Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Fitting End

Riders 18 - Bombers 23

The 2018 season came to a disappointing but fitting end on Sunday. In a season that was marked by an inability to produce offensive points, that was unsurprisingly what did us in when it mattered most. We were just 1 TD short but really the game put our offensive shortcomings on full display. 

Our offense wasn't very good at the best of times and Brandon Bridge starting is about as far opposite of best of times as it can get. I am not exactly a charter member of the Steve McAdoo fan club but I won't put this one on him. The plays were there. Receivers were open. We had our chances. He just had the misfortune of having to start at QB who could not come within an area code of hitting his receivers. Bridge missed at 2 open receivers for TDs on the same drive. He couldn't see wide open receivers. He threw short on deep passes, inside on outside passes, into the goal posts while overthrowing a WR in the endzone and generally displayed not ability to make a play if the first read was not there. Its not McAdoo's fault that Odell Willis knocked our good QB out of play. You could certainly blame the GM for getting this far into the season with a back-up QB who the best thing you can say about him is that he's better than Tino Sunseri. The only positive thing I can say about Bridge is that it was the best I've seen him run. Not awkward, decisive, resisted the urge to do his terrible attempt at hurdling.  I thought we did a pretty good job of hiding his shortcomings in the first quarter, things slowly unraveled from there. I thought we failed to find ways to get speedy guys like Moore and Thigpen more involved. I do think we could have won if Collaros had played but coulda's count for as much as Alouette playoff tickets. He didn't play. We didn't have a good enough QB backing him up. End of story.

Defense played good... the only problem is that we are built to win with great defense. Good just doesn't cut it. The only real knock on the D was that they had no answer for the Bomber OL and Harris in the second half. We couldn't stop the run when it mattered most. We also weren't able to force a turnover. Still 3 sacks and only 23 point allowed is a pretty good day especially given that the Bombers were the top scoring O.

Special teams did their jobs. We got solid returns, made all out kicks and kept their returns to a minimum. 

Losing sucks. Losing to the Bombers sucks more but they were the better team on Sunday. I now feel so dirty I need to go shower (something most Bomber fans don't feel the need to do). It was a good season, we have a lot to be proud of and a solid foundation to build from. But if we don't come up with a better plan at QB its hard to see a different finish in store.

Kudos to the fans that showed up and got loud. For me, nothing beats the roar of the crowd on game day. See you next season.

Obligatory comment on the head shot (again): Look the missed penalty did not affect the outcome of the game but it sucks balls to have it happen to us in back to back games. To me there is a pretty simple solution. The eye in the sky can be used to correct an offside call but yet in a league that preaches "player safety" it can't be used currently to call head shots. That makes absolutely no sense. I'm also all for ejections and suspensions for malicious head shots but those changes are not as easy to implement as simply letting the replay official call head shots.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Riders vs. Bombers: West Semi-Final

Playoffs baby! This is what it’s all about. Throw the regular season results out the window because this is one game, winner takes all and anything can happen. Actually don’t completely throw the regular season results out the window because much of the following analysis is based on that. Man, this is a terrible introduction even by my low standards. It gets better from here, I promise.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday the archrival Bombers are in town for the first ever home playoff game at new Mosaic Stadium. It won’t quite be WSF 2013 cold but it’ll be a chilly day. I suggest plenty of layers to keep your outsides warm and plenty of hard alcohol to keep your insides warm. It will be fairly easy to smuggle in a bottle of fireball or something similar because even a rigorous pat down wouldn’t find it through all your layers. Not that I would I ever encourage or take part in that type of thing (the booze smuggling or the rigorous pat down).

The Bombers are a good team no doubt but I’m getting kind of sick of how much people are pumping their tires without giving the Riders their due. People are quick to point out that the Bombers won 5 of their last 6 games. So did the Riders. In fact they finished 9-2 over the last 11. People are quick to point out that the last time these 2 teams met we got embarrassed. What they conveniently leave out is that the Riders were playing on 4 days rest. They also forget what the season series between the teams was. People point out that the Bombers scored 28 more offensive TDs than us. I don’t have much of a comeback to that one. It’s a fact, our O sucks. But let me ask you this, would you rather 53 TDs and 3rd place or 25 TDs and a home playoff game? I’m not saying the Bombers aren’t good, I’m not saying they can be taking lightly but can we at least remember that the Riders are pretty good team as well? Also, F&@# the Bombers!

