Welcome back for another season everyone. So what now? Did any of you feel in the off-season that we have seen the top of the mountain? Can it get any better than seeing the Riders win the Grey Cup at home at Mosiac? How do you top that? I guess by doing the one thing the Riders have still failed to do in their history - repeat! We start with the Grey Cup rematch this Sunday. We've been part of the rematch before, but this is the first time we go into it as the defending champs. Lots of changes on both teams from the last time we saw them last November.
Probable starters: Riders: Durant, Tiger-Cats Collaros. Durant is coming off the best three game stretch of his career in the 2013 playoffs. My theory is that he is poised to have an even better regular season than last year, even though he is missing some key weapons. I think from his words and actions, we are well aware that Darian really felt that prssure to win a Grey Cup. He's a guy who wears the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now that he has won, I think he will be more relaxed and play even better. Anyone who watched Hamilton play last year could see that despite their success, there were lots of moments where Austin looked exasparated with Burris. Made for some great TV moments. It was no surprise to me that Hamilton replaced him with a younger Collaros. Collaros did a good job when Ray got hurt last year, including back to back road wins in Regina and Calgary. At thsi point he does not have the big play ability of Burris, but will protect the ball better. He has scrambling ability as well. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders: Allen, Tiger-Cats Gable. Here's the first of the big losses for the Riders from last year. Do we still have arguably the league's best offiensive line to run behind? Absolutely. But not all running backs are created equal. Whether Cortez tailored the running game to Sheets's style or it was a coincidence, Sheets had all kinds of success behind that line. Will Allen show that same ability to wait for the hole, bounce it outside, or make guys miss like Sheets? We will have to see. Gable is a very good back but I had him a notch beloew Sheets and Cornish last year. One thing that he does really well along with running is catching out of that backfield. In fact, he might be more dangerous in that role. This is why I wait until the last minute to do this as I was sure Toston would be the guy. and had to do some fast re-writing. I was surprised that Allen is actually bigger than Toston as Toston appears to be the more physical runner. Edge Tiger-Cats
Probable starters: Riders: Smith, Bagg, Gezlaf, Swain, Chilens, Tiger-Cats - Tasker, Koch, Giguere, Grant, Ellingson. With the changes we have it's a good thing that Chirs Getzlaf is playing in week 1. The question will be how much rust he has on him from no game action untill now. I know why as a fan base we are nervous with newcomers like Swain and Chilens. The memories of 2011 with newcomeres like Nunn and Wheelright are too close to our memories. One thing that we forget is another problem that year was losing vets Koch and Bagg going into the season. We still have 3 vets back this year and the newcomers, who do have pro experience in the NFL, won't be asked to take on a leading role immediately. The big name missing in Hamilton is Andy Fantuz. I think this is his second concussion in recent years which has to make the Cats nervous. Even without Fantuz the Cats are loaded at receiver. They added to their depth with ex Rider and Eskimo Cary Koch. I can't recell if Giguere moved inside last year or if this is new this year with Fantuz out. Since Rod Black probably follows his every move, I should check with him. Edge Tiger-Cats
Probably starters: Riders: T - Fulton, Heenan, G - Labatte, Best, C - PIcard ; Tiger-Cats: T - Figueroa, Simmons, G - Myddleton, Wojt, C - O'Neill. This unit along with Durant is the one that should make us comfortable on offense for the year. When healthy this is arguably the best line in the league. They should still open up holes for the new running back and keep the pressure off Darian. One guy I like for is Fulton to have a better year. I think he was hampered by a bad knee last year even though he didn't miss any time. Call it the X factor on the line. (sigh). A fixture at C is gone from the Cats without Hage. Without looking back, other than that it looks pretty similar to last year's. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - DE - Chick, Foley, TD - George, Walker ; Tiger Cats: T - Laurent, Bulcke, DE - Norwood, Boudreaux. We are returning 3 starters from last year but it still feels like we have big changes on the line due to the depth hit we took at tackle. When you consider George was hurt in the Grey Cup we do have two jnew starters from that game. I don't know enough about Walker and Guyton to comment. We are fine at end with Chick and Foley. Hamilton got a major upgrade on their line by adding Laurent. The Cats don't have a question mark on their line while the Riders do at the one tackle spot. Edge Tiger-Cats
Probably starters: Riders - MLB - Peters, OLB - Brown, Hurl; Tiger-Cats - MLB - Plesius, OLB - Lawrence, Murray I am mildly surprised that Peters is in the middle and Hurl is outside. With Kilgore out, this is Hurl's time to take advantage. I wonder if Peters has the size to play in the middle but I don't think he's any smaller than Diamond Ferri who started there in the Grey Cup last year. No question at all in the third spot with Weldon Brown. He is so good and gets no publicity. Hamilton has a young promising MLB themselves with Plesius. He may have the high pedigree but has to show it on the field. Even
