Friday, September 12, 2014

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Win It For Durant

Sunday the 8-2 Riders travel to Hamilton to face the 2-7 in what will be their first visit to the new Tim Hortons field. I hear the Riders are looking forward to the experience, minus the requirement for them to spend 2 hours installing guard rails and light fixtures in exchange for practice time. Sunday is also the official start to the Autumn of Tino (doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Summer of George” but it does sound more promising than the first draft I had: “Fall of Tino”).

If there was any franchise I would feel great starting an upstart QB against it’s the Ti-Cats. History has proven pretty good to us in that regard. Willy had a big game against them last year, Durant’s breakout game in ’08 came against them, and of course who could forget Rocky Butler? He beat them so badly that they traded us for him that off-season in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory.

We utterly embarrassed them in the season opener and they have just 2 wins since then (none of which have come against a western opponent)… so logically the odds-makers have them as the favourites headed in to this game. Paging all compulsive gamblers! To be fair I don’t think the Ti-Cats are as bad as their record indicates… well let me re-phrase that. Their record is very reflective of their level of play this season but given the talent on their roster, I think they have potential to be a far better team then they have shown. Five of their losses have been by a TD or less. They have been close but just keep finding ways to lose. They also keep finding ways to enrage Kent Austin. I swear of these times either he will choke out a player or his head will explode.

Obviously injuries at QB have affected their offense but even when healthy (which I think they are pretty close now, minus Gable) their offense really doesn’t scare me. Consider this. Hamilton has scored 15 offensive TDs this season. 8 of those TDs were scored by either Dan LeFevour or CJ Gable… 1 was scored by a linebacker. That leaves 6 TDs by people who will be playing offense on Sunday. It all starts with that sorry excuse for an O-line they have. First of all it’s not very good. Second, in their 9 games they have started 7 different combinations and no one has started every game in the same spot. It’s like they put names in a hat each week and draw spots. The end result has been predictably awful line play and a whole ton of sacks (only the Bomber OL has given up more). Peter Dyakowski can’t get healthy soon enough. With a struggling line, it’s no surprise that their run game has been a non-factor. They are near the bottom of the league in terms of rushing yards and Dan LeFevour accounts for close to 40% of those yards. Part of it is they just don’t rush very often (even when Gable was healthy), only Ottawa has less rushing attempts. Not that we can ignore the run game, I’m just not overly concerned in our ability to make it a non-factor (if Austin doesn’t do that on his own by not calling run plays).

Collaros and the pass game are where the challenge will lie for our D. While Collaros has looked better in his last couple starts (though not sure how he could manage to look worse than week 1), I haven’t seen anything in his game that gives me cause for concern. Part of it has to do with the receivers at his disposal. To be fair, the Ti-Cats have solid receivers across the board (Fantuz, Grant, Tasker, Ellington, Koch, Guiguere). Thing is, while they have a lot of good receivers, they lack a real impact receiver. All are capable of making plays and moving the chains but none have that game-breaking factor. So I like how our secondary matches up against them. Certainly the fact that you can’t slow this offense down by eliminating one receiver (like some other teams) is a challenge but regardless of who ends up covering who, there are no match-ups that scare me. A weak ground game and an even weaker OL means our D-line will be in attack mode. Combine that with a Hamilton team that throws a lot of INTs and lacks a game breaking receiver and you have the recipe for a very good defensive outing.

This brings me to Sunseri and our offense. The Ti-Cats actually boast the #3 run defense in the CFL. They are very strong at the interior of their DL with Bulcke and Laurent. They also are solid at LB with Simoni Lawrence (who is a damn good player) and Rico Murray. I don’t see us shying away from the run but it will likely prove more difficult then the last couple weeks where we pretty much just steam-rolled the Bombers on the ground. Sunseri will need to pass and I’m sure he will. It’s a favourable match-up for Tino in his first start. The Ti-Cats force the least turnovers, have the least sacks (way to support Tackle Hunger jerks!), allow the 2nd highest completion % to opposing QBs and allow the 2nd most points per game. This won’t be a cake walk for him but there’s no reason to think he can’t have success. Look for the Riders to take a deep shot early (maybe even on the first play) to either Taj or Bagg (who damn well better catch it this time!). Play-action crossers could be very effective if the LBs are cheating up on the run. I also like lining Messam up a TE and passing to him on a leakout every now and them. Don’t expect us to stray too far from what’s gotten us this far, lots of running and controlling possession of the ball.

