Monday, November 30, 2015

Grey Cup 103: Reilly Reigns

Eskimos 26 - RedBlacks 20

The 2015 CFL seasoon came to a close as Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos hoisted the Grey Cup after beating the RedBlacks. While the end result was as many predicted (i.e. a close game won by Edmonton), I don't think many would have guessed exactly how we ended up at that result.

After Henry Burris almost threw a pick 6 on the first play of the game, Ottawa built up a quick 13 point lead just 6 minutes into the game. Things escalated so quickly I was actually expecting to see Chris Jones on the sidelines furiously trying to call Craig Reynolds to accept the Rider job before the offer was rescinded. But Edmonton didn't panic and by halftime they had fought their way slowly but surely back into the lead. It was a typical Eskimo game in that Reilly got the crap kick out of him but just kept on coming back for more. Don't forget the man didn't lose a game since returning from injury.

Edmonton's defense was able to contain Ottawa's arsenal of receivers. The top receiver for the RedBlacks on the night was the running back and none of the "big 5" topped 45 yards. Unlike Hamilton last week, the Esks were able to avoid giving up the big play and its tough to out duel a defense as good as the Esks without a few explosive plays.

I was actually a bit surprised by Henry Burris. I fully expected bi-polar Burris. I thought we'd either see Burris with a chip on his shoulder playing the game of his career or we'd see vintage Bad Hank and a chorus of "Henry" from the Rider faithful in attendance. What we got was somewhere in the middle. Burris made some plays and mostly avoided the bad plays... well except that one pass that was such a duck that I swear I saw a migrating mallard swoop in and try and mate with it. I think the loss pretty much cements that we will have to endure at least one more year of Burris. The good news is that there is no way he repeats the success he had this season so we should see a lot more of Bad Hank which has solid entertainment value. One Ottawa player I am very impressed with was William Powell. For being  late season addition he sure looks like a seasoned vet out there. Bright future for him.

While it was a well played, hard fought game, for me it was missing the "wow play". Well other than the "wow! what in the hell was Dominion Lending thinking for subjecting us that god awful ukulele commercial!?!?" I'm not only less likely to do business with them than I was before, I have the urge to tell perfect strangers on the street not to deal with them.

Where was I before that rant? Oh yes, lacking the wow play. There really wasn't a wow moment that will lead the highlight package and be the talk of the water cooler this week. The fact that the Most Outstanding Canadian had 2 catches for 49 yards tell you a bit about the wow factor of the game. I mean it was a good game. I enjoyed watching it but just nothing extraordinary.

Thus ends another CFL season but be sure to stick around here throughout the coming months as I will be here all offseason with my witty remarks and highly biased views on things to help get you through the offseason. We have a GM to hire as well as a coach (maybe they will be the same guy). Free agency, the draft, lots to keep you up to date on. We will also be awarding the highly uncoveted Rider Prophet Awards in just 2 days,

Other random thoughts:
- I thought Fallout Boy were good at halftime but I'm a fan of their music so maybe I'm biased.

- I was surprised at home they really did nothing on the field... well with he exception of the laser show to start which was pretty good.

- If I am a football coach the last person I am giving the ball to when all you need to do is not fumble to win is Adarius Bowman. Seriously, there had to be someone with more reliable hands.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Grey Cup 103: Eskimos vs. RedBlacks

Sunday the 2015 CFL comes to a close as the Edmonton Eskimos face the Ottawa RedBlacks for the right to hoist Lord Grey’s Cup. Little bit of Grey Cup folklore for you, they actually experimented with other kitchen items before settling a cup as the trophy. Some options that never ended up seeing the light of day include the Grey Mug, Grey Plate, Grey Saucer, Grey Spatula, Grey Slap Chop and Grey George Foreman Grill.

This will be Edmonton’s first trip to the Grey Cup since 2005 (which surprised me, even the craptastic Bombers have appeared in the Cup twice since then). In the time that has passed since Ottawa’s last Cup appearance 9 CFL franchises have been created and subsequently folded… including themselves, twice. The last time Ottawa actually won a grey Cup… well… let’s not talk about that game and change the subject to something that is far less likely to result in me having to repress sad memories with whiskey.

