Thursday, October 8, 2015

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Game Preview

Friday the Riders travel to Hamilton to take on the 8-5 Ti-Cats in a road game… or as they refer to it in Toronto, a home game. The last time these 2 teams played you may recall a certain interception that cost us the services of Kevin Glenn for an extended period of time and likely the game. Good times. The string of “unbeaten at home” is long gone is as the Ti-Cats have now lost 3 home games this season. The good news for them is that the Riders “winless on the road” streak may soon enter its 3rd calendar year (unless of course we miraculously pull out a win in one of our remaining 3 road games).

All signs point to Glenn getting the start which I have previously said I’m okay with… provided the last 2-3 games are devoted exclusively to Smith and Price… and provided Glenn gets pulled sooner if he plays like he did in BC. Unfortunately for Glenn, and the Riders in general, Dan Clark is out with a concussion meaning Corey Watman steps in a centre. Simply put our O-line has issues and Watman is definitely not an upgrade so things will likely get worse. Dan Clark has actually been one of our more consistent OL this season… certainly not all-star level but week in week out he’s consistently not bad (a statement not true of his counterparts). We get Getzlaf back this week. It’s been so long I actually had to look up when he last played (week 7 in Toronto for those curious). Hamilton is a formidable defensive opponent: third least points allowed and most takeaways. The one slight weakness that is developing in them is their run D. It started as suffocating but has slipped to #6 in the league. That’s where I would attack. Take pressure off the O-line is pass protection and use our biggest strength. Its not like we are saving Messam for a playoff run. We need to be smart with our passes because Hamilton can easily turn an errant pass into 6 the other way. Our offense has struggled on the road, averaging just 17 points per game (as opposed to 30 at home).

Hamilton does have the league’s top offense though that is largely due to one Zach Collaros who is no longer playing. Under Matthews they are not quite the same offensive juggernaut. He amassed 155 yards and two turnovers while producing just one offensive TD in his first start. He looked like he had potential but has a long way to go.  A normal coach would help him out by running but Hamilton has an aversion to the run that would put Chapdelaine to shame. We can’t completely forget about it because they will on occasion run but the air is where they like to attack… and conveniently where anyone how has watched more than 5 minutes of Rider football this season would attack our defense. We need our D-line to step up and when the battle in the trenches. If Matthews has time I can see him having a huge game (like so many opposing QBs this season). But if we can force him to throw under duress he is prone to another lackluster outing like last week. Tough to key on one receiver as Hamilton has many who can make plays and like to spread it around.  We will need to generate a couple turnovers if we hope to win this game. No one turns the ball over less than the Ti-Cats so that will not be easy. Though the odds do go up with Matthews in there.

When I look at this game I see a team that is winless on the road, has a struggling O-line with a back-up at centre and a secondary that honestly seems to go out of its way sometimes to avoid covering a receiver. Even with a back-up QB Hamilton is a tough place to play. I expect we will keep it close. I expect a low scoring game until later in the fourth when we start our usual nosedive. I just hope we do something to make Austin really mad… Angry Austin makes me laugh. That will provide a brief pause in my attempt to drink the end of this season pretty.

Ti-Cats by 10

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Snap Back To Reality

Riders 20 - BC 46

Being a Rider fan of late is a lot like being a parent of a child who plays on a really bad sports team. You watch the games out of a feeling of obligation, but the whole time you are mentally debating if anyone will notice if you slip away and go grab a beer or if there is a way to make money by betting against them. The biggest difference between the kid and the Riders is that with the Riders I don't have try to find some positive spin to convince them they weren't awful on the car ride home. With them I can tell it like is... they were lucky Lirim Hajrullahu played just before them and set a new standard for sucking because they were awful on Saturday. (Side note on that kicker reference: Is there something in the water? Because since Thursday I have seen more missed FGs in pro football than I recall seeing in some seasons... and I've watched Chris Milo)

