Friday, September 24, 2021

Riders vs. Lions: Round 2

It’s kind of amazing the parity between the Riders and Lions heading into their second matchup of the season. They have the same overall record, the same record versus the West, one loss at home, one loss on the road. Can’t say I would have expected that based on how the first game went. Friday’s game is a big one. Not only does the winner take over sole possession of 2nd place. If the Riders win or lose by 3 or less they take the season series.

Normally in the second matchup between 2 teams I would talk about the last match-up and the adjustments needed. But that first game was so weird that there’s honestly not much you can glean from it. The pummeling that was the first half. The second half collapse led by gimpy Reilly throwing some of the ugliest passes I have ever seen. BC is a much improved team since then and injuries and suspensions have changed the make-up of our roster so we are pretty much starting fresh.

Going to start with the BC defense because I don’t think they are getting the attention their play deserves. We all know we hung 3 TDs on them so fast in Game 1 that if you went to get a drink you may have missed them. But since halftime of that game the BC defense has allowed 2 offensive TDs… 2!!! Granted all of those games were against teams with losing record including a one legged Bo Levi and Ottawa twice but that still catches my eye. They #2 in points allowed and takeaways (#1 in INTs). Can’t take them lightly. You can move the ball on them though as they are 8th in yards allowed. Fits well with our offense in that you need to take what they give you and not commit turnovers.

I feel like I could copy and paste this next statement every week but we need a consistent ground game. Powell needs another heavy workload. It takes the pressure off Fajardo and the line and we are pretty good at it (#2 rushing attach in the CFL). I know Schaefer-Baker is not Shaq (at least not yet) but I want to see us use him more in what Shaq used to do… primarily those slants. With his size, if the timing is right its super hard to stop. I want to see more of the variety we saw last week. Get guys like Dupuis and LaFrance the odd touch to change it up. Try and get Moore the ball in space. Lean on Lenius up the seam. BC is 7th in sacks (despite playing the woeful RedBlacks twice) so despite my concern over Boyko re-entering the starting line-up our O-line should be up to the challenge (particualrly with news that Tavai is out with injury). We rediscovered the existence of the endzone last week. Hopefully we can do that on the road for the first time this year.

Defensively it will be a challenge. The past few weeks have reminded us that Reilly is still pretty good when his arm doesn’t have the integrity of a wet noodle. They are #2 in offensive points. Reilly is #1 in completion % and has only thrown 1 pick this season. Though just for a bit of context the defenses he has spent the last 5 weeks carving up represent 4 of the bottom 5 ranked defenses and all 3 of the worst 3. Here’s the thing about BC… they don’t run. 7th in rushing yards, 8th in yards per carry, 8th in attempts. Their answer to concerns around their aging QB with arm injury concerns appear to be go all in on throwing. We have the #1 run D so we should be ok to keep rushing out of the equation. That means hoping a banged up secondary can contain the best QB in the CFL right now. Noodle arm Reilly threw for 200 yards in a half against our fully healthy secondary so there’s legit reason for concern. We need our D-line to step up big time and get pressure and hits on Reilly. In the first match-up BC started Figueroa and Matthews (one of the top tackle pairings in the league). This time around Matthews is out and Figueroa is nursing a sore ankle. Need to take advantage there.

Who had Lucky Whitehead as the top receivers in the CFL through 6 games? Not me. He’s a dangerous deep threat. Honestly if I’m BC I have Whitehead run hook and go’s on Marshall all night long, guaranteed he burns him at least once. Oh and if we happen to keep him from going deep we still need to worry about Burnham. Looks like we get Gainey back which is huge but Purifoy moving to Safety still leaves us with a rookie at HB. My guess is that we want Purifoy at Safety so we have someone we trust to limit the deep shots. Bouka is more naturally a corner than a safety and it shows at times. He’s why limiting the deep shot is important. Reilly is really good at it. For comparison, Reilly completes 55.6% of his passes over 20 yards. Fajardo completes 17.9%.  

Another thing to watch in this is special teams. BC allows the second most punt and kickoff yards and I keep waiting for Morrow to break one. This could be his night and we may need a game changing play like that to get the win. Unfortunately, Yama-sucky is no longer there to save our hides. Jimmy Camacho has been damn near perfect since taking over. Be nice to see Lauther get back to that after a rough few weeks.

