Thursday, June 21, 2018

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Thursday Night Football

Thursday the Riders (fresh off a season opening win) will face the RedBlacks (who will be playing their first game of the season after a Week 1 bye). The game is in the capital city which means the Riders get to experience Ottawa... it clearly can't compare to Experience Regina, but hey, what can? The last time these teams met it was in the East Semi and the Riders, thanks in large part to a massive day from Thigpen, ended the RedBlacks' season.  In retrospect that performance may have been powered by vitamin S.

I think people have the impression that the RedBlacks are a better team than they are. Sure they did win a Grey Cup in 2016 but they also haven't finished above .500 in 2 years. Take away a well timed post season hot streak in 2016 and the fact they they play in a weak division and history would likely view the RedBlacks in a very different light. I'm not saying that they can be taken lightly or that they will be a pushover but they have 16 wins in 2 seasons... by comparison the Riders have 15 wins over the same time frame and one season was an abysmal train wreck for the most part.

Ottawa's defense was the main reason they struggled last year. No team forced less turnovers and only two teams allowed more passing yards. Hell their D-Coordinator wasn't smart enough to figure out that not sending pressure at Kevin Glenn was a bad idea. Now he was promptly fired and replaced with a far more competent DC in Noel Thorpe but as much as their coaching will improve, I don't think they have the talent on D. They lost their their only really good DL in Evans. They lost their best LB in Taylor Reed and their best DB in Jerrell Gavins. They have some additions like Josh Johnson, Louchiez Purifoy and Kyries Hebert that will help. But their answer along the DL appears to be Mike Klassen and AC Leonard. I was never a Leonard fan and think he is a product of playing opposite of Jefferson. I see their D-line as weak, their LBs a not bad and their secondary as nothing I'm too worried about. So offensively it starts up front. We need to dominate the line of scrimmage with a heavy emphasis on the run. Collaros should have plenty of time in the pocket so he just needs to make smart decisions, spread the ball around and not turn it over. Could be a big game for Tre Mason (just like Thigpen in the ESF). I could also see a big game for Holley. Collaros seems to trust him and he will get more chances with Duron on D. 

As much as I have belittled Ottawa's record and defense, their offense is legit. Good protection up front. A powerful runner in Powell. A trio of dangerous weapons in Ellingson, Sinopoli and Spencer. And a quality QB directing it all. Their only real offensive weakness is a tendency to turn the ball over. I think we have a talented enough D to handle them I just would be more confident if we weren't starting our best WR at CB against this trio of receivers. Look, Duron is a decent DB but certainly nothing special. Given how clean his first game was I expect a minimum of 2 penalties (just to be safe we should assign someone to ensure he steers clear of Rick Campbell. I would recommend that person bring goggles because for how good a diver Campbell is they may get wet). D-line will need to lead the way again. This will be a tougher test for them than Toronto but I have a hard time believing Hughes, Evans and Jefferson aren't up to it. They have a rookie starting at LG... it would only be right for Hughes to properly welcome him to the pros. I imagine Ottawa will try and establish Powell early to try and take pressure off the OL and Harris. I mean, if I were an OC I would be leaning on the run early if I saw Sam Hurl as one of the primary means my opponent had of stopping it. I think we need to avoiding giving up the big plays. If we can force them to string together long drives it definitely shifts things in our favour. 

I would like to see Christion Jones rip off his first big time return of the year. Special teams could be a deciding factor with deadly returners on both sides. Big pressure on the cover teams. Not a good time for one of our best special team tacklers in Radford to be hurt.

As much as I think Toronto is a better team than Ottawa, I think this will be a tough test none the less. We are traveling, on a short week playing a team who is well rested. I think we will struggle out of the gate but our defense will keep it close and force multiple turnovers. Offense will hit their stride in the second half and we will narrowly escape with another victory in a relatively low scoring game.

Riders by a Shaq Evans TD in his debut.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: WOOO!