We will need another solid outing from our special teams again. Hamilton is a returner factory. They had Thigpen, Williams and this year have 3 different guys with kick return TDs. Granted all of them are hurt this week and they have airlifted in Terell Sinkfield but still as long as we don’t allow any game changing plays on teams (or better yet if we can be the ones making those game changing plays yet again) then I like our odds of grinding out another road victory.

I expect us to start the first quarter very shaky but settle things down in the second and play solid from there on out. These are the Riders so they will find some way to make it interesting and make things stressful to watch but in the end I see no reason why we shouldn’t emerge with another victory.

Riders by 10

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 12 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 12.

Prophet Jr - Edmonton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Hamilton
Rider Prophet - Edmonton, Calgary, BC, Saskatchewan
Mrs. Prophet - Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan
Step-Prophet - Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan
Momma Prophet - Montreal, Calgary, BC, Saskatchewan

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Darian Durant Out

We are entering unfamiliar territory. While Durant was prone to getting banged up and missing the odd regular season game, you have to go back to his breakout season in ’08 to find the last time he missed significant time and even that year he was healthy come playoff time. We have just taken for granted that Durant will be there when needed. While there is a remote chance he could be back for the playoffs (just how stringent is the CFL’s testing for steroids?), all signs point to us having to make due without our unquestioned leader for the rest of the year. And man does that suck.

Since the news broke, their have been 2 equally ridiculous camps develop. One that feels our offense will improve without Durant and one that feels we are beyond screwed and might as well just preemptively forfeit our remaining games and focus on 2015. Clearly this crazy world we call “reality” lies somewhere in the middle. I like Sunseri but if you think that Cortez has been ignoring all our good passing plays and will now suddenly re-introduce them now that Durant is out then you live in a make believe world of unicorns, leprechauns and Bomber Grey Cup victories. We are deliberately running a conservative, turnover/risk averse, run-based offense and that will not change. Sunseri can throw the ball but he lacks the experience and wisdom of Durant (go back and compare gunslinging ’09-’10 Durant to the poised veteran ‘13-’14 Durant), he lacks the leadership of Durant and the ability to take the team on his back. Quite frankly, I don’t have the same faith in Sunseri as in Durant to scramble for a 1st down when we absolutely need it. I’m sure he’s capable but with Durant everyone just expected him to and he’d usually deliver. So there is no denying that the loss of Durant will impact our offense. There is no way this can be seen as anything but a big negative.

However, if you think this adversity is insurmountable you clearly have not watched this team at all this season. Our much vaunted defense is still here last time I checked. We still boast the most dominant ground game in the CFL. We already have 8 wins. If there was ever a favourable situation for a young QB to step into this is it. We don’t need Sunseri to be a superstar to have success. I expect some struggles, I expect some mistakes and turnovers. But I like what I have seen from Sunseri since he showed up here. He is more than capable of keeping our passing attack relevant and taking advantage when teams stack the box to stop the run (which I expect we will see a lot of until Sunseri establishes himself as a viable passer). More importantly the players and coaches seem to have faith in him. Simply put if the coaches didn’t trust in the guy we would have brought in a vet in training camp.