Also BC is the second least penalized team whereas we continue striving for the high score. Tough enough to beat a good opponent on the road can’t give them free yards all night.

 BC is going to score in this one. I love the resilience of our D but they are in tough against Reilly/Burnham/Whitehead. That means we need our O to keep pace if we want to win. Last week gave me hope though that was against a defense in a weird transition between coordinators. I’m really torn I think BC is good but look better than they are based on a friendly schedule. They haven’t beaten a team that is currently has a winning record. I have concerns about us but we have found ways to beat any team not named Winnipeg including 2 teams that do currently have a winning record.

Fully healthy I would take us but banged up and on the road that a lot to overcome. I expect a close game. I expect my neighbours to hear me cursing. I sadly don’t expect a Rider win. I just have this feeling that a slight letdown is coming after an important home win.

BC by a Burham TD.

The good news is that I have been doing so poorly in my Pick Em’ pool that me picking BC definitely helps the Riders’ odds.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Show Me Your TDs

Riders 30 – Argos 16

Full disclosure on today’s analysis… I was at an out of town wedding this weekend and wasn’t actually at the game. So my analysis is based on watching the game on my phone on super patchy wifi. I mean, I got the gist of what wen down put I probably missed a few things.

What I did not miss was us scoring 3 TDs. 3! That means that 30% of our offensive TDs this season came in that game. It was much needed and certainly reassured a lot of fears. Almost as shocking as finding the enzone repeatedly was the massive workload for Powell. We fed him over 20 times and he delivered with 5.8 yards per carry. It’s probably not coincidence that when we ran a more balanced offense, we scored more points. Fajardo also used his legs effectively. He is still taking way too many hits for my liking but unfortunately I think we are just going to have to endure that. If you ignore the part of my pre-game write up where I said we wouldn’t run, I was actually spot on (I realize that’s like a doctor saying, other than missing the cancer diagnosis I was pretty spot on with your physical). Dupuis got a pass, LaFrance got a carry. Lots of short accurate stuff. The story of the offense is of course Kian Schaefer-Baker. On a team featuring 4 Canadian receivers drafted in the top 17, this 4th round draft pick is becoming THE Canadian threat in our offense. He has been gaining steam ever since working his way off the practice roster and this was his coming out party. 9 catches and one of the most hard fought TDs you will ever see. The play I like is when we have him run the slant. Shaq was lethal on those and Baker is now using all 6’4 of his frame to bring that play back to our O in Shaq’s absence. Consider that was Baker’s 4th career game. We may only be starting to scratch the surface of what he can do.

Defense did their job for the most part. Considering the number of starters we are missing I continue to be impressed with what they are doing. They forced a number of turnovers. The nicest of those was that huge goal line stand. Honestly I was just impressed we lined up onside. I mean partial blame goes to the Argos for going shotgun on the goal line but props to the D for getting it done there. That was the turning point in the game. Could have easily let them back in the game there but stood strong. We really clamped down on the run and forced Arbuckle to beat us in the air. As a I said pregame, he has flashes but is not nearly consistent enough yet. Keion Adams had probably the most impactful game I’ve seen out of him. Argos put up yards but made too many mistakes and too few endzone trips. Argos also took a play out of our playbook and racked up a ton of penalty yards.

I’m happy we won. It was much needed. But it was an ugly win and it covered up some issues that continue to plague us. 8- yards in penalty is well below our average put still too high. We are comically bad at clock management at the of the half. Lauther is struggling something awful. No way Cody lasts a full season with the wear and tear he’s taking. Marshall is frustrating. Yes he’s good in coverage but he can’t play half because he can’t open field tackle and he continues to take stupid penalties. Gladly take the win but this doesn’t undo all the struggles of the last 2 weeks. We need to keep improving if we want be beat BC next week.

 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Riders vs. Argos: My Kingdom For A Touchdown

Tonight the 3-2 Argos are in town for a match-up with the reeling Riders. Argos will be looking to defeat their 3rd west, the Riders will be looking for something, anything, positive to happen…. Its been a rough couple weeks. The last 2 games told us we are not ready to compete for the top of the division. This game will tell where we rank in mass of teams not named Ottawa at the middle of the standings.

