Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Weapons of Maas Destruction

Sorry for not having sentimonies posted on Monday. I… well to be honest, was just too lazy to do it. No sense in lying to you, that is unless you are inclined to believe that I spent all my free time simultaneously building homes for the poor, volunteering at a soup kitchen and donating my organs.

The big news last week was that the Riders hired a new OC… less than 24 hours after I wrote a post about the topic (you’re welcome). As news of the hiring spread, 3 very distinct camps emerged in Riderville: those elated at the hiring (because they hated McAdoo), those against the hiring (because they hate Maas) and those who will never be happy (because they hated McAdoo enough to want him fired but also didn’t want Maas and probably would have found a reason to complain no matter who we hired). I am decidedly in group 1. As explained last week, I don’t “hate” McAdoo but I do think he was a mid-tier OC and that looking at the possibility of upgrading was a wise move.

I’ll say this about Craig Dickenson, complacency is not something he can be accused of. Chris Jones kept essentially the same coaching core throughout. They were with him in Edmonton. They packed up and moved here the night after the Grey Cup (when we totally didn’t tamper). That was his group and he was sticking with them no matter what. Dickenson has a different approach. He fired D-line coach Mike Scheper mid-way through because in his words “the chemistry in the room wasn’t quite right and we felt like we needed to make a change”. Then on the heels of what was a pretty good year he decides that we needed a change at OC (a decision that he made even before Maas became available). Publicly he seems like a super nice guy but he appears to be no pushover and not afraid of making tough calls. 

This was a big move and a big signing for the Riders. Look, I was the first one in line to mock Jason Maas for trashing whatever sideline material had the misfortune of being in his path and his unwavering belief in the supremacy of the FG.  I’m not going to pretend I didn’t say those things (unlike like some people who are backtracking on their anti-Maas sentiments so fast they’ll risk a speeding ticket of they hit the open road. But Jason Maas the head coach and Jason Maas the OC are 2 very different things. Would I want him as our Head Coach? Lord no! As our OC? I’m all in. Some people just make better Coordinators. Look at Richie Hall. Tremendous DC, not so great Head Coach.

I was not a proponent of change for change sake (as some where) and had almost resigned myself to McAdoo being back and not hating it. Give him a competent QB (i.e. not Brandon Bridge) and he can run a half decent offense. But for as much hype as he got for turning Fajardo into an all-star and rejuvenating our offense, we finished 4th in offensive points (and failed to make they Grey Cup because we could not score a solitary TD). That was his “good”… 4th.

Last year was a down year for Maas but it was the only time since becoming a coordinator that he’s finished lower than 3rd in scoring in the League. So if we are playing the odds, what is more likely? Maas having a top end offense or McAdoo? Either you subscribe to the concept of logic like Coach Dickenson and me… or you just have a personal hatred of Maas that trumps your logic sensors. Look I’m not one to judge for having unjustified hatreds. I’ve had many in my day. But Maas is a upgrade at OC not doubt in my mind.

A small side note to the Maas news was that Jason Shivers was extended 2 more seasons. He had many question marks as the man tasked with replacing Chris Jones but he delivered a damn defense. We are entering 2020 with a pretty solid coaching staff.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

McAdoo or McAdon’t


Since the season ended, the biggest topic of conversation in Riderville has centered on our Offensive Coordinator and his future. It’s second only to “how’s the weather?” in terms of prairie conversation starters. I was going to wait until my usual Monday Sentimonies to opine on this topic but the way my luck goes it will all be sorted out by then and the post would be irrelevant. Chances are just as good that I’m wasting my only material for Monday too early. Not sure I can win… I’m a lot like the RedBlacks that way.

Look, I get the desire for a change at OC. We just missed the Grey Cup because we couldn’t score a solitary TD despite multiple trips to the redzone. This after a 2018 season where we almost set a record for futility in offensive scoring… and this is a franchise with a storied history of futility so that’s saying something. Over his 4 year tenure in with the Riders I have been among the most vocal of McAdoo's critics (he won the award for Most Insulted Sports Figure in 2017). So you would expect me to be leading the charge on this crusade and have the shiniest and pointiest pitchfork in hand.

