Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Another Loss

Riders 5 - Eskimos 30

So there were no miracles performed on Friday. Brett Smith could not walk on water, nor could he turn our losing season into something more palatable. But hey, at least he didn't utterly embarrass himself... unlike some other Rider QB that played in that game. The game went pretty much according to script. The winless team with 3rd string QB got pounded by a team with a winning record and one of the best defenses in the league. Predictably as well I had to pour increasingly stronger drinks as the game went on in order to endure it.

Brett Smith actually didn't do too bad given the situation. He had happy feet, he made some mistakes but he also made some good throws (some of which were taken back due to penalty). I would be okay with him starting a few more games to see if he progresses. As previously alluded to I see no reason for Tino Sunseri to have a job as a anything but a hair model. He does not belong on a professional football field. I don't care how little of the playbook Keith Price and Blake Sims know, there is no way they can be any worse than Tino. At this point an empty chip bag would likely be more useful under centre.

My main issue with our offense was how we completely let Edmonton dictate our game plan. Predictably Edmonton run blitzed and dared us to run and while I get that we can't just blindly run into a pile of defenders, that doesn't mean abandon the run completely. We are a good running team, how about showing some balls and seeing if we can run despite the strong opposition? We let Chris Jones take away our run game without even a fight, leaving a rookie 3rd stringer to carry the offense on his arm. Its a ludicrous strategy. We might as well have just asked Chris Jones prior to each series which offensive plays he was okay with us using.

Friday was actually the first time our defensive line decided not to be useless. The main factor was Alex Hall actually having his first good game of the season. Overall the defense was probably the best I've seen all season... not saying they were good, just improved by our low standard. We still can't get off the field on second down, or defend the pass. It's probably the least creative defense I've ever seen. Apparently Chamblin's answer to our lack of pressure is blitz Brackenridge... on every play, the same way every time. The only blitzing philosophy I've seen that was worse was the Scott Gordon safety blitz (aka Gordon disappearing into a pile of players while adding nothing of value to the play).

The bottom line is that 2015 is now officially over for the Riders. If you think I'm being overly pessimistic then you should watch the following Jim Mora rant.

All attention should now be placed on building a team for 2016. We essentially now have a really long preseason. So we should be evaluating all our practice roster players with some live game action. I want to see Keith Price get some playing time. We should also look at cutting ties with anyone who does not fit into the plans for 2016.

Coach Chamblin is one guy I think should stay (I also know that given my luck, 5 minutes after I post this he will be fired). He did not suddenly become a bad head coach. He did just fine in 2012, 2013 and the first half of 2014. He is a good head coach... he is just a really awful defensive coordinator. If he could relinquish that he could once again focus on his actual coaching duties. I bet you would see his game management improve. He's done some dumb things this year but I do not want to see him fired. If you want a scapegoat maybe you should be looking at the guy whose job it is to provide talented players for the coach and build depth.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Riders vs. Eskimos: We’re Screwed

Spoiler alert: I don’t see us winning this week.

Clearly we have angered the football gods and the cost of our wrongdoings is 2-3 of our starting players per week. The only logical thing to do is get out in front of this and pre-emptively “sacrifice” players. So let’s take Steve Miller and Tino Sunseri out to centre field and break a bone of their choosing with a baseball bat. Hopefully that will appease the football gods. It’s really the only rational thing to do at this point.

This is one of the weirdest seasons I have ever lived through… and I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff over the years. The best way I can describe this is if you took all the injuries from 2008 and combined them with all the sucking of 2011 you’d get the 2015 Riders (just with less Dinwiddie and Bishop… though never say never at the rate we are going). With Glenn out any remote chance we had of winning this week is gone, let’s just be up front about that. The only good thing we had going for us was our offense and now we are sending our 3rd string QB against the stingiest defense in the league in a tough road match-up… I mean there’ s a chance Brett Smith miraculously leads us to victory but there’s also a chance a bus load of bikini models show up at my house asking if they can have a pillow fight in my house while their only set of clothing is in the washing machine. Let’s just say odds are good that both my washing machine and the Riders’ win column will go unused.

Not to give up on Brett Smith before he really gets a chance but I have my doubts about him. Usually even when they struggle you can “it” in a young QB that goes on to have success. I have not seen “it” from Smith. We did the smart thing last week in rolling him out to cut the field in half and make his reads easier. However on one play he badly missed a short out, on another he damn near ran for a first down before deciding the throw the ball. Tough situation to come into and maybe he looks better now that the initial nerves are gone but I have my doubts. Edmonton is damn good defense. They will know and attack Smith’s limitations. I expect them to run blitz and focus on keeping Smith in the pocket and basically daring us to beat them through the air.  If we are to have any chance of offensive success the key will be misdirection. Esks will be looking for Smith to roll out so fake the rollout and run a reverse the other way. They will be looking for the run so put Messam, Allen and Demski in the backfield and make them try and guess who’s getting the ball. Try some different receiver or tight end screens. Have Smith test the defense with his speed running the ball. High percentage plays that still keep the Esks from pinning their ears back and killing us with pressure. Edmonton has tough run D but maybe we should try something crazy like giving the league’s leading rusher more than 4 snaps.

