It happened, it really finally happened. Every year Regina hosted the Grey Cup we dared to dream about the Riders being in the big game. That dream died sometime in the summber in 1995. It ended a week away in heartbreaking fashion in 2003. But this year we broke through and made it. If that wasn't added drama, we have three famous ex-Riders coming back with the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I am not going to get into those story lines here. You folks have gotten enough of that the last few days. This is all about the big game tomorrow. We played the Cats twice really early in the year and won both games. They are a much better team now so don't expect another 37-0 whitewash like their last appearance.
Probably Starters: Riders - Durant, Tiger-Cats - Burris. Well those quarterback threads that were so hotly debated seem so long ago now doesn't it? Going into this Grey Cup, this is the best 2 games I have seen a Rider QB put together going into a Grey Cup. I don't need to say much more than that. Hank had a great 35 minutes against the Argos in the East final. Going back and watching the game, he wasn't having a great day until that TD drive late in the first half. He also did not have a good ESF, albeit the weather conditions were horrid. Then you look at the regular season stats. Darian threw more TD passes and less Ints. Burris had more yards as a result of putting the ball in the air. Burris deserves lots of credit for the late TD drive against Montreal in regulation and winning against Toronto, but Durant's play in the playoffs has been better. Slight Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Sheets, Tiger-Cats - Gable. Well Jon Cornish won the regular season over Sheets. He won the Oct 26 game after all the words ahead of time, and he will win the individual awards. However in the game where it mattered the most for the right to play in the Grey Cup, Kory Sheets won the matchup hands down. We will see another good one in Gable, the leading rusher in the East and fourth in the league. Gable has made a lot of highlight real plays this year hurdling guys and breaking tackles. He's a threat out of the backifeld too, but does have the occasional dropsies. I know Hank has called Gable the best back he's every played with, Austin called him the best in the league. Sorry, I'll take our guy with almost 1600 yards despite missing almost 3 full games and coming off a 177 yard playoff performance. What could be another big factor is how Jock Sanders was a bigfactor out of the backfield in the West Final. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Dressler, Getzlaf, Simon, Smith, Bagg,Tiger-Cats - Fantuz, Gigeure, Grant, Ellington, Tasker. These are both really good groups of receivers. Hamilton suffered injuries this year which would explain why despite Burris's numbers they didn't have a 1000 yard receiver. Andy Fantuz was on fire in the EF. It would be nice if Chris Berman did a CFL reference on his show on Sunday and pulled out a "A-tisker a-tasked" like he used to do for Luke Tasker's dad. All 5 RIders receivers made contributions in the West final, and a lot has been made of the 3 1000 yard receivers. This one's a tough one for me. Like last week, I'll go with experience. Slight Edge Riders.
Probable starters: Riders - T - Heenan, Fulton, G - Labatte, Best, C - Picard, Tiger-Cats - T - Simmon, Figeuroa, G - Dyakowski, Wojt, C- Hage. At the start of the year, I would have never thought that having Chris Best ouf of the lineup would have such an impact on the line. It's been like the first half of the year having him back. Sure the Stamps had their tackles out, but our tackles did a good job on Law and Hughes as well. The Hamilton line played well last week. Henry got sacked one or twice but for the most part he had plenty of time to throw Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - DE - Chick, Foley, Hall, T - Shologan, McElveen, Tiger-Cats - DE - Boudreaux, Norwood, DT - Bulcke, Davis. The Hamilton front is much better than when we faced them in the summer. Davis has made them a lot better. Norwood and Boudreaux have gotten better as the year goes on. We haven't seen that dominant pass rush from our defensive line in the playoffs like we may have anticpated with lots of sacks. However, they have been making lots of plays, like McElveens's interception and Chick knocking down a potential TD pass. Our ends did a good job of geting outside of Cornish last week not letting him turn the corner. Edge Riders