Riders 27 - Argos 19

For the first time in 4 years, the Riders are starting the season out on a winning note. They did so by closing out a close game... unlike last season where our first few games were full of late game collapses. A lot of the "oh my god, we're screwed" mentality that had built up since the last preseason game dissipated. Don't get me wrong, we were far from perfect and have things to improve on if we want more of these thing called wins but starting the season out on a winning note it a huge positive.

How about that defense? Expectations were sky high for this unit coming into the season and they did not disappoint.  How great is it to have Charleston Hughes terrorizing other teams and not us anymore? Dude was a monster with 3 sacks in his first half... well 2 sacks and falling on an already down QB but it still counts. At some point I will stop hyping Derrick Moncrief but today is not that day. He is so good. Through 3 quarters the D held James Wilder almost completely in check and allowed just 5 points (3 of which were entirely due to Tre Mason fumbling). The Argos went 2 and out on 6 of their 8 first half drives (that stat courtesy of @TSN_Marsh). They let up a bit in the 4th allowing Ray to mount a comeback but hung in there and snuffed out the comeback attempt with a pick 6 to seal things. I'll just ask that you focus on the nice pick Marshall made and not the tourist hit Gainey was laying out (it was second only to that idiot fan getting de-cleated in BC). D needs to be the strong point of this team and they certainly were on Friday. 

Offense was decent and really if our D keeps playing like this decent is good enough to win. Collaros didn't light it up but certainly looked more comfortable. He really spread the ball around, finding 9 different receivers. He also protected the ball, having zero turnovers on the night. I'm just glad we can finally stop talking about how Collaros hasn't won a game in years. I was mainly praying for anything above train wreck in terms of O-line performance so I was pleasantly surprised. They had their struggles early but straightened things out and finished with a decent night. What surprised me the most was actually seeing us run. We ran 26 times. That's normally like a month's worth of running for McAdoo (as I type this I hope to god this doesn't mean we don't run again for 3 weeks). We also didn't randomly insert a back-up QB. McAdoo is still our OC right? We are going to need to produce more than 1 offensive TD going forward but I think they will improve and this was a good starting point.

Overall it was a performance in line with what we expected. Very strong D leading the way, offense doing enough to get by. This was a good test to start the season as the Argos are a good team.

Other random thoughts:
- I still can't fathom how there were 2 penalties on a play involving Duron and neither went against him. It just doesn't seem right.

- Lauther certainly has the leg strength, if he improves on his consistency he might finally find himself some permanent employment in this league. 

- You know the D is playing good when he barely notice that Sam Hurl is starting.

- Tre Mason has some nice burst to his game. Needs to hold the damn ball but certainly could be exploisve

Friday, June 15, 2018

Riders vs Argos: Home Opener

Friday the Riders open the 2018 season against the same team that ended their 2017 campaign. The defending Grey Cup champs are in town to kick off a new season. If you base things on what we saw in the preseason then the Riders are pretty much screwed. But if you treat preseason results for what they actually are (meaningless) then things suddenly become a lot less bleak. Despite being an East team, the Argos are no pushover.

Offensively a whole lot depends on the performance of our O-line. Toronto has a good D-line with the likes of Lemon, Laing and Beltre. Protecting Collaros has to be priority #1. Time to see if Jones knew what he was doing when he built an O-line with 2 rookies and Dan Clark comprising 60% of it. With Woods and Reed on the 6game IR, there is a hole in the middle of that Argo D that can be exploited. Runs (which we really don't do) and short passes over the middle should be there. I would love to see a heavy dose of Messam and Mason to take pressure off Collaros and the O-line. I would also love a winning lotto ticket and a lifetime supply of whisky but you can't always get what you want. I would work the quick pass game to get the ball out quickly to Carter, Roosevelt, Holley and Williams-Lambert and let them do the work. Lean heavy on Roosevelt because he's dependable and Carter because you want him involved early and often and his head in the game. I don't expect a scoring onslaught but I do expect a mildly competent offensive attack (which will look extraordinary by comparison to the preseason). 

