Can the Riders finally do it? It’s been over two years since the Green and White have won two games in a row. They’ll get their second chance this year at putting together the most modest of winning streaks on Saturday evening as they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Since the last time these teams met, a 53-7 beat down at the hands of the Ticats, the Riders have slowly been making strides as team, culminating with a rare win over the Edmonton Eskimos last week. The win was their first against the west division since last year’s Labour Day Classic.
Here’s six things to watch from a Riders perspective:
A measuring stick
Sure, the Ticats aren’t the Calgary Stampeders, so this game isn’t a traditional measuring stick in the sense of seeing how well you stack up against the best. However, the last time these teams met the Riders hit rock bottom with one of the worst defeats in franchise history. When you consider some of the lean years of this team, that’s saying something. We’ll see how far they’ve come facing the Ticats again, especially if they can win or at the very least keep it close. This match up has been streaky of late, Hamilton has won four in a row against the Riders while Saskatchewan won the previous three.
Getting out of park
One thing the Riders continue to struggle with is their starts. Over the last number of weeks, the Green Riders haven’t been putting a lot of points on the board. In fact, they have scored just 29 points in the first quarter this season with a differential of minus-71. Jumping out to an early lead could help this group gain some confidence and considering how beat up Hamilton is, coming from behind might be too much to ask for.
Keep it close
Considering the state of the Riders offence, they simply cannot get into a shootout with any team. Hamilton, despite their injuries, is still capable of putting a lot of points on the board, as the Riders know quite well from their last meeting. Both of the Riders wins this season have been by three points of less. Their best chance of victory is to keep Hamilton’s out of the end zone. The uglier this game, the better off the Riders will be.
Offensive line improvement
With injuries to Brendon LaBatte and Chris Best, both of whom are now likely to miss the entire season, it’s been a struggle along the line of scrimmage for the offence. Jarriel King making his season debut last week, after missing the season to date due to injury, seemed to make a big difference. Darian Durant was sacked just one time, the Riders had given up 19 sacks in their previous five games. Running back Curtis Steele also rushed for a season high 87 yards from the position.
The flags have been flying a lot of the Riders this year, especially of late. On average, 12 times per game of late. Of those 36 penalties, 10 of them have come on special teams. Though, some of those no yards calls were in the end zone where a team is very unlikely to decline the penalty, so you might as well force the play. It turns out if Jason Maas had accepted even one of those penalties last week, the Eskimos would have won. Decisions, decisions.
Last week, the Riders had one of their betters games on teams, thanks in part to punter Josh Bartel as the Eskimos were pinned deep in their own end a few times. This week, it’s the return unit that could be looking to make some noise. Hamilton has allowed a blocked punt in their last four games. A big play on special teams could make if the Riders have their way and keep this game close and ugly.