The Riders 29-25 loss to the Stampeders last Saturday (game photo at left) renders this game meaningless. Actually, the entire last weekend of the CFL season is meaningless as the playoff match-ups are now set. In the East semi-final, the Hamilton Tiger Cats will host the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 10. Later that same day, the Riders will host the B.C. Lions in the West semi-final. The winner of the first game will advance to play the Toronto Argonauts in the East final on Nov. 17, while the winner of the second game will journey to Calgary to play the Stamps in the West final also on Nov. 17.
As for this game against the Eskimos, which goes at Mosaic Stadium at 3 p.m., I would expect the Riders to take the opportunity to rest some of their starters. As for who those starters might be, that will depend in part on who happens to be nursing minor injuries that could benefit from a week off. The danger with resting too many players is that you risk disrupting team chemistry. But every CFL contender is in that boat. And the Argos and Stamps face an even greater challenge. With first place locked up, they won’t play a meaningful game for three weeks. So they’ll have to work hard to stay sharp if they hope to capitalize on home field advantage in the division finals and advance to the 2013 Grey Cup which will be played at Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 24.
In the first half against Calgary the Riders had several chances to build a lead, but the offence failed to take advantage of turnovers forced by the defence deep in the Stampeder zone. The seven sacks rung up by the Calgary defence didn’t help matters, and after the game some fans were critical of the play-calling of offensive coordinator George Cortez, feeling that enough wasn’t done to alleviate the pressure with quick hitters, screens and hitch passes.
In the last four games, Rider receiver Geroy Simon has six catches for a paltry 59 yards. Again, some fans have been critical of the Riders for underutilizing the former Lions star. But realistically, you have to wonder how much Superman has left in the tank. I also can’t help but wonder where the Riders would be on offence if they hadn’t signed Simon and instead deployed a younger import receiver who would now have a full season of CFL experience under his belt. Simon’s non-production could be especially critical if the knee injury suffered by Chris Getzlaf in the Calgary game turns out to be serious.
QB Darian Durant has also come in for his share of criticism. He’s supposed to be banged up somewhat, so I guess the plan is to not play him tomorrow and give understudy Drew Willy the start. That’s a move I endorse, if only to get Willy into game shape should he be needed in the playoffs. Outside of short yardage situations, I don’t believe he’s seen the field since quarterbacking the Riders to a 32-20 victory over the Tiger Cats in Guelph on July 27. In truth, I’m somewhat surprised the Rider braintrust opted to do this. Despite struggling on offence for much of the season, the Riders have demonstrated a fair bit of stubbornness about shaking things up — unlike on defence, where they’ve done plenty of tinkering. I don’t believe running back Kory Sheets is going to play either. Chris Garrett will sub in for him. And Eron Riley is supposed to play in place of Getzlaf.
I’ll have more on the Riders vs. Lions semi-final next Sunday. As well, as part of our Grey Cup Party Guide in our Nov. 14 issue we’ll have a guest appearance by Rider Fan Forum panelists Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy who will look ahead to the West and East finals and offer some thoughts on the CFL season to date.