Looking back, it seems interesting how the Riders game Sunday against Calgary has become a statement game in more than one respect.
On the football front, the Riders fell 15-9 to Calgary, holding Calgary to no touchdowns, but not being able to hold back their defense who sacked Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge multiple times. If you were going to compare the Riders to a year ago, they are better than what they were, but not quite where they need to be yet.
The Riders fell down on protecting the quarterback and establishing a running game. You could argue their game plan left a lot to be desired but if the quarterback can’t stay up on his feet, it really doesn’t matter what else is going on.
As a measuring stick, the Riders can see how far they have gone and more importantly, how far they have to go. They have one more scheduled meeting with Calgary, in Calgary, which may help Chris Jones figure out how much more tinkering he needs to do in order to compete for best in the west.
So while the Riders found out they are not there yet, they can console themselves with the thought they shut Calgary out touchdown-wise and had a chance to pull it out on the final drive if they were better able to block the Calgary pass rush.
The other statement came before the game when the Rider players linked arms in support of their NFL counterparts who were dissed by President Donald Trump.
There was more to this than just solidarity with their NFL cousins, something that seems to have escaped Tom Shepherd, the head of the Friends of the Riders Lottery who agreed with Trump that players who knelt during the national anthem should be fired.
This past spring I was fortunate enough to take part in an evening tour of the new facilities at Mosaic Stadium, including the locker room, training area and culminating in a question and answer session with players Jonathon Newsome and Jarriel King, neither of whom are still with the Riders.
The Riders lost running back, Joe McKnight in a shooting incident where a white driver shot McKnight for whatever reason has yet to be established in the upcoming trial.
The shooting shook the American players and they talked about how much more comfortable being in Canada where the colour of their skin seemed to be less important than it did south of the border.
The kneeling protests started as a way to draw attention to what was felt to be disporportionate shooting of black men by police. As a a tactic to draw attention, it was noticed at first but didn’t seem to be doing anything until Trump decided to score easy points with his supporters by referring to the players who knelt as SOB’s.
The NFL players/coaches/owners responded with a mass kneeling and the Riders responded by linking arms to show solidarity.
There are those who feel you should stand for the national anthem, to which I respond, as a veteran, do you stand at home when you hear the national anthem played on television?
As a veteran, I support the right of people do speak freely and express their point of view in a peaceful way. I may not agree with various points of view, but freedom of expression separates us from say, Russia, or North Korea. The Rider players gesture had deeper roots than just a reaction to what Trump said, and the statement it made, of a team coming together, is more than a blowhard like Shepherd whose time has long passed, could ever get his head around.
Some other statements should be coming up with the CFL trading deadline coming up and Zach Collaros being the potential prize if a few things falls into place, including Hamilton signing Johnny Manziel. Collaros might be gone to Toronto or Montreal, with Saskatchewan and perhaps BC being a potential landing spot. If Hamilton can sign Manziel to a term deal and get Collaros to take a new team friendly contract, then a move would be most impressive.
With Montreal tanking and Darian Durant losing his confidence and having his money paid upfront, it is highly unlikely Durant will be in Montreal next year and for the sake of Montreal fans, hopefully Kavis Reed is on that list as well. But the wheels coming off Durant and Montreal’s need to sell itself to their fans means the team needs to make a splash to keep fan interest.
Fan interest starts Friday when the Riders go to Ottawa, in a game that is currently rife with intrigue as to who will start at quarterback for Ottawa. When news of Ryan Lindley, the number three quarterback who started and lost against Winnipeg, was taking the number one snaps at practice, suddenly tweets came out that perhaps Drew Tate or even Trevor Harris, may be ready to start on Friday.
I would think that if Trevor Harris does start against the Riders, it will be in two weeks when Ottawa comes to town. Tate is possible, but even more likely is Lindley, but creating a smokescreen is a worthwhile way for Ottawa to get the Riders to plan for a lot while dealing with a short week and then trying to recover from a physical game Sunday against Calgary.
The Riders are adjusting their roster because of injuries and continuing to look for a dominant interior defensive lineman and perhaps a new kick returner. On a short week and considering the uncertainty surrounding Ottawa’s quarterbacking situation, I am going to go to my default position. When Ottawa loses, they don’t lost by much. Last year the teams were fairly evenly matched even though the Riders swept the series, so let’s go Saskatchewan 27-26.
Then we have Montreal going to Calgary. Durant is said to have a “lower body injury” although if there is anything wrong, I would say it is psychological. Montreal has probably the oldest team in the league and not that many up and comers and the defense had its brain taken out when Noel Thorpe was removed as defensive coordinator.
I can see Durant going on a six game injury list, freeing up salary as Montreal looks to build for next year. Which means Durant is not likely back and likely a piece of the upcoming trade puzzle, unless he gets released outright. So expect to see a lot of Drew Willy. Seriously.
Calgary beat the Riders, but had to work at it, and even though Montreal handed Calgary its only loss of the season, I can’t see Montreal having it in it them to sweep the season series when their season is effectively over. Calgary lambasted Hamilton 60-1 an you would think something like that may be in the cards for this game, but let’s be charitable and say Calgary 30-14.
Toronto goes to Hamilton and Hamilton with June Jones managed to surprise many, including me, with a win in BC. So either Hamilton is getting better or BC is that bad. I would go with both at that point and with Hamilton going to Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, they are looking better and are more than capable of making a move up the eastern conference ladder.
Toronto managed to beat Edmonton, who are going down much like the Hindenburg, by unveiling a running game that is very physical. Toronto is getting some pieces back and seems to be building some momentum and this should be a very competitive game. However I am going to go with Toronto on the basis they have a better defense - 30-23.
Finally we have Winnipeg going to Edmonton and Winnipeg must be feeling very good about itself. With a two game lead on Edmonton for second place, first place may be possible, but unlikely, but the chance to put a stake through Edmonton and more importantly, get lined up for a home playoff game, is going to be a powerful motivational force.
Edmonton had the bye week and a chance to get some walking wounded back, but a combination of a multiple of injuries combined with a lack of adult leadership by Jason Maas leads to the suspicion that the Eskimo Way consists of pouting and throwing tantrums until you get your way.
For Winnipeg, winning in Edmonton will go a long way towards convincing them they will be ready to go into Calgary in November for the Western Final and giving Calgary a battle. The problem here is Edmonton is not the 7-0 team that Winnipeg initially knocked from the ranks of the undefeated a couple of months ago, but never let something like that get the way of a good story.
I don’t think Edmonton will roll over and the game should be competitive, but in the end Winnipeg is just playing more consistent than Edmonton and will win this one 31-28.
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