two men that the Riders were all too happy to see punted and the end of last season. And while Maas and Fajardo are both saying the right things publicly (its just another game), if you don’t think both desperately want to stick it to their former team then you probably also believe that Al Bradbury was the best referee ever.
Look here’s the thing about Fajardo: He’s a good QB. Not a great one but a good one (think like the CFL’s Kirk Cousins). He did well here in Sask at first and I know he gave everything had to this team on and off the field. Much respect for the guy. Remember the good time when we all sang "Fajardo!" like Jay Onrait told us to? But I also am praying I will get to see him spin left right into a perfectly timed Moncrief blitz.
As always we start with the defense because any hope of winning relies on them leading the way. They have been playing some great football over the last 3 games and that will need to continue in Montreal. Honestly playing Fajardo is a lot like playing an improved version of Dustin Crum. The key is not letting him get the edge. Ends really need to focus on contain. Cody for all his strengths still does not like stepping up into the pocket if the edges get pressure he will do pretty much anything but step up into the pocket. His favourite options include: getting sacked, turtling and spinning left to avoid pressure. No QB has been sacked more than Fajardo this season but I’m sure that’s merely coincidence and has nothing do to with Maas' play calling or Fajardo being probably the most difficult QB to effectively block for.
Fajardo is a game time decision but let’s be real… he’s playing. He gutted through a lot of stuff here (some of which he shouldn’t have), he’s not missing this game. Stanback is missing which is important. Unsurprisingly Maas is 3rd last in running attempts but over the last couple game he has been leaning on Stanback more and more. Walter Fletcher is a good back but he’s not Stanback. Want a fun stat… the Alouettes have scored 2 less TDs than the Riders this year. We are all over Fine because only 8% of his drives lead to TDs but right behind him is Fajardo at 10%. They are an OK offense that can make some plays. Mack is a hell of a receiver and I expect Philpot to be more involved as he gets back to 100% following injury. But they are a middle of the pack defense and the only thing that concerns me is not our defense's ability to hold them in check (they most definitely can) but the impact of a short week. This D’s worst performance was on a short week against Winnipeg in Week 2. Now in fairness the Bombers/Collaros are a wee bit better O than the Als. For all his struggles last year with the deep ball, the Als are 2nd in the league in 30+ yard passing plays. Turns out you can throw deep better when your knee is not crippled. Who knew?
I will say this I guarantee that in this game Nick Marshall is jumping a WR screen. It’ll either be returned for 6 or they’ll pump him and score 6. There is no in between.
Offensively, Fine needs to continue improving. The Als are a better defense than the RedBlacks but not as good as the Lions or Argos. They are 3rd in points allowed but 5th in yards allowed. That honestly matches perfectly with Fine’s skillset, all the yards, none of the points. I kid... kinda. Als are dead last in sacks allowed and Almondo Sewell will not play. They did add Lemon who is already having an impact so expect the sack numbers to climb. With Sewell out of the middle we should try to run. Odds are we will continue to suck at it because the line gets no push but some semblance of a run game will help our young QB. Priority for Fine is protect the ball. Without turnovers we would have stomped Ottawa. We aren’t exactly the kind of O that can put up enough points to cover up for errors. Gotta find ways to keep getting Bane the ball as he’s clearly our playmaker. But Fine can read the field (if the line gives him time) so spreading it around is important. I don’t want to see him emulate Fajardo but I do think there are about 2-3 more times per game he could make plays with his legs.
I’m a bit torn on what I think will happen. On one hand it’s a short week and we tend to suck in Montreal (it was a 37-13 loss last trip there). On the other hand I don’t think Montreal is any better than we are. Their 4 wins have come against Ottawa, Hamilton x2 and Calgary… all teams with losing records. This is a pretty even match-up. The only place the Als had an advantage was maybe at QB but if Fajardo’s nicked up then its an even playing field.
If I’m a betting man, my money is a on us running out of gas on a short week and losing. But my gut is telling me that Jason Shivers is very much up to the task out game planning for Maas and Fajardo. Lots of hitch screens, no running after the 1st quarter, and always spinning left when in doubt.
D-line steps up and wins the day.
Riders by a Morrow TD.