Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: We're Going Streaking

Riders 20 - Ti-Cats 18

The Riders delivered something to fans many months earlier than we were expecting based on the current pace... another win. Under the lights of old Mosaic on Saturday night, they defeated the Ti-Cats on a last second FG. In the process, the racked up as many wins in the past 7 days as they have in the previous calendar year. So you'll forgive me if I seem a bit confused and not quite sure what to do with myself. I'm just a bit rusty that's all.

In reality this outcome should have been expected. We were facing a team missing half their normal starters on each side of the ball... this is a game we should have won. We're just surprised we actually did because, well... you've seen the last 3 months. But perhaps its a sign that the Chris Jones regime may finally be starting to turn the corner (more specifically turning off of Gong Show Blvd and onto Respectable Ave). I won't lie though, during that 4th quarter my emotions went from hopeful, to prayerful, to we're screwed, to we're totally screwed, to I hate Mitch Gale, to "this is what I get for being hopeful", to "I wonder if the beer stand is still open", to "Mitch Gale! I always loved that guy".

I noticed 3 big things this game that have been lacking this season that I see as keys to the victory (you know minus playing an injury riddled team).

The first was being aggressive early. This team averages 2 points per 1st quarter (two!). Saturday they rattled of 10 first quarter points (this most they've done all season). Instead of playing chase all game as we habitually do, we forced Hamilton to chase us... and amazingly discovered its a bit easier than our usual method. Durant started with 4 straight completion and an FG, defense got the pick, he fired 5 of his next 6 complete and then most importantly answered a Hamilton QB with a rapid fire 3 for 3 drive culminating in the bomb to Edwards. For a team with nothing to lose, I hope I see a lot more of this early aggressiveness.

The second was the development of a short game. All season our passing game has been a bipolar combination of long bombs and passes so short you wonder why we even bother. Saturday we suddenly unleashed a flurry of 6 to 10 yard passes. We picked apart a depleted secondary and strung together some nice long drives. A short game like that goes a long way to masking the deficiencies of our OL. It was another welcome sight.

The final thing was that we are effectively spreading the ball around. Losing Roosevelt sucks but the silver lining appears to be that its forced us to lean on other guys instead of him being our only hope. Holley, Bagg and Edwards are carving out big roles offensively. Demski got involved. Hell even Chambers emerged from a witness protection-like invisibility to make a catch. Add in a more consistent reliance on the run game and you have an offense that can keep defenses off balance. I would add that the continued absence of "that stupid Brandon Bridge play"is also playing a positive role.

Do I think the Riders are suddenly a good team? Lord no! We squeaked out a win against a team struggling to find 46 healthy guys to dress. But headed into the bye week the Riders are playing competitive football, winning and more importantly re-instilling hope in a fan base desperate something positive... 3 weeks ago all of these were mere pipe dreams.

Other random thoughts:
- The continuity is certainly paying off defensively. They aren't world beaters but they are playing solid football and lacking the myriad of mistakes that plagued them previously (minus that whole breakdown on the Masoli TD).

- Jeff Hecht is an average at best safety but I love him. That massive hit he laid was awesome but to me more awesome was him reading that play and then getting himself in position to make the play. After struggling through the likes of Webster and Francis who were rarely in the same area code as the ball, its a welcome sight.

- While I agree that the 3rd down gamble 37 seconds left was the correct call, I had zero confidence in our ability to successfully run it. I would have kicked the FG knowing what I know about our team. Guess that's why they don't give me button up all black shirts, sunglasses with the wrap around band and let me make the big decisions.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Riders vs Ti-Cats: There's a Chance

Saturday night the 2-10 Riders host the 6-6 Ti-Cats. Due to the general crappiness of the Est division (or at least inconsistent play by the teams that should be good) Hamilton is in 1st in the East. I have been trying hard all week not to become one of those people who suddenly get way overconfident in our bottom dwelling team after a win... but as much as I'm convinced we are still not a good team I can't shake the feeling that we actually have a chance in this one.

Unless you've sufficiently repressed the memory with alcohol, you'll recall that the last time these teams met we lost 53 to 7. Since that meeting though, something has occurred that evens the scales a bit. That something its pretty much every relevant Ti-Cat player getting injured. The list of those unlikely to play includes Owens, Tasker, Tolliver, Stephen, Dyakowski, and Gable. Don't get me wrong Collaros is still playing and we are the Riders so we are certainly underdogs here but that is a big disadvantage for the Ti-Cats to overcome. Things are so bad that had to trade us for one of our DBs, that's pretty low.