I think we need to be honest with where the Riders are at. The defense has been pretty good all things considered. Room for improvement but good enough to win games. The offense has been awful. I know we all love Fajardo and think highly of Maas but an objective assessment of our offense is that they suck. They have 1 touchdown in the last 13 quarters of football. In fact, if you exclude the 1st half against BC in the opener (clearly an outlier), our offense has found the enzone just 4 times in the last 4 and half games. That means our search for the endzone is only slightly more productive than OJ’s search for the killer… at least in his case the search could be resolved with a mirror. (I had to work in an OJ joke today in honour of the great Norm McDonald).

Ottawa is clearly the measuring stick when it comes to awful offenses. Well, reality check for you, we only have 2 more offensive TDs than that hot mess. We have the same number of passing plays over 30 yards as them. So I repeat, our offense sucks. Now I think we have the talent to get out of this rut and I admit that playing back to back games against the best defense in football will skew the stats but when it comes to offensive firepower we are currently wielding a dollar store water gun and trying to pass it off as a bazooka.

Let’s start on defense because we are all pretty much in agreement that they will need to carry us. We know that Marino (knee), Edem (wrist) and Leonard (stupidity) are out. Purifoy will be back, which is huge. Gainey is getting closer but will not be ready for this game. That’s not great but it could be worse (it has been worse). I think we can work with that. The thing that has caught my eye the most in Toronto is their run game. It’s pretty legit and DJ Foster worries me more than White. Not having Marino for this is far from ideal. The rest of the front 7 will need to step up to shut that down. In the pass games they have the weapons (Daniels, Rogers, Collins) but their weakness is the QB… and the soul sucking eye having coach calling his plays. I think both have potential and have shown flashes but both are still inexperienced and mistake prone (I’m already calling Chris Jones replacing Dinwiddie… its not a matter of if, its when). Arbuckle will make some great plays (the kind of great plays that clearly didn’t fit with Ottawa’s offensive vision). But he will also make mistakes. They have the second most giveaways in the league. Arbuckle is also very Cody-like in that he’s pretty accurate underneath but his completion % over 20 yards trails the rest of the league by a significant margin. If we can limit the run and give Arbuckle some adversity, then he’ll make mistakes. Mistakes we need to capitalize on. Our D-line needs to get some sacks now that they aren’t facing the best OL out there. Argos have been held under 20 points in all but 1 of their games this season… look for that trend to continue.

Offensively I am glad we get this Argo defense when we do. Chris Jones will soon be leading a defense featuring: Judge, McCoil, Muamba, Edwards, Diggs, Hughes, Richardson and Richards. At some point they may even add Law and Nevis. Jones will make an elite D out of that talent. Fortunately, its too soon for him to influence things a whole lot and we get Stubler being an emergency play caller in the interim. That’s good because this struggling O needs all the help it can get.

Fajardo is trending towards playing and this analysis assumes he does. If Harker has to start, I don’t see us winning. If Cody can’t find the enzone, do we really think Harker can? We were all super happy to see a heavy and productive workload for Powell last week. Logic would say we build on that. Reality tells me expect the opposite. Argos actually have the #1 run D in the league (65 yards per game). So even though I don’t like it, I fully expect us to do what we did in the Ottawa game when they tightened up on the run and abandon it completely. Toronto actually gives up the second most long passes so that would be a place to attack them… again not something I see us doing just telling you how I see their D. We are going to try and protect Cody with the quick pass game (I’m sure you are all shocked). That means we need sharp routes, accurate passes and kicks to the groin for anyone brazen enough to drop a pass. I think we need to mix in some different looks. Line up Dupuis/Awachie at TE and have them leak out for a catch. Do 2 back sets with LaFrance and Powell. Mix in a little Morrow. Pump a WR screen and go deep. Our offensive game plan has been pretty static and the whole league could recite it by memory likely so a few tendency breakers could turn into big plays. Argos like to blitz Edwards from the cover LB spot so RBs will need to keep on eye on that.

