Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Signs of Life

Riders 25 - Esks 33

During the first half of the game on Friday I began mentally composing this morning's sentimonies. Needless to say it was shaping up to be a profanity-laden rant lamenting the level of utter crap this team has been reduced to. Fortunately in the 3rd quarter the Riders showed that they were actually still able to play football at a professional level. There are no moral victories and losing (again) sucks but that 3rd quarter breathed some much needed life into a team that was getting harder to stomach with each passing week, even for the most diehard of fans.

My dog leaves more appetizing things in my back yard than what the Riders offered up in the first half. The defense seemed to have sunk to new lows (wouldn't have thought that was possible). On the first TD, Reilly literally jogged leisurely to the sidelines while all our d-line failed to get close to him (save for Criswell who finally got to him in time to take a penalty for hitting him out of bounds). He then threw to a wide open Walker (why bother covering him?). They were even making basic mistakes like failing to keep contain. Offensively, there was essentially 1 positive play and that's where Durant said F-it and willed himself to a first down... and promptly left the field with an injury. It was at this point I began mentally calculating how much more booze I'd need to endure the night (the answer was "a lot more").

Then in a stunning turn of events, the Riders (who have been notoriously atrocious in the 3rd quarter) emerged with a fire in their belly and put up 16 unanswered points. We were all left wondering where in the hell that came from. Aggression, risk taking, confidence, defensive stops, running plays. Hell McAdoo finally cashed in on all those idiotic runs by the back-up QBs and let Bridge throw. Nobody saw that coming (I mean sure he threw into double coverage and Roosevelt bailed his ass out but beggar's can't be choosers). I did love the irony of them following up the big pass play by going right back to the idiotic back-up QB run. We desperately needed a quarter  like that. Admittedly a big part of that quarter was the fact that the D was barely on the field but given how awful our O has been it was great to see they still had some firepower.

The 4th quarter was fairly mediocre but at least it was mildly competent play as opposed to the poor excuse for football they turned in during the first half. The O cooled off a bit but did still manage to score. The D remembered that they aren't all that good though they weren't completely useless. We lost but we finished with our heads held high fighting until the bitter end... a welcome reprieve from previous games where we just lied there and took it.

Actually winning would have been ideal but the mood across Rider Nation is decidedly more hopeful after that second half performance than it has been in many weeks. Hopefully we can carry over that momentum into Labour Day.

Other random thoughts:

- Really noticed increased pressure from the defense. Both in terms of scheme and players getting push. The only downside is that we seemed to have no ability to actually make a play on the QB or RB dspite the pressure... but hey, baby steps.

- Gotta feel for Durant. Between a second rate O-line (who all struggled) and receivers not making plays (or running the wrong routes) he certainly doesn't have much help. He's used to having Labatte (one of the best OL in the CFL) blocking from him. This week he had Matt Vonk (who looked like he was wearing roller skates instead of cleats)

- Holley had another good game... and showed more toughness than last week

- Defense should probably work on tackling. I realize that being in a position to make a tackle is a relatively new concept but actually making the tackle is indeed the next progression.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Riders vs. Eskimos: My How Times Have Changed


 
Friday the Riders travel to Edmonton to probably get beaten handily… err I mean to play the Eskimos. These 2 teams last met in Week 3 and that honestly seems like an eternity ago. Optimism was high in Riderville back then. We went toe to toe with the defending champs in an absolutely thrilling game that we should have won. Despite the loss it seemed Jones was well on his to building this team into a winner. Fast forward 7 weeks, 3 fines and more player turnover than I can count and the hope that was instilled in our last match-up has pretty much dried up. Our definition of a good week is no longer “win a game” but rather, “score one TD and manage not to get fined”. The only thing trending upwards on the prairies at this point is whiskey sales (something I have a large part in).