On that note there is talk/speculation that we should/will be bringing in a veteran QB. Not sure where people get this stuff short of turning to mind altering drugs for inspiration. Simply put there are not any good veteran QBs just sitting and waiting for a call. If they were good they would still be working. The fact that they are sitting waiting for a call should tell you something. Only two names come to my mind, that being Steven Jyles and Adrian McPherson and Sunseri is far and away a better option than both of those, combined. Would you prefer we give Michael Bishop a call and see what he’s up to? That turned out fantastically last time. Let’s have some faith that Sunseri is better than the unwanted scrap heap out there. Then there is the notion that we should trade for Henry Burris. Aside from the fact that Rider Nation would literally self destruct at the notion, this is just practically speaking not going to happen. Even if the Riders were interested (which we are not), and even if we were able to afford his grossly inflated salary (which we can’t), there would be the matter of what we would give up in exchange. Ottawa is not about to let Burris go for a conditional 6th round pick. They are going to want young starting caliber players. The kind of young starting caliber players that are currently a major factor in our success. It would not make sense to weaken one aspect of our team just to get a QB with a track record terrible performances when it matters most. Besides as sad as it is for a 1 win team at mid-season, the Redblacks could still make the playoffs.

Sunseri is our guy. Better get comfortable with that idea.

We wish a full and speedy recovery to Durant. He can’t be replaced by one man, the void will need to be filled by the 43 other players on the roster stepping up as a team. No one is going to feel sorry for us so there is no time for moping.I bet even Durant would tell us all to quit moping and have faith in this team.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Costly Victory

Riders 30 - Bombers 24

OK, before I get to the game let me get a couple of things out of the way. 1) Yes clearly we were holding on Dressler TD. But given that there was clearly holding on the Stoudemire TD last week and that Grigsby TD this week that were also missed, any attempts to cry foul by the Bomber fans is just ridiculous. It goes both ways and its hardly news that CFL reffing is questionable. 2) On the "play that never happened" where Durant got hurt, clearly they blew the whistle. Normally that would make the hit on Durant unnecessary roughness but clearly no one heard the whistle. My only concern is why the refs didn't actively try and end the play and protect Durant.

Now that that is out of the way onto the game...

After spending most of the preceding week fretting about our special teams, I was as shocked as anyone to see them be the difference in the game. Blocked kick, kick return TD, solid on kick coverages. Would have been a damn near perfect night for the teams has Milo not gone and Miloed his first FG attempt. This is just the latest example of this team finding ways to win. Special teams delivered in a big way.

Defense delivered as well. 5 sacks and 2 interceptions (which came at key times in the 4th quarter). The D-line was destroying that O-line and the only reason we didn't have double digit sacks was because Willy showed an uncanny ability to escape the pressure. He was a slick Willy if you will. D gave up more passing yards then I would like to have seen but a lot of it was Bomber receivers making some damn nice catches and Willy making good throws, coverage was there for the most part. In the end though, the defense was able to pressure Willy and force him into some bad throws (really bad decisions that yet again cost him). Turnovers gave the Bombers good field position a couple times so our defense did pretty good all things considered.

Offense was looking actually not bad... until Durant went down. In what is among the least surprising revelations of the weekend Winnipeg struggles against the run. Allen was the one primarily doing the damage. Dressler's role continues to grow which was a good thing because outside of him we only completed 2 passes to receivers. Clearly the loss of Durant was a factor there... as well as our general aversion to excessive passing. Turnovers caused problems for the first time in over a month but fortunately we were able to overcome them.

One of those turnovers is the subject of much discussion. The Messam fumble on the 3rd down gamble. Personally I like the call to gamble. If our O-line is as good as we say it is we should be confident in any situation 1 yard or less. That said, anyone who knows me know that I consider shotgun formation on 3rd and 1 to be one of the dumbest things you can do in football. You want to run Messam? fine (I prefer the QB run but RB is fine) but for the love of god don't start him over 5 yards further back than the yard you need!! Really dumb call.

I, like everyone, am praying and waiting for news on Durant. Not sure how bad he's hurt but I will say that is the most pain I have ever seen him in over his entire Rider career (except maybe sitting on the sidelines suffering through Michael Bishop starting ). Man is as tough as they come so for him to show that much pain, you know it wasn't good. I just hope its not season ending. We will have to wait. Sunseri looked less impressive this outing. He gave up short of the first down on that one scramble (must have lost track of where the marker was), he also stupidly threw into double coverage and almost got it picked on a corner route. Not to mention his short yardage fumble. That said, I still have faith in him to lead this team for however long Durant is out. Its not like passing is a huge part of how we win games so we are uniquely built to withstand this adversity.