Defensively, Shaqir Bell will run all over us like pretty much every RB we’ve faced. You can count on that. I personally don’t think Matt Nichols is very good (never have) and I think Chris Jones is slowly coming around to that conclusion as well. If we can somehow keep things close I could see Franklin making a second half appearance again. Nichols is slowly being phased out of the picture in Edmonton. I actually expect our defense to keep things close for the first half of the game but a lack of offense will keep them on the field and wear them down late in the game. Any remote chance of us winning also likely requires either our defense or special teams to score a TD. Though given that our defense struggles to even get a turnover the aforementioned pillow fight is probably more likely.

Short of Edmonton defaulting the game due to all their players being placed under quarantine for a suspected deadly disease, I don’t see any scenario that results us winning on Friday.

I will still watch and cheer and pray for some kind of miracle but honestly if we can keep it close and lose less than 2 people to season ending injury that’ll be doing alright.

Eskimos by at least 2 scores.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Same Old

Riders 21 - TiCats 31

Stop me if you've heard this one before... the Riders play 3 pretty quarters of football only to go to hell in the 4th and lose. Throw in the usual injured starting player and we've pretty much seen the same thing 5 times now. Each time it ends in a loss and a collective decline in the health of liver's across the province.

I actually thought the defense played not bad for a large part of the game. They we far from perfect (far, far, and then go a little further yet) but they showed glimmers. Even late in the game when Glenn threw that pick inside the redzone (which was a terrible decision, not sure what his read was there but he read wrong) they held the Ticats to a FG. But numbers don't lie and we gave up 130+ yards along the ground to Gable. They also managed to go another game without a turnover and a single solitary sack. Have they been worse? Yes they have. Are they even close to good enough? No they aren't. Alex Hall has been a massive disappointment. I even noticed him on the sidelines late in the game on a fairly key down so obviously the coaches are seeing it to. We can't seem to generate much pressure and Hamilton is far from being one of the upper echelon O-lines.

Offensively you pretty much knew we were screwed when a white dude with the #16 sauntered out into the huddle instead of a black dude wearing #5. I'm sure we all frantically checked to down and yardage wondering what the hell Brett Smith was doing out there for anything but a plunge. He's way too raw at this point to be effective. Prior to Glenn checking out I liked what I saw from the O. As expected, the Hamilton D is a very tough opponent so production was down but we found ways to move the ball in spite of that. It took us a while but by the end of the first half we were hitting a stride.  I really liked how we actually put some faith in our short yardage unit and drove straight instead of trying all that WR sweep crap. I did think Glenn was way too locked onto Dressler. I mean I get that he's our best receiver but you can't key on him that much against a D as good as Hamilton.

In order to win you need other phases to help out when another is struggling. Thus far it has been our O trying to carry the D. This week our O had some struggles and our D could not compensate. We already proved you can't win when only one phase of the game is going well so could we really expect to win when no phase performed all that good? Simply put we are not a good enough team at this point. And there is no miracle cure on the injury list that can save us. Emry and Green might help but I still don't think we win even with them in. You can tell just how defeated I am because normally this space would be filled with anger, ranting and cursing but all you see before you is a defeated man. I unfortunately see this getting worse before things get better.

Other random thoughts:
- Whatever happened to Glenn did not look serious but if he misses any time then there goes about the only glimmer of hope we have this season. Tino Suneri may soon make his not-so triumphant return to the field.

- I was impressed with our special teams unit. Coverage was pretty good all day.

- Dressler is such an amazing guy to watch because of the little things he does. On that play where he ended up throwing an incompletion, most receivers would not have had the presence of mind to jump on that live ball and they definitely would not have thought of throwing it away to preserve yards.

- The unnecessary roughness call when Hall walked Collaros out of bounds was beyond ridiculous. No way they make that call if that is a receiver and I'll go as far as to say no way Durant would get that call.