In a cold playoff game between the top 2 rushing teams in the CFL you can bet that the ground game and the trenches will be the story of the game. Defensively its no secret that containing Harris is priority #1. The Bombers are the #1 rushing attack but the #6 passing attack. In the last 2 meetings the Riders actually held Harris to 73 total yards (granted in the second game it was due to them not having to run to beat us). So we know we can do it. We are also the #2 rush defense. Winnipeg has a great O-line but out D-line needs to flex its muscle and show they are better. The other thing to contain is Dressler. He is the key piece in keeping that passing game rolling. Nichols is not great on the deep ball so if you limit Harris and contain Dressler (both easier said that done) he will struggle… maybe not utterly embarrass himself Banjo Bowl style struggle but struggle nonetheless. We need to create turnovers, its no secret that that’s how we win games. I expect a conservative start to the game but you can bet LaPolice will have some tricks in store for us. Gotta keep the Bombers under 30 points. They 2 and 7 when scoring less than 30.

Offensively… please god do something… anything… preferably not involving either Drew Tate or Brandon Bridge. Collaros will play the main questions are a) do we get good Zach or the one that throws equally to both coloured jerseys? And b) will he finish the game? My honest hope is that Collaros is not the story of the game. Our best chance of winning lies in Cam Marshall and Marcus Thigpen. They average 6.5 and 8.5 yards per carry respectively. You want to win? Feed them the ball. Marshall has been a beast over the past 2 and we all know what Thiggy is capable of (remember the East Semi last year?). Bombers are #3 against the run and Bighill can certainly shut things down but we can and should run on them. When Collaros does throw he needs to be smart with the ball and really work those medium passes. Use Moore’s speed, Lambert’s size and Roosevelt veteran savvy. We can’t be afraid to push the ball downfield but we can’t live and die by the deep shot. Like always my hope for the offense is just don’t hurt us. Control the ball, run hard and grind out a close win. That’s our success recipe. Santos-Knox is questionable which would be a big loss to the Bomber D.

In 3 meetings O’Shea really didn’t pull out any tricks especially on special teams. We know that special teams is a strength for us. The Bombers have the second worst punt returns and kickoff returns so I have the suspicion that something is in store. A fake punt. A reverse. Something. We are going to need to win 2 of 3 phases to win this game. We know that offense is unlikely to be one of them so need to win on teams.

I think this will be a very closely contested game and lord have mercy on my heart. But I’ll give you 3 stats that I think are very telling for how this will go:
1 – The Riders are 7-3 against West teams. The Bombers are 4-6
2 – The Riders are 6-3 at home. The Bombers are 4-5 on the road (only one road win came against a team that made the playoffs).
3 – F*#% the Bomber!

Riders by a Thigpen TD.

See you in the stands. Be loud. 

Side note:
Prepping for this game reminded me of the last time these 2 teams met in the West-Semi in 2003. Lots of pre-game hype about how Mike Sellers would run at will over us. He did not and Kenton Keith did the running at will.  That was pretty much how playoffs went in the Barrett era. Keith would dominate the West-Semi and then teams would game plan for him in the West Final and we had no back-up plan. Any way I found some highlights on YouTube... though they aren't really highlights just a random part of the game.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

All Bets Are On

I watch a lot of sports. At this point it’s essentially the only reason I have a TV. Obviously football is my first choice but if there is no football on, I will watch pretty much anything: hockey, basketball, baseball, curling. The day the ESPN does the Ocho may be one of the greatest ideas ever. And as soon as I can figure out whatthe hell cricket is all about, you can be sure I'll be trying to start a fantasy cricket league.

