Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Close Doesn't Begin To Describe It

Riders 30 - Argos 29

Call them ugly wins, call them improbable, call them lucky... whatever you call them the Riders have had quite the knack for them this year. There was the 3rd and 1 stand in BC, the "rely on Matt Nichols to embarrass himself" in Winnipeg, not to mention all those times we just assumed our D would score enough to win us the game. I thought we hard flirted as close to the edge of narrow wins as was possible... I should have known better. Saturday's "rely on the opposing team missing 2 key FGs while your kicker makes a 56 yarder to escape with a 1 point victory" definitely brought new meaning to "narrow victory".

Offensively we came out firing, scoring on the first possession and notching not 1, not 2 but 3 offensive TDs. The first time we've legitimately done that all season. I mean it was against the worst defense in the CFL but looking good against a bad defense is better than looking bad against a bad defense right? Unfortunately after that 3rd TD our rejuvenated offense decided to pull a Vontae Davis and call it quits and treated us the offense we were used to for the remainder of the game. There were some positives about our O. We remembered who Williams-Lambert was. We fed Roosevelt the ball. We gave Thigpen the ball more than twice (and low and behold he does awesome things). But there was also a lot of hot garbage with our O. As much as we did better at involving Thigpen in the O, guess how many touches he had in the 4th quarter with us needing a score? 1. I don't know what about the previous 12 games leads us to think that Tre Mason and Shaq Evans will find he endzone but when it mattered most that's where we were looking and not to a guy who has found the endzone 6 time. Collaros is about 40% good QB and 60% oh my god what were you thinking?!. That first INT I'm not sure what about that look made him think he should throw there, receiving was not open at all. The second one was the right read but he through behind him on an out to the sideline (can't do that). At times it seemed his go to play was panicked dump off to Spencer Moore. Collaros leads an offense with the lowest expectations in the CFL. Just don't turn the ball over and everyone will probably be ok with you but he's failing miserably at that. Some signs of life from the offense (again, against the worst D in the League) but more is needed out of them when we start playing teams that will actually make the playoffs.

Defense was not dominant for the second week in a row. They got a pick and a couple sacks and really locked things down in the 4th quarter but they gave up way too many yards, missed a lot of tackles, missed a lot of coverage assignments and allowed a lot of points. D was actually a beneficiary of Marc Trestman releasing his inner McAdoo and doing some questionable things. If you aren't going to attempt at least one bomb to Duron I'm not sure why you roster him. More concerning was him keeping WiIder on the sidelines. Wilder got just a handful of touches in the first half in favour of Burks (who wasn't that great). Finally in the 3rd quarter they leaned heavy on Wilder and he produced a ton of yards and the O put up points.  The in the 4th quarter they didn't give him a touch on 2 of the final 3 series. I don't get it but it worked in our favour. It's not like the D played like crap but they turned in a very average performance and we are not a team that is built to win when the D is not dominating. 

I said in the pre-game that special teams would play a factor and boy did they ever. Brett Lauther is almost inhuman. The Leader Posts ROb Vanstone pointed out that Lauther has not missed in 14 attempts from 41 or longer. HAS NOT MISSED. He now has 2 56 yarders.... TWO! If he was kicking even just above average instead of lights out, we would be in trouble. Nine months from now there will be a large amount of babies named Brett being born. As for Toronto's kicker.... well maybe you can join a support group with Daniel Carlson and Zane Gonzalez. The good news is that by virtue of playing in Toronto you won't have to hide your face in public.

I haven't decided if we are a good team that just keeps playing bad or if we are a not good team that just keeps getting improbable wins. I'd like to thinks its the former but with each passing week, I wonder more and more. I like Chris Jones' post game quote "We never going to apologize for a win". Getting the 2 points and staying in second in the West is the most important thing. I'd be lying if I said I don't have concerns on both sides of the ball looking at what's coming up in our schedule down the stretch but as long as the wins keep coming I don't care so much about how close or ugly or by the skin of our necks they are. My heart may not like it but I'm pretty sure I can't quiet it down with some whiskey. 

Other random thoughts:
- Thank god Collaros eventually made that first TD to Lambert. He was open right from the snap and Collaros waited way longer than he should have to pull the trigger. 

- I don't think enough is being made of Jones still wearing that green shirt. The man hasn't worn colours in years and now suddenly won't take off the green shirt even after the win streak ended. Will he now wear that shirt forever?

- Kyran Moore is one hell of a player. Glad we found him. 

- Really noticed Jordan Reaves on kick coverages.

- Its amazing how Mic'Hael Brooks can just stuff a play when he wants to.

