Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last week, I noted that the Saskatchewan Roughriders' semi-final win against B.C. reflected a team just barely adjusting to an opponent who thoroughly neutralized its strengths. But in case there was any doubt whether the 'Riders could play exactly their preferred type of game against a playoff-ready opponent, Sunday's win over Calgary should put that to rest.

This time, the 'Riders' defence was able to force another pile of turnovers out of a strong team - including two at the end of the Stamps' biggest offensive plays of the first half. And the 'Riders did everything needed to hold a lead - running out the clock with a highly effective two-back running attack on offence, and stifling the Stamps' comeback attempts in the second half.

That win of course sets up a first for the 'Riders: an opportunity to play in a Grey Cup at home. But can the 'Riders match their previous week's performance against the Ticats - who were the lone team the 'Riders were able to sweep during the 2013 regular season (albeit in weeks 4 and 5)?

On paper, the Ticats seem weaker than both of the 'Riders' previous playoff opponents in most facets of the game. Hamilton was able to post a winning season record thanks in large part to a healthy starting quarterback and an efficient performance against the dregs of the East. But if the Ticats' strength lay in their ability to beat up on weaker opponents, then their 1-5 record against the West's playoff teams seems to signal a disadvantage.

But the small sample size of the regular season aside, Hamilton may be as well positioned as anybody to pull off a David strategy.

Henry Burris' athleticism and strong arm will allow him to keep a wider range of options open than most quarterbacks on any given play, making it more difficult for the 'Riders' turnover-oriented defence to attack him aggressively without leaving some dangerous openings. And he'll have a fairly deep set of receivers to help him - with C.J. Gable's pass-catching out of the backfield serving as a particularly useful release valve.

Meanwhile, the Ticats' defence may not have been a huge strength, but it was effective against the run in the latter half of the 2013 season. And if the 'Riders can't control the ball and the clock quite as easily as they did against the Stamps, that will put more pressure on Darian Durant to throw the ball in less-than-ideal conditions.

Of course, there may also be some opportunities to turn the Ticats' tendencies against them. In particular, Burris' continued propensity for turnovers (including a league-high interception total) could offer the 'Riders exactly the opening they want to generate points defensively.

But a high-risk, high-reward strategy likely represents the Ticats' best hope of coming away with a Grey Cup win. And so the most important question in Sunday's game may well be which team is able to generate the most big plays when the Ticats have the ball.

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