I think early in the season the defense will have to step up and win us a few games. It starts up front where we need to and should dominate in the trenches. We should get good pressure with our front 4 and likely even with 3 (not that we ever rush 3). Priority #1 on D is containing James Wilder. He is so dangerous and such a huge part of of their offense. Can't let him run wild. D-line needs to be disruptive and  LBs need to be sure on their tackles. In the pass game obviously SJ Green is the worry. The rest of their WRs don't concern me much. The key will be pressure from the D-line. If he has time, Ray will carve you up. Need to get him moving and feel uncomfortable. Actually at his age he is more likely to just throw the ball away rather than run. According to the depth chart Hurl is the MLB which is scary given the presence of Wilder (or any decent RB for that matter). I still hope Eguavoen plays middle with Judge outside (fingers crossed). Also need to watch the check down to Declan Cross which is a sneaky good part of the Argo O. I really think our D-line will power a really strong D this year. With Butler and Gainey at HB, this should be the best D since Chris Jones arrived here (to be fair other than the latter half of last season, the D has been generally awful).

Special teams could play a role. On returns expect Christion Jones to make an impact. I'll even go so far as to predict he gets a TD. On kicks it might be a different thing. Lauther was great in preseason but I bet he misses at least one kick.

I expect a close game where the Argos take an early lead but our D will force a key turnover that turns the tide and we will start 2018 with a win.

Riders by a Roosevelt TD.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Official Predictions 2018

With this being the 12th year of doing predictions (holy crap hey?!?), I figured it was time to change up the format somewhat. It's tough enough being witty in rhyme once let alone repeatedly over a decade. But I didn't want to stray too far from the prediction format that has set me apart from lesser prognosticators since dickety '07 so I think this is a good compromise. 

I'm guessing most of you will figure what I've ripped off... err artistically altered and enhanced I mean. If you don't get it and you're old, ask your children. If you don't get it and you're young, ask your parents. 

Official Predictions 2018

Now this is a story all about how 
I think 2018 will go down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there 
I'll tell you how I think the Riders will fare

In the West Division is where we hope to stay
To appear in the playoffs at the end of the day
We will start out strong acting all cool
Powered by a defense making teams look like fools
When a couple of OL will start playing no good
And start making trouble in Zach's neighbourhood
We'll go on one losing slide and fans will get scared
And cry "Fire Chris Jones" plus a whole lot of swears

I'll beg and plead with McAdoo day after day 
To run the ball more to help our O find their way
But he'll think randomly inserting the 3rd QB is the ticket
It will fail and so we might as well kick it

Third place come Labour Day
Beat the Bombers and start a strong second half on the way
Collaros will start slow but then soar to new heights
hmmmm this might be alright

We'll be closing in on second when playoffs come near
But won't get past 3rd place I fear
In the West Semi we'll beat the Stamps, a feat no so rare
but no further for us the Esks will beat us right there

A successful season at 10 and 8
But another Grey Cup will have to wait until later
So good people I'll end this right there
But I'm rarely right so please don't despair


Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Thoughts on the game and the roster

I'll keep my thoughts on the game rather brief and get right to breaking down the 2018 roster. My thoughts... 1 - Derrick Moncrief is going to be a freakin' beast. 2 - That PAT attempt by Calgary's back-up kicker may be one of the worst I've ever seen. 3 - Anything else related to that game should be stricken from the record and never discussed again.

Good enough? Moving on.

Since preseason results don't matter anyway (yes I would feel a whole lot better if we had shown anything in that game but there are no bonus points for preseason performance) the more important thing to talk about today is the cuts and more importantly who is left. The easiest part of any coach's job is the cuts... and following Friday's performance I can see that being true for Jones.

I was expecting a relatively uneventful preseason this year. We had our core from last year and just needed a few tweaks here and there. Though I guess I should have know that with Chris Jones you should always expect change (the only exception is with respect to his wardrobe). With Bagg, Owens, Grant and Bond gone there was certainly a ton of chatter across the prairies.