Edmonton features a rock solid defense, which is something that has become synonymous with Chris Jones (among other attirbutes such as a Boomhower-like accent). Their offense took a big step forward this season, which is a big reason they were able to take the next step and make it to the big game. Last season, their passing attack was Adarius Bowman. That’s it. Bonus points if you can name their #2 receiver in terms of yards last season. The answer is: the turf on passes that Bowman was targeted on but dropped, followed closely by Nate Coehoorn. The addition of Derel Walker gave them a bona fide superstar that suddenly made Bowman the second most dangerous receiver on team. They also boast the underrated Kenny Stafford who scored 9 TDs this season and provides a legitimate 3rd option that defense must respect. This is no longer an outstanding defense carrying a passable offense. This is a well-balanced team that has few weaknesses. An inconsistent run game is the one weakness I would point to on this team.

Ottawa had far and away the top passing attack in the CFL this season. They passed for 700 yards more than any other team and boasted four 1000 yard receivers. As much as it pains me to admit, Henry Burris was very deserving of the MOP award this year. For as awful as Ottawa was last year, the one thing I said they did right from the start was built from the trenches. In their initial year they grabbed guys like Shologan, Evans, Hopkins, Cappiciotti, Deane, Gott, MacMillan. That has paid dividends in year 2 as this year as they are strong along both lines. Something you need if you are going to succeed. Burris will be hoping this trip to the Grey Cup goes a lot more like 2008 and a lot less like the last time he was in a Grey Cup.

 I like Ottawa’s defense, they are a solid unit that does not get the same fanfare as some of the other top defenses.

Interestingly enough if the game is close, both teams will turn to kickers who were not on their roster to start the year. Ottawa will turn to Chris Milo (and pray that his magnetic attraction to the uprights did not follow him from Saskatchewan). Edmonton will turn to Sean Whyte who has will very good for them since being brought in an emergency fill in for Grant Shaw.

Generally speaking these are 2 evenly matched teams. Offensively they have strong O-line’s, dual threat QB, dangerous receivers. I would give Ottawa an edge in the run game as Powell is better than whatever RB Edmonton manages to roster this week. I think that balances with Reilly being more dangerous with his legs. Defensively you have two intimidating D-lines, solid LBs, secondaries that are aggressive and can make you pay for an errant throw… not like Burris has ever thrown one of those at an inopportune time. If you are staying to yourself there is no way Edmonton makes the same ugly drop that Gascon-Nadon did for Hamilton, just remember that Odell Willis plays for the Eskimos and in his last Grey Cup appearance he made a pretty epic drop of his own.

I expect a high quality closely contested game, the kind you’d expect to see in the CFL’s premiere showcase of the League. In the end I think Edmonton’s DBs will be better able to shut down Ottawa’s receivers than Ottawa’s DB’s will be able to shut down Edmonton’s. Derell Walker will be the Grey Cup MVP…

Esks by 9

PS – I hope Winnipeg took a lesson from Saskatchewan and intends on having someone or something doing flips over Fallout Boy. Give the people what they want.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Morning Sentmionies: Division Final Thoughts

My tolerance for bad football is pretty high. I mean I did willingly watch a Tennessee/Jacksonville game on Thursday that featured jerseys so hideous I swear I've found more appealing stuff in Prophet Jr's diaper. I'd like to say I watched purely for fantasy football implications but if I'm being honest with myself I probably would have watched regardless. The point of this extended rambling is that I was going to be watching the CFL playoff games no matter what. I was super happy to be rewarded for my dedication with an absolute classic of a first game and a second game that was at least exciting enough to hold my attention until the end.

Let's start with the East Final. A beauty of a game. Tightly contested. Back and forth. Amazing plays on both sides of the ball. Came down to the very end. This was the CFL at its finest. Love him or hate him, for me Sunday's game solidified just how great of a coach Kent Austin is. Against a very good defense, he managed to get 350 yards passing out of his third string QB and another 40 out of his top receiver. He designed a game plan perfectly to Masoli's strengths and damn near pulled it out. Another thing this game solidified is how awesome Luke Tasker is. He is such a treat to watch that its worth enduring Rod Black's repeated reminders about his famous dad and poor attempts to give him a nickname.