Aside from alcohol and fried foods, there are few things in life that go with sports as well as gambling on sports.  I bet on a lot of different sports and in the process pretended to know a lot more about the intricacies of various sports than I actually do. We now live in a digital world and that means that like most things, sports-related gambling has moved to the internet. In the process it has become a huge industry that continues to grow.

The opportunities and options when it comes to sports betting have never been greater. Especially in the UK, where people like to use various online bettingsites. In fact it’s gotten to the point where there’s so much out there its tough to know where to start but there are resources out there that can help. Speaking from personal experience there is no better way to add excitement (and a fair bit of cursing) to watching a game than having a financial stake in the outcome. It can make a great game even better and a game you'd never watch under normal conditions exciting TV.

Sports betting is a risky venture but the potential rewards are there for those willing to take on the risk. With the CFL offseason just around the corner (unfortunately) it’s a good way to get into other sports to pass time over the offseason.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: West Semi Final

I think I speak for all Rider fans when I say, Thanks for nothing BC! 

It was highly unlikely that Calgary would lose when playing a team that did not care about the results (and if they had it would have been cause for major concern in Cowtown) but it was fun to dream. Many have correctly pointed out that if we had beat Montreal earlier in the season we'd have finished first but there's no point getting into the coulda, woulda, shouldas. There's no shame in finishing second. There is especially no shame in hosting a home playoff game. The first in 5 years... unlike the 11 year drought, we don't need to record a song about it but its still something worth celebrating.

I'll have my usual detailed pre-game analysis on Friday but for now let me just say that we beat the Bombers 2 out 3 times and there's a big difference between playing one the road on 4 days rest vs. playing at home with 2 full weeks rest. This will be damn good game.

I spent the bye week reminiscing about past West Semi Finals played here in Regina. So today I will share some of those memories with you. My trip down memory lane dates back only to 2007 because as we all known, home playoff games were outlawed by the government prior to that... at least that's what our parents told us. 

2007 vs. Calgary - What I will remember most about this game was the noise. One of the loudest games I've ever been at. DJ Flick scoring at TD right off the bat only upped the volume. Good times.

2008 vs. BC - The opposite of good time. Defense played an unreal game but were unable to overcome the fact that Michael Bishop was their QB. I also distinctly remember when they mercifully pulled Bishop and put in Durant to a large cheer. Durant proceeded to trip and fall down on the way to the huddle. This was a game that made you thankful that alcohol is a thing. Bishop had a habit of that.

2010 vs. BC -  A roller coaster of emotion. The game went to double OT and we were a play away from needing Warren Keane to hit a 42 yard FG to tie. Remember Warren Keane? No? That's why that was such a scary moment. 2 plays later Jason Clermont strolled into the endzone for the win. Clermont received a standing O anytime he touched the ball that season. This was one of the few  ovations that Clermont actually deserved.

2013 vs. BC - By far the coldest game I have ever been at. I'm not a person who nurses my rye and cokes (you're shocked I'm sure) but that day you essentially had to pound your drink or it would freeze solid. I'm not sure that it would have been possible to go to the bathroom. For one I was wearing so many layers that I'm not sure I could have found my um... equipment. But even if I had gotten through all the layers, I'm pretty sure I had an inny by that point. There was also a football game played. Nervous start to the game but Durant eventually used his legs to carry us to victory en route to a home Grey Cup.

What does 2018 have in store? The first in the new stadium? Hopefully more memorable things than the temperature's effects on my bathroom visits or QBs tripping on the way to the huddle. I'm freaking pumped, nothing beats playoff football especially when its a home game.

Lastly I feel compelled to comment on the Drew Tate signing. Those are words I never imagined I'd be typing this year. Like most of you I'm confused. I honestly had to double check the date on the tweet to make sure it wasn't someone jokingly retweeting a headline from 2007. Like most of you I also hate Drew Tate. Like most of you I also immediately assumed that this could not mean good news for Collaros. Now Rob Vanstone has reported that Collaros is fine and expected to be at practice when it opens but I'm still not 100% confident. 

