Friday, September 19, 2014

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Free Space On The Bingo Card

Sunday the 8-3 Riders will try to get back on track after a dismal outing last week. Luckily the schedule offers them an absolute gift of a match-up with the 1-8 RedBlacks coming to town. This is by far the easiest match-up left on our schedule and so it is the perfect opportunity to work out all the crap we need to in order to get back to playing football at a level that at least gives us a chance to be a contender come November.

There’s really no way of putting this nicely… Ottawa is terrible.
-          They have just 1 win, and are winless on the road
-          They are averaging 14 pts per game and haven’t scored more than 10 points in a game in their last 4 attempts (a span that has produced just one solitary offensive TD... one!)
-          They have the worst run game (averaging a lowly 66 yds/game)
-          They have the least passing TDs
-          They have the least sacks and takeaways on defense
-          They have the worst run defense (allow 129 yds/game and most rushing TDs)
-          They have the worst pass defense (most yards allowed, highest completion % allowed)

Yet currently their odds of hosting a playoff game are as good or better than ours. (I think we are all prepared to die a little inside when we see how few wins the 2 East teams that make the playoffs will have.)

Sunseri needs to bounce back and Ottawa provides him the perfect opportunity to do so. Now I’m not saying he needs to come out throwing like the 2nd coming of Doug Flutie but we do need to see improvement in his game. His reads and decisions need to be quicker and more decisive. Let me remind you that running our offense does not mean needing to throw for 300+ yards. We don’t need him to suddenly try and morph into a gunslinger, we just need him to trust his instincts more and get the ball out when he is called on to throw. To put in bluntly, if he can’t get it done against this defense, he better start working on his resume. He will have strong run support this game. We ran for 100 on a very good run D in Hamilton when they had zero reason to respect the pass. Ottawa is far worse against the run so whether or not Sunseri gets it together we will be logging yards on the ground. Ottawa probably got their best performance of the season from their defense last game against BC so don’t expect to lie there and just take it but there is no reason we can’t have success against them. Based on their current offensive struggles we need just 2 measly TDs to all but guarantee victory... hell 1 and a FG probably amounts to an insurmountable lead.

Defensively I fully expect a dominating performance. We are a very good defense facing a team that has 1 offensive TD over the past month +. Burris is prone to struggles when he has talent around him. What chance does he have now that he is surrounded by receivers not good enough to stick as #4 receivers anywhere else? And now that they are without Chevon Walker, their run game has descended to almost comical depth (not that it was consistent even with Walker in). Our D-line will have Burris running for his life and our DBs have better hands than their receivers so expect turnovers (historically Burris serves them up in groups of 3). Unless it comes in garbage time, I just don’t Ottawa scoring a major (I’ve seen chess teams, with better chances of scoring). 2-3 FGs max with strong chances of a shutout.

Ottawa’s best chance of scoring (like most teams that face us) will come on special teams. We have allowed a kick return TD in 4 of our last 5. That is embarrassing. I’ve been saying all along that it is a product of all the injuries we have along the Canadian core of our special teams but that’s just our reality. It doesn’t look like we will be getting guys back soon so we better learn to be better with the guys we have. Better punting from Milo would help.

I don’t like being this cocky about our chances (especially given what we most recently witnessed at QB) but there’s a good chance we could win this game if our offensive and defensive players switched sides for the day. If for some reason we find a way to lose this game then you have my permission to hit the panic button. But let’s have some faith in our team and be confident they will win like they are supposed to. Sunseri will still look shaky at times but will be show enough improvement to re-instill faith…

Riders by 14 (one of which is likely a defensive TD)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 13 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 13.

Prophet Jr - BC, Hamilton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Rider Prophet - BC, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Mrs Prophet - Toronto, Hamilton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Step-Prophet - Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Momma Prophet - BC, Hamilton, Calgary, Saskatchewan

Be sure to have your picks in by kickoff Friday

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Ti-No

Riders 3 - Ti-Cats 28

Sunday we witnessed first hand the drastic difference between not passing for many yards because we choose not to and not passing for many yards because we can't. We were able to win 8 games with the former. We looked like a team that brought a sandwich to a knife fight with the later.