Offensively, the good news is that it probably can’t be worse than last week. Durant will bounce back from a brutal outing. We are playing a lower calibre defense (the only D worse than the Esks is the Riders). Also, short of Durant lining up under the tackle to receive the snap or a receiver being knocked unconscious by a pass hitting their head, I’m not sure it’s possible to be worse than last week.  A few personnel changes expected. Bagg is out with what I and my zero years of medical training have diagnosed as a tweaked hamstring. Fulton is back (yeah a shred of good news) and Hall is takes over for St John at guard. Also John Chiles has been cut (I’ll have more on that in my Monday Sentimonies). The Esks D is like a less comical version of ours. They have an atrocious secondary who allow 70% of passes to be completed (that’s worse than us). They can’t muster a sack to save their soul (again only we have less) and they give up 28 points per game. Any chance for success starts in the trenches. Our line got worked over in Hamilton and Durant may be a hell of a player but he is not a miracle worker. He needs protection. Priority 1 is keep him upright. Then I would attack, attack, attack. We are 1-7 no sense being cautious now, not like we have anything to lose. Take shots to Roosevelt and Collins. Demski involved in the short to medium range. Toss the odd pass out wide to Chambers. Be aggressive as opposed to relying on our usual offensive plan of “suck as hope desperate challenges will result in first downs we didn’t deserve”.   With an offense as potent as the Esks, our D won’t be winning us this game. O needs to go in with the attitude that they need 30 points min.

Defensively, we just need to do our best to not let this turn into a blowout. Even the league’s best defenses struggle to contain Bowman and Walker, so it’s not like we can expect to be the ones to finally figure it out. To be fair though, we did hold Walker to 51 yards in our first meeting so there’s a glimmer of hope. We can’t hope to stop Reilly (currently on pace for 6000 yards) but slowing him down enough to give our offense a chance to win the game is possible.  In the last few games Reilly has taken a pounding… so he’ll probably appreciate match-up against our line where his odds of being contacted are minimal. Seriously though, our D-line needs to disrupt Reilly. Hit him, make him move, make him throw (preferably before he has time to make pancakes, call his mom, and re-enact portions of his favourite Shakespeare plays). AC Leonard is hurt so we are logically replacing the converted TE with a converted basketball player in Tony Criswell. He’s 6’8 so if nothing else maybe his giant arms can knock down a pass. With the way the season has been going I fully expect to see him in coverage on Bowman at some point. We’ll need a turnover to have a chance in this and looking at our roster that will pretty much have to come from one of Cox, Foster or Greg Jones. Maybe the addition of Fred Bennett will give our secondary a boost.

One final note is that Special Teams have been an issue for Edmonton. They are dead last in punting average, kickoff average, and punt return average. If we could get a big play on teams it would go a long way to boosting our slim chances in this game.

By now you’ve astutely surmised that I am picking the Eskimos to win. This is a game where an upset is not completely out of the realm of possibility I can’t in good conscious pick the Riders in this one.

Esks by 14.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Only So Many Ways To Say Suck

Riders 7 - Ti-Cats 53

Given the shear magnitude of the beat down that the Riders endured on Saturday it made me wonder of I had accidentally tuned into UFC instead of CFL. The fact is, I would need thesaurus' in 4 different languages to come up with enough ways to describe just how awful we played that game. Instead of going through that effort, I will just defer to a classic Homer Simpson description: They were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked. We had roughly 2 positive plays that game. One was taken away by the football gods (a double deflection to Fantuz for a TD? What are the odds?). The other was taken away BS CFL Challenge rules that are quickly ruining the Canadian game.

I know its a rebuilding year and I know our Grey Cup chances were even more non-existent than those of non-Asian countries in table tennis but the mounting loses are getting harder to swallow. Its not just that we are losing... in many cases that shouldn't come as a surprise... its how we are losing. We got embarrassed. Didn't even look like we belonged on the same field as Hamilton.

Though it gets harder with each passing week, I do think that in the long run Jones will turn this team into a winner. But in the short-term... he is making things way harder on himself than it needs to be. He inherited a team that was thin on actual talent (and then proceeded to cut much of the talent that was left) and the talent we do have on the roster has been hit hard by injury. Those are our realities and no one is going to feel sorry for us because of them. This is mostly out of Jones' control but the problem is of the things in Jones control he keeps doing some really questionable things that only make things harder on an already tough situation.

Rather than attempt to analyze that disaster of a game, I will go through some of the issues I see that were on full display in Hamilton.