Two other things to keep an eye on. One is penalties. We have taken 600 yards worth so far in 5 games and at that pace may shatter the record for an 18 game season. I personally would sit Henry for Dabire to send a message but either way we need to find a way to cut down penalties. The other thing is we are terrible finishers. We have 10 total 4th quarters points and average 5.6 points per game in the second half. Translation: if we don’t start hot and get up early, we are in trouble.

We need some good news. We also need a win. A .500 record when you have 6 of your last 8 on the road is not great. Fully healthy I think we would take this at home for sure. Banged up and depleted… its going to be a struggle. I’m confident our D can hold the Argos to their usual 20. That means our hopes of victory hinge on scoring 3 TDs, or more likely 2 TDs and a few FGs. At our current pace, that’s no guarantee. The Argos only 2 loses have come on the road so maybe our crowd can be a difference maker in this one.

Call me overly optimistic. Call me a sucker for punishment. Call me deluded. But while my head is saying we are in trouble in this one. My gut is saying that Craig Dickenson rights the ship just enough to eke out a win at home.

Riders by a Lauther FG

Monday, September 13, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Becoming Numb To The Pain

Riders 9 – Bombers 33

I’m not sure that game could have gone much worse short of Craig Dickenson being arrested because he pulled down his pants and started helicoptering the crowd. I expected a lopsided loss, we got a lopsided loss but it seems that the football gods determined that wasn’t enough pain for Rider fans (who have actually built up a fairly high tolerance for pain over decades of suffering) and piled a whole bunch more great news on top of that.

Oddly enough, in some ways I feel better coming out of that game than I did coming out of Labour Day. On Sunday the team showed me something. Which was a stark increase over the nothing they showed on Labour Day. Offense still isn’t good enough but they remembered that running is a legal play and actually went toe to toe with the best team in the CFL for the first half. And the defense… I don’t think I’ve ever been this impressed by a 33 point outing. When you consider that we were already down 3 starters coming into the game and then lost another 4 throughout the game, their performance through the first 3 quarters is nothing short of incredible. Despite all odds (and being an injury away from seeing how Jon Ryan looked at safety) they kept us in that game for 3 quarters. Everything kinda went to hell in the 4th but really, is that at all surprising? So I don’t like the outcome but I saw enough heart and effort in that game to give me hope that better games are coming our way soon.

Offensively we started out pretty good… or at least as good as an offense can be without scoring a TD for the better part of a calendar month. Powell was fed the ball early and often with great result. We carried the ball 7 times in the second half… that’s unheard of for us. Fajardo was making better reads and moving the ball. For all the talk of McRoberts vs. Louis I think we need to be focusing more on Schaefer-Baker because he’s shown me more than both those guys combined. O-line even occasionally did their job. The running helped but go back and look at that long pass to Lenius and see what Fajardo can do when he gets time. Now the bad was of course that the endzone continues to elude us. Starting the wonder if Jason Maas has some sort of traumatic childhood memory related to the endzone because he sure seems to avoid it. O-line had their moments but were nowhere near consistent and it seemed to get worse as the game wore on. We are also clearly lacking Shaq. Moore is a great receiver and I like Lenius, Baker and Lambert when he’s healthy but none of them are a true #1. Last year Shaq was a guy Fajardo leaned on when we needed a play. We don’t have that this year and its showing. I think we have a lot of #2 WRs but no #1s. And then we have Jake Harty who drops his only target in 4 years. I hope Fajardo is ok because our offense has barely been competent with him playing. No offense to Harker but this endzone drought could stretch a while if Cody is out. 

Defensively as I said, what was left of those defenders deserve huge props, as does Jason Shivers. Realistically the whole game should have looked like the 4th quarter but they held their own for three quarters. So there’s not much I can criticize when your essentially fielding your scout team D. But its me and I’m bitter so there will be some criticism. I was a big preseason hyper of Blace Brown. But with every passing game he keeps getting exposed more and more as a liability and he’s trending towards my hate list. Also, Marshall is a great cover guy but he is a terrible tackler. He can’t play halfback as he looked lost out there when he wasn’t locked up on a specific receiver. Mak Henry was apparently trying for the high score in the game of going offside. He’s a great rotation guy along the line in terms of his strength but he cannot go a game without taking 15 yards in penalties minimum. At some point you gotta sit him until he stops being a liability.