Grant and Owens don't surprise me that much. Sure Grant had a great year but Grant is far from consistent and I think Holley could have put up similar stats in Grant's spot last season.  We are big on Shaq Evans and Jordan Williams-Lambert so not surprising to see old vets who are 3rd WR at best now go. Bagg was a shock. From a purely numbers point of view, I get it. We were paying him a ton of money for a guy producing 300 yards and far from a key part of the O. Still it was a surprise. Bagg is the epitome of perseverance (if you don't know his full story from turning down a roster spot in 2007 to return to school through to becoming a sure fire Plaza of Honour member I suggest you go bone up on it... the story that is, please don't bone up on Rob Bagg). Going to miss him.

Bond was the biggest shock though. He was a prized offseason signing and expected to bring some nastiness and strength to our OL. He also got pretty much every starting rep since the beginning of camp.  I can live with him getting beat out in camp but if you weren't convinced he was the starter then why wasn't someone else getting more starting reps? We essentially wasted all of training camp on building chemistry with an OL combination that won't play when it matters. Not great coaching in my opinion. Our OL is the #1 concern we have going into the season and while I could maybe buy that Bond is not the miracle cure, I certainly did not see anyone else on our roster who could fare any better.

The rest of the cuts were far from surprising. Adusei can't block (or even slightly impede opposing defenders), Daniels can't account for a 12th defender.The only other remote surprise was Rakim Cox. 

So where does that leave our roster?

Well every is pooping their pants over our QB situation following the preseason game but I still have faith in Collaros, who will start Friday. Too early to panic here... Oh wait, this is Riderville... David Watford is the best QB since Rocky Butler and should definitely be starting!! (did I do that right?) Tre Mason should provide a nice change of pace from Messam at RB (until Thigpen returns). Carter, Roosevelt, Holley plus the new guys are still a good set of weapons.  

O-line is still a massive concern. My guess is that Jarvis Harrison starts at guard... at least I pray that's the plan since we have zero Cdn depth if Bladek is pushed into a starting role. Our starting group is far from instilling confidence at this point and lord help us if our depth gets tested. This is the one area that I pray Jones knows what he's doing, despite outward appearances.

Defense will be our strength. The Hughes-Evans-Jefferson trio will wreak havoc. Having Steele as a starter helps our ratio. Love, love,love our D-Line. At LB I have been talking Moncrief up since he debuted last season and Friday you saw why. He is clearly lighter and faster than last season (remember when he ran out of gas trying to return that pick last season?). I expect a huge year from him. Love Equavoen. I'm willing to give Judge a chance. As a rotational guy Hurl is serviceable. Not super sold on our depth if Equavoen or Moncrief get hurt but won't worry about that now. Our secondary will be solid. Marshall is a solid addition. Butler is a stud and Gainey and old man Jovon will be fine. We aren't the strongest at safety but Edem and Brouilette won't likely hurt us. 

Special teams suddenly became more interesting with news that Crapigna needs surgery and will not play this year. Losing a rock solid kicker like him is a big blow. Lauther had a great preseason which is now suddenly very important but he does not yet instill the confidence that Crapigna gave us. He put in the "In Ya" in Crapigna (patent pending on that motto). Still with Bartel punting and Christion Jones on returns we should still be solid on teams.

Overall, I think people's lofty expectations of the Riders this season have taken a bit of nosedive. But I still think they will be competitive in the West. Depth is certainly a concern but I do think we are starting 2018 stronger than we started 2017 and that season turned out OK eventually.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Riders vs. Stampeders: Preseason Game 2

The day is finally here. After seemingly endless football-less months, we get to see football in person once more. Back to Mosaic stadium, back with friends in the stands, back being unmercifully gouged at the concessions.