1) Roster Instability 
Here's some numbers for you. In 8 games we have dressed: 7 different QBs, 11 WRs, 13 DLs and 16 different DBs. (I intentionally left out OL where injuries have forced our hand). 14 people who have dressed for a game for us this season are no longer with the team. You wonder why there are missed assignments, mental errors and a lack of chemistry? Maybe its because the roster is never the same. We are taking the approach that if you throw enough crap at a wall, something will stick (we then wonder why it stinks). I get that we are continually on the look for talent but at some point you need to commit to a core group and ride with them. You think it helps Durant to have a new set of receivers to throw to each week? Do you think that continually inserting new players we airlifted in will improve our pass coverage? There will undoubtedly be a couple roster changes week to week but the current churn we are going through is only making things worse.

2) Getting Too Cute on Defense
Generally when teams are struggling, a good way to help as a coach is to get back to basics. Simplify things, let the team master that and then ramp up the complexity. We are taking the opposite approach and increasing the level of weirdness. Did you see that play where Newsome got beat by Banks for a TD? Did you have the same thought as me... how in the hell did that seem like a good coverage to call?!?!? We couldn't generate a pass rush to save our souls yet Jones is committed to having Newsome and Cappy spend the bulk of their time dropping into coverage. (Gee I wonder why we have no sacks?). When used sparingly it can be great, like when Hamilton dropped Tracy into coverage and picked off Durant. It worked because Durant didn't expect it. With us, the only place you can be sure not to find our pass rushers is actually rushing the passer. We still rush 3 despite it being a proven fact that despite 9 guys in coverage a minimum of 1 receiver will still get wide open. I know Jones is a master of the unconventional but we gotta get back to basics until the D actual starts executing.

3) Whatever the Hell McAdoo is Doing
I would like to go on record as saying I called the Brandon Bridge offensive play the day he was signed. I don't know what he thinks he's accomplishing with these QB cameos. Everyone knows it will be a run (including the hotdog vendors) and will probably be poorly executed. It worked in Edmonton because there was continuity at QB. Franklin and Lynch were with the team long term and well positioned to step in. We fly in a new QB each week and still think its a good idea to let them take a snap. Spend less time working on stupid trick plays and more time working on an offense that is clearly struggling to do much of late. I liked his offense in Edmonton. Lots of motion, misdirection and options that were just different enough to break defensive tendencies. Been very underwhelmed so far in that regard. Also, if we are not going to actually use our RBs why not just convert them to DE to see if they can muster a sack? Maybe if we just rename our RBs as "back-up QBs" McAdoo will give them more touches?

Getting a win will be tough... continuing to do the misguided things listed above only increases the factors working against us. We don't have the allstar roster that Jones had in Edmonton so coaching the exact same way is not going to work.

Other random thoughts:
-  I was actually pleasantly surprised on special teams. Cover teams were good and we even set up a return

- I know I can't call Caleb Holley a pussy anymore since its not politically correct so he's whatever the PC version of that word is these days. He's brand new and trying to earn a roster spot and stepped out of bounds rather than fight for extra yards that may have turned into a TD. He showed nice hands but was soft as can be.

- Durant admittedly had a terrible day, no denying that but he's not got much of a supporting cast working around him.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Hammer Time


The sign outside Mosaic Stadium has been updated to say “3 days without a workplace fine” and in a refreshing turn of events we actually get to talk about a football game as opposed to fines, pre-practice squads and all that other off-field crap that has dominated the news of late. Saturday the 1-6 Riders travel to Hamilton to take on the 3-4 Ti-Cats. Neither team has won since Week 5.

Defensively it will be interesting if we can keep the momentum from last game where they turned in a great performance by our standards (admittedly it would be a barely adequate performance by most other standards but let’s focus on the positive here). Facing Zach Collaros now that he has worked off the rust is certainly not an encouraging match-up… then again pretty much any match-up not featuring the #1 and 2 QBs going down to injury is not encouraging at this point. I see two main flaws in the Hamilton O. The first is they are the only team who hate running the ball more than we do. The second is their O-line is beat up and giving up more sacks than any team. I would suggest to Austin that actually running the ball might help with pass protection issues but if McAdoo won’t listen to me, no chance Austin does. Our D-line needs to be disruptive. Collaros is too good to give time to make reads. Collapse the pocket, make him move around and get the ball out quick. Kacy Rodgers will play at corner with Buddy Jackson hurt. Normally a rookie CB would worry me but he honestly can’t be worse than Jackson. Not sure if we’ll see some of Hecht at safety. Again not like it can hurt. If by some miracle the D can keep it under 25 points again then we have a shot. Hamilton has by far the most giveaways… though Maosli was directly responsible for 12 of those so him on the bench should bring those numbers down.