Hard to win a game when your QB plays like crap and that's what Glenn did. I still like him but Saturday was just not his day. It happens. He threw 2 bad picks and it should have been 3 were it not for the fact that Eric Fraser is so terrible at safety I'm surprised he's not starting for the Riders. To be fair to Glenn, its not like our O-line game him much protection. Though I did kind of chuckle on those jail break rushes where Glenn actually thought he could use his legs to avoid pressure. You're old and slow man, just admit defeat sometimes.  I find it hard to be critical of a guy like Jamarcus Hardrick failing. We are only playing him out of necessity. But I saw Brendon LaBatte (our top OL) get beat too many times. When he's getting beat, you know we are in trouble. I felt we didn't run enough early in the game. As I mentioned in my game preview the Lions have the WORST run D and we have the best run game (when we choose to use it). Pretty obvious how we should have been attacking them. It would have had the added benefit of taking pressure of Glenn and our line. Yes the run was stuffed early but by not remaining committed to it, we played into BC's strength and away from their weakness... generally not a recommended coaching strategy.

I was starting to worry that a refusal to play Brett Smith was about to result in another coaching termination. It would not have made a difference but Smith should have been in long before he was.

Defensively, we were reminded of what happens when we try to defend a competent QB... we get embarrassed. Jennings made our zone D look like we had garden gnomes out there instead of actual human athletes. At least the BC receivers might have tripped over the gnomes. What really gets me is seeing professional football players repeatedly make mistakes I just spent the last few weeks harping on my 8 year old's touch football team for. The DB's were losing their receiver (the odd time they actually managed to cover them) because they got caught peeking in the backfield rather than focusing on the receiver to be defended. We also failed epically on a couple sure tackles for a loss because the defender attacked the inside shoulder of the ball carrier allowing them to slip outside. This is fundamental stuff. Coverage breakdowns, or just plain getting beat happen at the pro level... but mistakes due to poor technique or ignoring basic fundamentals are inexcusable. Our secondary is poor at the best of times but when they don't get good pressure from the D-line... as we saw Saturday, it increases the issues exponentially.

Simply put we sucked at pretty much everything on Saturday... with the exception of Tristan Jackson's returns and that blocked kick (though its a sad day when Keenan MacDougall is all we have in terms of an offensive spark).

Where to from here? Glenn has been named the starter for next week and I'm fine with that. Of our 4 remaining games, I say give him 1 or 2 more (with the caveat that if games go to hell, he gets pulled). Leave the last 2 games for mostly Smith and a bit of Keith Price.

Other random thoughts:
- Taman's inability to build Canadian depth has hurt us badly this year. First we were forced into starting Rory Connop at DT for ratio reasons even though he was clearly not ready. Now we are forced to endure Matt Webster occupying the space normally reserved for a competent/useful safety again for ratio reasons. This has to be priority #1 of whoever gets our GM job... you won't win games when you start people who have no business being a starting simply because its the only option you have to meet the ratio.

- The more I watch Namaan Roosevelt the more I love him.

- Is there a more underused player than Weston Dressler? How have we not found ways to get our best receiver more involved in our offense?

- To make the remaining games more interesting the Riders should announce that in one of the the remaining games they will be allowing 2 kickoff return TDs purely to make Safeway pay someone a million dollars.

- I demand 10% from the eventual winner if that happens as a sort of finders fee.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Riders vs. Lions: On The Road Again

Saturday the Riders travel to BC to take on the 4-9 Lions. The Lions have lost 5 of their last 6. The Riders are fresh off their second win on the year and well on their way to a miracle playoff appearance… just kidding we’ve been out of the playoff picture for well over a month now (normally this is where I’d make a joke about how our odds of making the playoffs are about the same as the Blue Jays, but in a surprising turn of events the Jays don’t suck this year so there goes that line).

Ever wonder how different our season would have been if Leone hadn’t made that massive 56 yard FG way back on July 10th? I mean BC would suck slightly more but that may have made a world of difference for us. I’m not normally one for “what if” talk like this but when you’re trying to make a match-up between 2 teams that have a good chance of missing the playoffs interesting, you gotta take whatever material you can get.