Sunseri's first career start certainly didn't go as planned. We needed him to deliver a mediocre performance in order to keep playing our game and have a chance to win. Instead Sunseri looked like he was playing at half speed. Slow making his reads, slow making decisions... and there were sometimes when he didn't make a decision. That is where things all started to go wrong for the Riders. A less decisive QB means the OL has to block longer. Not surprisingly that led to sacks and holding penalties. A less decisive QB meant the ball was generally delivered later than the receivers should be expecting it... if it was delivered at all (I was convinced for part of the game that Sunseri didn't know that people other Anthony Allen played offense). We may be the best in the league at running the ball but without even a remote threat that we can pass its pretty easy for a team to take away the run... especially a team like the Ti-Cats who have decent run D to begin win. The fact that we ran for 100 yards in spite of the whole no passing thing is really a sign of how good our run game is. I'm not sure why Sunseri was so "slow". Maybe it was nerves, maybe he was trying to be too perfect and over-thinking things. Whatever it is we need him to be more decisive. I'd honestly prefer to see him make mistakes while making quick throws rather than sitting there like a he was a computer trying to download a YouTube video with a 56K modem.

As for the defense, admittedly they did not have a good day either. At times they looked uninspired, they missed tackles, they missed assignments, they didn't play at the level we needed them to. But to be fair. Despite an offense that did not exist, we were down 10 points a half. They kept us in it but eventually ran out of gas late because our offense offered no support. Could they have been better? Absolutely. But if we had even the semblance of a pass game I think they would have done enough for us to win.

We got whooped, plain and simple. That said I'm not about to give up on Sunseri or the season, or call for the new most popular man in Saskatchewan Seth Doege, as seem to be popular options. I think Sunseri can play better and the only way that is going to happen is by learning from his mistakes and growing in the starter's role. Besides next up is a home date with Ottawa... that can the cure for a lot of what ails you.

Other random thoughts:
- Derek Walker gave Dan Clark a run for his money for most amazing catch by a fat man. Wow what a diving catch! Maybe we should build the Sunseri passing attack around Walker and Clark.

- For a league that supposedly focuses on protecting the QB to miss a blatant face mask on the QB is unacceptable. You would have had to consciously not been looking at the QB (who had the ball) to miss that.

- Milo had a pretty bad day punting. Too many line drives with no hang time to allow our cover teams to have a chance.

- I was really hoping that the failed clock management at the end of the half would end up being the downfall of Austin and the Cats. That was just bad.

- In this day and age should it not be possible to transplant Susneri's arm onto Durant's body? Skin colour difference would be a bit odd but I'm sure we'd grow to love FrankenDurant.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Win It For Durant

Sunday the 8-2 Riders travel to Hamilton to face the 2-7 in what will be their first visit to the new Tim Hortons field. I hear the Riders are looking forward to the experience, minus the requirement for them to spend 2 hours installing guard rails and light fixtures in exchange for practice time. Sunday is also the official start to the Autumn of Tino (doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Summer of George” but it does sound more promising than the first draft I had: “Fall of Tino”).

If there was any franchise I would feel great starting an upstart QB against it’s the Ti-Cats. History has proven pretty good to us in that regard. Willy had a big game against them last year, Durant’s breakout game in ’08 came against them, and of course who could forget Rocky Butler? He beat them so badly that they traded us for him that off-season in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory.

We utterly embarrassed them in the season opener and they have just 2 wins since then (none of which have come against a western opponent)… so logically the odds-makers have them as the favourites headed in to this game. Paging all compulsive gamblers! To be fair I don’t think the Ti-Cats are as bad as their record indicates… well let me re-phrase that. Their record is very reflective of their level of play this season but given the talent on their roster, I think they have potential to be a far better team then they have shown. Five of their losses have been by a TD or less. They have been close but just keep finding ways to lose. They also keep finding ways to enrage Kent Austin. I swear of these times either he will choke out a player or his head will explode.