Offensively they gotta show something. I really think we’ll need 30 points to win this game. Based on last game that would seem like a pipe dream but based on other games the fire power is there. Ti-Cats have a strong front 7 but they have a patchwork secondary with guys like Butler, Washington and Sears out long-term. Interestingly enough, the Ti-Cats are #7 in points allowed despite having the #1 pass D and the #3 run D. Some of that is probably attributable to the short fields Masoli often gifted them (still not sure how Angry Austin didn’t murder him). I would go with the usual attack: lean heavy on Roosevelt, involve guys like Bagg, Demski and Collins when Roosevelt is drawing lots of attention. Be a big boost if Chambers showed up ready to catch. This is the space where my weekly “plea to run more that just falls on deaf ears” goes.

Another big concern is on special teams. In one corner you have a team that is not very good on kick coverage… in the other corner you have Brandon Banks, who already has 3 return TDs. Hopefully Hecht will give us a boost in that department. I’m also not opposed to the “when in doubt, kick out of bounds” strategy. Be nice if our return game could do something useful too but it’s probably asking too much for every phase of our game to go well so I’ll be happy with good coverage and returns that don’t feature fumbles or penalties.

We played Calgary close twice and I’m confident we will play Hamilton close as well. Hamilton is not superhuman and we have played better in spurts than our record would imply. But let’s be honest here, if you are betting on the Riders to beat Zach Collaros at home, you can’t have watched very much football this season, that or you’ve pulled an Elliot Friedman and mixed up your lane assignments.

Looking for a close game late into the 4th but…

Ti-Cats by 10

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The State of Affairs

Riders 10 - Stamps 19

An eventful week in Riderville for all the wrong reasons came to an end Saturday with a predictable and fitting loss. While the game was competitive enough to keep the sold out crowd engaged and energized, in the end the temporary distraction of the game passed and we were left with the fact that things suck in Rider Nation.

Before I get to the game, I'm going to share my thoughts on Chris Jones. Look, the simple fact is that the guy is an asshole. Its not really a secret and we knew what we were getting into. He's here to win, not make friends. He's the CFL version of Bill Belichick. But here's the thing, people tolerate Belichick for one reason and one reason only... he wins. Jones however is not winning. So all his roster violations and whatever he said to Dickenson post game just look crazy at this point. Mike Kelly comes immediately to mind (though at least Jones was competent enough to pick Durant as his QB rather than LeFors, he also has not disparaged the widely used shotgun formation to my knowledge). Were this any team but us I personally would be mocking them until I was blue in the face. Do other teams do the kinds of roster gamesmanship we did? Absolutely, but we took it to such an extreme that the League had no choice but to do something.

My hope at this point is that this is Jones testing his limits as a GM. He did the same in first year as a head coach. He did some crazy things, was a general asshole but by year 2 he'd figured things out and won a lot of games with getting in trouble. Fingers crossed that its the same here.

On to the game...

In a twist that no one saw coming, it was the defense that showed up and carried this team while the offense was generally useless. The D played by far their best game of the year. They kept Calgary under 20 points and allowed just 1 TD. They also logged 2 sacks and 2 turnovers (to be fair one turnover game after an abysmal effort at stopping Messam but hey beggars can't be choosers at this point). They still aren't a very good unit overall but if they can play like that each week then we have legitimate shots at winning games. Otha Foster had a noticeably strong performance. While we ended up getting burned, I like that we blitzed on the big gain to Charboneau-Campeau late. I'd rather go down swinging. The much loathed 3 man rush was still there but not a ridiculously heavily used. I maintain a previous assertion that outside of Foster and Cox, I honestly don't believe any of our DBs would be starting on any other team (nor should they be starting for us... seriously 95 people in town and that is the best DBs we can find?). Still while it was about as pretty as a Hamilton Cheerleader, the D played good enough for us to win. Hopefully its a sign that 30+ points will no longer be the norm.