Proable starters: Riders - MLB - McCullough, OLB - Brown, Butler, Tiger-Cats - MLB - Johnson, OLB - Murray, Lawrence. Our linebackers deserve lots of credit for Cornish not getting the running game going last week too. Mike McCullough makes his first start against Hamilton since Rey was in the lineup in the summer. Rico Murray impressed me in his first game in Regina and has continued to play well. He's the cover linebacker for the Cats altough Brandon Isaac will get time there too. Shamari Lawrence has improved the Cats defence, unlike Shomari who well….you know. Even
Probabl staters: Riders - CB - Williams, Jaockon, HB - Anderson, Maze, C - Brackenridge, Tiger-Cats - CB - Breaux, Davis, HB - McCullough, Hobbs, S - Stephen. It's hard to complain about a secondary that was part of a defense that held the high powered Stamps to 1 TD and 13 totaly points. The one concern would have been the 4 long completions that the Stamps got last week. Our guys negated two of them by stripping the ball. They will have to tighten up the deep coverage this week. Even McCullough is the leader of the Hamilton secondary and has Grey Cup experience with the Argos last year. Courtney Stephen is a good young safety for the Cats. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Sanders, Tiger-Cats - Banks. Jock Sanders was steady for us last week and got those 10-15 yard returns that helped with field position. We didn't come close to breaking one though. Tristan Jackson is back with him if we need two guys back. Brandon Banks had been an electriying returneer for the Cats. He has taken a missed FG back all the way to win a game late. Edge Tiger-Cats
Probably starters: Riders - Milo, Tiger-Cats - Congi. Milo's first kick of this year's playoffs rang off the uprights but it was not an omen of things to come. He hasn't missed since then. Congi is one of the ex-Riders coming to Regina who is totally under the radar due to Austin, Burris, and Fantuz. He had his job threatened a few times this year, but has hung on; mostly due ot the newcomes struggling too. Edge Riders
Probably starters: Riders - Schmitt, Tiger-Cats - Bartel I was shocked when Schmitt put his punts up high early last week to have the wind knock them down. We didn't see it much in the game after that since he only had one or two more punts in that direction, but I saw at halftime he was practicing line drives in that direction. For two quarters he will need to do that today. Bartell is a good punter, and thanks to Rod Black we are all aware he is an Aussie. He has the opportunity to kick into a tough wind in the ESF. Edge Riders
When the Riders have the ball
I thought the Argos made a huge mistake last week by prety much ignroing the running game. I undertsand Chad Kackert was hurt but Norwood is a good back, and the Argos were neer more than 1 score behind. You could see the Hamilton line and linebackers ignoring the lack of threat of a run game and going hard after Ricky Ray. I do not see any conceivable way that will happen Sunday. Kory Sheets is the straw that stirs the Rider drink, and we swa the offense again from the first half of the year last week in Calgary. I don't think we can expect the interior of our line to dominate Buckle and Davis the way they did last week against Calgary's backups. I learned something interesting from rewatching the broadcast. If we can get a push on the inside, that means Sheets has a head start when if he bounces it outside. If the Cats get penetration, forcing him outside early, they can limit his success outside. We finally saw Jock Sanders get some carries, and he was effective too. I thought the one time that Sanders got the ball, Sheets was still on the field lined up outside. I would suspect Hamiltion will be more ready for Sanders than Calgary was since they now have it on film. We didn't see Darian run as much in Calgary vs against the Lions. That was probably due to the fact that it wasn't necessary. If the game take a turn where Darian needs to take the game into his own hands, for sure he will run. This is going to force the Cats to possibly keep someone in to spy. If the wind is going to be as big a factor as it appears from the forecast, running the ball will be even more improtant.
