General Manager Brendan Taman and Head Coach Corey Chamblin had one mission this off-season. Get better on defence.
They spent money in free agency, zeroing in on Rey Williams, Dwight Anderson, Weldon Brown, Ricky Foley and then right before camp came John Chick. The Riders also traded for defensive lineman Jermaine McElveen.
Add to these signings the pressure the Riders had to re-sign the team’s 2012 Defensive Player of the Year nominee Tyron Brackenridge.
The Riders appear to have spent wisely because without these players, the Riders are leaving Edmonton with a loss.
Yes, the Riders gave up an uncharacteristic 27 points in their 30-27 nailbiter but it was this veteran savvy they acquired in the off-season that ended up coming through when it mattered the most.
The biggest play of the game was Anderson’s interception in the end zone as the Eskimos Mike Reilly thought he had Fred Stamps coming open over the middle for the go-ahead score.
To Reilly’s displeasure, the man they picked on a few times in the previous 55 minutes had the last laugh.
“(Stamps) gave me a little out and I kind of jumped back underneath and the ball was right there,” explained Anderson as the team arrived back from Edmonton.
Anderson has come as advertised. The season started off with some controversy but when Anderson is making headlines for the right reasons, he becomes a player that Corey Chamblin can rest easy knowing he’s got #33 to go up against the best slot receivers in the league.
That was Anderson’s task on Saturday and while he lost a few, it was he who made the biggest play of the game.
While Anderson is getting most of the glory, his colleagues were also making plays in the fourth quarter to keep the Riders on top.
Chick slammed Reilly to turf as he threw to Cary Koch for a touchdown pass. The hit rattled the Eskimos first year starter and would be the first of many hits the quarterback would take in the final 20 minutes.
The hit appeared to wake up the Riders defence, who allowed only three points the rest of the way.
Chick’s contribution isn’t showing up in the stat sheet but all you have to do is watch play in and play out to see his impact. Chick is constantly pushing the quarterback either out of the pocket or forcing him to step up into the waiting arms of McElveen, George, Shologan, Williams or Foley.
Eventually, Weldon Brown’s controversial sack and forced fumbled sealed the win for Saskatchewan.
Brown came around the corner and hit Reilly, who appeared to have no idea the Rider linebacker was heading his way. Brown’s helmet caught the face mask of the Eskimos quarterback. No flag was thrown and the Riders took over due to the fumble.
While Brown may hear from the league about the hit, it wasn’t the only play the former Eskimos was making.
Brown was all over the field as has been his M.O. since going from Green and Gold to Green and White.
Brown has brought tremendous flexibility to Chamblin and Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall’s system. Not only does Brown possess great speed to compete with the best receivers in the league, he’s a tough nosed player who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty trying the stop the run.
Meanwhile, Rey Williams is the man in the middle of it all. His eight tackles on Saturday won’t gather many headlines but he did bring a hault to the Eskimos running game as for the second time this year it was Reilly, not an Eskimos running back leading Edmonton in rushing against Saskatchewan.
The Riders certainly made a big investment in the off-season, and so far it’s paying off.
On offence, it’s a complete 180. They stayed the course with their personnel. Geroy Simon was the only player brought in, although it’s a coaching change that’s put them over the top.
But we’ll save that story for another day.
Jamie Nye bleeds green and is the Roughrider insider for News Talk 980 CJME Regina and News Talk 650 CKOM Saskatoon. All of his Rider coverage can be found at www.GreenZoneFootball.com and you can follow him on Twitter @JamieNye.