Offense was about as useful as the in stadium play clock (for those who watched on TV it did not work). We we're honestly lucky to get the 10 points we did. The TD would likely not have happened if Calgary knew how to stay onside. The FG came on a 54 yarder that we probably should not have attempted (though its nice to know our rookie kicker can do that... at least when he's not missing or Miloing). O-line got eaten alive for the first time I can recall this season. Receivers (especially Chambers and Stanford) forgot that a key part of their job is actually catching the ball. You saw Durant reach that point were he realized he had to do it all himself and started running. Don't get me wrong, I like when Durant runs but it needs to be a supplement to our offensive attack, not the only play that works. I like that Ricky Collins was more involved. I also like that Lawrence got 9 carries. OK check that I don't think that's near enough but I like that we actually ran 9 times because that's way more than normal. I bet if you ask McAdoo our offense problem was a lack of Brandon Bridge running random plays (still shocked that didn't happen). Ten points just won't cut it. We need to find ways to get the ball in the endzone and over that last few games that just hasn't been happening. One last note, with 2 minutes left on the clock, down 6 points, attempting the FG instead of gambling is absolutely the wrong call.

Special Teams wasn't good either. Yet again we gave up big returns and yet again there were no running lanes for our returners... though someone should tell our returners that if our blockers suck and there is no lane, running directly into the back of the blockers is not going to help anything.

While we appear somewhat of a train wreck off the field, the good news is that we are playing competitive football on the field. We are just making too many mistakes at this point to overcome our talent deficiencies and win games.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Riders vs. Stampeders: Take 2


Amid a growing storm of allegations of roster violations and pre-pre practice squads, believe it or not there is still an actual football game to be played. Saturday night the Stampeders are in town for game two of a home at home set. In the continuing theme of honouring the past during the farewell season, the team will be honouring the 80s. I’m sure we are all eagerly awaiting the next game where they honour the 90s and Reggie Slack is brought back (maybe he was already here on the pre-practice squad).
Much of my pre-game analysis for the last game still stands for this game. For those who didn’t read it, the Coles Notes version is that their offense is really good and our defense is really bad. Rather than rehash what I’ve already wrote I’ll focus today’s post on the adjustment both teams will need to make for the rematch.
Offensively we moved the ball pretty well last game (at least early). The biggest issue was that we were forced to settle for FGs instead of TDs. This has been an issue all season. Our 19 FGs are second most in the league. Our 10 FGs (one of which was a blocked punt) are by far the least in the League. Given that the only thing more numerous than the points given up by our D, is the roster transactions made by Chris Jones, our only hope at victory is scoring at least 30 points. Tough to do that without reaching the endzone multiple times. Our biggest issue is second down conversions. We have league low 39.4% conversion rate on 2nd down despite a league high 7.2 avg gain on 1st down. I attribute that to a lack on anything resembling a credible short game. We run about as often as Steven Hawking and don’t have that go-to second down guy to move the chains. We live and die with the medium to deep shot. When it’s working our offense roles. When it isn’t it sputters.
Last game the Calgary defensive scheme focused on eliminating Roosevelt and I don’t see that changing this week. That means other players will need to step up and not just Bagg. Lawrence needs to be way more involved (both receiving  and runni… oh who am I kidding? receiving only). We need to reignite Ricky Collins as well. Hopefully getting Chiles back will add that extra element to our O. Calgary has somehow given up more passing yards than us (though way less TDs) so there will be open receivers as long as we don’t force it.
Defensively there’s honestly not much to analyze. We are awful and will probably continue to be awful. We allow by far the most points and we have by far the least takeaways and sacks. Unless your fantasy team has receivers from the opposing team there’s not much to be happy about when the D takes the field. How’s that for getting you excited for the game? I think I have a future as a motivational speaker.
The thing is, I think we can win in-spite of our defensive deficiencies. They didn’t play great against Ottawa yet we won. They didn’t play great last game yet did just enough to keep it a close game. That’s exactly what we need. Not great play just a few timely stops… that aren’t negated by penalty. We need to get pressure above all else, if we can’t get that from our front 4 then we need to start sending a variety of blitzes to get the ball out sooner. We also need to create at least 1 turnover, don’t really care if it’s a pick or a forced fumble but something. 
I expect the home crowd to give the team and boost and I expect a more competitive game. I will even go as far as to say that we’ll probably have a slight lead at the half and it will come down to the wire. But let’s be honest here, our only real shot at winning is a shootout and it’s far more likely our offense stalls than theirs.
Unless the league allows the pre-practice squad on the field at the same time as our regular defense…
Stamps by a TD
I don’t think this ending is a foregone conclusion though so let’s be loud in the stands. The deafening roar of the Mosaic crowd will go a long way to making us forget about the team’s troubles. It may even tip the scales far enough in our favour to sneak out a win (I wouldn’t actually put money on that but it is possible)
PS – Don’t forget its Tackle Hunger day so make sure to bring a donation for the food bank.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Shove It