Despite the injuries, the defense is still mostly in tact. Laurent, Chick, Lawrence, Davis... they have play makers all over the field and enter this contest as #1 in yards allowed. I'll be honest the match-up of Laurent and Chick on our O-line is concerning. To have any hope we need to start by feeding the ball to Steele like we did last game. If he doesn't get double digit touches then we are in big trouble. Durant also needs to not throw 4 picks like he did in Hamilton and not wait to score a major until the 4th quarter like he did last week. I would be testing whoever ends up at safety. I would also try and establish a short game. We seem to be able to pass for 3 or 20 yards with no in between. We need 5-8 passes to really keep the chains move and sustain drives. Lean on Bagg a bit more underneath.  Most importantly we need to get the ball out quickly when we don't run... unless you really think Vonk can block Laurent.

Defensively we need to take advantage of the 2 main weaknesses of the Ti-Cat O (not including all their players being hurt). First is their O-line is struggling. With a clean pocket I'm convinced Collaros could throw 3 TDs left handed but he has been facing a ton of pressure and its leading to errant throws and turnovers (where the Ti-Cats lead the league). We need to attack that and make life miserable for Collaros. If he's throwing under pressure to a bunch of new receivers then bad things will happen. The other weakness is that Austin is the only coach who hates running more than we do. And it's not like he'll suddenly decide to run more with Gable out. We need to take advantage of their one dimensional offense. Increased pressure up front. Aggressive in pass coverage.

I do believe we have a chance in this game and could very well win... I just know that if I predict a win, they will lay and egg out of spite. So as a public service to you the fans, I will predict Collaros whoops us good. That will ensure that we have a chance of winning. You're welcome.

Hamilton by 10

On a personal note, Step-Prophet's RMF team will be playing at halftime so you will see me down there in my Prophet jersey doing some coaching.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: What do I do?

Riders 26 - Eskimos 23

I'm honestly still in shock. It doesn't seem real and honestly I don't really know what to do. It's been so long since we won that I've forgotten what to even do with myself. My mouth is doing this weird curving up thing that I believe is called a smile.

To be honest I still really don't know how we did it. Through 3 quarters the only thing we had to show offensively was a punt single (but only because of a wind aided 86 yard kick).  It was not at all surprising given that we were missing our only offensive weapon... and then curiously made our other weapon a scratch on game day (Lawrence). But it was just an ugly ugly day offensively out there... that somehow resulted in a doubling of our win count. Everything follows logic here in Rider Nation.

Regular readers will know how much space I've devoted to vainly calling for the run game. So they will appreciate how much personal satisfaction in saying I TOLD YOU SO! Its no coincidence that when we finally commit to double digit carries for our RB, good things happen. Maybe we should try doing it more than once every couple months. Our O-line isn't much in the way of pass blockers so why not let them run block instead? As as that game winning TD could not have come for a more deserving guy, that finish covered up a downright awful offensive performance against a D that isn't very good. That said, for a team as desperate for a win as we were, I'm not about to start complaining about how good we looked while doing it.

Defense it slowly coming together. I think a big part of that is that we are finally getting some continuity in the secondary. Amazing what happens when you don't make wholesale changes every week. Our defense is weird to watch. They didn't play all that well but still I thought they were a big factor in the win. Justin Cox is a treat to watch (headline: Prophet declares Cox a treat to watch). Ed Gainey stepped up with what I think was his best game in green and white. Continuity plus improved play calling and scheming is resulting in a D that is not a massive liability.

I do need to make mention of just how bad the Esks are. They barely beat us twice and then lost to us... that's like losing to a blind kid in a game of I spy. Simply put a team with Reilly, Bowman and Walker should not lose to a team who does not play offense until the 4th quarter.

So we might as well soak it in. This brief moment of happiness amid the misery that has been 2016 is a welcome respite. Let's enjoy it and ensure that our celebration contains many, many drinks and equally as many crotch chops.






Friday, September 16, 2016

Riders vs. Eskimos: Round 3

Excuse me? Pardon? What was that you said?

The lowest scoring offense in the CFL will likely be without about the only good thing it has going for it? 

I see.

Calleb Holley how are your hands? Excellent, please take this note over to the refs telling them we forfeit.

Honestly I should not be so downtrodden but I don't see how an offense that has been next to non-existent will suddenly come to life when its most/only explosive weapon doesn't play... even against a defense as bad as the Esks.

The Esks come in a surprising 5-6. By virtue of not being the Riders and not having their QB sparring with his receivers they likely make the playoffs (something we can only dream of) but still the Esks' season has to be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. They have a top notch offense but that defense... well let's just say they are lucky the Riders have deflected some of the attention away from how bad they are.

