Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Same Old Story

Riders 25 – RedBlacks 30

As I mentioned on in my game preview I did not go to the game. I was rocking out to Metallica. Turns out I chose correctly as I was just as likely to see Lars Ulrich play competent offense as I was the Riders. It was probably a good thing for my blood pressure that I wasn’t there. I did not go back and watch the game... as a Rider/Vikings fan I realize that I am by my nature a glutton for punishment but even I have my limits. I’ve watched the highlights and poured over the stats sheets. The texts I was receiving contained more than enough curse words to give me a good sense of what was going on.

I’ll give you a sense of what was going through my mind as I caught myself up on what happened in the game:
·        How in ^$^$^ is it possible to lose a game where you return 2 kicks for TDs?!? Has that ever happened? That’s gotta be the football equivalent of managing to lose a 21 hand in blackjack.
·        Let’s look and see if we can find where things went wrong for our O. Well Collaros completed 10 passes… that usually not a good sign.
·        Well Thigpen is our best offensive weapon. How many times did he touch the ball offensively? Twice. Twice?!?! Who do we think has a better chance of scoring than him? Apparently Josh Stanford because that’s who we targeted in the redzone on that first pick. Pro Tip: Nothing good happens when you target Josh Stanford in the redzone.
·        Roosevelt is our next best offensive weapon. How did he do? Well we didn’t even target him until the second half and looked his way about as often as Josh Stanford. Makes sense.
·        What about Williams-Lambert? Not targeted until 5 mins left in the game. Well why look his way when Stanford is on the field.

I won’t dwell on this too much. Since Saturday I imagine there has been sufficient discussion on how terrible Collaros played and how our Offensive Coordinator seems to be taking a George Constanza approach and doing the opposite of what most instincts would tell you. Or at least the opposite of what a competent OC would do. Sure his “offense” is on pace to score just 23 TDs this season which is less than any team since 2010 (which is as far back as I was prepared to look) and that includes the expansion RedBlacks in their first season. But why focus on that when you can focus on the supreme awesomeness of the hitch screen (which by the way? Has that ever worked for us? I can’t remember an instance of it going for any decent distance)? It’s not news to anyone that we have these explosive defense and special teams but are being held back by one of the worst offenses in recent memory.

I decided to do a check in to see where we are at after 12 games as compared to last year. We have one more win and if you look at every category that doesn’t involve passing or offensive points we are ahead as well.

After 12
% Change

Offensive TDs
Passing Yards
Rushing Yards
Sacks allowed
Points allowed
Passing Yds allowed
Rushing Yds allowed
Special Teams
Punt Return Avg
Opponent Punt Ret Avg
Kickoff return avg
Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg
Net punt avg
Players Dressed

Saturday was a big let down for a team riding a big high but they have still positioned themselves for a solid finish to the season. Lots to work on yet (and by lots I mean primarily just offense) but this team is still trending in the right direction.

When have you ever known the Riders to do things the easy way?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Riders vs. RedBlacks: The Drive For Five

Saturday the Riders return home to face the 6-4 RedBlacks. They will be looking too stretch their win streak to 5 games, something they haven’t done since 2014. Incidentally we lost our QB in a winning effort in the Banjo Bowl that year as well… hopefully the parallels stop there. Ottawa will be looking to rebound from a dreadful stretch of football. They have lost 3 of their last 4 games. Their opponents in those loses were Toronto, Montreal and BC aka the 3 worst teams in the CFL. Once again the Riders have a chance to pounce on a team that comes in struggling.

The Riders have 3 East games followed by 4 West ones to end the season. They realistically need to go at least 2-1 in this East stretch and ideally 3-0 if we are serious about playing football at Mosaic Stadium in November. A lot of football to be played before then so we just need to keep winning games and let the rest sort itself out… but it is refreshing for it to at least be a possibility once again.