Not so fast…

Is McAdoo the best OC out there? Lord no! But he’s also not the worst. One look at BC, Toronto and Ottawa this year tells you the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. So if you accept my premise that McAdoo is a mid-tier OC then it stands to reason that the only reason you look to make a change is if you think you can upgrade. For all his failings (and there are many) its apparent that when McAdoo has a QB he trusts (Glenn, Fajardo) the offense opens up and when he doesn’t (Collaros, Bridge, Watford, Harker) he reverts to flipping a coin – heads we run up the middle, tails it’s a hitch screen. He reminds me a lot of George Cortez in that regards. Runs a top tier offense with Durant. Appears to pretty much pack it in when forced to try and win with bottom feeding QBs.

So if it’s an upgrade at OC we want. Who is out there? For me there are just 4 names that come to mind: LaPolice, Condell, Maas and Elizondo. And we can already whittle that list down as Condell isn’t leaving Hamilton and Elizondo keeps ending up with employers who don’t allow him to talk to anyone. So we are down to LaPo and Maas.

LaPo is in the mix for a couple Head Coaching searches and I don’t see him leaving Winnipeg unless its for a promo. It’s no secret that O’Day is a big supporter of LaPo so there is certainly a chance we could pry him away but I would say unlikely as it requires 2 teams passing on him as a Head Coach and LaPo deciding he wants to move. As for Maas, he’s a free agent and BC has already been chatting with him. Ottawa would be stupid not to but then Ottawa isn’t exactly the shining example of intelligence lately. We don’t have the connections to him that BC has so I would say odds aren’t great he winds up here either. Also the irony of want to can a guy for failing to produce a TD only to want to replace him with the League’s biggest FG enthusiast is not lost on me. Maas is a good OC but there’s still some irony there.

The other thing to consider is the impact on the team, both to the coaches and the players. The core of this coaching group has been together since Edmonton and some go back to when Chris Jones was in Toronto. They have been a loyal unit and canning one of the core members may have a ripple effect. That’s not a reason not to make a change but something you certainly need to consider when doing so. Also, continuity is underrated. This season was supposed to be the first one since 2014 where we had the same OC and starting QB as the previous year… that lasted 3 plays. We have a chance again for this year. We just found our new start QB and forcing him into a new offensive system has its drawbacks. 

So if we can somehow land a LaPo or Maas then by all means go for it. But given the odds of that panning out I think we choose continuity over change for change sake.

Never thought I’d be reduced to writing in defense of McAdoo.  

Monday, December 2, 2019

12th Annual Rider Prophet Awards


For the last dozen years, each December we have honoured the best and worst (mostly worst) of the CFL season. My vision has always been to eventually turn the awards into a live event, but given that none of the nominees a) know they were nominated and b) would be willing to attend in person, the live event would pretty much just be me in front of a microphone in an empty getting progressively drunker and unrulier… in other words it would be better than half the crap currently on TV.

This year’s award winners get a gift basket containing a selection of items damaged during Jason Maas’ head coaching tenure and totally legal supplements personally chosen by Andrew Harris.   

Let’s get to the awards.

Best Player Name
All in all it was a pretty terrible year for names in the CFL. Nothing really stood out in a hilarious way. So instead I’m awarding this year’s best name to a global player by the name of Guillermo Villalobos. I just loved this name Guillermo. Said with the proper Hispanic inflection it is about 95% effective as effective as lemon gin.

Previous Winners: Armegedon Draughns, Rakeem Cox, Akawasi Owusu-Ansah, Lirim Hajrullahu, SirVincent Rogers, Drew Willy, Bear Woods, Solomon Elimimian, Craphonso Thorpe, Charleston Hughes, Chijioke Onyenegecha

Quote of the Year
In week 8 of the CFL, the Riders won a close game at Mosaic over the Ti-Cats thanks in large part to late game heroics by Cody Fajardo. While his onfield play had endeared him to the province, the post game interview he gave following that game catapulted him to legendary status and ensured no less than 15% of the babies born in the coming months will be named Cody. It was the speech where “sprinkle of Jesus” was born.

 

Honourable mention to Brett Lauther for saying that his plan for dealing with 4 missed kicks was to "drink a lot of beers, go to sleep and wake up and pretend it didn't happen.

Previous Winners: Dave Dickenson, Kavis Reed/Jacques Chapdelaine, Greg Quick, Solomon Elimimian, Ed Hervey, Joe Mack, Henry Burris, Eddie Johnson, Jason Clermont, Mike Abou-Mechrek x2

Play of the Year
This year's play of the year didn't occur on the field. A rain delay during the Riders/Argos game and a heavy dose of Pilsner led to some great antics with the TSN Panel and Milt Stegall in particular. It was a moment that really captured the prairie spirit: Storm ruined our plan so we just got drunk and did stupid stuff to pass the time.