Admittedly our defense has been looking better in recent weeks. In the last meeting they were absolutely torched by Shakir Bell and he likely gets the start against us again. The dilemma is that if you focus too much on stopping the run, Bowman and Walker will torch you like you were a suspected witch in days of yore. Getting bodies on Reilly would help but asking for that would be akin to asking for us to run. I see the D keeping Bell in better check this time around but I still say they give up 25 points minimum (likely closer to 30).

That means that our junk O-line having and good Roosevelt not having offense needs to score 30 points for us to have a chance. There's a honestly a better chance of Curtis Steele getting 15 carries than there is of that. I don't think the offense will be completely impotent as Durant is still a good QB and the Esk pass coverage is a slight step above awful. Holley will get yards and then do something to piss me off. Getting Bagg more involved will be a necessity. Getting Brandon Bridge far less involved would also be good. Somehow McAdoo managed to turn the back-up QBs from the most beloved people in Saskatchewan to the most loathed.

Wish I had something more positive to say but I only resort to blatant lies when they support my own selfish interests.

Esks by 15

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Too Many Mistakes

Riders 10 - Bombers 17

I'm not sure what is more frustrating, watching the Riders last season when they had zero chance of victory or watching them this season when they have a chance at victory but find every way under the sun to screw it up? I mean neither has been good for my liver but latter i considerably easier on my blood pressure. We've shot ourselves in the foot so many times this season that it makes Plaxico Burress seem alright by comparison.

Our defense finally turned in a respectable outing holding the Bombers to season low of 17 points. To be perfectly honest they didn't look that great in the process but we're not looking for style points here. Admittedly Harris being out helped our cause. The D certainly had their issues (like way too many dumb penalties) but they did their job. Hell I even saw our safety correctly read a play and make a stop. I damn near spit my drink out I was so shocked. Sadly said safety hurt himself on that play. Sigh.

Our offense doesn't exist. I mean honestly... where have they gone. The defense cost us many a game but now that they are finally getting their crap together, our O goes to utter hell. Greg Morris showed promise but at this point we need more than promise to talk about, we need results. It's bad enough that we don't score, then we have to add in these trainwreck trick plays that make me think a 3 year old drew them up in finger paints. I get wanting to take risks and be aggressive but either pick better trick plays or practice the ones you pick a lot more. I have a strong dislike for Caleb Holley. He's a talented receiver but all the crap that goes with him his irking me. His first game it was stepping out of bounds rather than fighting for yards. Last game it was crying to the refs instead of trying to stop the defender he let get a pick. This game it was fumbling at a key time. Get you're damn head on straight and focus on making plays!

It's frustrating because we have had so many chances to win games which shows we are on the right rebuild path but it has been plagued with so many penalties, mental mistakes and downright poor coaching that its tough to keep the faith. The only redeeming thing about this weekend was that Chris Jones wasn't the GM bending over to take Winnipeg's Willy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2016


I find myself in an unfamiliar position as I type this post. Generally I’m in a jovial mood because the Riders won on Labour Day and I’m ready to unleash a barrage or ridicule and insults on our halfwit eastern neighbours… ok halfwit isn’t a fair term, its more technically closer to eighth-wit.  But this year, the Riders will roll into Winnipeg with a whimper. The only thing good about their current record is that it is a number that Manitobans can count to as its taught in the 6th grade curriculum.

Everything I said about the Bombers last week remains valid. None of their wins have come against teams with winning records. Their offense is still mediocre at best. I mean, do know how bad you have to be to only score 1 TD on the Riders D? That’s like a Manitoban only managing to get to second base on their ruffied cousin (or as it is more commonly referred to locally: a traditional marriage proposal). The fact remains that if Crapigna could make a kick or if the refs learned what pass interference actually is, the Riders would have beat the Bombers. But hypothetical victories are about as meaningful as hypothetical mortgage payments.

Let’s focus on the adjustments that will need to be made if the Riders hope to change their fortunes. Offensively, let’s start with receivers running the right routes and Durant checking to make sure they do before releasing the ball. We need to continue spreading the ball around like we did. Last game 5 different players had at least 5 catches. Hard for defenders to key on anyone with that going on. I would suggest running but that would be a waste of time so instead I’ll suggest that we keep Durant mobile. Running yes but not all the time. More rolling out. Even just the prospect of him running will open things up (and take pressure off our O-line)

Defensively, if Cox could be less of a cheater that would be great. (in case that doesn’t translate through the interwebs, that is sarcasm). My only real knock on the D was giving up that big play to McDuffie. Take that one pass away and it’s a different game. I also think we gave up a bit too much to Harris on the ground but that will happen with a back like him. D-line looked competent, it would be nice to see them take the next step to being impactful.