Obviously injuries at QB have affected their offense but even when healthy (which I think they are pretty close now, minus Gable) their offense really doesn’t scare me. Consider this. Hamilton has scored 15 offensive TDs this season. 8 of those TDs were scored by either Dan LeFevour or CJ Gable… 1 was scored by a linebacker. That leaves 6 TDs by people who will be playing offense on Sunday. It all starts with that sorry excuse for an O-line they have. First of all it’s not very good. Second, in their 9 games they have started 7 different combinations and no one has started every game in the same spot. It’s like they put names in a hat each week and draw spots. The end result has been predictably awful line play and a whole ton of sacks (only the Bomber OL has given up more). Peter Dyakowski can’t get healthy soon enough. With a struggling line, it’s no surprise that their run game has been a non-factor. They are near the bottom of the league in terms of rushing yards and Dan LeFevour accounts for close to 40% of those yards. Part of it is they just don’t rush very often (even when Gable was healthy), only Ottawa has less rushing attempts. Not that we can ignore the run game, I’m just not overly concerned in our ability to make it a non-factor (if Austin doesn’t do that on his own by not calling run plays).

Collaros and the pass game are where the challenge will lie for our D. While Collaros has looked better in his last couple starts (though not sure how he could manage to look worse than week 1), I haven’t seen anything in his game that gives me cause for concern. Part of it has to do with the receivers at his disposal. To be fair, the Ti-Cats have solid receivers across the board (Fantuz, Grant, Tasker, Ellington, Koch, Guiguere). Thing is, while they have a lot of good receivers, they lack a real impact receiver. All are capable of making plays and moving the chains but none have that game-breaking factor. So I like how our secondary matches up against them. Certainly the fact that you can’t slow this offense down by eliminating one receiver (like some other teams) is a challenge but regardless of who ends up covering who, there are no match-ups that scare me. A weak ground game and an even weaker OL means our D-line will be in attack mode. Combine that with a Hamilton team that throws a lot of INTs and lacks a game breaking receiver and you have the recipe for a very good defensive outing.

This brings me to Sunseri and our offense. The Ti-Cats actually boast the #3 run defense in the CFL. They are very strong at the interior of their DL with Bulcke and Laurent. They also are solid at LB with Simoni Lawrence (who is a damn good player) and Rico Murray. I don’t see us shying away from the run but it will likely prove more difficult then the last couple weeks where we pretty much just steam-rolled the Bombers on the ground. Sunseri will need to pass and I’m sure he will. It’s a favourable match-up for Tino in his first start. The Ti-Cats force the least turnovers, have the least sacks (way to support Tackle Hunger jerks!), allow the 2nd highest completion % to opposing QBs and allow the 2nd most points per game. This won’t be a cake walk for him but there’s no reason to think he can’t have success. Look for the Riders to take a deep shot early (maybe even on the first play) to either Taj or Bagg (who damn well better catch it this time!). Play-action crossers could be very effective if the LBs are cheating up on the run. I also like lining Messam up a TE and passing to him on a leakout every now and them. Don’t expect us to stray too far from what’s gotten us this far, lots of running and controlling possession of the ball.

We will need another solid outing from our special teams again. Hamilton is a returner factory. They had Thigpen, Williams and this year have 3 different guys with kick return TDs. Granted all of them are hurt this week and they have airlifted in Terell Sinkfield but still as long as we don’t allow any game changing plays on teams (or better yet if we can be the ones making those game changing plays yet again) then I like our odds of grinding out another road victory.

I expect us to start the first quarter very shaky but settle things down in the second and play solid from there on out. These are the Riders so they will find some way to make it interesting and make things stressful to watch but in the end I see no reason why we shouldn’t emerge with another victory.

