Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Very Belated Grey Cup Edition

Riders 18 – Als 21

The trip home yesterday was a somber one… well except for when we stopped at McDonalds and Media Consultant was denied service because he wanted lunch food at 10:55am and the lunch menu didn’t start until 11:00am. We also saw a guy who looked exactly like Gimli from Lord of the Rings. But other than that and more to the point of my story… it was a somber trip.

For the second year in a row, I was in the stands to witness the Riders come up short in their bid to bring home this franchise’s 4th Grey Cup.

If you had told me before the game that we would have the lead at half time, I would have put my 2007 Grey Cup Whiskey on ice because I would have been sure that I would sipping on it later (well maybe not sipping).

If you had told me before the game that we were going to hold Anthony Calvillo and the potent Alouette offense to 2 TDs I would have placed my order ahead of time for Riders Grey Cup Champs 2010 merchandise.

If you had told me before the game that Marc Parenteau was going to account for half our TDs… I would have laughed in your face.

For me, analyzing the outcome of the game is as simple as this. In order to win you need 2 of your 3 phases to perform well. Given that our special teams never performs well (or anything that even resembles well), that means that our offense and defense by default both need to play well. Our defense played extremely well on Sunday… unfortunately our offense did not. You simply can’t beat an elite team like the Als with only one phase of your game working… it’s really that simple.

For the second week in a row I was floored by how well our defense played. Limiting Calvillo to 2 TDs is quite an accomplishment. Jerrell Freeman was yet again an absolute monster. The only thing that would have made his performance better is if he had secured that pick he almost had. We got pressure on Calvillo (which is not easy to do) thanks in large part to the play of Shologan and Chunky. Our defense was the only reason that game was remotely close. Hats off to them. My only knock on our defense is that we have an obvious weakness at both cornerback spots. Not surprisingly a future hall of famer like AC was able to exploit it.

By contrast, I was floored by how flat our offense was. Our passing attack which has been our strength this season, turned in a bad performance at the worst possible time. I'm not sure if it was our play calling or Durant just struggling (likely some combination thereof) but our passing attack was non existent. Untimely drops by Getzlaf only compounded our struggles. Cates ran like a champion but with no passing attack to balance it, it was mostly for naught in the end.

And that was pretty much it in the end. No passing game, no championships. Sucks to say but unlike last year where I thought we were the better team, the better team won this year.

Other random thoughts:

- Did anyone else get flashbacks to '07 on that one Fantuz run where he refused to go down?

- Did anyone else get flashbacks to Brett Favre on that game ending Durant INT?

- Leron Mitchell's broken leg was one of the most gruesome things I have ever seen in football

- I am quickly developing an appreciation for Rider fans that endured the early 70s.

And this ends another great season of Rider football. Though I'm sure players and fans alike are disappointed at not winning the Cup, I think you'll still have to be happy with the season. Not many teams could overcome losing half their coaching staff, 2 all-star DEs, one of the best DBs in franchise history, and their starting MLB all at once and still repeat as West Division Champs... especially after the heartbreaking way last year ended. It's truly an amazing accomplishment I applaud the team for their effort, their heart and their resiliency and congratulate them on another great season.

We have an outstanding team in our province and we are very proud of them.

Ending aside, I have great memories of Grey Cup 2010 from the great parties, to the BC fan who accosted us in our hotel room that we are pretty sure had rabies, to Media Consultant making Ricky Santos pout like a little girl because he didn't know who Santos was when he was met him at casino. Good times were had by all... though given that the Riders are now 0-2 in Grey Cups I attend, I think it would be best if I stay home next year

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Grey Cup 2010: Riders vs. Als

As I sit in my hotel room and type this I can barely contain my excitement. In just over 24 hours we will witness our Riders attempt to bring home the franchise's 4th Grey Cup. Its almost surreal to think that a team that once went decades without making it to the Grey Cup is now appearing in their 3rd once in 4 years. My how the times have changed.

I could write pages on this being a rematch of last year, our chance at redemption, a chance to re-write history... but quite frankly I'm sick of all that talk.