Riders 15 - Stamps 35

If I was to estimate how far along Chris Jones is in his rebuilding process I would say half to 3 quarters. My reason for saying that is that the Riders (with the exception of that dreadful Montreal game) seem to be able to be a competitive team for a maximum of 2-3 quarters at this point before things go off the rails. Take Thursday for example. The Riders were within one score for most of the game. Were it not for Mark hitting the uprights and Bagg fumbling, we very well could have been leading that game at halftime. Then of course the 4th quarter hit and things went to all to hell. Week in week out, we are seeing signs that this can be a competitive team but currently we just don't have the ability to finish.

Offensively the problem is the 3rd quarter. The Riders have scored 3 or less 3rd quarter points in all but one game (that one just happened to be the Ottawa game we won. Go figure). Whatever we are doing in the locker room at half time (nothing would be my guess at this point) needs to change. Defensively the 4th is becoming painful to watch. We give up an average of 12 fourth quarter points. Given that offensively we only average 8 second half points this becomes problematic.

Having Durant back did give the offense some life. Calgary clearly schemed to eliminate Roosevelt but I like how we adjusted and took the deep shots to Bagg that were left as a result. Other than that I'm not big on a lot of what we are doing on O. Broken record alert but "Run the damn ball!" To start the 3rd we ran three times in a row for gains of 8, 4 and 18. I was thinking "great! here we go". We ran just 2 more times the entire game and a grand total of 7 rushing attempts on the day. Meanwhile Messam was fed the ball 17 times and was a big part of why our offense barely touched the field in the 4th. Our offense is way too 1 dimensional. The other thing I hate... no despise... no detest with every once of my being is the idiotic decisions to randomly insert the back-up QB for a play. They have never worked... ever. Yet we insist on continually running them rather than letting a certain fairly capable starting QB just keep doing his thing. Overall offense moved the ball good early but was forced to settled for FGs instead of majors. They were flat in the 3rd (a recurring theme) and just didn't get the ball in the 4th because our defense is awful.

And with that I'll move to commenting on our defense. They are awful (just because its obvious doesn't make it any less true)... but here's the thing: Even though they weren't playing good in the first three quarters, we still were in the game. That gives me hope that if we can improve even moderately on defense, some very good things will happen with this team. That's the good news. The bad new is that watching our secondary, even competent play is a ways away yet. They couldn't cover a piece of toast in peanut butter. My hope their remains that Derrius Brooks returns and gives them a boost and that we generally replace most of our secondary by next year. Yet again we failed to register a sack... I know people actually covering receivers helps the defenders have time to get to the QB but we routinely get so little pressure that our pass rush will soon be endorsed by Tom Brady. If we are not going to cover receivers anyway we might as well continue to dial up the pressure.

This was yet another game that gave me hope. We were competitive with one of the top teams for most of the game.  We did some good things in all three phases of the game. They may not have made us proud but they did make us less ashamed. We need to work on keeping up that level play through a full game though and not just letting off the intensity in the second half. I think we will raise our game to another level in the rematch.

Other random thoughts:
- How about Johnny Mark? For a guy who was probably playing X-box when we called him, he kicked damn good on no notice. He hit 3 good FGs and just slightly Miloed his first.

- Speaking a big debuts, was Ivan Brown ever pumped up to be on the field. Noticed his hustle and effort a few times (including the opening kick). Hopefully that becomes contagious with the rest of the team