BC continues the string of terrible offenses we faced in the last few weeks. They are the 3rd worst in points scored (behind Winnipeg and Montreal). They have the 2nd most turnovers and interceptions. They have a so-so run game (which is surprising given the presence of Andrew Harris). About the only good thing they have going offensively is an O-line that has allowed the least sacks (a surprising stat given the concern about that O-line coming into the season). What they do have going for them is playing the Riders Defense who have made all QBs not named Brohm or Crompton look awesome. That said, don’t look now but after getting 1 turnover for most of the first half of the season, the Riders are suddenly up to 20.They also get a boost with the return of Jake Doughty. With him back in the middle and Knox outside I like our odds of containing the run game (not sure if Andrew Harris plays as of writing this. I’ll assume he does. If he does not then the Lions will be in some trouble.) Not sure how we make room for Doughty among the starters. Possibly Macho drops back into the secondary? Sounds like Jennings will play and Lulay will only play in an emergency situation. Regardless, we need to stuff the run and force BC to throw. No better way to rattle a young QB then to have the D-line make life miserable for him. We also need to keep him in the pocket. Remember that second game against BC where Lulay literally ran all over us? Can’t let that happen.

Offensively we get a struggling defensive opponent. Second most offensive points allowed, 3rd worst pass D, the worst run D (125 yards per game, 5.6 yards per attempt)… they really miss Elimimian in the middle. Meanwhile, our offense is coming to life with Glenn at the helm. It’s pretty obvious that when facing a bad run D we should probably give a heavy dose of Messam with a healthy side of Allen. Don’t overthink this, run it down their throat. A lot of BC’s problems stem from a weak D-line. They have the least sacks and clearly hate BC area food banks (jerks). A weak D-line combined with a strong run game for us should give Glenn plenty of time to spread the ball around to our receivers. The Lions have been reduced to starting Eric Fraser at safety (a slight step above opting not to start a safety and playing with just 11) so that would be a good place attack. Run double seams or deep routes and he’ll likely make a mistake that results in a big gain.

My head tells me this is a very winnable game. The Lions are a struggling team. We match up well against them with our run game. Doughty and Knox will help our run D. My gut tells me that a road trip to BC is generally not kind to us and as bad as they’ve been, BC’s offense is way better than the Als’. Remember that we have made Matt Nichols look awesome… twice. This is a winnable game but I just have this sense that we will find a way to lose. Hooray for positivity!

BC by a late rushing TD. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Macho!

Riders 33 - Alouettes 21

"We won! We won! Unfortunately, since I bet on the other team, we won't be going out for pizza"

I guess you can add Jonathan Crompton to the list of QBs that are so terrible they can't even look good against our porous secondary (its an exclusive club currently featuring Brian Brohm and now Crompton). Actually I do have to give credit to our defense, I mean, yes, Crompton is terrible but our defense certainly came to play. Most notable was the performance of Macho Harris... who did more in the first half on Sunday than he had done in the previous 12 games. The pick 6 in the second half was just the icing on the cake. Not sure where that Macho has been all season but seemed to be a step ahead of both Crompton and Cato when making his reads.

There were of course flashes of the old D that require about 8 attempts to tackle someone (there was a play where I swear all of our DBs and LBs were unable to get close enough to tackle a guy but Andre Munroe had to hustle downfield to finally make the tackle) but for once those plays were the minority. The line got pressure. Our coverage was for once within the same area code of the receiver. They held the Als to 5 points through all but the final 3 minutes. The final score actually greatly flatters the Als because they had nothing.

Offensively I love our philosophy of going deep early and often. Our first two passes were 38 and 49 yards respectively. They were explosive plays that have been lacking this season. It allowed us to take early control of the game from the Als and never let them back into it. Not bad for a team with nothing to play for. Man that Roosevelt just makes plays. Really looking forward to what his future has in store. I also love how we balanced the deep ball we a heavy dose of Allen and Messam. One of the greatest feelings in football is late in the fourth when they know you are going to run, still churning out big run after big run. Our O-line did pretty good against a strong Als defensive front and certainly made some holes for our RBs in the run game.