Whether we like it or not (and if you like it there's something wrong with you), nothing can change what happened last year. It's over, forever etched in history and above all, it's in the past. This is a new year and 2010 is all that matters, o that's what I will focus on.

The 2010 CFL season will end the same way it began, with a battle of the league's 2 best teams. This game has a weird build up. I can't remember the last time a team that was favoured was expected by so many people to lose. The Als are a very good team but the majority of people are expecting the Riders to win. In fact the Als have some big conspiracy theory that the league wants the Riders to win. While it may be true that a Rider victory is better for the league financially than an Als repeat, it's a little far fetched to think that they are going out of their way to make it happen.

As for the game itself, I expect 1 thing... an all out aerial assault on both sides. On one side you have the ageless wonder Calvillo and his cast of talented receivers. On the other side you have the pass happy RIder offense matched up against an Alouette pass defense that is actually very crappy or le brutal as the French might say. It is one of their few weaknesses. And they also have a tough decision to make in regards to how to cover the Rider receivers. If you play them straight up Fantuz and Dressler will make big plays. If you focus your attention on those 2, Getzlaf and Koch will hurt you. Pick your poison.

For whatever reason Dressler always has monster games against the Als and with the added incentive of playing in his first Grey Cup I expect another one this week.

The Als have the best run D in the league so I don't expect a big game from him. I just hope that like last week he makes every yard count.

Defensively, the Als are as tough to stop as we are. That said, last week I watched our D shut down the best O in the league with their most inspired performance of the year. If they can bring that intensity again tomorrow it could make for a long night for Calvillo. The pressure will be on our secondary to step up.

As always I am just praying that our special does just enough not to screw us over. Please, please, please.

I expect an extremely close game that will come down to the very end. But when the final whistle blows I know that we will see the Green and White hoist the Cup for the 4th time ever.

Riders by a Weston Dressler TD.

Live from Edmonton

This blog comes to you live from the City Champions. We arrived yesterday and set up shop at a hotel that borders on a pretty sketchy neighbourhood (the good news is that according to signs they don’t support prostitution).

I am currently working on my sentimonies on tomorrow's Grey Cup but for now here are some random thoughts on my Grey Cup experience so far,

- On the drive up I realized that Randy Travis has a lot of songs about bones (Out of My Bones, Digging Up Bones)... I wonder if he is secretly some sort of serial killer

- Despite the terrible condition of the highway between Chamberlain and Dundurn, we did not see one Highways vehicle. I guess they didn't think that stretch of highway might be busy this weekend.

- We went to Riderville last night where I found a bartender who poured the rye very generously (very generously). In retrospect maybe he was trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me. Can't say i blame him.

- Thanks to the large amounts of rye I couldn't figure out how to operate the shower this morning so I was reduced to having a bath.

That's what's been going on so far. Now as I try to remedy my pounding head with coffee and Bailey's I will attempt to put together some coherent thoughts on the game.

Wish me luck

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Podcast

The guys from Green Is The Colour were kind enough to have me on as a guest for their weekly podcast.

Check it out by going here

Rider Prophet vs. Chris Schultz

Back on July 1, the National Post ran an article featuring 4 CFL panelists giving their pre-season predictions on 20 different questions. The panel included long-time CFL on TSN panelist and former pro-football player Chris Schultz as well as robe wearing, opinionated bigot, the Rider Prophet (along with Matt Brown from Fantas-Eh Football).

Here is a question by question breakdown of how Chris Schultz (who gets paid for his football analysis) fared against the foremost sports related-prognosticator in the country…

1. What new player will help his team the most?
Schultz’s Pick: Jamall Lee
Prophet’s Pick: Buck Pierce

I’ll admit due to the inevitable injuries that cut short Buck Pierce’s season his impact was not all that long lasting but in just 5 games he did pass for over 1000 yards and rushed for another 237. Jamall Lee appeared in 9 games racking up just 16 rushing yards and 99 receiving yards.