I thought about it a lot and here's where I landed. Collaros will start the game (concussion or not he just will). But should he not be able to finish,do you really feel confident with Bridge? Personally I rank him slightly ahead an inanimate carbon rod in terms of chances of victory... possibly behind.  All we trust Bridge to do is hand off (rightly so, have you seen him attempt other things?). Given that, is there really a difference if its Tate handing off or Bridge? Now you could rightly question the logic of waiting until this point in the season to address the fact that you don't trust your back-up QB but Chris Jones tends not to care much for the conventional approach. With any luck neither Bridge or Tate will see the field for the remainder of the season.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Bye Week Thoughts: Tracking The Progress

With the Riders on bye the only football we have to worry about this weekend is praying to your deity of choice that the BC Lions beat the Stampeders. I would love nothing more than the Lions to win one for Wally but I don't see it happening. Simply put, the Stamps care about this game and Lions don't. Wally Buono isn't likely to risk playing Lulay in meaningless game and if you think Jonathan Jennings is good enough to take down the Stamps then you probably also thought Michael Bishop was an under appreciated talent. The good news for Rider fans is that I bet on the Stamps with money at stake this week and that is usually enough to curse any franchise.

But regardless of the outcome of that game, the 2018 regular season will be viewed as a success for the Riders. Chris Jones delivered a home playoff game in his 3rd year on the job (and if he wins a Grey Cup his green shirt will be immediately inducted into the Plaza of Honour). As I did at the 6 and 12 game mark, today I'm going to dive deeper into the progress the Riders have made as compared to the same point a year ago.

After 18 217 2018 Difference % Change
Wins 10 12 +2  
Points 510 450 -60 -12%
Offensive TDs 48 25 -23 -48%
Passing Yards 5282 3971 -1311 -25%
Rushing Yards 1478 2014 +536 +36%
Sacks allowed 44 27 -17 -39%
Turnovers 28 35 +7 +25%
Points allowed 430 444 +14 +3%
Passing Yds allowed 4890 4425 -465 -10%
Rushing Yds allowed 1734 1655 -79 -5%
Sacks 27 45 +18 +67%
Turnovers 40 41 +1 +3%
Special Teams
Punt Return Avg 12.2 11.9 -0.3 -2%
Opponent Punt Ret Avg 9.8 9.2 -0.6 -6%
Kickoff return avg 23.4 25.3 +1.9 +8%
Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg 19.6 20 +0.4 +2%
Net punt avg 34.9 33.4 -1.5 -4%
Penalties 147 137 -10 -7%
Players Dressed 81 71 -10 -12%

Obviously the first line is the most important one. A 12 win season is quite an accomplishment. What makes it even more impressive is how we got there. We went 7-3 against western opponents (by far the best record in the division). There were questions coming into the season as to whether the team had improved enough to be competitive in the stacked West division. Well they answered that emphatically. 

Offensively, the early season trend of running being way up, sacks being way down and everything related to passing and scoring dropping faster than Ty Long trying to draw a roughing the kicker call continued. For context we scored just 1 more offensive TD than the expansion RedBlacks in their initial season. They managed 2 wins out of that, we managed 12. To me the story here (at least the positive one) is the O-line. There were huge questions about this unit coming into 2018, many of them coming from me. But once Cofield and Bladek joined the starters they really stepped up as a unit. The last few games also proved we have depth there. For an offense with as little firepower as we have the turnovers are a concern.

Defensively, I would have to learn 3 more languages to find enough words to adequately describe how awesome they have been. The additions of Hughes, Evans and Brooks to the D-line had the desired effect on sacks. It also freed Jefferson up from the triple teams he got last year to actually display his game changing abilities. The only negative was a slight increase in points allowed but to me the fact that we only allowed 14 more points than last season despite more offensive turnovers and next to no offensive support at times is impressive in and of itself. Turnovers were actually about the same as last season. We just took a lot more of them all the way back.

