Well no need to set the stage or talk about how important this game is. It's playoff time (playoffs??). Win and move on or lose and go home. It's time to get past the disappointment that the home playoff game is not the West Final and get behind the team for this one. It's going to be a great game. You have two teams that tied with the same record, and were able to win in the other teams' park. I would love to see the Riders blow the Lions out and make it a stress-free albeit cold afternoon for us, but I don't think that will be the case. This one's gonig to be a good hard fought game.
Probable starters: Riders - Durant, Lions - Lulay. Despite the up and down season and all the debate, did it really shock anyone that Darian was named the Western all-star. Congrat to him, and it was well deserved. That don't mask the fact that he did struggle in the back of the season. He and the offence did show some signs of life late in the year. Darian's turnovers were way down this year, and I think the majority came in about 4 games. It's a good sign that Darian's last two best games were against th Lions. I am sure that Travis Lulay will be the starter for the Lions, since he has taken first team reps. He's definitely the Lions' best option. The big question for B.C. is how much rust he will have on him; that wasn't much work in BC and this is going to be cold and outdoors. If the Lions need to turn to Buck Pierce, they have a veteran with playoff experience. If they turn to Demarco we are in good shape. Hey we have the Western all-star! Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Sheets, Lions - Logan, Harris. With the Lions going with a two-headed attack at running back, I'm listing Logan and Harris as starters. The last time we saw Kory Sheets, things weren't good. He wasn't getting the ball, losing the "head to head battle" with Cornish and showing his displeasure. Looks like it's water under hte bridge now, and he'll be good to go on Sunday. Stefan Logan has given the Lions' running attack a spark since he returned. Until then, it was non-existent for a while. He and Harris had big games against hte Stamps, but was that partially due to the Stamps not only being in a nothing game but also losing both tackles? Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Dressler, Simon, Riley, Smith, Bagg, Lions - Moore, Gore, Taylor, Arceneaux, Ianuzzi. Big loss for the Riders to be missing Getzlaf this week. We hear the complaints like he drops too many or Darian looks for him too much, but you are going to miss one of the leading guys in the league on 2nd down. The rest of the receivers are going to have to step up. If we were ever going to show why we brought Geroy in, this is it. If Getz's place on the roster will be a Canadian receiver, Alex Anthony probably gets it by default. The Lions got a lot buzz going into the season as being the best receiving group the league had seen in a while. While they are really good, I don't think they lived up to their hype. They are all good athletes who can go deep and make spectacular catches. Nick Moore could have been an all-star. Arceneaux was slowed down by injuries but is very dangerous. Edge Lions
Probable starters: Riders - T - Fulton, Heenan, G - Best, Labatte, C - Picard; Lions - T - Archibald, Olifaye, G - Valli, Kabongo, C - Norman. It feels great to be typing in that starting five on the offensive line. We haven't had this group since Best went out before Labour Day, and he was huring before then. I hope the week off helps X as well. The Lions have the same starting group we saw the last time the Lions were in Regina. Their strength is outside at tackle but have struggled inside. Overall this group isn't as dominating as recent versions of the Lions line. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - DE - Foley, Hall, Chick, DT - George, Shologan ; Lions - DE - Wilson, Smith, DT - Williams, Taylor. I really wasn't sure where to slot in John Chick since he takes some reps inside now. I love this d-line the Riders have put together. We know how well they get after the QB. Another thing I would like to point out is how our ends use their speed to track down running backs going wide. The Lions got a boost late in the year from the return of Chris Wilson from the NFL. Keron Williams hasn't been as effective inside as he was at end. Maybe he opens things up for others the way Chick does when he moves inside. Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - MLB - McCullough, OLB - Brown, Butler, Lions - MLB - Elimimian, OLB - Bighill, Banks. One of the bight sides of the second half of the year is the way Mike McCullough stepped up when Rey Williams went down. Brown might have been an all star this year if he didn't miss 4 games and voters realized that OLB and MLB are different positions. This is the strength of the Lions D. There is no better 1-2 punch that Elimimian and Bighill. I am not buying the stories about Elimimian maybe not playing due to injury. He'll be in there. Edge Lions
Probably starters: Riders - CB - Williams, Jackson, HB - Maze, Anderson, S - Brackenridge ; Lions - CB - Marsh, Parks, HB - Phillips, Bell, S - Larose. With Rod Williams back, this is about as good a secondary as the Riders have fielded. Williams is on the same level as Macho Harris. Tristan Jackson has come in and played at corner much better than I expected. We are as good as anyone in the middle with Maze moving back to halfback. The Lions have a very good secondary too. They read plays well, and I think their strength is reading plays and coming up and tackling before receivers get first downs. Not a lot to chose here, but I don't think the Lions have the presence in the middle that Brackenridge provides. Slight Edge Riders
Probable starters: Riders - Sanders, Jackson ; Lions - Logan, Harris. This is probably where I fear Stefan Logan the most. He looked really good returning kicks in Regina in October. I'll be honest, Sanders and Jackson kind of scare me returning kicks right now. I just don't get that sense that either of them is going to take one all the way. To be honest, since it's playoff time I would put the dependable Dressler back on punt returns. Edge Lions
Probable starters: Riders - Milo, Lions - McCallum Overall Milo has had a slighly better year, 88% to 84. Had Chris not gone through that 3 game stretch of hitting the uprights, he would have been over 90%. One guy is better now, the other has the track record. Even
Probable starters Riders - Schmitt, Lions - McCallum. Schmitt could have easily been the all-star here. He punts the ball higher and deeper than McCallum and has longer kickoffs too. It's hard to believe that last year at this time, Schmitt was scheduled to make his first start in the WSF in Calgary, and I was greatly opposed to burning an import spot on a punter. Boy, was I wrong. Edge Riders
When the Riders have the ball
I am looking foward to us cranking up the running game tomorrow and am encouraged by how well the run blocking was last week against Edmonton with Chris Best back. Incidentally, if we discount last week's blocking because it was against Edmonton, then Stefan Logan's preformances the last two weeks should also be discounted for being against the same Eskimos and a depleted Stamps team. Kory Sheets had 80 in first game back from injury in BC and followed that up with 148 in Regina. We need to run the ball, and I think we can. Darian needs to keep the D honest by pulling the ball himself the odd time. This is a recording….if we have something in our playbook for Sheets and Sanders together, now is the time to use it.
