Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Most of the discussion before and after yesterday's win over Calgary has surrounded the starting quarterbacks. And Darien Durant certainly deserves the credit he's received for his performance in the game. But let's leave no room for doubt: the most important factor in the 'Riders' win was a defensive scheme which did more to bottle up Henry Burris than any I've seen in the CFL.

Under normal circumstances, Burris is largely able to dictate the outcome one way or another. Most defences facing Burris spend the entire time on their heels, facing an impossible choice between focusing on coverage and letting him run wild, or spying the quarterback at the expense of receivers getting open deep. And even when Burris' passing isn't up to par, he normally manages to makes some plays with his legs. Which means that opponents mostly have to hope for Burris to miss open receivers and make bad decisions in order to stay in the game.

But not yesterday. Burris managed one long run on the Stamps' first drive - then by my count had a grand total of zero plays the rest of the game where he threatened the 'Riders in the open field. For the most part, that's because Saskatchewan kept him hemmed into a perpetually-collapsing pocket, with different rushers coming at different times to prevent him from waiting for a receiver to get open. And the few times the Stamps designed plays to give Burris more room to operate, Saskatchewan consistently had two waves of defenders coming for him, with the second (hello, Rey Williams!) arriving to drop Burris before he could look downfield after dodging the first (hello, Stevie Baggs!).

In the end, Burris was completely stymied on the ground and couldn't find much weakness in the 'Riders' secondary. And the 'Riders had to be ecstatic with that combination, even if it meant another fairly big game for Joffrey Reynolds.

Of course, the problem for the 'Riders' defence is that the game plan that worked so well against the Stamps will have to be discarded for the Grey Cup - as a scheme designed to frustrate a quarterback who loves to wait for plays to develop would be suicidal against Anthony Calvillo's quick trigger. But the 'Riders' defence has proven extremely versatile this season, and should be able to get back into bend-but-don't-break mode for next week's game.

Meanwhile, the 'Riders' offence played roughly in the upper end of its normal range. As usual it showed some inconsistency throughout the game, but it avoided any turnovers other than Steven Jyles' third-down fumble, and converted on most of its opportunities to score to stake the 'Riders to the lead.

The one major concern for the offence has to be a running game which was almost completely ineffective until the team was in prevent mode. But Durant can make up for that in part with his own scrambling, and one has to expect that a game against the Als will be enough of a shootout for the team's passing attack to the be the top priority anyway.

Now, the 'Riders get a chance to win the Grey Cup on fairly friendly turf - and hopefully the crowd will once again be a major factor in Saskatchewan's favour as it has been in the last two home triumphs. But even leaving that advantage aside, the 'Riders have showed throughout the season that they're one of the CFL's top teams on merit - and it'll only take one more great performance to put that title in the history books.

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