Full credit to the coaches and players for staying focused on winning. You can just sense that everyone still cares and wants badly to win. Not easy to stay that focused when your season is filled with so much crap you think someone mistook it for Paul McCallum's lawn. I love winning and I love when other teams have to share in our misery. Haha the Als suck worse than the Riders!

Other random thoughts:
- The Als slow walk out of the locker room to start the game was certainly weird. While coming down the ramps after the game I heard Als assistant Anwar Stewart telling people that they were previously fined $10K for coming out of the tunnel late after a communication malfunction. So now they do that as a pseudo FU response to the league. Either way it was the only visitor entrance so far that I've seen incite laughter... well except when that Hamilton guy slipped in the Grey Cup intros in 2013.

- Love Kevin Glenn but the guy has some weird compulsion for a terrible throw into double coverage per game that results in a pick.

- I've liked Munroe for a while but I really noticed today for the first time just how much he hustles all over the field.

- I probably wouldn't say this to his face but how in the hell does Rakeem Cato out-muscle John Chick for a ball? Cato is literally the size of one of Chick's arms.

- Not sure if its due to scheme or talent but Matt Webster generally comes nowhere near to the ball. I realize we are starting him out of ratio necessity only but he makes Scott Gordon look like a ball magnet.

- On that note, I come back to how brutal Keenan MacDougall must be to not even be getting any defensive snaps at this point?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Riders vs. Alouettes: You Can't Get Fooled Again

Sunday the 5-6 Alouettes (who have a serious shot at the first ever eastern crossover… more a product of the sad state of the bottom half of the West Division than of the Als merits) will be in town for an afternoon showdown with the Riders.

Offensively the Alouettes are actually awful… and coming from someone who has spent the season watching the Riders I feel well qualified to make that assessment. They have the 2nd least points scored (averaging just 19.2 pts per game), the least passing yards and the 3rd most turnovers. The thing is, having a proficient passing attack isn’t really that Als’ game plan. They have a strong running attack (#2 in the league) and play great in the other phases of the game (which I will touch on later). All their QB is expected to do is manage the game and not screw up too much. Sometimes it works… sometimes they start Tanner Marsh who attempted to break the single game record for turnovers in his only start. Not sure at this point if Crompton or Cato starts. Obviously I’d prefer Crompton as I don’t think he’s very good. Either way the passing attack is the secondary concern in this game. Priority 1 is stopping Sutton and the run game. We managed that last week against Jeremiah Johnson so this should be possible (especially if Doughty plays and Knox bumps back outside). But as much as the Als’ pass game is struggling, our pass defense has the ability to make pretty much everyone look like a superstar (Crompton included). SJ Green can make good secondaries look bad… that can’t bode well for us. Their O-line gives good protection so our D-line will have their work cut out for them is winning the battle in the trenches. I think we are all hoping for another Munroe belly rub or 2.

Much like a not so well endowed dude compensates by buying a fancy car , the Als compensate for a weak offense with a lock down D (my car is both economical and practical just for the record). They are second in points allowed giving up only 16.4 points per game to opposing offenses. The weakness I see in their D is right in the middle. The injury to MLB Kyle Elsworth means they will be starting their 3rd MLB of the season. Now Montreal has good LBs so it’s not a huge weakness but we will need to slow down that D-line (which is second in sacks) and what better way than by running down their throat and testing the MLB. Sounds like we may get Adcock back which will give a massive boost to that O-line. To call Hardrick a serviceable replacement would be embellishing his talent quite a bit. Look for Glenn and his receivers to be in better synch this week. I would be leaning heavy on slot backs like Dressler inside in the short to medium. That and the run should set up the deep shots like we saw to Roosevelt last week.

The last thing to mention when discussing the Als is how good their return game is… tops in the league in terms of average returns. Montreal’s success generally come when both the defense and special teams help take the pressure off the O. If we can take the big returns out of it (which we have been pretty good at this year) then it will put more pressure on their O to produce.

