The Saskatchewan Roughriders refused to fold with three games left in the season with a 29-24 win against the Calgary Stampeders that might have turned their 2018 season around.
The Riders limped into Calgary following a 31-0 blowout at the hands of the God Less Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and just for good measure, news came out of defensive end Charleston Hughes being charged for refusing to provide a breath sample after being found passed out on the Ring Road prior to the Winnipeg game.
The Riders looked like they were doomed to spiral into the playoffs with an ineffective offense and a defense that seemed that it was starting to self-destruct. In Winnipeg this perception was greeted with feasting and celebrations as the Bombers started to sweep the streets in anticipation of their Grey Cup parade which they last celebrated in July.
The Riders were also hit with injuries on their offensive line which saw Brendan LaBatte move to centre in place of Dan Clark and Josiah St. John stepping in for Dariusz Bladek. The recipe seemed set for Calgary clinching second and sending the Riders spirally out of control.
Except the Riders, who also hosted the spectacle of Hughes at first being named to the roster only to be taken off the roster and fined, decided to show they can be a team that learns from their mistakes and corrects them. The changes on the offensive line didn’t overly hurt the Riders as they managed to rack up 492 yards in total offense.
The offense featured the Riders using a ball control offense that kept Calgary’s offense on the sidelines and allowed the team to respond to Calgary touchdowns with long drives that took time off the clock but more importantly, took back the momentum the Stampeders had seemed to build on now and then. The result was an ideal playoff style offense that suited a game that had profound playoff implications.
The Riders have made a point of rotating their offensive and defensive players into games throughout the season with the intention of keeping them fresh for the playoff run. The rotation has helped when players have gone down with injuries such as with Clark, or when they screw up off the roster as Hughes did.
All of this has helped to put the process by which Chris Jones has attempted to build the Riders into perspective. By adding the right pieces now and then to the offense and defense, the Riders have ensured their team is not overly dependent on a particular player and is able to continue moving ahead.
It is a vision that was not overly apparent when Chris Jones took over the Riders and jettisoned Weston Dressler, Chris Getzlaf, John Chick and eventually Darian Durant as Jones started to building towards what the team is today. This doesn’t mean to say the Riders should start booking their Grey Cup rings because the team still has some major hurdles to overcome.
The next stage for this team will come Saturday when the BC Lions comes to town. The Lions put themselves into the playoff picture with a win over Edmonton at home, but even more impressive was the way the Lions have responded under Travis Lulay and the rebuilding job the Lions have done under GM Ed Hervey.
The Lions still have an interesting dichotomy of being very success at home and being less than success on the road. The Lions have games against the Riders and Stampeders and still have a solid shot at second place if they can beat the Riders.
The Riders won the first game against the Lions, becoming the first of only two teams to win at BC Place this year, and now have to try avoiding sitting on their laurels against the Lions. The Lions have responded with judicious trades and acquisitions made by Hervey including Tyrell Sutton at running back; Grey Cup 2017 MVP DeVier Posey at wide receiver in addition to Shawn Lemon who the Lions got from Toronto. Add to this the likely return of linebacker Solomon Elimimian to the defensive corps and the Lions are in position to make some noise in the playoffs.
The play of Lulay at quarterback seems to have given the Lions greater confidence in their offense and the Lions will be looking at perhaps using their backfield of Sutton and Jeremiah Johnson to provide the Lions with the ability to play in cold weather and move on in the playoffs.
For the Riders to win, they will need to be able to protect Zach Collaros and avoid turning the ball over to the Lions. On defense sustained pressure will help, in addition to greater awareness of the running game BC will likely unveil, depending on weather conditions. BC definitely has momentum with a couple of recent wins, but considering their last game was against the feckless Edmonton Eskimos, whose coach Jason Maas may be walking the plank if he can’t conjure up a playoff spot, it may be too early for BC to start booking their own Grey Cup tickets.
Speaking of the Eskimos, the word from Terry Jones, the scribe of the Edmonton Sun, is that Maas and defensive coordinator Mike Benevedes may be walking the plank following the duo’s inability to make halftime adjustments and therefore set the table for the Lions to take a much needed win away from the Grey Cup hosts.
The rumbling from the Eskimo locker room has been growing louder and this seems to fit with the announced decision by Mike Reilly to not sign a new agreement until after the season is over. It seemed on the face of it Reilly might have been waiting to see what the new collective bargaining agreement might consist of before making a commitment, but considering the job Ed Hervey has done in rebuilding BC and how Chris Jones has worked to build up the Riders, it seems there will be at least two suitors for Reilly in addition to the Eskimos.
If Reilly has had enough of the Eskimos and the way Maas has run, or failed to run the team, that would set off an earthquake in Edmonton to rival the tsunami of Grey Cup tickets about to hit the market if the Eskimos fail to make the big game. BC would seem to be a bit of front-runner considering Reilly hails from Kennewick Washington State and played at Central Washington.
Add to this the feeling on the Eskimo fan site that the CFL is in peril because the Eskimos are losing games and are being screwed by the CFL, TSN, the Illuminati and Justin Trudeau, and the potential for pitchforks and burning torches just grows by the minute. Throw in the departure of perhaps one of the best quarterbacks to wear an Eskimo jersey in many years and the potential for stroke victims in Edmonton will hit record and alarming numbers.
