The Lions start has been shocking. The biggest storyline of the off-season was Mike Reilly and where he would sign. When he put pen to paper on the richest deal in the CFL, a 1-4 start wasn’t what anyone was thinking for a Lions team who invested in turning their luck around, having not appeared in a Grey Cup since 2011.
The Riders were also in the hunt for Reilly but lost out to BC based on location and Reilly’s priorities of which team gave him the best situation personally and professionally.
Of course, the Riders were dealt another quarterbacking blow to start the season with the man they settled for in Zach Collaros, who continues to remain out with a concussion.
So Saturday, the Riders will counter with BC’s third-string QB last season in Cody Fajardo.
The next two games aren’t about money, quarterbacks, or pride, they’re about establishing the groundwork to become the team each organization envisioned ahead of the season. They need to see some things turn around in their games if they hope to achieve that.
The biggest match-up going into the game shouldn’t be solely focused on the quarterbacks, but instead, the battle along the offensive and defensive lines.
There has been no doubt the Lions’ offensive line has struggled to keep Reilly on his feet in 2019. Their 17 sacks allowed is ranked last in the CFL and they’ve given up more than their share of pressures as well.
Saskatchewan will counter with the leading sack man in the league with Charleston Hughes – who has five already on the campaign – as well as A.C. Leonard, who has four. Nevermind the duo of Zack Evans and Micah Johnson in the middle of that defensive line. Both men will be hungry to notch their first sacks of the season.
The Lions need to ensure Reilly is getting the ball out quickly, or better yet, establish a run game early to slow down a fierce Riders group up front. I believe that’s the only thing holding BC back, is the time Reilly has to disperse the football.
Meanwhile, for the Riders’ defence, while the sacks look fine, the biggest change from the 12-win team last year is the takeaways. They were running at a historic rate last season and have just three to start. Yes, that is last in the CFL, two worse than Saturday’s opponent.
The Riders had 15 defensive or special teams return touchdowns last season, nearly one per game. They have none to boast so far in 2019.
The Green and White also need to see Fajardo bounce back after a game in which he was pulled in favour of Isaac Harker. Saturday’s game will be the second big test for Fajardo since his first start – that he nearly won back in Week 2.
Saskatchewan needs to know the first two impressive starts were what to expect, not the way he played against Calgary in Week 4. It’s a similar concern to what REDBLACKS face with Dominique Davis, who won his first two starts but hasn’t looked nearly as good in two straight losses.
Are teams figuring out tendencies and a game plan that challenges these quarterbacks? That’s something you can only find out by giving the quarterbacks more time to work through it.
While this is only the fourth start for Fajardo, he must be looking forward to facing some former teammates. But he isn’t the only former member of the Leos on this Saskatchewan roster.
Solomon Elimimian hasn’t downplayed the fact he’ll be a little extra emotional this week. He hopes to channel that into a big game against the team that unceremoniously dispatched him on April 30th, giving him less than a month before the opening of training camps to find a job.
The timing rubbed Elimimian the wrong way. The former Most Outstanding Player has pushed that in the past and after an injury delayed his debut with the Riders to just two weeks ago, he knows wins are more important than revenge when you’re sitting at 1-3.
Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Solomon Elimimian runs out of the tunnel alongside his teammates (Arthur Ward/CFL.ca)
Manny Arceneaux is another long-tenured Lion who was left to free agency in the off-season to relieve some cap pressure and help pay for Reilly’s new deal.
He appears to be set to make his Rider debut on Saturday. The team has been very cautious with the veteran receiver with him coming off a knee surgery that ended his 2018 season early.
Oh, and it’s Duron Carter‘s return to Saskatchewan, which comes almost a full year after he was cut by the team. He gets a chance to remind the fans what he looks like as a receiver after playing most of last season in Saskatchewan as a defensive back.
There are plenty of storylines going on this week and next for the Lions and Riders. We rarely see a game with so many implications on the standings this early in a season, but whoever drops this game may be in a “must-win” scenario heading into the second head-t0-head matchup in Week 7.
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