This is a very winnable game. We damn near beat the RedBlacks and they are a better team all around than the Als. The thing is, we have damn near beaten a lot of teams. In what is pretty much the polar opposite of my love life the Riders typically treat us to a really solid performance for an extended period only to fail to eventually finish and leave us in disappointment (okay, I guess the disappointment thing would apply to me too). I would love nothing more than to see a win… mainly because this is our second last home game and there may be 7 people at the final one in late October. Based on the match-ups I think we could win. But I have seen the same scenario week in and week out. In the infamous words of George W: “There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”

Close game but Als by a Nik Lewis TD

Don’t forget that it’s Purolator Tackle Hunger Day so load up with food donations or cash before you come to the game. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Down, Down, Down

Riders 27 - RedBlacks 30

The return of Glenn to the line-up seemed to rejuvenate the team bit. They fought hard, they scored points, they made plays in all 3 phases... then just as Cinderella's carriage returns to a pumpkin at midnight, once the latter stages of the game set in, the Riders made their habitual return to a bottom feeding team. If you watched only the first half of our games this season you would be confused as to how we have only one win. If you watched only the 4th quarter you may wonder how we manage line up in the correct positions or tie our shoes. I think we should petition the league to award partial points for playing good for part of the game. For example leading at half would be 0.5. Leading after 3 would be 0.75 points. It's a slight step above participation awards but when you have just one win, you can't be too proud to accept charity.

Coming into the game there were 2 match-ups which concerned me greatly. The first was our porous O-line against the sack happy Ottawa D-line. I was actually pleasantly surprised on this one. Overall the O-line held up not bad (which by 2015 Rider standards is akin to a glowing compliment). Certainly a much better effort than last week. Unfortunately the other match-up concern: our patchwork secondary (that was terrible even before we started plugging in a ton of new guys) vs. their passing attack turned out to be a very legitimate concern. The only way Burris could have embarrassed our pass D anymore was if he passed for the close to 500 yards he amassed on Saturday while wearing his patented bra. To call our defense soft would be like calling Ebola a minor inconvenience. Can't say I expected much from a secondary featuring 4 players in their first or second year.

There were some good things (I totally sound like I'm giving my "look on the bright side" speech to the boy after his sports team gets worked over). We "exploded" for 10 first quarter points. We had just 20 total in the previous 11 first quarters. Naaman Roosevelt showed some nice hands and great wheels (you can't tell me opting for the older, more expensive and more legally challenged Taj Smith over Roosevelt to start the year was a good decision). Tristan Jackson had a huge night returning kicks. Defense continued producing turnovers. Also, the Munroe belly rub is always a crown pleaser.

But for all the "moral victories" there was also a parade of errors, stupidity and general failure that remind you that we are deserving of our record. There was Demski damn near giving up a safety because he evidently has not played enough Canadian football to know you can't leave the endzone and then come back into it. There was the pure idiocy that was the timeout we took in the dying seconds of the game on defense. Apparently instead of spending Ottawa's timeout figuring out our play, we spent it gazing at the stars because when it came time to snap the ball we were dumbfounded and had to burn a timeout to figure things out. That cost us 20 seconds of game time and removed the tiny glimmer of hope that still existed for our offense to tie the game. Messam's hands quit working. Then of course there is the aforementioned inability to stop the pass. Given that we probably won't stop the pass anyway I suggest moving Munroe back to safety... it would at least deter coming over the middle.

By far the highlight of the night for me (and this is pretty sad) was Milo bouncing a kick off the upright. I spent the whole night saying he owed us a kick of the post for old time sakes and he did not disappoint. Another miss for Milo!!!!

In the end we came closer than I expected but the end result was not surprising at all.

Other random thoughts:
- Anytime we tried to run a somewhat unconventional play on O it failed miserably.