Special Teams continues to be an area of strength under Craig Dickenson. We had 5 kick return TDs and a lot of big gains from many different returners (Jones, Thiggy, Moore, Purifoy, Marshall) that tells me our blocking is doing well. Coverages were also rock solid. Punt return yards allowed went down despite allowing a lot of punt return TDs. Bartel statistically had a down year but I believe our strategy was to sacrifice distance on his kicks consciously in favour of hang time and placement to allow our cover guys to handle things. Not included in this chart is the fact that Brett Lauther had better kickoffs and was more accurate (and longer) on FG attempts. I liked Crapigna but given the choice between the 2 Lauther is far ahead at this point.

The last 2 stats are important in my opinion. Penalties are declining and this was despite starting the season with more penalties than last year. Finally the Players Dressed category is getting to a great spot. Remember that Jones set a record by dressing 100 players in 2016. The side benefit is that we are probably saving a bundle in sewing costs when it comes to putting names on jerseys.

Hopefully the trend of improvement over last year continues into the playoffs.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: I Was Saying Boo-uono

Riders 35 - Lions 16

Saturday's victory is brought to you by the letter D. D for defense, D for Dominant, D for... Donuts (I ran out of relevant D words). 

Saturday night the Riders had a chance to lock up a home playoff game and take a big step towards possibly finishing first and man did they ever seize that opportunity. BC was behind in the game from the get go and but for a brief period at the start of the 3rd where Purifoy had about the worst back-to-back plays you can imagine, they were never really even close. If you had told me prior to the game that Collaros would get KO'd and Bridge would complete 4 passes in relief I would have openly wept (I would not have been shocked but wept nonetheless). But it turns out that out D decided they were going to win it on their own and our run game decided to join in the fun.

Let's start on D. It's fitting that in a season that we relied so heavily on their unworldly play that they would step up and do it again in the regular season finale. That first half was unbelievable. They allowed nothing. 2 points, very few yards and that was despite the offense fumbling on our side of half. Sutton was a complete non-factor and they really only allowed two long completions. Toss in 2 return TDs to tie the CFL record and you have a dominant performance. Willie Jefferson is our MOP there should not even be a debate at this point. Tobi Antigha is a hell of a player. He had a sack (as D-ends tend to do), a pick (as our D-ends tend to do) and should have had another pick when he had blanket coverage on a deep pass. Not many guys can you count on both rush the QB and cover 20 yards downfield. He's a special talent. If we get that level of play from that unit come playoffs: look out. 

O would likely have been a very different story if Odell Willis hadn't blatantly tried to end Collaros' season. Collaros was looking dialed in early. Doesn't seem right to me that a guy can get pulled for concussion protocol while the guy who used an illegal hit to put him in that condition gets to continue playing but what do I know? What I do know, actually is that Cameron Marshall is awesome! We needed an offensive strategy that involved Bridge doing as little as possible and Marshall stepped up in a big way. I will also give a huge shout out to the O-line. Marshall ran well but he was aided by some nice holes by the boys up front. For the whole second half BC knew we were running but could not stop us. Shawn Lemon was non-existent in the game. That's back to back weeks where the line held their own against a good opposing front 4. Kyran Moore had a solid game. Not sure why neither Roosevelt or Lambert weren't more of a focus but given that I spent most of the game cringing anytime Bridge did not handoff the ball I won't complain too much given the success we had. 

We currently sit in first place and god willing, Wally Buono will give Rider Nation the best parting gift ever and beat the Stamps next week (I was just joking all those times I told you to get off the field, we're cool right?). But even if it does not come to pass we have a home playoff game. We also have the best record against west division teams at 7-3. We have beat every West playoff team twice. Style wise it wasn't pretty to watch at times but the results are damn impressive! We are good team and will be a force to reckoned with come November.

Honestly the only negative from Saturday (other than the Collaros BS) was the lack of fans. For a province that supposedly has the best fans there were sure a lot of empty seats for such an important game in great weather. Better get your butts to the stadium come playoff time.

Other Random Thoughts:
- Bridge has no touch on his passes. They are all the same panicked, 100 mile an hour fast ball... even on 3 yard passes.

- I know Jefferson does great work in our community but Jovon Johnson got robbed in the award for community service. He's made it damn near a full-time job.

- Alex Gagne leads the league in Special Teams tackles yet I bet most people don't even know who he is. 