Winner: Prophet

2. What player’s departure will hurt his team the most?
Schultz’s Pick: Keron Williams from Montreal
Prophet’s Pick: Barron Miles from BC

Montreal still had one of the top pass rushes in the CFL.
BC struggled to find a suitable replacement for Miles.

Winner: Prophet

3. What 2010 draftee will have the most immediate impact?
Schultz’s Pick: Cory Watson
Prophet’s Pick: Rob Maver

Cory Watson – 17 catches for 277 yards and a TD
Rob Maver – Led the CFL in kicking points.

Winner: Prophet

4. Who will be the next big-name player to retire?
Schultz’s Pick: Gene Makowsky
Prophet’s Pick: Anthony Calvillo

The jury is still out on this one. Though to be fair, at this point, I would say Schultz has the better shot at being right.

Winner: Undecided but leaning towards Schultz

5. Who is likely to take a step back this season?
Schultz’s Pick: Henry Burris
Prophet’s Pick: Jermaine Copeland

Schultzy was so close on this one… you know except for the fact that Burris had one of his best seasons ever and is the West nominee for MOP. By contrast Copeland turned in his least productive season in 8 years.

Winner: Prophet

6. Who will emerge as a star this season?
Schultz’s Pick: Prechae Rodriguez
Prophet’s Pick: Arkee Whitlock

Whitlock was on pace for over 1300 yds and 10 TDs when his season was cut short due to injury.
Rodriguez was on pace to accomplish very little when his season was cut short due to getting cut.

Winner: Prophet

7. Who will be the comeback player of the year?
Schultz’s Pick: Kelly Campbell
Prophet’s Pick: Casey Printers

Even though Campbell really didn’t have a stellar year, he still did better than the embarrassment that was Casey Printers.

Winner: Schultz

8. Which team will have the biggest QB controversy?
Schultz’s Pick: Toronto
Prophet’s Pick: Toronto

Realistically, the way Cleo Lemon played this year would have created a QB controversy on any other team in the league but Jim Barker stuck with him for some misguided reason leading to no controversy.

Winner: Both wrong

9. How many RBs will crack the 1,000 yard barrier?
Schultz’s Pick: 5
Prophet’s Pick: 5

The correct answer was 5… I can only assume Schultz was looking off my paper and copying my answer on this one.

Winner: Both Correct

10. Who will be the league’s top Canadian this season?
Schultz’s Pick: Calvin McCarty
Prophet’s Pick: Andy Fantuz

Seriously?!? Calvin McCarty?!? This was your pick for best Canadian in the League? Wow. I mean sure McCarty was the top Canadian on his own team but that’s pretty much by default since the Esks are so devoid of Canadian talent that a pulse and a Canadian passport is all it takes to get that nomination. Compare that with Fantuz who is a lock for the Most Outstanding Canadian award after leading the league in receiving… Calvin McCarty? What were you thinking?

Winner: Prophet

11. Who will be the outstanding defensive player?
Schultz’s Pick: Barrin Simpson
Prophet’s Pick: Markeith Knowlton

Simpson is a far less embarrassing pick that Calvin McCarty and actually turned in a very good season, leading the league in tackles. However, Markeith Knowlton turned in an even better one on route to being named the East Nominee for Defensive Player of the Year.

Winner: Prophet

12. Who will be the outstanding offensive player?
Schultz’s Pick: Darian Durant
Prophet’s Pick: Casey Printers

Durant led the league is passing yards and was the top rushing QB.
Casey Printers wasn’t good enough to last the season without being cut.

Winner: Schultz

13. Which team has the league’s best defense?
Schultz’s Pick: Montreal
Prophet’s Pick: Hamilton

Hamilton allowed the 2nd least points this season.
Montreal was 5th

Winner: Prophet

14. Which team has the league’s best offense?
Schultz’s Pick: Saskatchewan
Prophet’s Pick: Montreal

Montreal scored more points and gained more yards than Saskatchewan and were the 2nd overall offense in the league (Sk was 3rd).

