Thursday, October 23, 2014

Riders vs. Stampeders:

Friday the Riders travel to Calgary for a showdown with the League leading Stampeders. The Riders will be looking for their first win in over a month and our first win over a playoff-bound team since we beat BC back in August.

The Stamps will be an interesting team to watch over the final weeks of the regular season. They have first place locked up meaning that their next meaningful game will be the West final a month from now. You can bet that what happened last year is looming large on their mind when they also had 1st locked up and played their starters in the final game of the regular season. They ended up losing McDaniel and both starting DTs to injury in that meaningless game. While it wasn’t only reason they lost (cough 7 turnovers cough), trying to stop Kory Sheets and our OL with back-up DTs was certainly a factor in that game. So the Stamps will need to strike a delicate balance of protecting key players and not letting the team get rusty between now and the playoffs. We already know Cornish will sit out and I imagine a couple more vets will as well. Apparently Cornish is blaming “sliding on his hardwood at home” as contributing to his injury… which ranks right up there with Sandro DeAngelis blaming home renos for his poor performance in terms of excuses,

Seems the Riders are in the "resting players" boat too. Having resigned ourselves to the reality that no matter what happens in the next 2 games we will be on the road for the duration of the playoffs, we will be resting Dressler, Best and Allen. The fact that next week is a bye likely plays into that decision as well. My preference would be to push to win enough games to not crossover as the team historically gets way more pumped up for West road games then East ones but I get the desire to let our best players be healthy when it matters most.

I really think it’s important for the Riders to win at least one of the final 2 games. It may not matter standings wise but I really think we need that winning feeling again to build momentum for the playoffs. At the start of this year the team believed … hell they knew they could overcome adversity during a game. Recently, they just haven’t been doing that. We saw a more confidence with credible QB under centre last week but really need to take that next step and translate that into that elusive win.

Offensively, we need to see progression from Joseph. Hopefully he is closer to game shape this week and hopefully he improves his play. Calgary will have the benefit of film on Joseph running our O (something Edmonton did not). A big key will be finding balance offensively. Generally we have been too reliant on the run and last week the run just wasn’t there and we had to throw a lot. Success will lie in finding that middle ground. Keith Toston will finally get his chance (as fans have been clamouring for all year), if he’s even half as good as the hype he’s managed to garner then he will be some sort of unstoppable force. We really did not effectively use Will Ford’s speed (not that I see his departure as a huge loss) so maybe Toston’s power will fit better into our plans. With Dressler out, other receivers will need to step up. I’ve mentioned before that I like Korey Williams and hope we keep him involved. I really want to see Getzlaf turn in a “Stampeder Killer” performance like the ones that made him famous. He has really been Getzlafing the ball the year (it’s a valid verb, trust me) and we need consistency from him if we want the postseason to be more than 1 and done. Not sure if Labatte will be back this week or not but if not our much vaunted O-line could be reduced to Adcock/Watman/Picard/Clark/Heenan. Stamps will likely look to eliminate the run and force Joseph to do the hard work himself (just cause it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true). To counter that I think we need to not give up completely on the run (pretty safe bet with this team) and we need to take advantage and make the passing plays that are there. A few deep balls for a big gain would really help open things up underneath. Joseph really telegraphed his deep shots last week and wasn’t very accurate (not that he was ever known for his deep accuracy) so that needs to change. Bottom line, Joseph needs to take command of this offense and continue producing and scoring. Bagg and Geztlaf are the guys I think we need to lean on.

Defensively, we won’t have to worry about Cornish which makes life easier in the run stopping department. I thought we did a decent job against Cornish last game and Walter is no Cornish so we should be good. Normally I’d worry about Mitchell’s mobility but I’m guessing he’ll be under coach’s orders to play it pretty conservative in terms of exposing himself to injury. He will still run but likely be very picking about when. If Maze is back then I like our secondary matching up on what’s left of Calgary’s receivers (Fuller, Sinopoli, McDaniel and West all out). If he’s out then the task becomes much harder. Maurice Price is the dangerous one so limiting the big plays to him will be a key. I hope Brackenridge gets the chance to drill Price if for no other reason than my general dislike of the guy (a feeling I think shared by many). We need to win the battle of the trenches in order to get the edge defensively. Fortunately we have the talent along the D-line to do so. If it was me I would rest John Chick. The bye is next week and I’ve long thought he’s nicked up. I wouldn’t volunteer to be the guy to tell him he wasn’t playing mind you.