Botched Call of the Year
The play I’m choosing to honour wasn’t actually botched. It was technically the correct call by the rules. But it gets special honour a) because its such an obscure rule that I doubt anyone but Al Bradbury knew it even existed and b) because the explanation made Andre Proulx look like a skilled orator by comparison.

I’m talking of course about The Card rule. Jon Ryan successfully executed a fake kick with a completion to Kienan LaFrance for a first down. But to loosely paraphrase Bradbury, he was an eligible player, playing an ineligible position, on an even numbered Sunday, during the vernal equinox, (plus about 4 conditions I’m sure I missed) therefore… Card Rule, repeat 3rd down.

What’s crazy is that the Card Rule came up again like 2 weeks later. From unknown infraction to award winner. It’s been quite the year for the Card Rule.  

The Commercial I Didn’t Get Sick of Seeing Even Though TSN Made Me Watch It 54,297 Times Award
The winning commercial is hilarious and gets bonus points because I’m surprised it got past the censors.

                    





Most Insulted Sports Figure
Early in the season it looked like Solomon Means would run away with this award… fitting because “run away” seemed to be what he did when tasked with covering somebody. But when he got benched a new front runner emerged… our beloved punter.

Look, I realize that in Saskatchewan, talking ill of Jon Ryan is a crime akin to talking ill of perogies, or farming. So let me preface this by saying, Jon Ryan is a talented punter. He had a great NFL career and he does great things in the community. With all that said, the fact remains he was an average at best punter this season despite being the highest paid. 

I probably wouldn’t have had such a big issue with him if his tires weren’t continually being pumped by the local media and fans. Kicking it farther than anyone isn’t a particularly useful skill if you have no ability to direct it somewhere other than the middle of the field or completely outkick your coverage in the process. While stats would show that he wouldn’t crack the top 4 punters in the league this year, evidently any stat that doesn’t attest to his greatness is made up.

My tireless crusade against the hype machine made Ryan the most insulted sports figure this season.

Previous Winners: Brandon Bridge, Steve McAdoo, The Riders Secondary, Any Rider QB not named Durant, Pat Neufeld, Chris Getzlaf, Ryan Dinwiddie, Jim Daley, Michael Bishop x 2, Marcel Bellefeuille

Fans’ Choice Douche-Bag of the Year
You the fans have spoken in record numbers. We almost doubled the previous record for total votes for this award. We also set a record for write in votes, almost all of which went to Brandon Banks. This was also the closest the award has ever been. A solitary vote separated the winner from second place. One vote!

With 38.7% of the votes (edging out Andrew Harris)…Simoni Lawrence is your Fans’ Choice Douchebag of the Year.

No doubt the hit on Collaros on the 3rd play of the season was what was the deciding factor for most of you but despite his claims that “he’s not a dirty player” he was fined on 2 more occasions for dirty play. Once for twisting a guy’s leg and once for another head shot. The fact that he was only suspended once is more of a sign of how insanely toothless the CFL discipline process is rather than how not awful Lawrence is.

I’m rather conflicted about Lawrence. On hand we should probably thank him because without him we don’t discover Fajardo. On the other hand, he inadvertently set in motion a series of events that led to Winnipeg winning the Grey Cup. That alone makes him a douchebag around here.

Previous Winners: Jason Maas x2, Cory Chamblin, Chris Jones, Jon Cornish x2, Henry Burris, Dwight Anderson, Mike Kelly, Jason Jimenez, Rob Murphy


Monday, November 25, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Grey Cup Thoughts


Look Hamilton, I’m not mad… I’m just disappointed. You somehow managed to screw up an ongoing string of postseason futility that spanned decades and generations. The simple comment “1990” was synonymous with failure, and quite frankly made jokes and insults insanely easy. But you had to go and ruin it, you big ruiners. Well in a fitting bit of karma, you now own the longest string of futility and “1999” is the new “1990”.   

In all seriousness, as much as  hate the Bombers and wish nothing but bad things on them, you have to be impressed with the playoff run they strung together. Sunday they were by far the best team (as much as it physically pains me to say that). Also, this has to feel pretty sweet for Bomber fans. I may disagree with their choice of football allegiances, their hygiene practices, their choice of mating partners, etc… but to stick with a team through 29 years of that is certainly admirable. I know how sweet 2007 felt here, so I can only imagine what adding over an addition decade of wait time must feel like. Enjoy your day and I’ll go back to hating you tomorrow.