Going to change things up and start on offense where the collective sigh of relief across the prairies when we heard Collaros had passed concussion protocol could have powered a wind generator for many hours. I know he’s not exactly lighting up the scoreboard but he gives some semblance of life to an otherwise lifeless offense. Tough challenge for him and our O in facing a Noel Thorpe defense. They come in with the second least points allowed and third most sacks. The good news is that even if Thorpe manages to reduce our offensive production by 50% it will have a barely negligible effect on the game (look at me focusing on the positives). Priority #1 has to be keeping Collaros’ melon from bouncing off the turf. Strong play in the trenches and a committed running game obviously are key. But we also need to get that ball out quicker (and I’m not talking about the stupid screen play that a blind man could see coming). It would be nice to hit some slants or timing outs or slotback hooks and really work those medium passes to move the chains. We need something in between stupid screen plays and chucking up prayers into double coverage and praying our WRs can bail us out. Marcus Thigpen remains our best chance of scoring on O so we bloody well better use him. We need a TD from our O and ideally 2.

On the other side of the ball, Trevor Harris is probably very happy that Matt Nichols is drawing all the attention because we’re it not for him people would be focusing a lot more on how bad Harris has been of late. Just over 50% completion in both of his last 2 games, had 3 interceptions and just one offensive TD (finally an even match-up for our O). Ottawa is a confusing team. They are stacked with offensive talent: Powell, Sinopoli, Spencer, Ellingson but are just 7th in offensive TDs and have the 2nd worst running attack (both in terms of yards and average gain per carry). They have the ability to break out at any point so we can’t take them lightly. It starts up front with what is their biggest offensive weakness and what is really holding them back: their O-line. Second most sacks allowed so far and our D-line should be able to push those numbers even higher. Game plan should be very similar to last week: attack the line, shut down the run, pressure Harris, force turnovers. Pass coverage will be tougher as Ottawa has talent across the board at receiver. I mean we had trouble containing Drew Wolitarsky last week. We really need to focus on taking away the short and intermediate passes. Ottawa has the least pass completions over 30 yards and Harris has one of the worst completion % on passes over 20 yards. If we can limit Powell and force Harris to go to his second/third reads then we should be able to keep the RedBlack offense in the funk it currently finds itself. Calling 3 sacks and 3 turnovers.

The reality is that at some point a let down game will happen. Despite our win streak we have not exactly been playing consistently good football and its highly unlikely we go undefeated the rest of the way. I think this one has some potential for a letdown but I think the home crowd will give the team a needed boost. Plus, this team believes in its ability to find ways to win. Even if its grinding out ugly ones. I expect our defense to continue their level of play and keep the score low. So it comes down to our Offense finding a way to get on the board (or at least not let the RedBlack D put up points). It will be a low scoring affair but in the end…

Riders by a Thigpen TD.

Side note: I will not be at the game (so cheer loud for me). I’m headed to Saskatoon for Metallica. You’ll be happy to know that the Riders are undefeated in home games I have not attended this year. You’re welcome.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: That’s Four!

Riders 32 – Bombers 27

Well that was uglier than the runner up at a Manitoba beauty pageant but in the end the Riders emerged from Winnipeg with their fourth win in a row and their first Banjo Bowl win since 2014. The win maintains the Riders’ position in second place and also secures the season series with the Bombers. It was exactly what we’ve come to expect from the 2018 Riders. Big plays on D, solid special teams and an offense that we are told exists but visual evidence would tend to indicate otherwise. It was a lot like Labour Day, majorly outplayed in the first half but kept in it by a couple big plays. Second half defense tightened up and offense did just enough.

I know you know me as a humble guy not prone to tooting his own horn (stop laughing, I’m trying to be serious here) but I need to give myself a Barry Horowitz style pat on the back (bonus points if you get that reference). Go back to my Labour Day post and you will see me cite 30 as the magic number for the Bombers. They can’t win when they don’t score 30 and they can’t win when they fail to hold their opponents under 30. Two weeks of the Riders topping 30 and the Bombers failing to and two wins for the Riders.  I also nailed the stat in this game preview that the Bombers struggle in tightly contested games… but whose counting? I am because I also suggested we should dress Jovon and Bagg for vet leadership. Toot, toot!