I will almost always defend the refs. They have an insanely difficult job and most of the time they get it right. But it’s becoming a regular occurrence that they do something so wild that even I (one their biggest supporters… except Bradbury, I hate that guy) have to chime in. Inconsistency is what bugs me more than anything. I will not argue that both Hendy and Romero deserved to be tossed. Bone headed, selfish play by both. But a ref had a front row seat to Andrew Harris ripping off a guy’s helmet while throwing him to the ground, knew it was bad enough to warrant a flag but didn’t eject him. C’mon Man! It was so blatantly a bad call that Glen Suitor called them out and he will try to explain away even the most egregious reffing errors. While not nearly as rage inducing, the non-PI call on the pass the Louis also bugs me from a consistency point of view. I think it was PI but it was borderline enough that you could probably argue a non-PI call… except for the fact that multiple times I have seen stuff way less blatant be called (anyone who watched the Cal/Edm game saw evidence of that). It was the one time in my life I wished Bradbury was reffing, he woulda called it. Be consistently good, be consistently bad. I don’t care but be consistent.

Lots of doom and gloom in Riderville following 2 losses where we did our part and social distanced from the endzone. So where does this leave us? I think these last 2 games showed that Winnipeg is the top team in the CFL and we aren’t yet good enough to hang with them for a full game. We’re closer than the scores in the games might indicate but we are not there yet. But I still think we are a good team. Above the below and below the upper (and right now the only upper is Winnipeg). In theory Toronto is a big test game but for me that depends on how many starters we get back. A depleted roster might extend our misery a bit longer. But when healthy I still think we are a good team.

Other random thoughts:

Do you get the feeling that we are cursed? Like I’m getting some serious 2018 vibes where in theory we have a good roster but life just keeps hitting us like a football to the groin?

Was anyone else ready to put their fist through their TV when the announcers kept going on and on about the band and the choir. We are already suffering enough, that ridiculous exchange that never seemed to end was just piling on.

3 of the 4 kickers to play the Riders this season have done their best to kick their way out of a job.

It continues to bother me to no end that after years of faithful devotion to the walking injury that was Zach Collaros he now exists as this shining beacon of perfect health who exists only to spite us and its our QB that's getting hurt.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2021

Normally I’m a pretty upbeat guy. My highs aren’t too high. My lows aren’t too low. But this week will be a bit of an exception. If you are looking for positivity you are in the wrong place. I don’t often say this… at least in years where we have a respectable roster… but we are screwed. 

It’s not that I don’t think we can beat Winnipeg. It’s not that I don’t think we are a good team. We are good, good enough to beat Winnipeg. Some day. But if you think that coming off a loss on Labour Day, in our first road game of the year with a depleted defensive backfield is that day then I would love to know what you are ingesting… it certainly can’t be legal or cheap.

Quick history lesson for you. We do not do well in the Banjo Bowl as a general rule. We have lost 4 of the last 5 Banjo Bowl. 3 of those loses were by 15 points or more. We don’t just struggle in Winnipeg… we tend to suck. Maybe the Manitoba air has the same effect on us as it has on its residents.

So we have a game/location we do not do well of in the best of times… and this is hardly the best of times. 2 rookie tackles who have yet to have to deal with crowd noise. An offense lacking anything resembling a run game or deep ball. Last week at least we had the defense help keep the game more respectable than it should have been but now we potentially lose both starting halfbacks. Pick your reason for concern because they are ample.

But let’s pretend for a second that I were optimistic about our chances. Let’s discuss how we would go about it.

Let’s start on the defense because based on last game they are our Obi-Wan Kenobi (if you get that reference I very much respect your nerdiness). Sounds like we will get Micah back which is great. Our line did OK last week without him but we need disruptive, not just OK. After some initial problems we actually managed to clamp down the run game not bad last week. Micah should help that even more. The issue comes in trying to play pass coverage without both starting HB. I don’t know Richie Hall personally but I will assume he’s smart enough to attack that. That will place even more importance on our line getting pressure. Inexperienced secondary and QB time in the pocket is a recipe for curse words and remotes through TVs.