Despite all the close calls, adversity and cuss words emanting from the Prophet household this team conitnues to find ways to win. I said it before and I'll say it again... I will keep betting on this team until they give me reason not to. We are 8-2 after all.

Random thoughts:
- Highlight of the game was Jeremy O'Day getting into it with Glen January. Thought for a second O'Day might forget he had moved to the front office and get in on the physicality.

- Did Getzlaf even play? If he did I didn't see him.

- Brian Peters really stepped up on specials teams

- Sure nice having Weldon Brown back. He's a hell of an addition to an already high performing unit.

- Suck it Winnipeg!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2014

Sunday the 7-2 Riders travel to Winnipeg to battle the 6-4 Bombers. This will be the third and final regular season meeting. As close as the overall records of both teams are, a closer look reveals two teams headed in very different direction. The Riders have won 6 straight, the Bombers have lost 3 of their last 4. The Riders are 3-1 within the West, the Bombers are 1-3. The Riders haven't committed an offensive turnover since July. The Bombers have the 2nd most giveaways in the League. The Riders come from a relatively normal province with a few rednecks and yahoos. The Bombers come from a province where normal involves dating withing your family tree or livestock herd.

Not much has changed from the last 2 times these teams met. The Bombers still have an O-line that hands out sacks like they worked as a grocery store bagger. They still struggle to run the ball (due the aforementioned awfulness of their line) though they are good at getting Grisgby involved in the pass game. And they still can't stop us from running the ball. They also struggle to keep opponents off the scoreboard as only Toronto and Ottawa allow more points per game.

The only real edge I see them having is on special teams. The injuries keep piling up and the quality of play on teams keeps declining. Its not really surprising. This week you can add Steinhauer, Bartel and Legree to the injury list which already includes almost every Canadian special teamer we started the year with. I will be holding my breath any team that unit takes to the field. Milo is a capable punter and Peters can long snap but given the injury toll this is our biggest weakness heading into this game and an O'Shea coached team knows a thing or 2 about playing good on special teams.

Its a war of attrition on both sides as Winnipeg will be without their top receiving threat in Nick Moore (who accounted for over half of Willy's passing yards on Labour Day). Ian Wild will be out at MLB and DL Kashawn Fraser is hurt too. Willy's ankle appears good to go but you have to think he is still feeling so ill effects of that.

Our offensive game plan is not complicated... run until they prove they can stop us. If it ain't broke don't fix it. That said, if our run game can draw the LBs up, then short to medium passes over the middle will be there to be exploited. Taj or Dressler on the crossing routes. Even a quick screen could prove effective. Last game we also showed that the Bombers are vulnerable deep. We missed Dressler but hit Taj. Leggett is a play-maker at safety but if we send two guys deep and force him to commit to one then someone should get open for a big play. Don't expect a lot of that given our offensive conservativeness but it should be there once or twice. Expect a bigger week from Dressler but his breakout games comes next week I bet.

Defensively, we will yet again unleash our really good D-line on their not very good O-line and try to force Willy into tight spots (see what I did there?) and it should lead to incompletions and bad decisions. Without Moore, Winnipeg will need to really a lot more on underneath routes with Denmark serving as the deep threat. Limit the big plays to Denmark, dial up the pass rush and I like our odds of stifling the Bombers pass attack. Sacks and turnovers have abounded in the first 2 meetings... expect that to continue.

My gut tells me this sets up as a loss for the Riders. Its our third meeting, we are on the road, depth being tested to the limit with injuries, Investors Group Field will be loud, anything can happen on Banjo Bowl Sunday. That said I have watched this team keep finding ways to win over the past 6 games. They are unbelievably mentally tough, never give up and just find ways to win no matter how ugly. Until they give me reason to doubt that ability, I am going to have to keep picking them to win. Besides, aside from my near panic attacks about our special teams, I think on paper we stack up better than the Bombers by a considerable margin. Special teams and the home crowd balance the equation and we are in for a closely fought game with many lead changes. In the end...