- Chris Best led our team out of the tunnel... that to me just seems wrong. I miss the days of Kitwana flying out of there or Kornegay making his X signs. We need some more fire in the bellies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Riders vs. Ti-cats: Make It Stop

Sunday the Riders host the 1-2 Ti-Cats looking to end a winless start to the season and finally give the fans something to cheer about at Mosaic Stadium rather than just covering the stands with our tears… and curse words. For all the lamenting about the start to our season, if we win (and that’s a big if I realize), Hamilton (aka the unquestioned superpower in the East coming into the season) will drop to 1 and 3. Bottom line is the post-game news conference will feature one of Angry Kent Austin or Angry Corey Chamblin (good time to be a reporter I guess).

It will be an interesting match as the Riders and their #1 ranked offense face off against the Ti-cat defense which has allowed the least yards of any team. They are allowing a microscopic 68 yards/game rushing and are #2 against the pass. It will be interesting to see how that holds up against the powerhouse combo of Messam and Allen which is chewing up over 160 yards per game. What I’ll be curious to watch is how Orlando Steinhauer game plans for the Riders. He likes to send a lot pressure and do it frequently. That would likely be unwise against the quick release pass game of Kevin Glenn and the ability of Messam catching out of the backfield. Will he dial back the pressure and force us to make plays or will be play his game and hope we buckle?

We finally get some good news on the injury front as both Ryan Smith and Nic Demski will play. Depending on your opinion of Taj Smith you may also view us shutting him down as good news (also curious to see if his December court date suddenly gets moved up). As good as that defense is (and it is damn good), I don’t think we should try and get fancy. Our offense it built on running the ball well and spreading passes around to everyone (including the RBs). It will likely be very tough running for Messam/Allen (I don’t see us getting close to our 160 yd/game average) but we need to remain committed to it. We may need to use quick passes to Dressler/Smith/Getz to open up the run lanes. One thing we do need to fix is our slow starts. We have only 1 first quarter TD and 2 FGs so far this season… given our ability to epically collapse defensively late in games, building a large lead early would be helpful.

Our defense is a perennial concern a) because I’m never sure if we will be able to find enough healthy people to actually field one and b) because even our relatively healthy D has been horrible. We are now down 3 of our 5 starting defensive backs, replaced by Hollins, Tisdale and Pep Suber. Zach Collaros leads a potent passing attack but if you look closer at things you will find that strong defense and special teams are masking a lot of offensive issues in Hamilton. The Ticats defense and special teams have a combined 5 TDs… the offense has just 4. Part of the offensive struggles are due to the fact that they have no run game (ranking dead last with 62 yards per game). In fact their running backs have a total of just 27 carries this season (by contrast ours have 72 carries). Their offense is simply way way too pass-centric (I find typing these last couple lines ironic given the preseason concerns over Chapdelaine being too pass-centric). They do get CJ Gable back this game which should jump start that run game (at least until he gets hurt again).

We really need our D-line to step up if we have any hope of winning. Hamilton’s O-line is not that great (allowing the second most sacks thus far) and if they want to keep throwing way more than they should our D-line needs to make them pay by harassing Collaros. Assuming Hamilton is aware of the existence of game film I imagine they will try to test our ability to contain with Collaros running the ball (we had some minor issues there last game). I imagine they are also smart enough to test Pep Suber (likely with Bakari Grant). We have just 2 turnovers in 4 games… if we can’t generate at least a 3rd we will be dropping to 0 and 5.

If goes without saying also that Brandon Banks is dangerous. He has 2 kick return TDs and has had 2 more called back due to penalties. Our cover teams better be rock solid in their assignments… and we should probably find ways to no kick the ball in Banks’ direction.

I have gone back and forth a lot between thinking we will lose and thinking this will be the game where things finally go right. My head says take Hamilton. They have a great D and are getting healthy (Gable and Norwood will be back). By contrast we have a terrible D and have had so many injuries they are considering adding a hospital ward to the new stadium.

But my heart says that despite all logic we will find a way to win at home. The return of Smith and Demski will give us a boost (though the boost would admittedly be bigger if they played D) and we have been so close week in week out. I wouldn’t wager any money on this but I’m going with my gut.

Riders by a rushing TD.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 5 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 5

Rider Prophet - Calgary, BC, Edmonton, Saskatchewan
Prophet Jr - Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Hamilton
Mrs. Prophet - TBD
Step-Prophet - Calgary, BC, Edmonton, Hamilton
Momma Prophet - Ottawa, BC, Winnipeg, Hamilton

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Choose Your Own Sentimonies

As you know I am currently on vacation. I typed this post before I left. It's in the style of the old Choose Your Own Adventure Books. I'll be back with actual live posts on Friday.

What a game! (If the Riders won proceed to bullet A. If the Riders lost proceed to bullet B)

A - What a great feeling to finally get that first win as I predicted we would. (If the Riders won convincingly proceed to bullet 1. If the Riders won by the the narrowest of margins proceed to bullet 2. If the Riders won by some miracle of god that was so lucky it would never happen again in a million years and you are almost ashamed we won that way, proceed to bullet 3.)