The biggest adjustment needed is by the coaches. We can’t afford to sleep through the first half like we always do. If we get down early in an environment as hostile as Investors Group Field things will unravel very quickly. Coaches need to get the players ready to play.

Amazingly enough the all-time Banjo Bowl series is tied 6-6 (though Winnipeg has won 2 of the past 3). As much as I can’t in good conscious bet on this team, this game is no gimme. While it wouldn’t totally make up for Labour Day, a win in Winnipeg would give a much needed boost to a fan base that is growing weary. As much as I would love to see the Riders shut the Bombers up…

Bombers by a Harris TD.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday Afternoon Sentimonies: Airing of Grievances


Riders 25 – Bombers 28

Apologies for the lateness of this post, the results of the football game led me to drown my anger/sadness in various forms of adult beverages (and boy howdy did I drown them good). Needless to say yesterday was a bit of a write off.

On to the Sentimonies…

I have a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.

For today, I will leave the PI call out of this. It was pure utter garbage, we all know it. But if you honestly think that’s the reason we lost Labour Day then you watched a very different game than me. We lost because we only showed up to play football after halftime. Had we not slept through the first half and spotted the Bombers a 13 point lead then we would have won plain and simple. And this is just the latest in an ongoing trend of this team not being even close to ready to play at opening kickoff. Over our last 6 games we have been outscored 112 to 29 in the opening half (that is not a typo). You simply can’t expect to win if you only give half a game of effort. And that lack of preparation falls on the coaches.

And so the remainder of this post will be an open letter to Chris Jones, outlining my many grievances with him thus far.

I implore you Chris Jones. Give us something… anything… some sign that we have reason for hope. We have been a terrible team for 2 full calendar years now. You were supposed to be the one to end that and right the ship. But so far the only signs you have given me do not instill hope. They mostly instill the desire to cue up the circus music or a Benny Hill soundtrack because it will be a fitting description of what is likely to come next. Your reign as GM has been about on par with that of Mike Kelly so far.

You came in and completely blew up our roster, promising to build it back up as a perennial contender. You went out and brought in a bunch of big name free agents to help restock the shelves yet after 10 games about the only success I see are Greg Jones and Otha Foster. Lemon, Chiles, Kashama, and Hazime are gone. Capicciotti, Irvin and Chambers are underwhelming at best. Guys like Brooks, Norwood and King haven’t even seen the field. Thus far all our free agency work appears to be a big swing and a miss.

Then there is our scouting and recruiting. We’ve been told that we have worked out hundreds if not thousands. We’ve dressed what is approaching a record number of players. We had a secret squad of 20 guys. Yet despite all of this what have we actually found? By my count, at best 4 players. Cox is great (pause for immature giggle), Eguavoen is a solid find. I’ll even be generous and grant you Collins and Holley (though I have issues with Holley I’ll get to another time). Four?!?! Out of Thousands. Did we only work out the crappiest football players in North America?!?!? We failed to find even one competent QB to develop so instead we had to trade for a guy and sign other people’s cast-offs. You couldn’t find us an RB, literally the easiest position to recruit for. The interior of our D-line is struggling and the best you can find is a racist who’s been out of football for over a year. If the best you can come up with all of our scouting efforts is 4 players then how in the hell are you going to rebuild our roster?

There’s also the ridiculous attachment to trying to turn people into something they’re not. Our D-line is made up of former receivers and a basketball player. Our starting safety had never played defense before even in college. It’s okay to have pet project, if you think somebody can eventually be moulded into a difference maker but we have like 8 projects on the go and all of them seem to hold prominent spots in our starting line-up. Maybe if we spent less time trying to change people’s positions and more time finding players who actually play those positions we might be in a better place.

That brings me to coaching. Who are you and what have you done with the Grey Cup winning coaching staff we were supposed to have poached? You seem to have no ability to prepare the team to play because we are absolutely dreadful in the first half. We do dumb things like rushing 3 (our ends spend more time in coverage then doing their job), letting QBs who showed up 2 days ago run offensive plays in a game, and not running. There are times when it seems our defensive philosophy is “hope the other team drops it” and our offensive philosophy is “suck and pray we can challenge something”.  Some of our issues are talent related but this team has shown that when it actually shows up it can compete with the top teams in spite of that. But our lack of preparedness and questionable play calling need to stop because we aren’t a good enough team to overcome that.

Even the most ardent Rider fan has to look at the state of things and shake their head. I know interacting with non-football players is not really your thing but the fan base is desperate for a glimmer of hope and one of the job duties that comes with being a supreme overlord is being accountable to the fans. By any measuring stick the first 9 months of your tenure have been a trainwreck (unless it’s the CFL refs calling things and then it’s probably a first down).

We are waiting desperately for a reason to believe. The ball is in your court.