Winner: Prophet

15. Which team will surprise this year?
Schultz’s Pick: Toronto and Winnipeg
Prophet’s Pick: BC

Schultz tried gaining an unfair advantage by picking 2 teams when he was only asked for one… but the second team he picked ended up being the worst team in the league so no such advantage was gained.
Though BC and Toronto both finished 3rd in their divisions I will give the edge to Schultz because expectations were only moderately above zero for the Argos coming into the season so making the playoffs is more surprising for them than the Lions.

Winner: Schultz

16. Which team will disappoint?
Schultz’s Pick: Hamilton
Prophet’s Pick: Calgary

Swing and a miss by me. Hamilton did have a pretty good regular season (they saved the disappointment for the playoffs) but unless they’ve recently changed the definition of “disappoint”, you can really classify the league’s best team through the regular season as having a disappointing season. (Though the Stamps did make up for it with their disappointing loss in the West Final).
Winner: Schultz

17. Which team is facing the most pressure?
Schultz’s Pick: Hamilton and Edmonton
Prophet’s Pick: Saskatchewan

Even though he once again cheated by picking two teams instead of one, I will call this a draw since all 3 teams mentioned faced a ton of pressure.

Winner: Both Correct

18. What game on the schedule do you look forward to most?
Schultz’s Pick: Labour Day
Prophet’s Pick: Labour Day

I may rag on Schultzy a lot but even he knows enough about the CFL to know that Labour Day weekend is best weekend of the year.

Winner: Both Correct

19. What 2 teams will miss the playoffs?
Schultz’s Pick: It’s too hard to tell.
Prophet’s Pick: Toronto and Winnipeg

By virtue of providing an actual answer I win this one, as an added bonus I was half right.

Winner: Prophet

20. Who will play in the Grey Cup and who will win?
Schultz’s Pick: BC beats Montreal
Prophet’s Pick: Saskatchewan beats Hamilton.

BC to win it all is almost as laughable as Calvin McCarty for top Canadian… almost. While I realize that Hamilton didn’t make the cup, at least the team I picked to win it all actually made it to the Grey Cup.

Winner: Prophet

Here’s your final tally…

Rider Prophet – 14 correct answers

Chris Schultz – 7 correct answers (only 4 of which I didn’t also get correct)

Undecided – 1

So in the end it wasn’t even close. By an overwhelming majority, I proved to be the superior football mind. That said winning a battle of intellect with a former lineman isn’t exactly an overwhelming challenge.

Trust me, I’m a prophet!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Shutting Down The Stamps

Riders 20 – Stamps 16

A brief chronology:

December 1, 2009 Rider Prophet states: “Mark my words: Buy your Edmonton Grey Cup tickets when they go on sale because the Riders will be back there next year.”

April 16, 2010 – Rider Prophet purchases his tickets for Grey Cup, officially putting his money where his mouth is.

June 30, 2010 Rider Prophet sates in his Official 2010 Prophecies that the Riders will play in the Grey Cup

November 19, 2010 Rider Prophet predicts the Riders will beat the Stamps in the West Final.

Conclusion: Believe the Prophet!!

Ladies and gentlemen if you can stop shaking with excitement long enough to read this, I will try my best to stop shaking long enough to type it.

We are going back to the Grey Cup!!!!!!

Despite being written off by the so called experts and pundits and facing off against the best team in the league in their home stadium in weather that would likely have halted most seal hunt expeditions… The Riders would not be denied.

In typical Rider fashion we started out by handing our opponents a double digit lead. Not really sure why we feel the need to repeatedly do this but something always seems to click when it happens and the team starts playing their game, taking control and never looking back.

I would like to acknowledge our defense for turning in an absolutely outstanding performance. As a unit they were much maligned throughout the year but when it mattered most they rose to the challenge and played like champions. They completely eliminated one the league’s premiere running attacks, they got consistent pressure against a talent-ladden O-line, they put a strangle hold on an elite group of receivers (leaving Arjei Franklin as the Stamps top receiver) and most importantly they held the held the most potent offensive attack in the league to one solitary TD and allowed only 5 measly points over the final 3 quarters. Absolutely Outstanding!!