    1 - No doubt the home crowd played a factor. After being so close in the previous weeks you just new they were due for a breakout game. Hopefully they can carry that momentum into next week.

   2 - Who cares how we won. At 0-3 we can't afford to be picky.

   3 - Who cares how we won. At 0-3 we can't afford to be picky.

B - Yet another disappointing outcome. (If the Riders got pounded proceed to bullet 1. If the Riders found yet another epic way to choke away a sure victory proceed to bullet 2. If you are so angry you want to punch a small animal proceed  )

    1 - Our defense is useless, I've seen velvet ropes that are better at stopping people. I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping with our downward spiral. Bet against us in proline and use the winnings to fund your drinking.

    2 - Even people big time into S & M don't like chocking as much as the Riders do. I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping.

   3 - Please don't punch a small animal. Instead go after something more your size, like an ostrich (dibs on the eggs and meat if you do). I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping. Please avoid alcohol such as rye than will only heighten your rage. Stick to beers, wines... or absinthe if you really want to escape life for a bit.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Riders vs. BC Lions: Fourth Times A Charm

Friday night the BC Lions come to Mosaic for the 2nd game in a back to back tilt with the Riders. Needless to say this is a big game if we intend to be competing for anything other than 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft. A loss drops us to 0-4 for the first time since that dreadful 2011 season (Remember that one? With all its Marshall and Berry and Dinwiddie? *shudder*) it also loses us the season series with BC. I realize that a team without a win has bigger concerns than season series but the optimist in me would like to believe those series will be relevant at some point this season… provided we can field at team at said time.

The injury woes just keep piling up for the Riders as you can now add Weldon Brown and Levi Steinhauer to the not-so-exclusive “Done for the season” club. Brown hurts a ton because he is one of our best defenders and I’m afraid to think how much worse our D can get as the on-field talent diminishes.

The frustrating thing is this… as ridiculous as our injury situation has been this season, injuries are not the reason for our struggles. We could have a winning record even though our injury carts have put on more miles than Gainer's cart. So the question becomes how to we break out of this slump and come away with a home victory on Friday?

Offensively we just need to keep rolling. Our mounting losses on and off the field are masking just how good that unit is. Want some stats? We have scored more points than anyone in the league, we are rushing for an insane 160 yards per game, Glenn is completing close to 80% of his passes, our O-line (including Dan Clark who I routinely berated in this space) have allowed a league low 2 sacks. This is a high power offensive unit and we honestly can’t ask much more of them… except maybe if the O-line (I’m looking at you Labatte) could cut down the penalties. If we keep running hard and spreading the ball around then we will score 28 points minimum.

Pretty much every good thing I just said about our offense, flip it to the opposite and it describes our D. Most points allowed at over 35 point per game. QBs completing a league high 80+% of passes on us. One stat I think it particularly telling is the fact that we have 1… just 1 solitary turnover this season (no other team has less than 4). That puts us on pace currently for 6 on the year… last year we caused 42 turnovers. For god sake the defensive force known as Zach Evans has as many turnovers as our entire team!

I do have to admit that I have seen progress in our defense through the first 3 games. Hell for 3 quarters last week they actually looked competent. They just have absolutely zero ability to finish. I thought our defensive coordinator wanted a D that would cut of the heads of its defeated opponents... instead he has one that places its sword in the opponents hands and hurls itself upon it. We need our front 4 to be a factor again. There is too much talent their for them to be playing such mediocre ball. File this under super obvious but the key to victory is containing 2 BC players: Harris and Arceneaux. Thanks in part to their line BC has had an abysmal run game but as they showed last week they can get Harris involved in the passing game to. Its easier said than done but our LBs need to key on Harris a limit him (tackling on first contact is key because he's burnt our poor tackling before). 

We have been oh so close for 3 weeks now and I truly believe that with the backing of a wild home crowd this is the week where it all comes together. Defense will force 2 turnovers and while it won't be pretty, we will sneak out a victory by the narrowest of margins.

Riders by a Paul McCallum FG (after which he hopefully lights a smoke and flips of BC).

Programming note: I am headed off on some family vacation and will not be back until Tuesday. We will be camping and unless they've recently invented a tree that delivers free Wi-Fi I will not be able to post my Sentimonies on Monday. I won't leave you completely high and dry thought. I have pre-typed a post for Monday to ensure you can have your usual Prophet fix. The post won't contain any relevant information on the game but if that was your primary concern you would have given up reading this blog years ago. See you next week!