The end sequence of that game was unlike anything I've ever seem. To summarize, Bad Hank showed up at the worst time ever for Ottawa and Burris threw what should have been a game losing TD directly into the hands of Hamilton's DE Gascon-Nadon. I get that you can only expect so much in terms of pass catching ability from a d-lineman but the only way Burris could have gifted that anymore would be if he wrapped it and had it delivered by singing telegram. After that bad drop spared Ottawa, they responded with a bad snap, a pass to a clearly well covered receiver... and a massive game winning TD because Gainey chose to embarrassingly fall down like h lost a battle with an invisible midget instead of making what should have been a routine knockdown. For the most part Ottawa deserved to win that game but man that's gotta be tough to take if your a Ti-Cat fan. I'm happy for Ottawa's fans... which is really tough for me given year's of anti-Burris conditioning.

The West final was essentially 3 quarters of Edmonton pummelling the Stamps, one of the oddest and most embarrassing video's reviews I've ever seen and a fourth quarter that featured a fight to the end by the Stamps in a desperate attempt at a miracle comeback. In a game featuring 2 of the stingiest defenses in the league, it was logical that a total of 76 points were scored. Credit to Edmonton's Offense. Calgary's had given up over 30 points just once this season (you would lose a bet if asked who did it because it was the Riders). Both offenses were moving the ball early but the big difference was that Edmonton was scoring majors while Calgary had to settle for FGs 5 times.

I now must address the embarrassing video review on the Messam fumble that honestly made the CFL look like the video review booth was being run by monkeys... no, check that, monkeys could probably have figured things out quicker. Clearly Messam fumbled and the play was whistled dead. Refs blew the whistle early and that cost the Esks a TD (at least briefly) but that's just run of the mill CFL reffing mistakes. What took this one over the edge was them taking 10 minutes to announce that the play was under review and another 10 minutes to figure out that because they blew the whistle and Lacey didn't score the play couldn't be reviewed by the booth (something they probably should have clued into a bit earlier given that the call on the field was down by contact... last time I checked that is not a scoring play). "The previous play could not be reviewed but Edmonton can now challenge" is about the most CFL call you will ever see. I mentally had the circus music going in my head the whole time. I just hope a reffing screw up like this doesn't pop up in the Grey Cup when a wider audience of non-football addicted people is watching,

I'll have more analysis on the Grey Cup as the week goes along but I will say this now: If Ottawa had trouble stopping a 3rd string QB they are going to be in trouble when Mike Reilly starts tossing against them.

If any of you are brave/stupid/crazy enough to be making the trip to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup party have 10 beer for me... it will help you cope with the whole "being in Winnipeg" thing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Prophet’s Playoffs Picks: Division Finals

I love playoff football… even if my favourite team is so far removed from the playoffs that even if all of the remaining teams folded or were otherwise be unable to play this Sunday, they would still not enter in the playoff picture even as a replacement. But the division finals are a bittersweet occurrence. On the good side we get 2 hard fought games to determine who will freeze their ass off… err I mean play for the Grey Cup in Winnipeg. The downside is that there is sadly just 3 more CFL games until next year.

Let’s take a look at the match-ups.

East Division Final: Ti-Cats vs. RedBlacks (i.e. the battle of two teams whose names are derived from randomly combining two words into one thing).

Kent Austin will attempt to accomplish a pretty amazing feat on Sunday. He will try to lead his team to a third straight grey Cup appearance with a third different QB under centre. This will be his greatest challenge of the three… and that’s saying something given that one of them he had to accomplish with Henry Burris. If this were a battle of two healthy teams, the Ti-Cats would steamroll the RedBlacks (and I actually think Ottawa is a solid team). But the reality is injuries will play a major factor in this. Hamilton is missing their top 2 QBs, the top pass rusher in Norwood, Tasker and Lawrence are banged up but should play. By contrast Ottawa had largely avoided significant injuries (a leading reason they were the best team in the East). Ottawa’s defense allowed the least yards of any team, had the most sacks, tied with Hamilton for most INTs. They are a solid unit. Hamilton may have barely squeaked by the Argos but the Argo D is not very good. This will be a far bigger challenge.