If the running game is working, it will open up the play action. With no Getzlaf, we need to be able to use play action effectively. Early in the year, a very effective play was fake handoff, Durant half rolling the other way and hitting Getzlaf on a corner route. We've seen a few occasions where Geroy has run that route, and he still looks so smooth. I have faith in him to get open if we try and get him the ball. Obviously we need a big game out of Dressler too. I really don't know what Riley can do for us. At 6' 3" he does have size so maybe he can be an effective red zone target?
There is another thing that a good running game will do; put us in second and manageable. One of the big reasons for our struggles in September (imo) was that with no effective running game we were looking at 2nd and long a lot, allowing defenses to come after Durant with a struggling o-line. Keeping it 2nd and 5 or less will keep the defenes off-balance and open up the playbook. It will give Durant a chance to dump the ball off and pick up a first down. That play looked good last week, but remember that the Lion back end is great and coming up and making the tackle. You aren't going to dump it off too often on 2nd and long and run for a first down on that defense.
We don't need to spend much time talking about how important ball security and pass protection will be. So will we see this "secret play" that the team has been working on?
When the Lions have the ball
I think the moment we heard on Tuesday or Wednesday that Lulay was talking #1 snaps we knew that he would be starting tomorrow. That makes the job much tougher. We can't just ssume that his shoulder is still not in good shape and therefore can't get enough on his throws. Assuming that and being wrong will result in our secondary getting good looks at the backs of Lion receivers. We need to go into the game assuming he is at 100%. I don't think the idea of getting hits on that shoulder is a good idea either, as flag happy as the refs have been this year. If Lulay struggles at all, don't be surprised to see Pierce in, if only for a series or two. He's played in playoff games and cold ones too like the East final in 2011.
Even if the Lions weren't planning on establshing their ground game, and I am sure they were, weather conditions will dictate they do it. The most important thing for our defense when Logan gets the ball is not to over-pursue. He got some huge gains against Edmonnton by going backside and the ends and linebackers over there had over-played it leaving a huge hole. Our backside guys have to stay home. This will be much easier to do if we are getting the job done to the play side so guys don't see the need to to do too much. The part of the Lion running game that concerns me the most is mis-direction with both Logan and Harris in the backfield, that direct snap they use where Lulay fakes like it went over his head, and the handoffs to their receivers. Nice to have the intelligence of a Mike McCullough in the middle to read that stuff. Our entire front seven will have to play a smart game to avoid giving up big yards on that.
This will be a good battle in the secondary with the Lion receivers against the Rider secondary. Rod Wiliams did a decent job on Arceneaux in the game he played in BC. Arceneux has been quiet in the two games he played against the Riders and we need to keep it that way. Moore and Taylor are up against Anderson and Maze. Again I don't think the Riders need to fear that matchup. Weldon Brown can take the third receiver in the formation. The biggest problem the Lions have had on their line is the interior. Based on that, look for Chick to get a good pass rush when he lines up inside. The Lions have a big play group at receiver. That is what our defense needs to protect against.
This probably wasn't going to be a shoot-out anyway with these two defenses. I feel even more strongly about that based on the weather conditions. If you like defense and running the football, this will be the game for you. The Riders need to win the line of scrimmage on both sides. We need to win the turnover battle and avoid stupid penalties. Lastly, with a storng wind, winning the field position battle becomes even more important. If you get stopped inside your 15 going into the wind, you are pretty much going to give the other team the ball in scoring territory.
Despite our misigiving about the 2nd half of the season, I think the Riders are equipped to win this type of game. I think we all agree that we need our defense to lead the way in he playoffs. Well this is going to be that typ of game. This will be a slug-fest, worthy of two teams that tied in the standings.
My score: Roughriders 24 Lions 20
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