In particular, Jerell Freeman played an outstanding game. He racked up 9 tackles (one of which was a thunderous shot to Cornish), 1 big sack and prevented a sure TD by never giving up on a play (more on that display of mental retardation later). I have liked Freeman from day 1 and its nice to see him stepping up when we need it the most.

Offensively, it took a while for them to get going. Durant looked extremely shaky and indecisive in the first quarter. But much like how our team needs a 10 point deficit before they get their head in the game, Durant seems to need to run the ball and take a hit before he calms down and starts playing his game. When Durant took off and ran for the first time (and made Dwight Anderson look like he should be at home playing with his tea set in the process) you knew he was ready to roll.

Our offensive game plan was very well thought out in my opinion. We knew they were going to key on Fantuz and Dressler and we accepted that and exploited them elsewhere. Namely with Chris “The Stampeder Killer” Getzlaf who made the Stamps look like fools for trying to rely on second rate HBs to try and cover him one on one. Not only did we accept Fantuz’s role as a high profile decoy we also exploited it. More than once we kept Fantuz in to block which handcuffed Browner to the line of scrimmage where he could have little to no affect on the play. Really smart move on our part.

Other special mentions go out to:

- Our O-line who gave Durant enough time lay down, have a nap, solve complex quantum physics problems and make waffles on some plays. Calgary has a strong front 7 and while there were a lot of balls batted down, protection wise I thought the hoggies played well.

- Cary Koch who certainly didn’t look like rookie who was playing in only his second playoff game ever.

- Wes Cates. We didn’t run the ball lots but when we did, he got 5 yards guaranteed. And late in the game when we needed to kill the clock he was at his best. +

On both sides of the ball I though the team did a great job of stepping up and making plays when required. Special Teams… well that was a different story.

I hate to harp on negatives at such a joyous time but what an embarrassment this group is. We consistently made life hard on our defense by spotting the Stamps the ball at mid-field every time they were on offense. I’m amazed at how often our D was able to bail us out of those situations. Yet again our return game was non-existent. Our blockers must be on some kind of mind altering drugs since the only people they appear to be blocking are imaginary. And as for Grease-Mullen… I have never sworn so much in my life! What the hell were you doing?!?!? If it weren’t for some lucky bounces and a miracle save by Jerrell Freeman there is a very good chance that someone may have killed Grease-Mullen already… it may have even been me. Look our returns don’t go anywhere any way so why don’t you just save what little mental capacity you have and concentrate only on securing the ball. I can’t believe that someone tasked with the relatively easy job of replacing the perennially embarrassing Dominique Dorsey could somehow manage not to look good by comparison. As a sign of my thanks to Jerrell Freeman for saving the day (and my heart as I was about to have coronary) I offer you a night in a hotel room with my fiancĂ©e no questions asked, I’ll even pay for the hotel room.

Special teams aside, I was extremely impressed with the heart and effort displayed by our team yesterday. They refused to give up and succeeded against tremendous adversity as a team. They are truly deserving at a second chance at the Grey Cup and I can’t wait to be there in person to cheer them on… this will be a long, long week.

I’d just like to end by pointing out that John Hufnagel and the Stamps have no one to blame but themselves for the damage caused by their undisciplined play. Hufnagel allowed and even encouraged his team’s cockiness and tendency to push the limits of the rules all season. And low and behold when it mattered most he couldn’t reign in his team and get them to play within the rules. Discipline is a mindset and a culture, not something you can turn on and off as you please. One coach made discipline a priority all year and one did not… it should come as no surprise as to which coach is headed to the Grey Cup and which coach is headed home. You reap what you sow.

It’s amazing how much sweeter victories are when they are over the Stampeders.

Okay that’s enough typing… back to shaking with excitement!!!!

WOOOOOOOOO!!!!