- Chad Geter is quietly turning in a great season as a rotational defensive player.  Athleticism must run in the family what with his brother Derek being so good at baseball.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Riders vs. Toronto: Time To Step Up

Saturday the Riders travel to Toronto looking to bounce back after a dismal showing at home that ended their 4 game win streak. The Argos come in to this game 3-8 and 2 games out of a playoff spot. They are starting to hit desperation time in their season as another loss puts them in a massive hole with a trip to Calgary on tap next week. Much has changed since these teams last met in the season opener. Back then Ricky Ray wasn’t sporting a neck brace, McLeod Bethel-Thompson was never expected to touch the field and Duron Carter wasn’t sporting an Argo jersey.

After getting booed on their home turf (something even Zach Collaros admits was deserved) the Riders’ O needs a rebound game. Now keep in mind based on how things have gone this season that a “rebound” by our standards would be 1 TD, 3 FGs and not turning the ball over. The bar is set pretty low. It starts with Steve McAdoo. The reality is, we have 3 guys on offense with a chance of finding the endzone. Thigpen, Roosevelt and Williams-Lambert. That’s it. They have combined for 10 offensive TDs. Yet if you look at our play calling in recent weeks, our O inexplicably seems to revolve around Shaq Evans (who is creeping up my hatred list), Tre Mason and Josh Stanford. Three guys who have combined for 0 TDs and not even come close. We have to find ways to get our real playmakers the ball. I get that some of that falls on Collaros and where he choses to throw but a good OC would find ways to ensure our top guys get the ball. Marcus Thigpen has 4 total offensive touches in the past 2 games. He’s averaging 7.5 per touch incidentally but no please keep feeding the ball to other players because that makes a ton of sense.

The good news is that Toronto is a great match-up for an offensive in need of a pick me up. To put it in terms you may understand, the Argo Defense is worse at defending than the Rider Offense is at scoring. Yeah its that bad. Most points allowed, least turnovers, least sacks (the entire Argo team is currently tied with Charleston Hughes in the sack race), second most yards allowed. The loss of Corey Chamblin really hurt this unit and it had been compounded by not having their best players on the field whether it be because they are hurt (like Marcus Ball) or because they inexplicably traded them away for nothing (like Shawn Lemon).  They don’t have good run D so that’s where our O should start with a heavy dose of Thigpen and Mason (in that order). Lean on Roosevelt, keep Moore and Williams-Lambert involved and maybe give some token love to Rob Bagg. If we can’t find the endzone on this defense then we are in a world of trouble.

Our D also needs a bounce-back game after giving up close to 500 yards. Its crazy to imagine much better this D/ Special Teams could be if they had an even mildly competent offense supporting them but I’ve whined enough about our O for a while. What we can’t let happen again is the RB running wild on us like Powell did. Wilder is just as dynamic if given space. He’s accounted for close to a third of the Argos’ total offense which by the way is the second worst in terms of both points and yards. The Argos have a decent O-line but our front 4 need to dominate the trenches, limit the space for Wilder and keep the blockers off our LBs. Neutralize Wilder and “McLeod, I have too many names and none of them are first names” does not scare me. He has talented WRs in Green, Edwards and Carter but if you take away his first game where he threw 4 TDs, all he has done since is go 1-3 while throwing just 4 TDs with 3 INTs. Speaking of Carter, two points I want to make. 1 - For god sake if there was ever a game for Nick Marshall to stop getting beat deep because he bites on short stuff this is it. You know Duron wants to score so give him the underneath stuff and make him work for it rather than giving up the long bombs, not like he is famous for his effort levels. 2 – I would be coaching all me DBs to be up in Duron’s grill yapping all game long. No way Duron doesn’t take at least 2 penalties retaliating. One last note on the Argo offense, you need to be wary of the checkdown to Declan Cross. Its another one of the few things that has been going well for a struggling 0.

Special Teams will play a role in this and it should favour us. We have the second most accurate FG kicker. They have the least accurate kicker. We have 4 kick return TDs this season including 3 in the last 2 games. They are allowing 14 yards per punt return, 3 more than any other team in the league. They also recently traded their star kick returner to Edmonton for reasons I don’t really understand.

Never underestimate a Marc Trestman coached team, especially when coming off a bye week. Two of Toronto’s 3 wins have come against teams with winning records (Edm and Ott) so they can contend with the top teams. That said, this is a game the Riders should win. We should be able to win the defensive and special teams phases provided we show up and despite our offensive struggles (well actually struggles is putting it mildly) against this defense they should be able to do enough to get by.

The Riders never do things the easy way so expect the game to be much closer than it should but in the end…

Riders by a Kyran Moore TD.

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.