Probable starters: Riders - CB - Williams, Jackson, HB - Anderson, Maze, S - Brackenridge; Tiger-Cats - CB - Rogers, Breaux, HB - Stewart, Davis, S - Butler. This is the strength of the Rider defense, and I think is the best secondary in this league. All eyes on Hamilton will be at safey where ex-Rider Craig Butler will be playing. The move to safety being rumoured as one of the factors on his leaving for Hamilton. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Green; Tiger-Cats - Banks Marshay Green really got our attention with his big return in week 1. He did show some hesitation in feilding the ball and let them hit the turf. Hopefully he doesn't frustrate us and have us yelling "Marshay! Marshay! Marshay!" in exasperation. That one is for those of you who remember the 70s. Banks was a very good returner when Hamilton used thim there last year. Even
Probable starters: Riders - Milo, Tiger-Cats - Medlock. I know Medlock was very good when he was in the CFL before. But he's been out of football for a year and Milo hit on 88% last year. Imagine what Milo's percentage would have been without all the ones that hit the uprights. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Bartel, Tiger-Cats - Medlock. There's some concern over Bartel's work in the pre-season last week, but no need to panic yet imo, I liked Ricky Schmidt better but Bartel did put up good numbers. Again with the free agent losses on defense we had no choice but to go "National" at that spot. On that note, thank goodness Ottawa didn't go with "Nationals" for a team nickname. Can you imagine the confusion? Medlock hasn't punted since he left the CFL. Even
When the Riders have the ball
We have enough players and our offensive coordinator returning to assume we aren't going to see a major shift in our offensive play-calling and philosophy. I expect us to try and establish the run with Allen the way we did with Sheets last year. I do recall George Cortez saying that being so run heavy was not the plan going into last year, but that it just evolved that way. If things aren't going so well along the ground, I don't think we will be scared to open it up. Maybe Allen has abilities to catch passes out of the backfield that we will exploit. With Laurent in the middle it's going to be more of a challenge to get a good push in the interior, but if there are two guards who could be up to the challenge it's our guys. If we can get the running game going, look for those play-action plays where McHenry and Getzlaf catch passes off the bootleg.
Look for the three returnees to get the bulk of the looks from Darian in the passing game. It was comforting to see Swain make the catch on the corner route, a Dressler special, in that first game. Since he's back and it's not serious there is a silver lining to Getzlaf's injury keeping him out of the pre-season. It gave Darian more time to work with the new guys. You have to think that Getz and Smith are going to get a lot of attention early from teams so Darian has to show a willingness to use thie new guys. Putting Getzlaf on the wide side will make it tougher for teams to take away him and Smith by rolling coverage to one side.
Hamilton had the lowest sack total in the leauge last year so if they want to get better on defense, their pressure will have to improve. I can see them bringing a lot of blitzes to test Allen's pass protection and to test the new slotbacks since as we saw with Geroy last year, a lot of time our slots have to come down the line of scrimmage and pick up the extra rusher.
When the Tiger-Cats have the ball
I think for the most part we are going to see the same base offense as we saw last year from the Cats, with of course a new wrinkles that Austin adds. They had a lot of plays last year that took advantage of Hank's mobility and they dont have to change that with Collaros in. A lot of people are concerned with all the newcomers in the middle of our defense that the Cats will be able to run on us with Gable. When it comes to Gable that is not what concerns me as much as the passing game. I expect the Cats to try and get him out in the pattern on Peters and Hurl one on one an see if they can cover him. Mind you, I really thought that would be a big part of the Hamilton game plan in the Grey Cup and it never materialized so who knows. Maybe the Cats will try and run the ball more to test the Riders' defensive middle but a heavy ground game has never been Kent Austin's thing.
I think the more likely way that the Cats will test our front is with play action and bootlegs. Then try and run receivers on drag routes behind it. The passing game is a good matchup of strength against strength. Hamilton has a lot of depth at receiver and the secondary is the Rider strength. If we are going to draw on the Grey Cup last year, Fantuz was the best receiver for the Cats, so his absence helps the Riders. But with a new QB in Hamilton that may not be as big a deal. If I remember Collaros beating us in Regina last year, he took advantage throwing the ball up and having the Argo receivers make the big play on the ball. I am not sure the Hamilton receivers have that same skill set. If the Rider front can get pressure on Collaros and keep him in the pocket, our defense should be ok.
The only game that was remotely close between these two teams last year was when the Riders used their backup QB and if I recall, had some injuries in the secondary. Even at that it was a double digit win. Throw that out the window. The Rides have suffered some key personal losses and it should take time for the new guys to gell. Hamilton is going to come in here fired up and smarting from that Grey Cup loss. Along with that they have also improved their personal. That being said, the Riders will be pumped up for this one too. The guys who were here last year seem really focused on getting back to business. They are going to want to show that they are still the defending champs and are not going to give up the crown easily. I really see this as a statement game. A win and people will feel comfortable that this Rider team is still on the right track A loss and people will start feeling uncomfortable and some will out and out panic.
If the Riders don't cost themselves with turnovers, special teams gaffes etc, they should pull out a close win.
My score: Roughriders 27 Tiger Cats 20
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