I'll have full sentimonies later but for now I'll just say three things

1 - WOOOOOOOOO!!!!
2 - I love you Jerrell Freeman
3 - FU Grease-Mullen

Grey Cup in 6 days!!!!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

West Final: Riders vs. Stamps

I’ve got my tickets for the Grey Cup in Edmonton… what remains to be seen though is whether the Riders will punch their tickets to the big game. To do so they will have to defeat the best team in the league. I die a little inside having to say that because I hate the Stamps. And not just a little. My hatred of them is equivalent to my combined hatred of pop music, shopping and vegetarian anything combined.

They will also have to contend with conditions that most penguins and polar bears would shy away from. It’s going so that cold that they may have to discourage people from breathing because the cloud it will create might completely ruin visibility on the field. I would recommend Henry wear a bra with extra padding so as to cover up his perky nipples.

It’s been a while since the Riders have been completely written off by the pundits in a game. The last time I can remember being considered this big of underdogs was in 2007 against the league best Lions… and that one turned out alright. Though I may disagree with their predictions, it’s tough to argue with their logic. They win more, they score more, they run better, they have a stingier defense they have a return game than can be measured in something more meaningful than millimetres and good effort. The belief that the Riders can topple the Stamps is purely based on faith… or is it?

Sure Calgary did post the best record in the CFL this past season but they did lose 5 games. 2 to BC (who we just ousted from the playoffs and beat 3 out of 4 times), 1 to us (when Fantuz was a one man wrecking crew), 1 to Toronto (who is not a good team. Anyone associated with the Ti-Cats should be thoroughly embarrassed to lose to a team that has no passing attack. Hang your head in shame Hamilton!) and 1 to Montreal (who aren’t all that different from us: explosive offense, questionable defense).

Bottom line is that they are beatable.

Defensively all the talk is about stopping Henry Burris but quite frankly Hooty McBoob is the least of my worries. Sure he may be the Western MOP but if there is any justice in the world he will lose… and I’m not just saying that because I think Burris is a whiny, loud mouthed, cross dressing, seal clubbing, baby punching, communist sympathizer (how’s that for excessive libel and slander?). Look at the stats. Calvillo posted numbers comparable to Burris’ despite missing 3 game and threw 13 less INTs than Burris in the process. Burris had a good season but League MOP he is not… unless MOP stands for Man with Obvious PMS.

No, the key to stopping the Stamps O is Joffrey Reynolds. In the game that we beat the Stamps we held Reynolds to just 50 yards of offense. In the 2 we lost, he ran like wild on us racking up 278 total yards and 3 TDs. You see the difference? Stop him, stop the Stamps… particularly in the cold. We also need to need to get pressure on Burris in order to fluster him and turn him into the postseason turnover machine we all love to watch self destruct. Problem is in 3 games against him we only managed 2 sacks. That simply won’t do. We need to bring the pressure. That, along with shutting down the run game will be what it takes to neutralize the powerful Stamp O.

Offensively it won’t be easy. The Stamps have a solid front 4 so our O-line will need to step up and give Durant time to work. A heavy dose of Cates will help slow them down. Durant also needs to be calm and not force things. Ever since Fantuz made a mockery of the interior of their secondary, he has had Brandon Browner permanently attached to him. We can also bet that Dressler will draw a fair bit of attention after his dominating performance last week. That’s fine by me and hopefully Berry and Durant share my opinion because that will leave Getzalf, Koch and Clermont a ton of room to operate and lets be honest the weakest part of the Stamps is the middle of their secondary. Any of those 3 are capable of making big plays when faced with single coverage. Hell Clermont could make a living on those inside slants if Durant can be on the mark.

As always, I will pray for our special teams adequacy to continue. We managed to fair okay against Yonus Davis who is an elite returner, no reason to think they can’t get the job done against the Stamps return game which isn’t quite as good.

I was expecting a high scoring affair but I would imagine the frigid conditions would temper that somewhat. Make no mistake about it, this won’t be easier. It will be a knock down, drag out fight between 2 teams that can’t stand each other. My heart will go from 0 to 60 and back again repeatedly, my hands will shake, my mouth will curse. But when the dust settles… (and maybe this is just the devout Rider fan in me) … I truly believe that the Riders will emerge victorious. A return trip to the Grey Cup to take care of some unfinished business is one the line and the Riders will not disappoint.

