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A Tale of Two Halves

Published: Friday, Jul 20th 2018, 2:07pm

by: Stephen Safinuk (@Safimod)

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves. There is really no other way to describe this game that saw Rider fans incensed at half time, only to finish the game elated with the team’s second half performance.

We mentioned all week that the game plan in practice suggested a love of the check downs and screen passes, and between those and the occasional run up the middle, it seemed that would be all we would get all game. When David Watford was rotated in for the 3rd series, most of Rider nation prepared for another unending rotation that saw the Riders break a CFL record for most QB changes in a game in Week 4. Instead, Bridge came back in 2 series later, and never left the game again (3rd down gambles, notwithstanding).

This game was full of “key moments” for me. The Frankie Williams punt return touchdown that probably had many Rider fans assuming the game was done. The 80 yard touchdown run from Marcus Thigpen on his only carry of the game to start the second half.  The 24 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Naaman Roosevelt that put us in the lead. Or even the Christion Jones punt return touchdown that put us up by 9 late in the 3rd quarter. All of those moments were great, but the true key moment of this game was when Brendon Labatte came back out onto the field after his injury and gutted his way through the game. Nothing against Eddie Steele, but he is no Brendon Labatte.

One stat that shines brighter than any other in the home and home battle between the Riders and Ticats is 36-9. That’s how badly the Riders outscored the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2nd half of the past 2 games. Should have been another touchdown, but the Riders decided to go 3rd and 1 from the gun on the 1 yard line late in the 4th quarter. What that stat tells me is, is that Chris Jones made some solid adjustments at halftime, and the team took advantage of the opportunities given to them.

If we look back to yesterday’s game preview, and my key’s to a Riders victory, there are a few things that stand out. Let’s look back at those and see how they did.

Bend But Don’t Break

While I suggested that the Riders needed another game of bend but don’t break, the Riders came out with a no bending at all strategy. They held the Ticats to 184 yards passing and 79 yards rushing, while allowing the Ticats no momentum all game long. Outside of their touchdown drive in the first quarter, there didn’t seem to be a moment in the game that saw the Ticats threatening. Solid defensive effort all around that kept the Riders in the game until the offense showed up.

Offensive Play Calling Needs to be Less Offensive

In the first half, the play calling was as predictable as a Donald Trump twitter outburst. Screen passes, check downs, and runs up the middle were all that made up our offense that saw us barely look 10 yards down the field at any point in the first half. The play calling had many, myself included, calling for Stephen McAdoo’s head on a platter. Then the teams came out again in the 2nd half, and everything changed. The first play from scrimmage in the 2nd half was an 80 yard run from Marcus Thigpen (who needs to see the field more) albeit up the middle. After the Ticats attempted their onside punt that went all kinds of ugly, the Riders went 47 yards in 3 plays including a screen, a QB sneak, and a fake screen bomb to a wide open Naaman Roosevelt. Whomever was covering Roosevelt bit hard on the pump fake on the screen, and why wouldn’t he? All we ran through the first half were screens. The previous play from scrimmage was a screen. That pump fake was called at the perfect time, and hats off to Stephen McAdoo.

Another big play in the game came early in the 4th, when the Riders had the ball on 3rd and 2 from their own 53 yard line. Rather than punt it away with an 8 point lead with a defense that has held Masoli for the majority of the game, the Riders went for it. While I hated seeing them run it from shotgun, I love the decision to go for it. Rather than get the required 2, Tre Mason busted off a 30 yard run, putting the Riders in field goal range to make it a 2 score game. Calls like they show the team that their head coach has faith in them. Much like leaving your starting QB in the game to figure things out, instead of rotating them.

In the end, the Riders doubled their best offensive effort with a pair of touchdowns in the 2nd half, so props to them.

Get to Masoli Early and Often

While the Riders walked out of Tim Horton’s field with only a pair of sacks, they certainly made life difficult for Jeremiah Masoli. He was rushed regularly, hit often, and pressured consistently. The Riders through a ton of different looks at Masoli, and it paid off. The Ticats offense couldn’t get any momentum going, outside of their scoring drive in the 2nd quarter.

To hold that offense to one offensive touchdown over two games is an amazing effort. We really are seeing the defense that Chris Jones envisioned when he took over the reins following the 2015 season. This is the type of defense that can win you championships, as long as the offense can keep up the momentum from this one. Hopefully the injury to Derrick Moncrief, who in my opinion was in the running for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, isn’t serious.

Stay Healthy on the Line

This one was even more key when they announced that Takoby Cofield was going to be scratched yet again, leaving the Riders with only Eddie Steele to jump in to the offensive line. When Brendon Labatte went down early, Rider fans feared the worst. An offense that is already having trouble moving the ball was going to need to put their Canadian DT in at guard and hope for the best. Credit to Eddie Steele, he actually didn’t do badly in his limited action. He also does have starts in the CFL at offensive line in 2015 (under then Eskimos head coach, Chris Jones), so clearly Chris Jones liked what he saw back then. At least enough to see him hit the line in emergency duty. Labatte was only out for a few series, before gutting it out for the rest of the night and helping push the Riders and their 218 rushing yards to victory.

Safimod’s Game Ball

There’s no doubt who this game ball goes to, even though the Riders don’t list him as one of the options on their Player of the Game contest on twitter. Brendon Labatte deserves a ton of respect for coming back into the game when it was clear he wasn’t at 100%, and helping the Riders come out of the bye week with a decisive victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats

(Photo courtesy CFL.ca)

 

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