I think I used that Jim Mora "Playoffs?" joke every year so other than this reference, I won't mention it again. Western Semi-Final. Riders vs Eskimos. That's expected. But Joseph vs Nichols? Noone saw that coming. Even in the case of an opponent, I would feel bad for them for losing their starting QB. But based on the circumstances, other than for Mike Reilly himself, I don't feel bad for the Esks losing their starting QB due to having him in despite the game being over. Had the Riders lost Durant in that circumstance, you can bet our fan base, including msyelf would have been incensed at Coach Chamblin. This is the first time the Riders and Esks have met in a playoff game since 2004. That one was Henry Burris vs Jason Maas. In recent playoff history, ie since I have been following the team, the Riders are 3-4 in Edmonton in playoff games. Not great but certainly better than our regular season record there.
Probable starters: Riders - Joseph, Eskimos - Nichols. As I mentioend above, not the matchup anyone thought or hoped for. I don't know what to make out of the talk in Edmonton that Reilly will play despite him leaving practice early and not showing much. There is no mystery at all in Saskatchewan where Durant is not even dressing. Kerry is veteran so the moment won't be too much for him. He should have shake a good chunk of the rust off now in the last month. The question remains whether he can be effective for four quarters. He has not shown that yet. Matt Nichols has been a competent backup for Edmonton. His winless as a starter stat is a little bit due to bad luck as until last week all the starts were against Calgary. He is no Reilly, that's for sure. I don't know how to go with this one but the possiblity that Reilly could still play swings it for sure. Slight Eskimos
Probable starters: Riders - Allen, Eskimos - White. Both teams have their starters in for this one. The Esks can also use Lawrence in the backfield and I can see him getting some carries. For the Riders, I hope Miller stays on the roster. I like the speed and change of pace he brought us last week. He has some power too. White has more speed for big plays, but Allen is the better runner inside. Even
Probable starters: Riders - Williams, Bagg, Dressler, Getzlaf, Bagg, Eskimos - Coehoorn, Bailey, Bowman, Stamps, Williams. I like the addition of Wiliams to this group, He brings a dynamic factor that frankly hasn't been there all year. Dressler of course has that too, but he just hasn't seen the ball enough this year. Bowman was the best receiver in the league this year landing him the Esks outstanding player nominee. Even with his numbers being down, Stamps is someone to watch. The Esks have more speed and big play potential than the Riders do. Edge Eskimos
Probable starters: Riders - T- Fulton, Heenan, G - Labatte, Best, C - Picard, Eskimos - T - Washington, Coleman, G - Batiste, O'Donnell, C - Sorensen. The Riders have the starting group back together for the first time since August. Whatever was bothtering Labatte must be gone, because he was outstanding when he was in last week. With Capers out for Edmonton, Batiste moves inisde to gaurd and Coleman comes in at tackle. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - DE - Chick, Foley, DT - George, Walker, Eskimos - DE - Willis, Jefferson, T - Sewell, Steele. These are two very good groups. All four western all-starts come from this game. The guys who didn't make the all-star teams are no slouches either. Ricky Foley had an all-star type year as well, just not as good as Chcik and Willis. That tips it slighly in the Riders' favour. Slight Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - MLB - Burdette, OLB - Peters, Brown, Eskimos - MLB - Curran, OLB - McCoil, Lawrence. The last time I can think of a linebacker bursting onto the scene in the playoffs despite little regular season action was Mo Lloyd in 2006. That's Burdette's situation right now. The Esks have a great group of receivers. You know that Curran is good from the fact that he has relegated Sherritt to the backup role. Dexter McCoil was the west nominee for rookie of the year. Edge Eskimos
Probable starters: Riders - CB - Harris, Jackson, HB - Maze, Turenne, S - Brackenridge, Eskimos - CB - Watkins, Foster, HB - Grymes, Young, S - Rwabukamba. I am surprised that Macho Harris looks to start at corner ahead of Rod Williams. I know that Williams had struggled in recent weeks, but you don't expect changes like that leading into the playoffs. Harris did have a good game at corner last week. I also have my eyebrows raised at Turenne at halfback, but he played well last week as well. It's good having Mark Legree back to play the nickel. The guys who stand out on the Esks secondary for me are Patrick Watkins on the corner and Aaron Grymes at halfback. Even
Probable starters: Riders - Jackson, Dressler, Eskimos - Lawrence. Lawrence's kick return TD to start the second half was the key play in the loss to Edmonton that ended any hope of a home playoff game for the Riders. The Riders have a couple of guys who have also returned kicks for TDs in Jackson and Dressler. Even
Probable starters: Riders - Milo, Eskimos - O'Neill A 71% success rate for a FG kicker is absolutely unacceptable for a FG kicker. Chris Milo is going to see competition in camp next year. Hugh O'Neill isn't much better at 76.9, but it is higher than Milo's. We are all going to be in the fetal position if this game is coming down to a Rider last minute FG for the win. Edge Eskimos
Probable starters: Riders - Bartel, Eskimos - O'Neill. I don't see a big difference between these two punters, but since O'Neill's numbers were slightly higher, I will give him the edge. Edge Eskimos.