Riders by a miracle of God. And if you want something more specific than that let's say Riders by a Jerome Messam TD (about time he got in on the RB TD club)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 11 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 11

Prophet Jr - BC, Calgary, Hamilton, Winnipeg
Rider Prophet - BC, Calgary, Hamilton, Saskatchewan
Mrs. Prophet - Ottawa, Edmonton, Hamilton, Winnipeg
Step-Prophet - BC, Calgary, Montreal, Saskatchewan
Momma Prophet - BC, Calgary, Hamilton, Winnipeg

Be sure to have your picks in by kickoff on Friday

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Decade of Dominance

Riders 35 - Bombers 30

There are 3 certainties in life: Death, taxes and the Riders beating the Bombers on Labour Day.

Yes there were certainly some anxious moments but in the end the Riders emerged with a victory (their 6th straight) and a share of second place in the West. The Bombers dropped their 3rd game of the last 4 and find themselves squarely in the battle for the crossover spot.

Our offense has been much maligned all season and I'll admit it did not look pretty at times during the game but they put up 4 TDs... and with the way our defense is playing that should be more than enough production to win any week. The run game was strong as always. Messam showed some great hands and Allen just continues to play some great football. I think he is our best all-round back right now. Bagg was once again the go to guy on offense. We tried getting Dressler involved but his best games will be upcoming. It was great to see us rediscover the long ball to Taj at a very crucial point in the game. It was also great that he didn't let that one bounce off him like the impersonation of the world's worst dodge ball player he had been going with all game. For as much criticism as our O takes (much of it deserved), you have to admit that when we need a score, they find a way to get it done.

Defense didn't have as dominant a game as we have become accustomed to but they certainly did their part. If you factor out the poor field position our special teams unit left them in on more than one occasion (I will get to that in a second), they actually did very well. Noticed Peters a couple times in a very positive way. The Bombers managed to somewhat contain Chick (somewhat) but that just meant more space for Foley and George to wreak havoc. Sacks, turnovers, forcing them to concede safeties, week in week out this unit delivers. They weren't perfect but they made the plays they needed too. As a side note though: whatever defense we called on the Willy running TD should be ripped from the playbook, light on fire and peed on to put it out. No D-linemen in the middle, no LBs in the middle. I saw the gaping hole from the second deck (and may have indulged in a few drinks by then), no surprise Willy (who I assume was sober) saw it and took advantage.  

Honestly special teams was the only reason the Bombers were in that game. Without that phase of the game we would have won with far less stress and dramatics.There was the ill-advised decision to punt from our end-zone in the wind... which was combined with the even more ill-advised 15 yard no yards penalty. There was a blocked punt (went to the well one too many times on that rugby kick). There was the punt return TD... the third straight week where we allowed a special teams TD. Milo hit the uprights (guy is like magnetically attracted to them I swear). The lone bright spot was Jackson's returns. I was worried before the game about our special teams given how many guys we are missing (Hughes, McHenry, Moore, Regimbald). Doesn't look like we will be getting anyone healthy back in soon so the crew we have will needs to buckle down and get this figured out.

The theme of the 2014 season has been "finding ways to win" and there should be little doubt left that this is a team with the mental toughness and play making abilities to emerge from any situation with a win. For all the talk about how good Winnipeg is, that's 2 games now where we have no performed in at least one of the 3 phases and still won. Lord help them if all 3 phases ever showed up to play. This may the least confident I have seen people be about a 7-2 team... 7 and 2! For all our offseason departures that is damn good.

So now we are left to nurse our Labour Day hangovers, sanitize whatever Bomber fans may have touched in our city (in particular I would double check the livestock) and get ready to head down the highway and do it all again on Sunday. It was great to see Mosaic rocking, it was great to see a game befiting the name "classic" and it was great to beat the Bombers... again.