I doubt there were many members of Rider Nation, no matter how devout, who saw this coming. In the first three games of the admittedly young CFL season, the Riders had been outscored 114-56, including a 39-25 thrashing at the hands of Montreal at Mosaic Stadium on July 9.
So how did they manage to beat the formerly undefeated Als? Well, by doing pretty much everything the exact opposite of what they had been doing so far in 2011.
On offense, fans have been grousing about how Offensive Coordinator Doug Berry was trying to convert QB Darian Durant into a pocket passer instead of designing an offense that took advantage of Durant’s mobility. On Sunday, Durant ran for 71 yards on seven carries. He took one hellacious hit down by the goal-line that caused him to miss a few plays, but otherwise was able to run effectively without paying a price. The Riders also used mis-direction well, and got Durant outside containment, enabling him buy a few extra seconds for receivers to get open.
They ran a few too many gadget plays for my taste, but I appreciated the effort they made to throw long — including a 75-yarder to Weston Dressler (pictured) for a touchdown that put the Riders back in the lead in the second quarter after Montreal had scored a go-ahead TD. By stretching the Montreal defence vertically and horizontally, the Riders were able to open up some running and passing lanes and move the ball with consistency. They also only had one turnover (more on that in a minute).
On defence, the Rider cause was given a major boost when star Alouette QB Anthony Calvillo was knocked out of the game on a hit by Rider DT Dario Romero in the second quarter. But even before then, the Riders had been doing a good job of holding the high-powered Montreal offence in check. It also helped that the Riders won the time of possession battle, enabling the defense to rest on the sidelines instead of being constantly on the field as they were against the Hamilton Tiger Cats last week.
Outside linebacker Jerrell Freeman had an outstanding game, and by giving the Montreal O line different looks, the Riders were able to apply decent pressure on Calvillo and back-up QB Adrian McPherson. They also did a far better job of tackling than in the first three games, stopping Montreal receivers and running backs short of first down yardage on numerous occasions with solid hits.
Both teams lacked discipline at times, with some costly roughing and facemask penalities being assessed. Montreal, I thought, particularly showed a lack of poise. In the off-season, they signed DB Dwight Anderson away from the Calgary Stampeders. Around the CFL, the Stamps have a well-earned reputation for being showboat trash-talkers. Along with receiver Nik Lewis and fellow DB Brandon Browner, Anderson was one of the leading yappers, and he seems to have inspired a few of his new teammates to adopt his confrontational style. It’s something Als head coach Marc Trestman will surely want to address because undisciplined football teams are not championship football teams.
Rider head coach Greg Marshall has been criticized in some quarters for not simply grounding the ball and running out the clock when they scrimmaged on the 25 yard line following James Patrick’s end zone interception with 45 seconds left and the Riders up 27-17. Realistically, though, the team should be able to execute a simple hand-off without coughing up the ball as Hugh Charles did. So I don’t think a running play at that juncture was a bonehead call. Although I’m not sure why Charles was in the game instead of the usually sure-handed Wes Cates.
All in all, though, the Riders were full marks for their victory. With a 1-3 record, they still have some work to do before they can be regarded as legit Grey Cup contenders. But their next three games are against CFL West opponents who have also got off to a slow start in 2011. July 30 and Aug. 12 they host the 2-2 Calgary Stampeders, while on Aug. 5 they travel to Vancouver to play the currently winless B.C. Lions. If they play with the same intensity as they did against Montreal, three Ws may not be out of the question.