Riders prove they can hang with the best (but there’s still work to be done)

Football isn’t a game of moral victories, but even in defeat, Rider fans should be feeling pretty good about the overall state of their football team.

A number of weeks ago when the Riders went into Calgary, they promptly made a mess of the bed leaving many to question just where this version of the team was headed. A lot has changed since that day and the Riders proved that despite their loss on Sunday afternoon.

Two-thirds of the team are currently playing at a very high level and that showed against the Stamps. The defence and special teams were the reason the green and white had a shot at taking down the best team in the league after getting annihilated earlier this year. Keeping Calgary’s offence out of the end zone for 60 minutes is nothing short of impressive. The defence recovered a fumble and got a stop on third and one, something that rarely happens to Calgary.

After the defence, the story of this game for the Riders was their special teams. There’s no better returner in the CFL right now than Roy Finch, who was more or less kept in check all game.

On most days, that kind of effort would be enough to win football games. However, when you’re facing the best, all three units need to be clicking and the Riders offence certainly had problems with Calgary’s defence, most notably their defensive line and that’s what did them in. The offence was bad and they made their share of mistakes but Calgary deserves a ton of credit defensively too. Sometimes, you just get beat as we know the offence can play better.

Game thoughts

– It was an interesting day across the football world after comments from the President of the United States on Saturday. That carried into Mosaic Stadium with the Riders locking arms during the national anthem. It was a good move by the team, half of them are American, to show solidarity with their friends down south. It was also good to see some players on both teams speak out before and after the game. I know this will get some “stick to sports” comments but if politics is going to take a shot at sports, then sports has every right to fire back. (Also, stick to sports is dumb and a lot of other things).

– The other hot topic, at least early in the game, was player safety. Naaman Roosevelt took a horrific head shot in the first half and never returned to the game. Some think it shouldn’t have been a penalty but I don’t agree with that. While I do agree that it was an unfortunate play and there wasn’t a whole lot Adeleke could do, it’s still the kind of hit that should draw a flag. Unfortunate plays that are fouls happen in every sport. If player safety is actually a priority, then that sort of thing still has to be a penalty. I don’t think Adeleke should face any supplemental discipline.

– As for the whole head shot debate going on, this is how I think it should be handled: all blows to the head of defenceless players should be at least a 10-yard penalty, that would apply to the hit we saw in this game. Hits where it’s clear the offender lead with his helmet – like Micah Awe on Jerome Messam – that should be a 25-yard penalty and a game misconduct. The player should then be fined for a first offence, suspended for a game for a second. If the problem continues, the suspension only gets longer. It might seem harsh but it’s time the league gets serious about head shots. A black and white system that applies to every player, that leaves little room for interpretation, is the best approach.

– Part of the problem for the Riders offensively was their inability or unwillingness to run the football. The offensive line was clearly struggling with the Stamps defensive line. Chris Jones admitted after the game that he put Brandon Bridge in because he is more athletic than Kevin Glenn. Why not run the football with a non-quarterback earlier? If Stephen McAdoo doesn’t trust the guys behind Cameron Marshall, then maybe they should have kept someone else out of camp or find another back. 28 yards rushing (Bridge lead the team with 12 yards) isn’t going to beat a team like Calgary.

– Getting points off Calgary turnovers would have made a huge difference. Those are the kinds of things you need to take advantage of against an elite team.

– Considering that Calgary had the ball over 12 minutes longer than the Riders, it’s remarkable the defence didn’t wear down and break. I was expecting Messam to eventually bust a big one. Instead, the defence hung on until the very end. If the dam did break in the final minutes, I don’t think anyone would have blamed them.

– Speaking of Bridge, he almost did it. The offence certainly seemed to improve under the Canadian pivot but the score and time might have played a factor in that a little. Is Glenn’s job in jeopardy at this point? No. But, Bridge is starting to build a decent resume that might lead to him eventually getting a shot without someone getting injured.

– I think my pick for Riders most outstanding special teams player is changing. It’s definitely punter Josh Bartel now. Bartel had a net average of 42.6 yards with a long of 60 in this one and his placement was perfect as well. Some of you pointed out Bartel to me as your pick when I made my mid-season selections and you were definitely right. He’s the guy right now.