When the Riders have the ball
The biggest positive for the Riders is having the starting offensive line intact. The Riders are going to need to rely heavily on their running game to establish the offense and move the football. Anthony Allen had pretty good numbers in his two games against the Eskimos. Will Ford was the starter in the third game. The Esks are solid up front, but the Riders have to stick with it. I hope Jerome Messam is healthy enough to get some carries. His ability to get tough inside yards would be ideal for these conditions. As I mentioned above, I would love to see Miller on the roster to provide that quick change of pace guy. We saw how effective Jock Sanders was in the playoffs in that role last year. We can't discount Kerry Joseph running the ball either, although we don't want to see Kerry taking a lof of unnecessary hits. We saw last week that we do have the end around to the WR in the playbook. I had to laugh at how that turned into a TD despite the disastrous start to the play. If we have it in playbook, needless to say the execution has to be better. I hope we do have some wrinkles in our playbook like a play like that. I thought last week that the Eskimos allowed some natural holes in the first half as they came hard after the passer. It would be a way to slow down Willis off the edge. With Messam back, we can use him and Moore in the twin TE sets
The Eskimos are #1 in the league in yards against per pass play, so the Riders passing offense has their work cut out for them. I'd love to see take an early deep shot, if nothing else to loosen up their secondary and let them know we aren't afraid to challenge them. It's going to be hard for Williams to battle Watkins up the field so I'd with a corner route to Dresser or Getzlaf. I don't expect the passing game to carry the team to victory tomorrow. I just don't want mistakes in the passing game to cost us. The line has to protect Kerry Joseph so he doesn't get sacked, or worse get hit and fumble the football. Kerry has to be smart when he throws the ball and not risk interceptions.
We know that how Fulton and Heenan handle Willis will be improtant. But if we want to have an effective running game, the big matchup to watch will be Best and Labatte against Sewell and Steele. If we can win that matchup we have a good chance. We have to get the ball into the hands of our best players. We just have not seen Dressler see enough action recently. Of course the Durant injury has a lot to do with that. Whether it's one the odd bubble screen or end around, we have to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands.
When the Eskimos have the ball
Had Reilly been playing, the zone road with he and White running the ball would have been a big part of their offense. We won't see as much of the QB running tomorrow with Nichols so it will be up to White to carry the running game. Looks for the Eskimos to get Kendel Lawrence to run the ball as well. Sticking with the cold weather theme, this is where a guy like Calvin McCarty can be effective. I thought the Esks did a good job of motion and scheming to create big openings for White. The Riders have to stay within their assignments and most importantly have to tackle well so that the Esks don't run wild like they did in October. I am sure stopping the Esks running was on the mind of the coaches as they inserted Burdette into the lineup.
The big matchup in the passing game will be the Rider halfbacks vs the Eskimo slotbacks. I have faith in Maze to be able to do the job, but the Turenne matchup against Bowman or Stamps will be one to watch. I am sure the Esks will go after him. Weldon Brown is going to be matched up on the slots as well so we need a big game from him. The Esks have a few receivers who are good at running with the ball after catching it, so look for them to use slants and bubble screens to get the ball to Lawrence and Bowman. Once again, tackling will be a big factor to limit these gains. We have talked about how the Rider o-line has a tough task in protecting Joseph. The Eskimo offensive line has just as tough a task keeping our line off Nichols.
Last weekend's offensive performance gives up some hope for this game. Make no mistake about it though, we are up against it. The Eskimo defense has been absolutely lights out at home. They haven't given up a TD in their last 3 games. Mind you two of those games were against Winnipeg and the Riders with Sunseri and Doege, but you know what I mean. Getting the running game going is imperative to win, but that won't be enough. We have to make enough plays through the air to put some points on the board. We have our starting lines ready to go and they are solid. So whenver you can win in the trenches you have a shot. ANother thing that helps is the slower field in the cold helps diminish the speed advantage I believe the Esks have.
Here's the big problem. Points are going to be hard to come by. Any mistake like giving the Esks easy points due to a special teams play, turnover, etc is going to be very hard to overcome. I would almost go as far as to say we can't overcome that. In other words, this team is going to have to play error free to win tomorrow. With a healthy and effective Reilly, I think our chances would drop to about 10%. If Reilly can play tomorrow and be effective at all, Edmonton wins. With both teams down to their backups, the Riders have to hope that playoff experience matters a lot. Maybe we can pull out a squeaker. As you can tell, I'm not really convinced, but you gotta believe.
My score: Roughriders 20 Eskimos 18
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