Not too long ago, a Friday night home preseason game would have meant trouble for me. I mean the game doesn’t matter and no work the next game. It was actually scenarios just like this that led to the development of the Official Rider Prophet Preseason Drinking Game. I played to win. Fast forward a few years and when you factor in way higher booze prices, the fact that I can’t blow all my money on booze (should probably be spent on feeding my kids or not having my mortgage foreclosed), and the fact that I can no longer sleep until noon the next day… it will be relatively tame by comparison. But I’m sure you didn’t come here to hear me lament about getting older and having responsibilities.

For many players this will be a final tune up before the regular season opener next week. For others it will be their last chance to make a big enough impression to remain employed. For still others it will be the last time they appear in Green and White and they will have to endure some jackass from the stands pointing out the exact moment in the game when the decision to cut them was made (I had actually considered making a giant pair of scissors out of bristle board to accentuate my point but given that security wouldn’t let me through with a milk jug last season, I can see it being worth my time).

I’ve already talked a lot about the key positions for us this preseason. So rather than rehash all that I’m going to talk about specific players that I will be watching for.

OL Terran Vaughn – A huge part of our season rests on him being good. No pressure buddy. He seemed to fair ok in the first preseason game. Another good showing in this game would go a long way to easing the minds of Rider Nation… and Zach Collaros.

DB Nick Marshall – The short side CB spot is his to lose. He had a pick last game and reportedly has had a strong camp. He made Chris Lyles expendable so he’s already a winner in my books. Ideally he plays so well that we barely notice him.

LB Cam Judge – My position hasn’t changed that if we are insistent on a Cdn LB starting, we are screwed if that person in not Judge. Need to see 3 things from him: nose for the football, ability to cover the pass, ability not to end up injured (hasn’t exactly proven super durable in his short tenure).

Stanford/Bailey/Picton – For better or worse one of these guys will be playing a significant role in our offense. I actually think long term that Picton has the highest ceiling of the bunch (not just saying that because he’s a local product) but Jones seems to think he needs to develop more so most likely its Bailey vs. Stanford. Given Bailey’s size, I think Stanford will need to have a strong showing to unseat him.

LB Gary Wilkins – Lots of hype on this guy last minicamp and this minicamp. We’ve moved him to LB and just so happen to have a big need for depth at import LB so he has a great opportunity tonight.

Our D-line – Not sure how much actual time the starting 4 will see but man am I pumped to see what Hughes-Evans-Cox-Jefferson can bring.

OL Emmanuel Adusei – With pretty much anything resembling a Cdn OL outside of our starters being hurt, by default Adusei is currently it for depth. He doesn’t need to be outstanding but even just seeing him hold his own (figuratively not literally) would be good.

WR Jordan Williams-Lambert – Was planning to put Shaq Evans in this space but he is not playing so Williams-Lambert because the WR I’ll be watching. Lots of hype coming out of training camp but was barely noticeable in Game 1. With Antwane Grant gone there is an opening for at least one new WR to stick around in some capacity.

RB Zac Stacy/Tre Mason – We evidently like guys with 3 letter first names and 5 letter last names who have played for the Rams. I expect a 60/40 split of reps with Messam and an import. For games 1 and 2 that import will be one of Stacy or Mason (side note, Zac Stacy always makes me think of that song Stacy’s Mom… I bet you are singing that song now. I’m sorry). Preseason games can make an RB’s career (like it did in 2012 for Kory Sheets) or break it (like when Quentin Griffin thought he was too good to expend energy on preseason game in 2008). I’m hoping for a Sheets type thing but a comical story about a player sealing his own fate is a decent consolation prize.

One last note, you’ll note I made zero mention of QBs. Clearly I will be watching them and I’m excited to see Collaros as a Rider for the first time but nothing that happens in the game will change the fact that Collaros is the starter and Bridge the #2 so I don’t think its worth discussing much.

See you in the stands.While I will be calling out from the stands when players have earned themselves a cut, I will not limit my cuts to the players. Too much foam in my beer, cut. Not giving me the winning 50/50 ticket, cut. People who decide to stop at the most inconvenient spot in the concourse, you better believe you're cut.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday Morning Senitmonies: Likes and Worries

Training camp continues for the Riders as they have 2 weeks between preseason games. The good news is that we only have to wait four more days for our first visit to Mosaic of the season. The downside is that there isn't a whole lot in the way of news to discuss until the Riders play again.