Really tough to say what to expect in this game with both teams resting so many key players. Given that it’s a home game and they hate us, I expect the Stamps play us hard regardless of the unimportance of the game in the standings. Word is the game is damn near sold out so the good news is the Riders will have a large chunk of the crowd on their side. I predict will be start slow and fall behind early but claw back and make a game of it by halftime. I think the Riders will manage to keep it close but this one just isn’t feeling good for a victory. I think we could win… hell we almost beat them in a meaningful game with Tino Suneri. My gut just says we will have to wait until the final game of the regular season to get back in the win column.  

Stamps by 7

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Evening Edition

Riders 19 - Eskimos 24

Only the Riders could manage to have me walk into a game I fully expected to lose and have me leave feeling disappointed. Such is life as a Rider fan.

Before I get to the game, let illustrate just how bad things had gotten in Riderville over the past month or so. On the first offensive play of the game when Joseph took a deep shot, there was damn near a standing ovation despite the fact the pass feel incomplete. On the next play Joseph hit an 8 yard pass and as he and the offense were headed to the sidelines, there was another raucous ovation despite the fact we just went 2 and out. We have been so desperate for competent play at the QB position that even failure of the less embarrassing variety was a welcome sight. Every ounce of me wanted to stand up and yell “Really?” to the fans cheering a 2 and out but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I was also happy we didn’t suck quite as bad. For anyone who watched Mad TV, the whole scenario reminded me of a sketch they did about a really bad dating service call Lowered Expectations.

As for the game, a competent QB changes everything. Plain and simple. Was Joseph great? Lord no. Was he good? Good enough. And low and behold, given the talent we have around him, “good enough” was almost enough to beat the 2nd best team in the CFL… hell we should have beat them. I figured Joseph would do good but admittedly he looked better than I expected. He was poised, made reads, bought time, made passes, moved the ball, scored points… you know all those things that our other QBs just couldn’t do. Clearly it was advantage Joseph in the first half since the Esks would have had no film on him running our offense and they certainly made adjustments in the second half to level the playing field. Regardless, Joseph showed enough that I think we can win with him. The whole team played better around him. O-line had their best game in many weeks buying tons of time for Joseph. Heenan had a rough outing but as a unit they were improved. Receivers were a mixed bag. They made some good plays… but also dropped far too much. I like what Korey Williams brings at that wide-out spot. Our run game was clearly affected by the late scratch of Allen. His back spasms should come as no surprise given his attempt to carry the entire team on his back last week. While our run game was a disappointment, what was refreshing to see was us be able to adjust and still move the ball without it. Joseph and the O will need to be better but I have faith in their abilities overall which is something I did not have in the Sunseri/Doege offense. More importantly the coaches seem to have confidence in Joseph given that he didn’t get the training wheels playbook.

Overall a very good effort by our defense. They really manned up and contained the run, both of White (68 yards) and Reilly (11 yards). Foley was a monster out there. That D-line looks a whole lot better with Derrick Walker in the line-up. He is very underrated in my opinion. The injury to Maze was devastating. While he was in, we really contained Bowman and the rest of the passing game. When Green was forced into action, it all went to hell. Hopefully Maze will be back soon because he is a key piece of that secondary.

That kick return TD was a killer. We had all the momentum going into half after an outstanding 30 mins of football and lost it all right then and there and let Edmonton back into the game after having them on the ropes. Simply put we are currently not a good enough team to overcome major mistakes like that. We need to play our best football in all three phases in order to compete with top teams like Edmonton and Calgary. The second half displayed less than our best in all 3 phases and we weren’t able to overcome it.

We had an opportunity to win that game and let it slip away. I think the confidence level across the province increase by monumental proportions but a loss is a loss and I won’t be happy until I see that increased confidence translate into wins. We have 2 games remaining and in both cases our opponent will not care about the outcome so we need to keep improving and be ready to play our best football come playoffs.

Other random thoughts:

- Greatest kiss cam ever! Also likely the last kiss cam ever. For those of you who weren’t at the game you really missed out. It was all going along like normal until the camera showed a young couple. The guy told his lady friend to stand up. She seemed a bit confused but obliged. He then shocked everyone by turning her around and giving her a her very enthusiastic dry humping.

Somewhere someone had to be yelling “Won’t someone think of the children!”

- By now if you are not convinced that Dressler had paid off the refs with paninis and blizzards you are obviously in on the conspiracy.  They just seem to look away when he is returning punts. I’m not complaining mind you… in fact I think he should expand his bribing ways to offensive plays as well.