Offensively this is a big test. We’ve been punched in the mouth. Question is, can we punch back or will we just lie there as they kick us in the crotch while the fans plead “stop, stop, they are already dead”? I can’t imagine Fajardo having a game that bad again. Do I expect him to suddenly start carving up the Bombers? No. But I have faith that he can must some offense (please Cody don’t shatter my blind faith). Had we had even “some” offense last week, we could have realistically won, so every bit helps.

What would really help is a run game. Any run game. Even the rip off Wish version of a run game. That’s the Bombers weakness and we need to attack. Lots of talk about how Toronto showed the blue print of how to beat the bombers… run. That’s true but you need to look a bit deeper for the full story. See the Argos’ RBs actually had pretty much the same amount of yards in the loss to Winnipeg the week before. But 2 things differentiated it. 1 – was the amount of carries 14 in the loss vs. 22 in the win (for the record our RBs have topped 14 carries just once this season). 2 - (and what I think is most important) – is when the carries occurred. In their 4 wins here were the number of second half RB carries against the Bombers: 2, 7, 4, 3. When the Argos won it was 14 and that wasn’t because they were nursing a big lead. They just actually stayed committed to running for the full game, while most teams just give up trying in the second half. We have a very bad habit of that. In our 4 games, RBs have had 6 or less second half carries in 3 of them. Wanna not have Jefferson and Jeffcoat being a major factor? Don’t let them tee off on your QB by only passing. We knew all along that the short passing game that worked so good early would need to evolve to stay effective. Well now is that time Mr. Maas. Chuck a Gatorade cooler, curse someone out and get to work.

In a game we are likely to struggle in, it would be a hell of a time for Morrow to get a return TD. Its going to take a big momentum changing play like that for us to emerge from Winnipeg with more than just the stench of Manitoba.

I see the game going this way. Offense plays a bit better, defense plays a bit worse. In the end the result is about the same, a 2 TD loss. We have the talent to pull off the upset but I don’t see it happening in this one. Too much working against us. I will honestly settle for the moral victory of seeing our offense not play like complete and utter garbage. And by “settle” I mean I will curse at the top of my lungs for 3 hours and then when I calm down later appreciate the moral victory.

Better days are coming, but we need a bit more patience.

Bombers by 14

Monday, September 6, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Insert Curse Words Here

Riders 8 – Bombers 23

Last night we made a rule that we were not allowed to discuss football. It helped us enjoy the evening a bit. But now I am hungover and having to relive that utter garbage… I am not a happy man.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a game that bad. We had nothing. Came out off a bye week, at home, in the biggest regular season game of the year and were completely flat. Again, losing Labour Day is bad enough, but we didn’t even get anything to cheer about.

I should clarify… our defense came to play. They had us leading a halftime in a game that we did not deserve to be even close in. Even without our best defensive weapon (Micah) they put in a pretty impressive performance. Started slow but after that first TD they locked things down and kept us close right until the end. Just waiting for the offense to do something. They are still waiting for the offense to do something. We definitely missed Micah’s presence up front but they held their own. They weren’t perfect but they gave us a chance to win.

While we are talking positives (you know before I get all fired up and ranty talking about our offense) I do need to mention that Jamal Morrow looked good on returns. I have seen nothing from Montez Murphy so far. Morrow more than once made me think he was close to busting it. I want to see more of him going forward.

That’s it for positives. D played good and the returner didn’t suck.

Nothing was going right on offense. Fajardo played his worst game as a Rider by far. In the first three games he was feeling it, not thinking, making good confident reads. He looked lost out there. Whatever Richie Hall threw at him, he was not expecting it. His reads were slow… and often very wrong. His passes had accuracy that gave me Michael Bishop flashbacks. When he did find his receivers, he was either serving them up for a big hit or throwing behind them. He also keeps taking hits. He’s a tough dude but I guarantee he’s banged up and at this pace will be completely crippled in time for the end of the season run towards the playoffs. Now Fajardo is a pro and I’m sure he’ll bounce back but it shows the man does not quite walk on water. He also got no help. While they were often harder catches than they needed to be if the QB was throwing accurately, the receiving still did Fajardo no favours with a number of drops. The O-line was clearly over-matched. We have no run game to speak of. Not even the illusion of one, so defenses know they just need to cover the pass. Fajardo threw 39 freakin’ times! Powell rushed 8 times. See an issue there? Jason Maas had 2 weeks to prepare for this game and it looked like he just took 2 weeks off and then dusted off the play sheet from last game, assuming the Bombers do not watch film (I mean fair assumption that Manitoba does not have the necessary technology but that’s beside the point). He had no answers for what Winnipeg was running.