The Riders cannot be discounted as a potential home for Reilly if you consider the apparent bond between Reilly and his former coach Jones. If Jones has the structure in place for a sustained run at the Grey Cup, then Reilly may choose to twist the knife for Eskimo fans by joining Jones.
The Eskimos have a bye week this week, which will allow the rumors to continue to grow and the outrage to fester and sets up the spectacle of Edmonton fans cheering for Calgary on Friday night against Winnipeg because if Winnipeg wins, the jig is up for the Eskimos. The Eskimos are going to be making changes this off-season, but how big and how wide those changes are remains to be seen.
As mentioned, Calgary is in Winnipeg on Friday night in a game where Winnipeg can put Edmonton out of its misery or Calgary can clinch first place and make next week’s game against BC mean absolutely nothing. The Stampeders were out of the first half of the game against the Riders, made a run in the second half, and were left trying to pull a miracle out of a horses’ rear end with 10 seconds left.
The Stampeders are trying to build and integrate a new group of receivers following their original group of receivers ending up on the injury list. The Stampeders have added former CFL rookie of the year Chris Matthews and former Stampeder Bakari Grant in an effort to provide some punch to their offensive attack.
The inability of quarterback and receiver to be on the same page was evident at times during the game, and the Stampeders went away from their running attack when the Riders used more ball control offense tactics in the second half. The Stampeders still have the best record in the league, but back to back home field losses to BC and Saskatchewan have made it clear that if the Stampeders cannot find the consistency on offense they will need in the playoffs, their season could well end in the western final rather than the Grey Cup where Calgary usually finds their season ending…without a win.
The Bombers on the other hand have had two weeks to savor their 31-0 win over the Riders, and watched with interest as the Riders beat Calgary. In the world of Bomber math, if they are 31 points better than the Riders, then getting the Stamps at home should allow the Bombers to win by 35 points.
The Bombers can also finish off the Eskimos with a win, which would be nice, considering how the Eskimos beat the Bombers in the Western Semi-Final last year. The Bombers will want to start tuning up for the playoffs with a big win and give notice to the rest of the western conference while they might not finish in first, they should be considered the favorites to win the west and finally break the jinx of no Grey Cups since 1990.
This should be a great game, especially pitting the Stampeders rebuilt receiving corps against Winnipeg’s defensive secondary. If the Bombers are going to go far, their defense will have to carry the team and hope the offense does not turn the ball over.
This is a situation facing the Stampeders as well as they try to get their receiving corps up to speed. The difference in this game will be the play of the quarterbacks and based on the previous records, you have to like Bo Levi Mitchell being better positioned to win than Matt Nichols. The Stampeders win this one by one point, 28-27,
Then we have the third act of the Ottawa Redblacks against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ottawa won last week despite being dominated in the first half because Hamilton’s collapsed like a house of cards in the second half and Hamilton’s offense took a hit when Brandon Banks went out with a broken clavicle and will be lost for the season.
So if Jeremiah Masoli is going to live up to the Most Outstanding Player talk that has come out since the start of the season when Masoli tied the CFL record for consecutive games with 300 yards or more passing, it has to start now. Hamilton has had its share of injuries in its receiving corps, but with Marques McDaniel and now Terrell Sinkfield Jr. returning to the scene of his former CFL glories, the Cats hope their slow blending of new receivers into their offense will finally pay off.
The problem is that Hamilton’s problem may lie with their defense, and Ottawa, who, boosted their defense with the addition of former Montreal linebacker Chris Ackie in an effort to find more consistency, has the edge here. Ottawa has won the season series with Hamilton, so if the two teams are tied at the end of the season, Ottawa has the trump card since Ottawa ends the season with a game against Toronto while Hamilton faces Montreal.
Ottawa would like to have a winning record for the first time in team history, but they will have another week to realize that goal. Ottawa also plays meh on the road while Hamilton barely has a winning record at home. For Hamilton, there is more motivation to try to win while Ottawa has the luxury of being able to rest some regulars this week and have them ready for their tune-up game against Toronto. Hamilton will win this one at home 28-24.
On Saturday the BC Lions come to Regina to try to close the gap with the Riders and perhaps make an effort to end up in second place. There will be a definite playoff atmosphere at Mosaic Stadium because the Lions have been on a three game winning streak. The Riders are keeping their options open for finishing first, but are realistically looking to host the western semi-final and send another statement that the 31-0 shellacking was just a fluke in the making.
BC is playing well and has momentum and motivation, considering the Riders took one at BC earlier this season. Both teams will be looking at this game as a preview and considering a win is needed for both teams, no one will be looking to looking to play possum in this one.
This should be a great test for both teams – BC to prove it is for real while the Riders continue to try to exorcise the ghosts of Winnipeg. The Riders should win this one 27-24.
Finally, we have Toronto at Montreal on Sunday in a game which asks the question – will Johnny Manziel ever win a game in the CFL? For the Riders sake, one hopes Manziel finally wins one and beat Toronto, because the Riders have specialized in being the cherry team for various players and teams. Otherwise this is a game where Marc Trestman makes perhaps his final appearance in Montreal if reports out of Toronto are correct.
Manziel was pulled in his last series because Mike Sherman didn’t think he had the arm strength for a Hail Mary pass. And that pretty well tells you how the Manziel era will end in Montreal – with a whimper than a bang – Toronto 27-24
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