- Didn't notice him much but given our run defense, I assume Lavar Edwards did okay in his debut.

- Zach Evans leads all Evans' in touchdowns this season. 


Friday, October 26, 2018

Riders vs. Lions: Get Off The Field Wally

Saturday night Mosaic Stadium will play host to a big time event, something that will be remembered for ages. I’m talking of course about our last chance to hurl insults at Wally Buono (assuming he actually stays away from coaching this time). There’s also a pretty big football game going on as the 11-6 Riders take on the 9-7 Lions. The Riders are looking to clinch a home playoff game and keep their slim chances at first place alive. BC is looking to keep their chances of a home playoff game alive. The stakes are higher than people who tried marijuana for the first time this month.

Lots has changed since these 2 teams met back in week 11. After starting 3-6 the Lions have gone 6-1. They were the early favourites to miss the playoffs but now have a shot at second. Much like the Riders they have been powered by their defense. Mid-season acquisitions of Sutton, Posey, Lemon and Coleman strengthened them. Offensively they pose a challenge but then again 12 stuffed animals strewn about the field would prove challenging for our offense. It starts up front. We need to be able to keep Lemon and Willis from getting to Collaros. BC now leads the league in sacks so we need another strong showing from our OL. A strong run game would help. BC ranks 6th against the run so we need to attack that. After last week’s showing give me more Cam Marshall. When we pass Collaros needs to make good decisions. Keep leaning on Lambert and spreading it around to the rest. Roosevelt will be back which is a big boost. Rose and Orange have combined for 10 INTs this year so Zach can’t be reckless with the ball. (Side note: I just found out that Anthony Orange is just AJ Jefferson with a changed name. Who knew?). 2 TDs, no turnovers and a ton of FGs seems to be our recipe for success so that should be the target. I think we’ll need 25 points minimum to win this.

Defensively while BC has certainly been playing better of late they aren’t among the top Os in the league (ranked 5th overall). Since they started playing Terrell Sutton two games ago he has had 22 and 16 carries. So, its no secret that he is going to get the ball a lot. He’s fresh from woeful underuse in Montreal. Priority 1 is stopping him. BC’s O-line is so-so so if we can take away the run and turn up the pressure on Lulay, good things will happen… at least for us, no so much for Lulay and is achy-breaky body. Hughes will play and you can bet he will be fired up to get back to football. We need to keep Burnham and Posey from making the big plays in the pass game (easier said than done with the catches Burnham can make). If Lulay is forced into extended drives I think our defensive strength will win out. BC also turns the ball over 3rd most in the league and we will likely need a few of those.
Normally we would need to be wary of Chris Rainey on returns but he will not play so that's less of a concern (still we have allowed to many of those this year). It would also be nice to add some big returns of our own. We got close last week with both Marshall and Purifoy. I’ll predict Moore takes a punt to the house in this one.

This will be a tough match-up. BC is playing their best ball at the right time. But here’s the thing… the suck on the road (a younger Prophet would have found a way to spin the term suck on the road into an inappropriate joke but I’m far more mature these days). They are 2-6 away form BC place. They have 5 passing TDs on the road. That’s bad even by our lowered offensive standards here. They did just win in Calgary so they aren’t hapless on the road but it is a weakness. While it would be fitting for the Riders to do things the hard way and lose this game, I think they will come out strong in front of the home crowd. I expect an early defensive battle with very few points scored. Things will open up in the second half but in the end the Riders will take care of their own business…

Riders by 5

Side note: Given that if we lose this game by 2 or less we can still win the season series and clinch 2nd there are a number of crazy scenarios that could arise. For example: dying minute of the game we are driving, down 5. A TD wins it but an FG could clinch us second. Do you kick and easy FG to lose by just enough? Or risk getting the TD to win outright? I personally think that Chris Jones plays to win and that’s how he will coach and let the standings take care of themselves. But if the Stamps win Friday and first is no longer attainable it then you start to wonder. I mean this wouldn’t even crack the top 10 list of craziest things Chris Jones has done.