Our coaching staff in general had a bad game. This was most evident at the end of the first half. In a rarity we strung 2 positive plays together. Morrow had a massive return off a missed FG (that was almost wiped out by one of the worst penalty calls you will ever see). Fajardo then completed to Lambert at the 34 with 17 seconds on the clock. Most logical people would have immediately called a time out. Took a shot or 2 at the end zone before kicking the FG as a last resort. We took a drastically different approach. We let 12 seconds run off the clock trying in vain to get organized and then called the time out so we could kick. Bad, bad coaching.

The icing on the poopy flavoured lollipop that was that game was the ball doinking off the uprights. Clearly the football gods want us not just to suffer but to really kick us while we are down.

We knew going in this would be a measuring stick game and now we know how we stack up… we just might not like it. We can beat the bad teams but we have a lot to work on to keep even with the good ones. Given how well we usually play in the Banjo this could be a rough couple weeks.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day Classic 2021

It’s the single greatest regular season game on the schedule… unless you are a Bomber fan. If you take a stroll down memory lane from a Rider perspective, you have fond memories of victories. Convincing beat downs and last minute thrillers. Pretty ones and ugly ones. But they always end up the same (except that one time in 2016 that we all pretty much agreed to pretend never happened). But if you take a stroll down memory lane from a Bomber perspective, it’s a trail of heartache. Losing to good Rider teams. Losing to awful Rider teams. Losing to the likes of Rocky Butler, Michael Bishop and Brett Smith. It’s also a parade of terrible QBs the Bombers have had to trot out against us. The list includes Steven Jyles (replacing an injured Buck Pierce), Alex Brink (replacing an injured Buck Pierce), Joey Elliot, Justin Goltz, Drew Willy, Brian Brohm, Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler. That is all kinds of sad. And before you jump on me with the whole “but Streveler is in the NFL” crap let me state that by any objective eye Streveler is a terrible QB. He has NFL-calibre athleticism but a good QB, he is not.

The history of the LDC can be summed up in 2 words; Riders win. The amount of Labour Day wins for the Bombers across the past 3 decades would be viewed as abysmal to most, but given that winning important games only happens once every couple decades or so in that province, they remain pretty proud of their LDC record by their standards.

Before I get to the game I gotta address one thing. Going back as a far as I can remember this space would be filled with a joke about how the Bombers haven’t won a Grey Cup in game that was broadcast I colour. That was admittedly ruined in 2019 (a fact I am still bitter at the Ti-Cats about and to fair degree I still blame for most of the bad things that have happened in the world since then). So I can hear the Bomber faithful getting ready to scream at me about how they are the defending champs and thus better than us. Look, you won, good for you. Congrats on winning a Cup in the 2000s. Pretty much everyone else in the league ticked that box years ago including the expansion team that didn’t exist until 2014 (most of them have even done it multiple times). So the rest of us don’t view it as that big a deal. But hey, good for you there buddy. You keep this up and maybe in another 30 years we’ll let you sit at the grownup table.

Onto the game…

Despite the long a storied history of the LDC we don’t often get a marquee match-up. Most often the Bombers are terrible, sporadically (at least in recent years) we are terrible, occasionally we are both terrible. So this year will be one of those nice treats where both teams are good. It’s a battle for top place in the West.

If this CFL season has proven anything it’s that I know very little about the CFL this year. One thing I do know is that Winnipeg has the best O-line and D-line in the CFL and that poses the biggest threat to us continuing our Labour Day dominance.

Let’s start with our offense. We have not faced a defense this good this season. Its well known that the combo of Jefferson and Jeffcoat can be game wreckers and the rest of that D-line rotation are no slouches. The battle in the trenches will determine it. Bombers have just 6 sacks on the season but the stats don’t reflect how disruptive the line has been. One thing to watch with Jeffcoat is him pushing the edges of legal hits. Most will remember the dirty hit he put on Bridge in 2018. And he got away we a blatant high hit against Calgary last week. On the other side Jefferson is the best defender in the CFL hands down. And what worries me is not only his pass rush but given that our offense relies on short quick passes, his ability to drop back and pick it off could very much be in play. The Winnipeg defense this season has been the stereotypical Richie Hall defense: Bend (7th in yards allowed) but don’t break (#1 in point allowed).

