If you were to make a checklist for winning a playoff football game, the Saskatchewan Roughriders checked all the right boxes on Sunday afternoon and are off the East Final following a 31-20 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
Box one would be dominate defensively. You can mark that one emphatically for the guys in green. Sure, Trevor Harris finished with 457 yards passing but those numbers are inflated by the fact that Ottawa trailed most of the day and were forced to go to the air far more often than they probably would have preferred. Despite the yardage, the Riders defence held firm only allowing a touchdown in the first quarter and late in the fourth quarter when the game was already over. In between, they bent at times (as this is the CFL and offences will put together drives no matter how good the defence is playing), but they didn’t break. Ottawa couldn’t get that clutch red zone score when they needed, being forced to settle for field goals instead. They even turned over the ball on downs once. The big play was rarely open for Harris as he settled for underneath stuff most of the day and the Riders defence did a fabulous job rallying to the football.
Check mark two goes beside big plays. Defensively, the Riders again won the turnover battle with a couple of interceptions, a turnover on downs and a fumble recovery compared to one fumble recovery for Ottawa. One of those interceptions ended a promising looking Ottawa drive, the other might have been better had Jovon Johnson knocked it down but Ed Gainey dropped a sure pick in the end zone, no harm, no foul either way. They also got some big plays from the offence (a 75-yard touchdown run from Marcus Thigpen) and special teams (43-yard punt return by Christion Jones after a pitch from Chad Owens, a perfect day from Tyler Crapigna, and more brilliant punting from Josh Bartel.)
Add check marks next to the run game (212 yards rushing as a team), discipline (just three penalties for 15 yards) and luck (some uncharacteristic drops by Ottawa receivers) you have a recipe for success.
A week ago, the Riders did just about everything you couldn’t do to win a football game, especially in the playoffs. This week, they did the exact opposite and it led to a dominating performance against the defending champs.
Now, they’ve given themselves a shot at history next week in Toronto.
– For the life of me, I can’t understand why Ottawa rushed three on first down more often than not. Unless they wanted Glenn to stay in the game, it’s obvious that Glenn has been struggling with pressure for basically the last month and a bit. By nature, Ottawa isn’t a team that gets after the quarterback on a regular basis, but they had to in this one to have success. Glenn had all the time in the world and used the variety of weapons at his disposal to pick apart the Redblacks secondary. The offensive line certainly deserves some credit, especially with Brandon LaBatte on the shelf.
– Good thing the Riders didn’t cut Bakari Grant, eh? After he goofed and let up on a play before the end zone leading to a turnover a couple of weeks ago, there was a small section of Rider fans calling for the veteran to be off the team. Grant had a big game with 85 yards and touchdown, making good on his mistake.
– Chris Jones had a moment with a TSN camera operator and I don’t blame him. I don’t think Jones was mad that the signal was being shown on camera (it happens all the time), all it takes is one player missing or misinterpreting the signal to cause everything to go sideways. Something that could easily happen with someone in the way.
— Blue Bomber Talk (@BlueBomberTalk) November 12, 2017
– I liked the mix of calculated risks Jones and the coaching staff took in this game. Their fake, fake field goal to try and draw Ottawa offside was worth the attempt given the field position at the time. It would have been a long field goal try for Crapigna, at worst the Riders were moving back five yards, giving Bartel more room to operate. That’s what happened. Jones also made good calls on short yardage at the goal line and at their own 44-yard line.
– The Riders will now stay in Ottawa this week ahead of the East Final. I thought it would be a logistical nightmare to house a football team for a week on relatively short notice but the Riders did it. Helps when money is no object.
– Lastly, as usual, when the officials do a good job I like the praise them. Nothing really stands out as a really bad call in this game. Kudos.