So today I decided to take a look at each position and discuss what I like about where we are at there as well as what still worries me. It's not quite the blogging equivalent of a clip show but its pretty close.

Like: Watching Trevor Harris go down made me realize how nice it is to have 2 starting quality QBs.  Not many teams have that luxury and it gives tremendous peace of mind.
Worries: Not a lot actually. You already know I'm all in on the Collaros bandwagon. My only real worries are about our ability to block for him and our willingness to actually run the ball to take some pressure off (though Collaros does come from Kent Austin's offense, and he is the only guy more morally opposed the run than McAdoo). 

Like: Once the Thigpen suspension is over we have a great 1-2 punch of Messam's power and Thigpen's explosiveness (provided we actually decide to run).
Worries: As great as our 1-2 punch is, they might as well be watching Matlock while drinking prune juice for how old they are football-wise. Thigpen has less miles on him than Messam (who I don't have a ton of confidence in this year) but still its somewhat worrisome.

Like: Carter, Roosevelt, Grant, Owens, Holley. What's not to love? Top end talent and quality depth. If one of the new guys happens to crack the roster, you know they are something special.
Worries: The Jake Harty injury left a big hole behind Rob Bagg. Bailey and Stanford are alright alternatives but not what Harty would have brought. We will need a 2nd quality Cdn WR for when Messam subs out and the jury is out on whether Bailey or Stanford can do it consistently. Another worry is the fact that we think our best WR should focus on playing DB part-time. Sure it gave us the Bo Levi pick 6 (a sweet memory indeed) but I still won't get onboard with any plan that willingly reduces the offensive snaps for your most dangerous weapon.

Like: Labatte and Bond will be solid at guard. Thus far Vaughn has done alright at tackle. I think our starting unit will be solid (not spectacular but solid).
Worries: Depth. In theory we are solid with Bladek and St John but St John can't get healthy enough to show whether this is actually his year. One injury could make things scary. Also depth behind Vaughn is a concern. I also have my ongoing concern with the fact that Dan Clark is adequate at best but I'll save you rehashing that rant.

Like: Pretty much everything about it. Hughes-Evans-Cox-Jefferson. That's a scary group. We also can rotate in Steele and Antigha who are solid in their own right. Hughes consistently leads the league in sacks and who ever plays opposite of him has a career year. I for one can't wait to see how awesome a career year for Jefferson is. If Chris Jones can actually get legit pressure on 3 and 4 man rush then his defense becomes a whole lot more dangerous.
Worries:  Honestly, nothing. This should be a real strength for our team

Like: Love Eguavoen and Moncrief. If Judge can stay healthy then I think we have a solid group of 3 starters. Hurl is a good rotation guy (just please don't let me him be an every down starter). 
Worries: Depth. I know we have guys in camp but so far there are no clear standout among the new import LBs. We need a couple of them to be good. If Eguavoen or Moncrief get hurt we could be screwed.  

Like: That we have 2 rock solid HBs from day 1. Our starting secondary in the first few games of last season likely cost us a game or 2. When Butler stepped in to that HB spot it solidified everything and they started playing much better from then on.  Other than 1 CB spot we have the same unit that ended last season. That continuity should pay dividends.
Worries: Still worried that Chris Lyles will win the starting CB spot. He has size and speed but gets beat deep routinely (he was part of the problem early last season).  Worried that old man Jovon may not have another full year in him. He has given little reason to doubt so far but he's one of many old men we are counting heavily on. Also a bit concerned about depth at safety. Last season we had some combination of Edem, Brouilette, Bouka and Hecht throughout the year. This year we have just Edem and Brouilette (and Radford in an emergency). Be nice to have one more body there for depth (maybe Bouka will return mid-season)