Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Following up on my relatively brief post here, I'll take a bit of time to note a few of the storylines going into Sunday's West final - with a focus on some factors which may matter more or less than one would think from the talk I've heard so far.

First off, in the category of factors which may be less important than one might think from the usual CFL commentary...

Andy Fantuz' Receiving Numbers

Yes, it's for the best if the league's leading receiver can once again torch the Stampeders for a 10/255 line. But the Stamps' response in the next game against Saskatchewan shows that they can shut him down if they put their mind to it - and the question for the 'Riders should be how to answer if that's once again Calgary's defensive focus.

On that point, Fantuz' well-known skill in managing time and space would seem to have more uses than just trying to get open himself. If Fantuz scares the Stamps enough to draw away coverage that allows a Getzlaf or a Dressler to get open deep, and if he responds to Brandon Browner's physical coverage in kind with some blocks that keep the Stamps' top defender from making plays, then the 'Riders' offence can operate smoothly even if he's shut down himself. (And indeed his 2-for-11 performance against the Lions didn't stop the 'Riders from getting this far.)

Joffrey Reynolds

There's been plenty of attention paid to the combination of the 'Riders' sometimes-shaky run defence and the Stamps' rushing prowess. But it's worth keeping in mind that even in a reasonably good game, Reynolds' rushing attack will produce less yardage per play than the Stamps' usual passing game.

So the 'Riders' best-case scenario is to have the Stamps rushing the ball as much as possible, preferably due to successful efforts to disrupt the passing game that's more likely to put the Stamps in control. And if Reynolds ends up with 100+ yards and the 'Riders come away with the win, I doubt anybody in green will be complaining.

Meanwhile, a couple of other points which don't seem to have received much attention deserve to be noted before they come into play...

Every Point Counts

The flip side of trying to force the Stampeders into a grind-it-out game is that the 'Riders will need to take advantage of their opportunities to score. And that's a problem with Warren Kean having not yet made a field goal longer than 29 yards, as a couple more misses could make a huge difference in a close game.

Part of the solution will hopefully be for Kean to pick up his game. But I'd also be curious to see whether the 'Riders will try to pick up some spare points in other ways - e.g. by having Eddie Johnson kick more for distance on punts and kickoffs in an effort to put a few singles on the board.

Playing to Win

Finally, let's note one strategic point that seems to have received little mention in last week's game. The Lions scored a touchdown with a second left to go in regulation time, giving them what would seem to me to be a rather important choice: take the single point and go to overtime, or go for a two-point convert which would have won the game immediately (barring a miracle on a single play or kickoff return).

The way the 'Riders' offence had played in the second half, I'd have expected the Lions to give serious consideration to taking their chances with the two-point convert. But instead, they chose to go to overtime...where their success on exactly the type of play that would have won the game in regulation only prolonged the Lions' agony as the 'Riders won on the second series.

Of course, it's generally considered safer for a coach to choose the default option of keeping his team alive. But the Lions' choice to play not to lose may well have cost them the West semi - and I'd hope Ken Miller will be more willing to take advantage of an opportunity to put the Stamps away if one arises.

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