- I am certainly not on the “Fire Cortez” train. I have longed for an OC this good for years and hope he sticks around long-term. That said, I have to question some pretty basic stuff that I’ve seem him call. One example: Short yardage play we run Ford up the middle. Next play we run Messam off-tackle. I’m no offensive genius but that seems really backwards to me.

- Bartel is every bit as inconsistent a punter as Milo. He really needs to get better if we are to continue justifying using a roster spot on him.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Riders vs. Eskimos: So You're Saying There's A Chance?

There are many reasons to doubt our ability to end our losing streak this Sunday when we host the Eskimos. There's the fact that we haven't beat a credible team since Durant got hurt; there's our general inability to score points (particularly in the first half); there's the fact that we haven't held an opponent under 24 points since August; there's the fact that the Esks embarrassed us last time; and of course there's that whole "lack of a credible QB" thing. I encourage you to pick your favourite reason. Either way I can't fathom a rationale argument for why we should be optimistic about our chances... unless the Esks' flight here is somehow routed through Africa and all their players get quarantined for Ebola testing. What? Do you have a better idea?

Under normal circumstances I would focus on how we need this win to keep our slim chances of a home playoff game alive. However, we are a team struggling to even play competitive football so addressing that is far more important otherwise what stadium we lose our playoff game in doesn't really matter. All signs point to us turning back the clock and hoping Kerry Joseph can channel his inner-2007 MOP form to revive our decrepit offense. Normally I would oppose the logic that starting a 41 year old QB who hasn't played meaningful football in a long time will actually improve things... but let's be honest... he can't possible be worse. Can he? This a desperation move plain and simple but I'm not sure how much more desperate we can be. It's not like Joseph will be more indecisive than Sunseri or more turnover-prone than Doege. Also given that our offense involves handing the ball off to Allen 90% of the time I wouldn't worry about his ability to absorb the playbook.

Ok, allow me to set aside my overt skepticism at this point and talk about what Joseph needs to do to give us a chance. First and foremost we need his legs. Our O-line has not been playing great and the Esks have a solid D-line. We need to move the pocket around to take off a bit of pressure and open things up for our receivers, We don't need him to rush for 100 yards but things like rollouts, buying extra time in the pocket and giving the defense something to think about other than Allen will go a long way. Tino made old man Danny McManus look mobile by comparison. Joseph is actually an old man but can still use his legs. The Esks are going to stack the box and dare us to throw. We need to accept that dare and actually throw if we want to win. Joseph was never particularly accurate on his long ball but we will need to attempt a few of those. Primarily we need crossers, quick hooks... anything to actually make our receivers be more than glorified sprinters. Not sure if Labatte plays this week or not but it would sure be nice to have both him and Best back at guard. It would have the added benefit of adding one of our more productive offensive weapons back into the mix in Dan Clark.

Defensively you can bet we will be taking this game personally. We got lit up for 300 yards rushing last time we met and they will be looking to avenge that performance. Both Reilly and White got big yards at will. That will need to stop. With Kilgore now on the 6 game IR with a acute case of sucking, provided someone actually fulfills the middle linebacker role then that will go a long way. I don't care if we have to spy Reilly all night with an LB, keep him in the damn pocket! He's a good QB but I like our odds better with him throwing then with him running. The amazing thing about last game was how close the defense kept it in spite of all the rushing yards and the non-existent Rider offense. If Joseph can do something offensively then I like our defense's chances. Front 7 will need to contain the run and DBs will need to step up and make plays like they did earlier in the year. One play I've noticed the Esks use a lot against us is the wide-side pass to Coehoorn. Not lots but a few times per game usually on second down. Whichever CB is lined up on him will need to play him tight to take away the easy first downs.

If we had a QB I'd actually like our chances in this game... and while there's always a chance Joseph could miraculously take us on some fairytale, nostalgia filled run that they someday make a movie about, I wouldn't count on it. My guess is Joseph will manage to keep the game remotely competitive (at least by recent standards) but the Esks are playing good football right now and would be a challenge even if we had a credible QB.

Esks by 14.

It's Sunday so I'll try and keep the cursing to a minimum.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Terrible Thanskgiving Edition

Riders 9 - Alouettes 40

Thanks-giving? More Like Beat-taking... Am I right? (It's the best I got today)

Life with Durant added another painful chapter on Monday as the Riders got thoroughly ass kicked by the Als. The performance was so painful that it made the obligatory Black/Forde carving the turkey segment seem not that bad by comparison. Rather than give by usual post-game analysis and breakdown the game, I will just save time and say the we sucked in all phases, some more than others admittedly, but the general level of performance for everyone was set on suck for that holiday Monday.