Let’s start with the defense because that’s the only reason that we aren’t drowning our sorrows to the southing sounds of the banjo… well aside from Matt Nichols taking his 2018 suck tour to hilarious new lows. The D turned in 3 sacks, 5 interceptions and really locked things down in the second half. Having Brooks back really helped lock down the run D and make Harris so invisible you’d swear he was playing for the Rider offense. Even when Streveler came in we managed to keep his legs from being a factor. Having Neufeld line up at tackle also really helped our D (another point I nailed in the game preview, sorry I swear I’ll stop soon). Jefferson had a monster game and a lot of that was due to lining up on Neufeld a lot. Purifoy had a big impact game. Big plays really covered up some not great play in the passing game. Marshall is getting beat a lot and not making the big plays to compensate. Nichols was in the redzone both times we got pick 6’s. If he decides to be even mildly competent in those plays (and not go full Nichols) the game could have ended very differently. But it didn’t and yet again the D was the driving force in a Rider win. I keep thinking the amount we rely on our D is not sustainable but they keep sustaining it so I guess roll with it.

Offense… well stop me if you’ve hard this one before. Essentially non-existent for the first half. Untimely turnover. Brett Lauther in the lead for offensive MVP. You know, the usual. Collaros is clearly by far our best QB but he did not have a good game (even before re-enacting the Butler/Pierce encounter of 2011). I like that he pushed the ball down the field but he’s been throwing into coverage he never should be and getting bailed out by receivers. I also think that the KO knock was his fault for not reading the blitz and getting the ball out. Hope he’s ok but multiple head injuries are not a good thing. Play calling is not helping him. I like the Tre Mason had a massive game but where was Thigpen? 2 offensive touches? Not good enough. And given that I (a rye enthusiast on my couch) could tell when we are running a hitch screen, it was only a matter of time before someone who does it for a living figured it out and jumped it (side note but the downside of young receivers is none had the sense to call the blitz or try to block Gaitor).  If you had told me that Brandon Bridge was going to play in this game and that we would be trailing when he entered I would have bet heavily against us. But to his credit he surprised me and a lot of others by doing alright. To be fair he only led one productive drive but it was a huge one and more importantly he did not do anything stupid (aka a Nichols impersonation). I really hope to not see much more of him but I will give him credit, he looked at lot more like the mildly competent back-up of 2017 and less like they useless profanity inducing QB from earlier this season. That’s as close as he’s getting to a compliment from me.

It was another ugly, gritty, too close for comfort win… but that last word is all that matters: WIN. We keep finding ways to win and that’s the sign of a team that can go places. Won’t get the luxury of playing Matt Nichols every week (or any week at this rate) but you can only play the hand that your dealt and the Riders keep turning their hands into winners. God it feels good to sweep the Bombers!

Other random thoughts:
-        There were a lot a of super week calls by the refs. That PI on Gainey was marginal (but turned out ok so I’ll take it J). That blocking downfield on Evans was even more marginal. And that’s just naming a few. Let them play!
-        I love how all the D players were doing Banjo celebrations.
-        Kick cover teams were excellent!
-        How many more wins before we induct that green shirt of Chris Jones into the Plaza of Honour?

Friday, September 7, 2018

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2018

Saturday the Riders travel to East to for a rematch with the Bombers. It’s the annual Banjo Bowl, inspired by the infamous comments of Troy Westwood. I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the Bombers or the province of Manitoba (other than their sports fans are very good at waiting patiently decades at a time) but Westwood’s banjo comments remains one of the most solid sports chirps I’ve heard.

This will be a game all about adjustments. The teams have now seen what each other has and the team that makes the better adjustments will come out ahead. Defensively that gives me great hope. Jones knows what he is doing and if you look closely we need to lock down 5 plays. Harris had runs of 38, 12, 11, and 25 plus a catch for 15 in the first half. That’s 100 yards right there. Lock those down and the complexion of the game changes dramatically. Offensively the adjustments we made in the second (i.e. do something and lean on Thiggy and Roosevelt) give me hope… not huge hope as it would be silly to put a ton of faith in our offense if you’ve watched any of our games but at this point I’ll take whatever small amounts of hope we can get.