As much as I make fun of Henry Burris (not only do I do it a lot, I enjoy it), he has been playing some of the best/most consistent football I have ever seen him play. Usually the pendulum swings often from Good Hank to Bad Hank (as Austin can attest to first hand) but this year has seen very little Bad Hank. That either means he is due for one of the most epically awesome choke jobs known to man or that he’s just on a roll that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. While I would really love the former, I think the latter is more likely. Hamilton’s defense and special teams are among the best but with a banged up defensive unit and a poor aerial attack I don’t think they will be able to carry the Ti-Cats to victory this team.

Game will probably be closer than some expect but in the end Ottawa by 10.

West Division Final: Stampeders vs. Eskimos (i.e. the battle of a province desperate for something to take their mind of the sad state of their hockey teams) 

This is likely to be the marquee game of the weekend. Two best records in the league, two great defenses, two dynamic QBs, two teams that tend to get heated when they play. This one could easily go either way. I give Calgary the edge in the run game and a slight edge at QB. I give Edmonton a slight edge in not having every player resembling an O-lineman hurt. Beyond that these teams are pretty even. I believe the on-paper match-up goes to the Eskimos. Plus they won the season series. But in spite of the injuries I give Calgary the edge in terms of intangibles. The key will be the start. Edmonton hasn’t played in two weeks. That will either mean they will come out fresh and hot or slow and sluggish.

I would say Edmonton is a slight favourite (despite what the official odds tell you) but my gut says take Calgary in a very clos, hard fought game. Stamps by a Rene Paredes FG.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vote In the Fan’s Choice Douche Bag of the Year Award

It will soon be time for the annual Rider Prophet Awards. The awards themselves are about as meaningful as the Rider nominee for top O-lineman but at least my awards are more entertaining than the so called “legitimate” awards.
By far the most popular of the Rider Prophet Awards is the Fans’ Choice Douche Bag of the Year which recognizes outstanding achievements in the field of douche baggery as chosen by you, the fans. Voting opens today so let your voice be heard and cast your vote.
This year’s nominees are:
Jamal Westermaan - Nominated for being fined 4 times in his first season in the CFL for questionable hits. The fact his wasn’t suspended is more a reflection on the sad state of discipline in the CFL than it is on his dirty play.
Rogers – Nominated for their complete and utter mistreatment of the Argos. It culminated when they claimed they did not have enough time between ball games to convert the field for the Argos… they had 5 days. I hope every Argo player took a dump in their locker when leaving Rogers Centre for the last time this season.

Corey Chamblin – There are many things I could point to for his nomination: his abysmal failure at fielding a competent defense; his habit for deflecting blame to pretty much everyone but himself in press conferences; after months of silence following his firing, that revisionist-history interview he gave where he claimed among other things that he was trying to make the team younger. But the reason I will personally choose for his nomination is for subjecting us all to Tino Sunseri as our quarterback. That has to be classified as a form of torture under some international treaty.
Jon Cornish – He did nothing particularly douchy this season but this is a fans’ choice award and at your request it’s now a rule that Cornish be a nominee every year. He was among the top contenders last year based purely on write in votes after being left off the ballot. This is democracy in action people… even if it’s in relation to a made up award whose purpose is to insult people.

Other – If you feel someone out there exceeds the levels of douche baggery of the above nominees and needs to be considered for this award feel free to vote “Other” and leave the name of your write in vote as a comment on one of the blog posts.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Division Semi-Finals

It was a weird feeling for me on Sunday. Normally the first round of the CFL playoffs find me a lot less sober and a lot more stressed/nervous. Of course that is because I have grown accustomed to the Riders playing in the division semi-finals. But since the Riders won't play another meaningful football game for many many months (and you could argue haven't played a meaningful game in many, many months), I got to enjoy postseason football as a calm, cool and collected fan. Okay in full disclosure I may have stayed up late drinking and watching UFC the night before so the "calm and cool" may have actually been tired and "dehydrated" but I digress.

The games themselves were a weird hodge podge. The East semi was a very exciting game that featured some pretty bad football. The West semi was a not-so exiting game that featured some pretty good football (at least for one team). Both games went pretty much as expected. IN Hamilton, the Ti-Cats defense and special teams managed to compensate for such poor QB play I was mildly expecting to see Tino Sunseri saunter onto the field. There were times when Zach Collaros on crutches would likely have been a huge upgrade for them. The real winners in the East-Semi are Ottawa. Between the lack of a credible QB and the parade of injuries that occurred, you have to like Ottawa's chances next week. As much as losing sucks for the Argos, I'm sure they are secretly somewhat relieved this gong show of a season is over for them. Next year they get a new home that won't go out of its way to kick them out and owners whose interest in the teams goes beyond an obligation to not let them fold while trying to limit how much money gets lost in the process.