Here's the way to attack that defense… on the ground. They are 7th in run D on the season and give up a league high 5.6 yards per rush. The issue is that our ground game has been extremely underwhelming thus far. Partly by scheme but outside of that one series against Hamilton, we just haven’t seen consistently good running. That needs to change. Powell needs to be busy early and often. I know Fajardo will be using his legs I just hope he’s smart about when and how. Our success this season has been based on a simple formula, don’t turn the ball over and take what the D will give you. That plays well into this game as Hall will give you yards if you are patient and don’t make mistakes. But Hall also runs some pretty decent zone schemes and if I’m him I’m pulling the old Chris Jones, drop 9 to take away the passing lanes and dare us to either run or go deep (the 2 things we haven’t done much off this season). Need to continue spreading the ball around. I expect every active receiver to get a reception.

Defensively, my hope is that Collaros joins in the growing line of QBs that have been on both sides of this rivalry (Glenn, Bishop, Jyles, Willy, Durant J) and only experiences victory while in Green. By the way, it’s a twist of irony so cruel it could only happen to Rider fans that after years of staunch devotion to Collaros through his injury saga, the only time in his life he manages to stay healthy is to spite the Riders with the archrival Bombers… why Zach? What did we ever do to you? After a hot start, its becoming more and more apparent that something just isn’t quite right with the Winnipeg O. 5th in offensive points, 7th in yards, 8th in 2nd down conversion, league high in 2 and outs, 7th in rushing, 8th in gain per rush (only team worse is Ott). Its becoming clear that Buck Pierce is not the second coming of LaPo. In fact, given that its Labour Day, I would put good odds on Pierce getting injured up in the booth and not being able to finish calling the game.

Much like on the other side of the ball, this one will be decided in the trenches. In my view Winnipeg has one of the top O-line in the league. Its one things for our new look D-line to embarrass Hamilton (who has no tackles) and Ottawa (who has no anything) but if they can be disruptive in this one then I will be all in as a believer. Key will be stopping the run game. Its not been dominant so far but it got a boost with Harris’ return and given that he wasn’t able to play in the last LDC you know he’s coming in with a chip on his shoulder. By the way, Harris is about on the same pace of finding out what happened with his tainted supplement as OJ is at finding the real murderer. Front 7 need to contain that ground game. They also need to get after Collaros. Early in the season he looked liked a world beater out there but as the season has worn on teams are adjusting. He’s being kept in the pocket now and taking more hits. That’s what we need to do. Kenny Lawler is becoming the #1 guy in Winnipeg, though Adams can’t be forgotten about. Take away the run and the big plays and make then work to put drives together. Similar to us Winnipeg doesn’t turn the ball over, getting even one of those of them could be a difference maker.  

This is two very evenly matched teams going toe to toe for top spot in the West (more commonly known as top spot in the CFL). As mush as I would love one those lopsided ass kickings, I think we are in for a very tightly contested game. The only thing tighter will be the feeling in my chest throughout the game.  Winnipeg is built to grind out games. All 3 of their wins have come without them scoring more than 20 points. Taking the under in this one might be a wise betting option (though for the love of god do not take betting advice from me).

Normally I’m super confident about our prospects of victory. I mean, we always win on Labour Day. But 2021 has been such a weird year in the CFL that there is this nagging feeling I have. I’m still going to take the good guys to win but going with a come from behind win where Fajardo avenges the cross bar doink and leads a game winning TD drive. I’m going to speak in advance to the game day hosts about having the defibrillator on stand by for me.

Of course my Labour Day post wouldn’t be complete with a comment on the residents of Manitoba, some of which will be coming to Mosaic. Sure they may currently be miles ahead of us in terms of managing the pandemic and containing the spread but I’m more convinced than ever that there will soon be a study that shows that its due in large part to the combination of inbreeding, olfactory, STDs and likely being stabbed at some point, (a combination which is prevalent in the province) providing a heightened natural immunity to Covid.