I imagine there will be a lot of nervous fans in the stands tonight when the Riders take the field against the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. Yes, the Riders boast an 8W-2L record and with a win today could move back into a tie for first place in the CFL West with the Calgary Stampeders. But in a stretch of four games against sub-par teams (Montreal, Edmonton and Winnipeg twice) they’ve shown an alarming tendency to play down to the level of their opponents.
In three of those games the Riders still managed to emerge victorious. But last Sunday in Winnipeg the Riders lackadaisical play finally caught up to them and they fell 25-13. The defense played well in the game. Hell, the Bombers didn’t record a first down until the three minute mark of the third quarter. But thanks to two special teams miscues, and some disastrous red zone play from the Rider offence, the Blue & Gold only trailed 12-10 at the half. Then in the second half they got some momentum on offence, and used several different blitz packages to stymie the Rider offence and record the victory.
Last October, with the Argonauts rounding into form for their Grey Cup run, the Double Blue defeated the Riders at Mosaic Stadium 31-26 (picture above). For this game, though, they’ll be missing QB Ricky Ray, running-back Chad Kackart and receiver/special teams demon Chad Owens. If the Riders were firing on all cylinders this game would likely be a cakewalk like the Rider victory in Toronto in early July. But unfortunately for Rider fans that isn’t the case. Middle linebacker Rey Williams, who had been having an all-star season, is gone for the rest of the year after tearing the ACL in his right knee in the Banjo Bowl. Tackle Ben Heenan and receiver Weston Dressler will also miss the game with injuries. The team is also dealing with an off-field distraction in the form of aggravated assault charges against receivers Taj Smith and Eron Riley and defensive back Dwight Anderson. Then there’s the aforementioned struggles on offence.
Thus far in the 2013 season the Riders have been remarkably slow starters. When they play a top-notch team, the reasoning goes, that could prove fatal. With all the injuries they have at present, the Argos aren’t an elite CFL team. Still, a convincing Rider victory would go a long way toward restoring the faithfuls’ confidence in the team. But should the Riders continue their inconsistent play the fans are likely to grow even more restless.
Game time tonight is 7:30 p.m. And it’s the Riders’ turn to host the CFL Purolator Tackle Hunger Drive promotion. So if you’re going to the game, you’re encouraged to bring along a non-perishable food item and drop it in one of the bins that will be located around Mosaic Stadium.