Thus brings an end to the 2019 season… let us never speak of this again.

But the offseason is just beginning and the first thing on the to do list around here is the 2019 Rider Prophet Awards which will be handed out next Monday. The most anticipated part of those awards is the Fans’ Choice Douchebag of the Year. Where you the fans get to cast your vote for those who excelled in the field of douchebaggery.

Please cast your vote for your favourite. (There is also a Twitter poll if that’s more your thing. Votes sent by carrier pigeon or singing telegram are accepted and count double)

Here are this year’s nominees:

Jason Maas– He’s the two time defending champion in this category and looking to three-peat.

Simoni Lawrence – Despite his claims that he’s not a dirty player, he was suspended once and fined twice for three separate incidents of dirty play. Also, its really his fault that the Bomber no-Cup streak was broken when you think about it.

Andrew Harris – Reasons are obvious, but an additional reason I will add is that he has kept us waiting on pins and needles all this time to find out who tainted his supplement. Why must you keep us waiting Andrew?  

Other - Please leave the name of anyone else you feel deserves consideration in the comments section.



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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Coming Up Short


Riders 13 – Bombers 20

We knew heading into to Sunday that we were in tough and every aspect of the team would need to bring their best. With Fajardo not close to 100% (he turned in a hell of a performance all things considered but if you really thought coming into that game he was healthy then I have many pyramid marketing schemes that I would like to speak with you about) it was going to take a mistake free game to book our ticket to Calgary… but that didn’t happen. Mistakes were as plentiful as my rye intake. We kept it close, but every time we got close another mistake would pop up and keep the win just out of reach. The season may have ended on a doink but there were many other moments that led up to that that ended our season a week sooner than we had hoped.

We lost for one simple reason… we could not get the ball in the endzone. You can’t expect to win a playoff game when you can’t score a TD. As much as it would be easy to blame that on a QB somehow gutting through 2 torn muscles, for me this was a lot more on coaching. Powell got 8 rushes This was despite him averaging 6 yards a carry against the best run D in the CFL. He did have an uncharacteristic and costly fumble but it would seem he was running well enough to warrant a few more carries. We had the ball inside the 10 yards line 4 time. Do you know how many times we gave Powell (a man who led the CFL in offensive TDs) the ball? Once. Criminally underused one of our best weapons when he should have been the focal point of the offensive game plan. I guess we were saving him for next week or something?

My most hated play in all of football had a prominent role in the loss as well. The old “Shotgun on short yardage” play. When you need a yard and the defense has to start a yard back it makes zero sense to willingly turn a 1 yard conversion attempt into a 5 yard attempt. Not only did we call a stupid play, we doubled down by putting in our 3rd string QB to run it. We seemed to have something against going up the middle as we went laterally later in the game and Fajardo got tripped up in the back field. I get that Winnipeg has a good defensive front but if you can’t trust the interior of your OL to get you 1 yard, get a new interior OL. The other curious coaching thing was the refusal to take a timeout near the end of half. How many times have we mismanaged the clock going into the half? Obviously even with a few extra seconds, there was no guarantee we could get into scoring range but why not give yourself the chance?

On a more positive note, I want to acknowledge how good a player Kyran Moore has developed into. I still think he is underrated. Moore was targeted 10 times and had 9 receptions most of the big important catches. By comparison Evans had 9 targets and 4 receptions. On the year Moore caught 78% of his targets. Of receivers who had over 75 receptions, the next closest is Braylon Addison at 75%.

Defense played one hell of a game. Yes, they allowed too many long passes but when you hold a team to 20 points, 6 of which came when your offense turned the ball over in its own end twice. We neutralized the best running attack in the CFL keeping the combo of Streveler/Harris to a combined 51 yards ad we got 3 sacks against a pretty stout Bomber OL. We really needed the D to produce a turnover but they couldn’t (they did force  2 fumbles but could not recover). Still, I don’t put the loss on the D. They held up their end of the bargain.

We had our chances in this game and just couldn’t execute. Winnipeg made plays when they needed to. That was the difference. Credit to Dickenson, Fajardo and everyone else on a great season (that few expected)… but losing still sucks.