Riders by 10

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 12 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 12.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Darian Durant Out

We are entering unfamiliar territory. While Durant was prone to getting banged up and missing the odd regular season game, you have to go back to his breakout season in ’08 to find the last time he missed significant time and even that year he was healthy come playoff time. We have just taken for granted that Durant will be there when needed. While there is a remote chance he could be back for the playoffs (just how stringent is the CFL’s testing for steroids?), all signs point to us having to make due without our unquestioned leader for the rest of the year. And man does that suck.

Since the news broke, their have been 2 equally ridiculous camps develop. One that feels our offense will improve without Durant and one that feels we are beyond screwed and might as well just preemptively forfeit our remaining games and focus on 2015. Clearly this crazy world we call “reality” lies somewhere in the middle. I like Sunseri but if you think that Cortez has been ignoring all our good passing plays and will now suddenly re-introduce them now that Durant is out then you live in a make believe world of unicorns, leprechauns and Bomber Grey Cup victories. We are deliberately running a conservative, turnover/risk averse, run-based offense and that will not change. Sunseri can throw the ball but he lacks the experience and wisdom of Durant (go back and compare gunslinging ’09-’10 Durant to the poised veteran ‘13-’14 Durant), he lacks the leadership of Durant and the ability to take the team on his back. Quite frankly, I don’t have the same faith in Sunseri as in Durant to scramble for a 1st down when we absolutely need it. I’m sure he’s capable but with Durant everyone just expected him to and he’d usually deliver. So there is no denying that the loss of Durant will impact our offense. There is no way this can be seen as anything but a big negative.

However, if you think this adversity is insurmountable you clearly have not watched this team at all this season. Our much vaunted defense is still here last time I checked. We still boast the most dominant ground game in the CFL. We already have 8 wins. If there was ever a favourable situation for a young QB to step into this is it. We don’t need Sunseri to be a superstar to have success. I expect some struggles, I expect some mistakes and turnovers. But I like what I have seen from Sunseri since he showed up here. He is more than capable of keeping our passing attack relevant and taking advantage when teams stack the box to stop the run (which I expect we will see a lot of until Sunseri establishes himself as a viable passer). More importantly the players and coaches seem to have faith in him. Simply put if the coaches didn’t trust in the guy we would have brought in a vet in training camp.

On that note there is talk/speculation that we should/will be bringing in a veteran QB. Not sure where people get this stuff short of turning to mind altering drugs for inspiration. Simply put there are not any good veteran QBs just sitting and waiting for a call. If they were good they would still be working. The fact that they are sitting waiting for a call should tell you something. Only two names come to my mind, that being Steven Jyles and Adrian McPherson and Sunseri is far and away a better option than both of those, combined. Would you prefer we give Michael Bishop a call and see what he’s up to? That turned out fantastically last time. Let’s have some faith that Sunseri is better than the unwanted scrap heap out there. Then there is the notion that we should trade for Henry Burris. Aside from the fact that Rider Nation would literally self destruct at the notion, this is just practically speaking not going to happen. Even if the Riders were interested (which we are not), and even if we were able to afford his grossly inflated salary (which we can’t), there would be the matter of what we would give up in exchange. Ottawa is not about to let Burris go for a conditional 6th round pick. They are going to want young starting caliber players. The kind of young starting caliber players that are currently a major factor in our success. It would not make sense to weaken one aspect of our team just to get a QB with a track record terrible performances when it matters most. Besides as sad as it is for a 1 win team at mid-season, the Redblacks could still make the playoffs.

Sunseri is our guy. Better get comfortable with that idea.

We wish a full and speedy recovery to Durant. He can’t be replaced by one man, the void will need to be filled by the 43 other players on the roster stepping up as a team. No one is going to feel sorry for us so there is no time for moping.I bet even Durant would tell us all to quit moping and have faith in this team.