So rather than breakdown all the ways in which we sucked, here are some random thoughts on the game:
- I blame poor effort by #26. I mean come on, show some hustle.

- Lots of talk about George Cortez during this enduring string of QB garbage. Here's the deal.... he didn't just suddenly stop being one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. But what's concerning is that he knows offense and our QBs and has reasoned that our best chance of winning was by Sunseri not throwing a pass. To me that says he doesn't think much of Sunseri's abilities other than he's apparently better than our other 3 options. Again that's concerning.

- That said, we could do a bit more to help him out. The playbook we gave him for this game might as well has come with training wheels attached or padding on the corners. Sunseri may show all the decisiveness of a woman trying to get dressed for a night out but he can do more than handoff. For all his offensive ineptitude, Ryan freakin' Dinwiddie is getting decent production out of a mediocre QB like Crompton, can't tell me Cortez can do a little bit more.

- Roll Sunseri out, cut the field in half for him to make his reads. I'm not offensive guru but that seems like a reasonable approach to me. 

- Seth Doege, we want to like you. We really do. But you just keep throwing picks.

-Though I hopeful when Clark showed well in his one start replacing Picard at centre, the extended absence of Best and now Labatte have convinced me that he is not a starting caliber O-lineman. Great at TE, extra blocker, pass catcher, emergency fill in at OL  but clearly over matched as a starting guard.

- Milo could double his salary by betting drunks that he can hit the ball off the uprights from anywhere on the field on cue.

- Was it wrong that I was hoping that Calvillo would inadvertently wander onto the field during a play and cause the Als to take a too many men penalty?

- To be perfectly honest I see only 2 scenarios where we win again in the regular season. Joseph quickly rediscovers his '07 form or the Esks rests their starters in the final game of the regular season because their playoff position is already decided.

- To anyone thinking the crossover is the easy path we are now winless on the road against Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal and have been outscored 116-27 in the process.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Fifth Grey Cup

Now it hasn’t been the best of seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Their nine wins in 14 games is okay and will merit a playoff berth, so it is by no means a disaster but it is hardly awe inspiring. So can the defending champions win their 5th Grey Cup or will it be playoff disappointment?
In the betting markets the Riders are one of the favourites. Bookmakers bet365 rightly have the Calgary Stampeders instilled as favourites, it’s hard not to - the Stampeders have been superb this season. However, from the odds, the Riders certainly have a succinct chance of winning.

Here’s why they will win a fifth Grey Cup
·         Darian Durant
o   The South Carolina native is one of the best quarterbacks outside of America. Last season he was impeccable, throwing 31 TDs in 18 games.
§  This season he has been blighted by injury but the franchise are optimistic that the former Baltimore Ravens man will be back sooner rather than later. The Edmonton Eskimos game has been pencilled in for his return.
§  Durant is a general on the pitch. He laughs in the face of adversity. If he is fully fit for the playoffs then the Riders are a completely different side.
·         Corey Chamblin
o   Just as important as the QB is the coach and in Corey Chamblin the Riders have an impeccable coach. He has taken the Riders to the playoffs every season and turned them into one of the most dominant forces in Canada.
§  His years as a defensive coordinator come in handy for the Riders. He has installed in his side a defensive acumen that makes them near impossible to break down.
·         If they do get beat it is never easily. To beat the Riders you’re going to have to bleed.
§  A side that is hard to beat certainly has a good chance of victory.

Here’s why they won’t win a fifth Grey Cup
·         Calgary Stampeders
o   The Stampeders have been absolutely sensational this season, winning 12 of their 14 games.
§  Form breeds confidence and right now the Stampeders are incredibly confident. Now this confidence does not border on cockiness, the Stampeders are better than that. However, they do believe that they are capable of winning every game and will enter the field in this manner.
§  What’s more, is their awesome offence this season. Their 392 points is the highest in the league. On average, they are scoring 28 points a game, which is a darn good total.
o   The Stampeders are most definitely the team to beat and sadly it is hard to imagine the Riders beating them.
§  That said, who saw the Riders beating them last year?
·         Darian Durant
o   The other side to the Durant coin. If he doesn’t fully recover from injury then the Riders are without a top-class QB, you cannot win the Grey Cup with a dud QB.
§  The Riders have had to bring Kerry Joseph out of retirement, that’s how depleted they are at QB. Nothing against the 41-year-old but surely he is too old to offer anything?

It is going to be a stretch for the Riders to make it two consecutive Grey Cups. If Durant is fit then they have a chance, and that is still requiring Chamblin to be at his managerial best. If Durant is not fit then we may as well go home now.