Next week one of the two longest Grey Cup droughts in the CFL will come to an end… and the Bombers’ drought will continue.

Regular readers will know this already but if you are new to this blog be sure to stick with me through the offseason for news and irreverent commentary.

Other random thoughts:
-        For the record Fajardo was over the line. It wasn’t close, how that was upheld on review is mind boggling.
-        That fake punt return was a thing of beauty… until Marshall ran out of gas and his blockers forgot to actually block. That should have been a TD

Monday, November 18, 2019

No Sentimonies Today

Going to need a day to digest this.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Riders vs. Bombers: West Final


The West Final is upon us and its about damn time! We haven’t played in a West Final since 2013  and we haven’t hosted one since 2009. The good news is that although we don’t have an extensive list of recent West Final appearances, we do tend to do well those few times we get there. We haven’t loss a West final since the Danny Barrett era (you may recall that era as the one where Kenton Keith would dominate the West-Semi and the then we’d get rolled in the West final).

The opportunity is huge. Win and it’s off to the Grey Cup. Plus we get homefield advantage. How big is that? Well instead of having to play in Winnipeg (where the Bombers are 8-1, plus its Manitoba so it just generally sucks) we get to play at home (where we are 8-1) against a team that was 3-6 on the road… and 0-2 here. So, yeah it’s kinda big.

This big story is of course the health of Cody Fajardo. The irony is not lost on me that this is a game where Zach Collaros is playing and he is not the QB whose health everyone is talking about. I can guarantee you this, Fajardo will play. How effective he will be and how long he lasts will be the question. The good news is that Dickenson is a pretty honest and straightforward guy so when he says Cody’s good to go, I believe him and have some hope. Regardless, you can expect Richie Hall to scheme up a D that takes away the short stuff and forces us to try and push the ball down field (at least that’s what I would do). Hopefully Fajardo has enough in him to make them pay with a deep shot to stretch out the D. This is a game where I think we need to lean on our vets: Roosevelt, Arceneaux and Watson (possibly Lavoie). The windows will be tight so leaning on the vets who can find the space will be important. We also need to find ways to get Powell going. No easier way to take the pressure of the QB then by feeding Powell either through handoffs or short passes. Early gains may be small against a strong Bomber run D but we need to stay committed. If he has less than 15 touches we're stupid. Most important will be not turning the ball over. We can win a grind out game as long as we don’t commit turnovers. This is one of those times where you are best advised to “Don’t do what Bo did”.

Defense needs to own this game. With uncertainty at offense, we need them to step up and lead in this game. They need to set the tone physically and limit the Bombers O. They need to want it more than their opponents. It’s no secret that the Bombers strength is the run game. They have the #1 run game for a reason. We need to be ready to step up and limit that. For all the talk of how much Zach Collaros boosts that offense (and he does), in the West-Semi he completed 52% of his passes for less than 200 yards. Stop the run, stop the Bombers. They used Streveler a lot last week. The book on him is simple, he can run and he can throw the deep ball. Anything else is a struggle. So essentially when he’s in, you need your front 7 aggressively shutting down the run and your secondary playing off to limit the big play. You may give up some medium stuff but that’s the chance you need to take. While I want us to be physical and get contact on Zach Collaros I just hope we keep it within the rules. While I want him to epically fail on Sunday, I still like Collaros. I’m a well wisher in that I don't wish him any specific harm. Key stat on the Bombers: they are winless in games where they are held under 25 points. We did it twice already… and doing it a third time would go a long way to punching our Grey Cup ticket.

Unless a whole boat-load of Jesus Sprinkles have been delivered and Fajardo is his old self, I expect a hard hitting, low scoring, grind out game. The team that wants it more and makes less mistakes will prevail. We have the advantage of an extra week of rest and a hometown crowd, which should help slant the odds in our favour. I don’t feel great about this game. I wouldn’t read much into that though. The feeling is less about this game specifically and more a result of decades of being conditioned to have my heart broken by the Riders. The good news is that as powerful a force as Rider disappointment is, the Bombers’ aversion to the Grey Cup is an even more powerful force.

Cheer loud because we are going to need every once of energy we’ve got to will our team onto a hard-fought victory.

Riders by a Lauther FG (yup he’s still the man). 

Depending on how stressful the game is, my heart may just give out in the stands. So if you see a robed guy with a beard in a heap on the ground, please find my some medical attention… and by that I mean rye.