Evan McCullough is the veteran to be leary of the Hamilton secondary. Since he's a halfback, he will see a lot of our slotbacks. He might be Hamilton's best cover man, but I don't see anyway he can take any of our slotbacks out of the game. I believe Rico Murray is the cover linebacker for the Cats, and that makes his performance a key as he will have to cover Getzlaf in some formations. There isn't one specifif matchup that i think is is the best one for the Rider, so I look for Darian to spread the ball around. He's one an excellent job of that in the two playoff games.
As mentioned about, the key matchup on the line will be in the interior. I think Heenan and Fulton should handle the Hamilton ends. Look for the Cats to be really aggressive up front. I think they will load the box to stop Sheets and force the Riders to go to the air. On passing down, I expect a lot of blitzes. The Riders had trouble with the blitz in September and I think the Cats will try and duplicate that. If Cortez has been saving some quick hitters and screens to counter that blitz, we will see it in this game. If Darian continues his level of play of the last two weeks, our offense should be fine.
When the Tiger-Cats have the ball
This is probably the area that has attracted the most attention going into this game. Will Kent Austin come up with a brilliant game plan that is his forte? Will Henry Burris be able to execute that plan? Hamilton has been known as a pass first team but has a very good back in Gables. He may see the ball a lot more tomorrow to control the clock into the wind. He has put some highlight reel runs on the board this year. He has a termendous sense of balance, bouncing off tackles and hurdling them. The Riders have to wrap him up when they get the chance. In other words, do what they did to Cornish last week. If Gables is having success running, Hank can use the zone read for play action or pull the ball down and run himself. I actually expect Hank to run a lot early to get some first downs and slow things down. The Cats played a game in windy condistions in the Eastern Semi-Final. That along with Hank being ineffective for stretches got them to use LeFavour, mostly to run the ball. That was the main reason for the winning drive in OT. Look for more of this play like in the ESF. We might even see Masoli take a snap or two.
Altought the sack numbers have not been there, the Riders have a very strong pass rush. I expect Hamilton to run a lot of screens, especially to Gable to try and slow this rush down. You would expct the Rider D to come out excited and aggressive so they could be susceptible to the screen. If our defense does read it and react well, we can see plays like the interception by McElveen early in the game last week. Hamilton QBs will run so our rushers will have to stay in their lanes on the pass rush.
The best matchup in this game is going to be Andy Fantuz on Anderson or Maze. Anderson especially will be getting his hands on Fantuz, and it will be to our advantage if the refs let them play. Weldon Brown could find himself matched up on Fantuz as well. Being a former DB, other than the size mismatch we should be ok with that matchup. Hamilton has good receivers so there will be good matchups across the board. The Cats may try and take advantage of Gable on McCullough but they can only do that on first down as Mike normally gets taken out on 2nd down.
Earlier this year our defense had success coming after Hank on the blitz. Look for blitzes from Butler and Brown. Hank is a streaky QB, and we can't let him get into a rhythm. We need to see pressure on him so that he does not get into a comfort zone.
We couldn't ask for a more ideal scenario. The Riders are in the Grey Cup at home against an opponent they match up well with. The Riders have played two good playoff games while it can be argued that the Cats could have easily been knocked out in the ESF. The key for the Riders tomorrow is to not let the moment get too big. Play with controlled emotion and don't get caught out of position or take a bad penalty. Hamilton is going to play the underdog angle, and Austin will try and have them relaxed with nothing to lose. I keep thinking he will borrow from Hufnagel's "we have them right where we want them" speech in 2008. Don't underestimate our guy. Chamblin will have our guys ready to go.
I thought the Riders' best chance to win this game was to control the line of scrimmage. This probably becomes even more true if the conditions are windy. There is a good chance this game comes down to which team controls the ball and / or puts some points on the board going into the wind. I hope we win the toss and defer based on the wind getting stronger as the day goes on.
As I said this is all set up for us tomorrow. I always have that fear of what happens if things go horribly wrong. Time to push those thoughts aside and enjoy the moment. If all unfolds as we think / hope, see you on the streets after the game.
My score: Roughriders 27 Tiger- Cats 20
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