Out West, well the Stampeders just laid a good old fashion ass kicking on the Lions. They were just the better team in every aspect of that game. Defense was rock solid. Eric Rogers (in what is becoming a recurring playoff theme) was a monster. Even Jerome Messam got in on the action and ran all over the Lions. The only thing that remotely resembled drama in that game was when Calgary started losing all their O-linemen. You know you suck when you're opponent ends up starting 2 defensive tackles at guard and it makes absolutely no difference on the game. I don't like seeing players get hurt but I was kinda hoping it would continue just so we could get to a scenario where Paredes and Maver had to play guard. Could very well be the last time we see Harris and Lulay in Orange and Black... well Lulay will always be seen in orange but you know what I mean. I would complain about the lopsidedness of this game but I briefly switched over to the Denver/Kansas City game to watch Manning break the NFL passing record... when you see a guy break an all-time record and throw 4 picks and get benched in the same game, well let's just say it made the CFL look like quality viewing by comparison.

Bring on the division finals.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Prophet’s Playoff Picks

While the Riders are firmly into 2016 mode, the competent teams in the league still have some meaningful football to play. So I decided to devote this post to breaking down the division semi-finals. For 1, I could use a break from writing about the Riders (it’s a pretty big buzzkill). For 2, I have a whole offseason worth of blog space to fill and I don’t want to use up all my Rider material (GM/coach search, needed roster changes, etc…) before there is actually nothing to write about. Otherwise I might be reduced to posting photo journals of my poor attempts at Lego building with my children and Grandpa Simpson style “here’s what’s wrong with society” rants.

East-Semi: Toronto @ Hamilton
In a truly CFL moment, this game will actually feature 2 home teams. Hamilton being the actual home team and Toronto being a home team pretty much anywhere but their actual home. Had Zach Collaros stayed healthy I don’t think any team could have stopped the Ti-Cats from winning the Cup. His injury instantly changed the playoff landscape, particularly in the East. They have a dangerous defense and special teams but with a philosophical refusal to run the ball and no real aerial threat they will need to grind out a close with if they hope to move on. For the Argos, being able to turn to a guy like Ricky Ray come playoff time because your young hot-shot QB was struggling is a pretty sweet deal. Much like Hamilton, Toronto really doesn’t run much so their fate is tied to the arm of Ray.  To me this one boils down to big plays like turnovers and big kick returns. Hamilton does them better than anyone and will need them to help take pressure off Masoli. They will also need to counter the turnovers Masoli is likely to cough up. He certainly looked better last week than he did last year (he was awful last year in relief of Collaros) but he still isn’t able to carry that team offensively.

My gut says either a pick 6 or a kick return TD will be the difference as Hamilton feeds off the home crowd on route to a very narrow victory.

West-Semi: BC @ Calgary
BC has had a resurgence of sorts under Jonathan Jennings. Remember there was a time where people weren’t convinced Jeff Tedford or even Wally Buono would last the season. Banish the ginger, change QBs and suddenly BC manages to surge past the pile of garbage teams with which they used to wallow at the bottom of the CFL standings. For me, this game comes down to one match-up: a rookie QB in Jonathan Jennings vs. defensive guru Rich Stubler. He has managed to stymy some of the best QBs in the game, odds of him preying on Jennings’ lack of experience are good. Calgary allowed a league-low 16.1 offensive points per game. Calgary hasn’t really been dominating teams like last year but they keep finding ways to win. BC’s best player, Andrew Harris, appears to be counting down the days until he gets the hell out of BC. Not exactly the kind of laser-like focus you’d want from one of your star players. Another matchup to watch: Eric Fraser vs. Eric Rogers…. Well pretty much any Stamp receiver as Fraser is so non-impactful at safety that I’ve previously mused he would have been a perfect fit on the Riders D this season.

Stamps by 10