What a difference a couple of weeks make, especially this year in the CFL.
After back-to-back losses ahead of a bye and a date with the Calgary Stampeders on the horizon, it was getting a little tense in Riderville. The Riders chances at a home playoff game were looking slim and even making the playoffs was suddenly in question thanks to a couple of wins by the Lions.
If adversity builds character, then the Riders are proving they are as battle-tested as any team in the CFL right now. When it could have been easy to roll over and let the circus take over, the Riders instead had their best game of the season against Calgary and followed it up with a gutsy win over the Lions in Vancouver. In back-t0-back weeks, the Green and White ended mildly impressive undefeated streaks: Calgary’s overall and the Lions’ one at home.
Thanks to some help on the out of town scoreboard, the Riders are once again very much a part of the West Division playoff race and are definitely back in the conversation when it comes to the first-ever home playoff game at Mosaic Stadium.
How did they get here? That’s a pretty easy answer: the defence.
Early on against the Lions, it looked like the Riders were ready to run away with this game, leading 20-9 at one point. They let the Lions back into it but the defence made sure that’s as far as they got. The Lions only managed to muster up three points in the second half, a field goal early in the fourth quarter. A Zach Collaros interception? No big deal, the defence covers that up. Three first downs in the second half, well into the fourth quarter? Oh well, the defence is doing their thing. The Lions couldn’t even get a yard to keep the game going in the game’s final minute.
As it currently stands, the Riders are a championship contender based on their defence alone.
The Riders biggest roadblock? The offence.
A week ago, they moved the ball enough to win. This week, they got away with it. Certainly, the Lions deserve some credit as well, but Collaros didn’t look as sharp as he did a week ago. He forced a few throws, got away with a few near interceptions and overall the offence never really found its rhythm. They did manage some first downs finally in their final non-victory formation drive of the game, but it should never have come to that. One touchdown at any point before that in the second half and the game is basically over. Instead? They managed just four points in the final 30 minutes and none in the final quarter.
There will come a time where the offence will have to bail out the defence, that’s just the nature of the game. It could come in their most important game of the year. Can they do it? Right now, it’s hard to believe that they can. They need to show it sooner rather than later.
At the halfway point, the Riders are in a good spot with a home playoff game within reach. If they can ever find some solutions on offence, the sky is the limit. If they don’t, they could end up wasting the best defence in the league.