I was shocked to see no trickery or shenanigans last week from the Bombers so I’m doubling down and saying that for sure this week they are going to throw something at us. They need a kick-start and lord knows just assuming Matt Nichols will eventually come out of his funk hasn’t been working for them. We gotta slow down Harris this week. Runs for 5-6 we can handle but those big long ones need to be eliminated. Evidence would say we need to get physical on him. He took a big shot in the second half shot that clearly affected him as his production was pedestrian and use limited after that. Sounds like Brooks is back this week which will be a huge boost to our front 4 and run protection. Secondary needs to stay disciplined. For as well as they played overall, there were still too many breakdowns. Marshall needs to find a bit better balance as a risk taker. Its got him 2 pick sixes and some knockdowns but also gotten him beat deep a lot. Sounds like both Foketi and Hardrick are out this week so Neufeld figures to be the tackle. Long time readers will know that Neufeld was squarely on my hatred list when he was here. Admittedly Winnipeg has gotten more out of him as a player then we ever did but Neufeld vs. either Hughes or Jefferson should be huge advantage for us. Keep the pressure on Nichols. If we get to him early the boos from his own fans will likely be more thunderous than the ones Rider fans gave him. Winnipeg has the second most turnovers. Expect that trend to continue… I’ll say 3 turnovers in this game.

Offensively we need to do something in the first half. We produced just 90 yards in the first half and had Matt Elam and Kyran Moore not bailed us out it could have been too little too late when our O finally woke up. As we learned last week Roosevelt and Thigpen are the wheels that turn our offense. With our offense being more useless than Grey Cup Parade map to Bomber fans in the first half, Roosevelt only had 2 receptions and Thigpen did not touch the ball offensively. I repeat DID NOT TOUCH THE BALL OFFENSIVELY. When we finally gave Thiggy the ball his first 3 touches went for 12, 9 and 18 yards respectively. Of his 7 offensive touches 4 went for double digit yards. I get that’s he’s not an every down back (particularly this week when he’ll be returning more) but you maybe think we need him involved before the second half?!? Collaros needs to eliminate the token INT he’s been throwing of late. I expect this game to be a lot closer so any mistake on either side will be magnified. Protect Collaros, protect the ball, lean on Thigpen/Roosevelt and keep Williams-Lambert involved. That’s our recipe for success.

Big opportunity here for the Riders. A win seals the season series with the Bombers and keeps us in the driver’s seat for a potential home playoff game. We have momentum on our side but make no mistake, this is a desperate Bomber team.  A 4th straight loss keeps them near the basement in the west and puts them essentially 3 games back of us with only 6 games remaining. They have also already lost 4 of their 5 games against West teams. Not to mention losing a game this big in front of a home crowd would be super deflating. Expect them to come out swinging and be willing to throw everything trick they have at us.

Winnipeg is a touch place to win for us. We haven’t won their since 2014 and we had to sacrifice Durant in that win. A slow start like last week will kill us in a hostile (and generally unhygienic) environment. We have 2 games in Winnipeg left on our schedule and need to win at least one to secure the season series. When we play in October we will be on a very short week coming off a Monday game so this is likely our best chance. If it was me running the show I would be looking to swap Bagg for Stanford and Jovon for Blackmon in this one. I think a little veteran savvy would really help the team in a hostile place like Winnipeg. But Chris Jones is as likely to ask my opinion on roster decisions as he is to wear a nice pastel polo shirt with the top button undone.

Lots of stats I could quote but the one that stands out for me is the teams’ records in games decided by 1 score. Riders are 4-2. Bombers are 1-3. Winnipeg has also managed to lose 4 games where they led at half time. One team seems have that killer instinct and be able to grind out the close victories. Given that I see this being a close game, that favours the good guys…

Riders by a Lauther FG from 40+