- The Riders must be starting to get concerned about attendance for the last 2 games. While free ticket offers used to abound in Riderville, they have not been seen around here since 2007. Well there was an add on the Maxtron for by 3 get one free Rider tickets. If you want attendance I recommend changing the offer to buy 3 drinks get one free. Or rotten tomato night. I have a ton of these ideas, Riders feel free to contact me to discuss further.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Riders vs. RedBlacks: This Could Get Ugly

The Riders host the 6-4 RedBlacks in a Saturday night showdown. The last times these 2 teams faced we got embarrassed and a high profile questionable coaching decision led to certain people being axed. The good news is I’m fairly certain that Bob Dyce won’t do something so epically wrong that he jeopardizes his employment. The bad news is that I’m not all that hopeful the game itself will have much of a different ending.

Let me first address the QB situation. I support the decision to start Glenn… with one major caveat that I will get to. Dyce laid his case out pretty simply: the team wants to win and Glenn gives us the best chance. I agree. Go back and look at our offense under Glenn as compared to Smith. This isn’t just a slight upgrade. 29 points and 467 yards of offense per game under Glenn as compared to 20 points per game and 276 yards under Smith. I get the desire to get Smith more experience so he can develop but we want a winning culture and culture isn’t just something you turn on and off. I also think that Glenn will help with the develop of our younger receivers and O-line so there are always trade-offs. My caveat is: Smith needs to get back on the field later in the season. I also am adamant that if Keith Price doesn’t get at least a half of football at some point this season its idiocy.

Onto the game…
Defensively the big concern has to be stopping Jeremiah Johnson. If you had read my preseason fantasy analysis you would know that I was touting him as the best RB in Ottawa all along. Their run game has taken a huge step forward now that they have committed to him. He steam rolled us last time and now leads the CFL in rushing TDs. We need to stop him to have any chance in the game. Ottawa also has the #2 passing attack in the CFL, led oddly enough by Brad Sinopli (didn’t see that one coming). Last week our defense exploded in the first half before slowly regressing to their old selves (largely due to the lack of any kind of offensive support). If they can dial up that kind of performance early again we all know that Burris is prone to epic meltdowns (and fist pumping towards the sky when they happen). As much as I have no faith in our pass defense, our best chance of victory is Burris having to rely on his arm. I would love to see Chick and Hall all over him like they were last week on Nichols. Here’s hoping we didn’t use up our monthly quota of turnovers last week.

Offensively, Glenn obviously gives our pass game a boost. Unfortunately as he has not recently converted to O-line to my knowledge, he does not address the biggest match-up issue I see in this game. No team has allowed more sacks than the Riders. No team has more sacks than Ottawa and they just added Shawn Lemon. That points to a good night for Purolator Tackle Hunger but a bad night for the Riders (honestly surprised Glenn didn’t fake being still hurt for one more week). Glenn’s quick release should help alleviate some of that pressure (provided Chapdelaine manages to call an offense that doesn’t play into the defense’s strengths). But overall the RedBlack D is an underrated unit. They are #2 in net yards allowed and #2 against the run. They are also allowing a league low 59% completion rate to opposing QBs (pretty impressive).

Even if our O-line comes out with a better effort (which they damn well better), they will need some help. That means leaning heavy on the run game and letting Glenn get the ball out quickly when he passes (good news is that’s his calling card… you know that and eventually being turfed by every team in the league). Ottawa has a good secondary so I will look to get favourable match-ups on their LBs inside either with Messam or our slots. One thing we can’t do is keep on this torrid pace of offensive penalties. We have taken 72 of them this season… 12 more than the next closest team. We aren’t good enough to beat other teams let alone overcome our own screw-ups and beat a team on top of that.

The harsh reality is that we have a solitary win this season and only because Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea inexplicably feel Brian Brohm is employable. Ottawa is better on both sides of the ball than Winnipeg (to be fair most teams are), so I don’t really see much that gives me hope here. We have a home crowd and Glenn working in our favour but all that means to me is that while we will lose, it just won’t be as embarrassing as the trip to Ottawa was.

RedBlacks by 14

Side note: based on how uplifting and happy my writing has been of late, I’ve been thinking about getting into the motivational speaking business. Anyone interested in hearing my inspiring message of “this will suck but not as much as the last time” is encouraged to drop me a line.