Riders by a Chris “The Stampeder Killer” Getzlaf TD

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Sentimonies: I’m Spent

Riders 41 – BC 38

There are 3 ways of doing things in life: the easy way, the hard way and the Rider way… which is a variation on the hard was but is infinitely harder, more emotionally draining and so complex that even if you had a map, your own personal sherpa and a well drawn diagram, you will still likely get lost at some point. I’ve always figured that some day I will die in those stands. Yesterday was almost that day. Since we can’t just be happy with doing things the easy way, we were forced to endure a marathon roller coaster ride that 4 out of 5 doctors would likely say is harmful to your physical well being. I honestly have no idea how our geriatric coaching staff manages to survive these things.

You know if it wasn’t for that fact that I was so emotionally invested in this game, it actually would have been an exciting game to watch. Lead changes, late comebacks, final second heroics, it had it all.

The game started out eerily similar to the ’08 West-Semi. Defense doing a good job of keeping us in the game, offense failing to get anything going. The fact that we spotted them a 9 point lead didn’t really phase me much (I’ve gotten used to this team not starting to play until they are down a couple scores). What did cause me concern though was our sputtering offense. We were calling the right plays, receivers were running good routes and getting open… and Durant was sailing pass after pass over them. It was as if he subconsciously thought that the entire team was wearing stilts and arm extenders and adjusting his passes accordingly. The game could have easily been a blowout in our favour if he had connected on a couple of those passes (such as the one to a wide open Fantuz). Fortunately, while Durant wasn’t helping our cause, he also wasn’t hurting it. He didn’t turn the ball over which kept the game close and when it mattered most he stepped up and got the job done.

So do you think Weston Dressler was a little fired up for this game? After being forced to watch last year’s playoff run from the sidelines, he played this game like a man possessed… possibly by performance enhancing drugs. Despite being the smallest man on the field, he was ploughing through defenders and simply wasn’t going to be stopped. It’s pretty inspiring to see a midget fight off an army of defenders and carry a couple of them for extra yards.

Say what you want about Wes Cates but he always plays his best football when it matters most. While his numbers don’t jump off the page, I thought he had a great game. He ran well, made some outstanding catches and managed to turn a desperation dump by Durant from certain lost yards into a huge gain and almost broke it for a TD.

And of course how can you not love that Jason Clermont’s first TD as a Rider sealed the win. Dressler and Fantuz may be get the most attention and the most accolades but when its clutch time you know you can count on #82 to deliver. Glad to see him finally cross the goal line because few are as deserving and hard working as Clermont.

Defensively I thought they started out great. They were fired up and making plays. McCullough did a solid job of patrolling the middle in Simpson’s absence. Line was getting good pressure most of the time. And Lance Frazier stepped up big time racking up 2 sacks, a forced fumble and an INT. Unfortunately we didn’t finish quite as strong. We had many chances to end them game well before the 2nd OT but we just kept failing to make plays. Our cornerbacks are not very good. Leron Mitchell has speed to burn but seems to have absolutely zero football sense. He doesn’t really cover receivers so much as run around really fast hoping that he ends up inadvertently getting in the way of the pass (Whatever happened to Donavan Alexander?). And Omarr… while I will never question the man’s heart or effort, I will question his coverage skills. He needs to be better because the teams we have left to play this postseason have better receivers than BC. But we win as a team and lose as a team and the defense did enough to get the job done, no sense dwelling on the negatives.

By the way, did anyone notice the play where Jerell Freeman dropped back to play free safety? While it was weird to see, given who our D Coordinator is I can’t say I was surprised.

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you special teams for turning in an adequate performance. That was all I wanted and you delivered. Yonus Davis was a non-factor for the most part and while we didn’t have much in the way returns, we at least managed to secure the ball… not surprisingly this led to a victory. That said I’d be lying if I said I was confident in our FG kicking. In that 2nd OT when Koch dropped the ball on 1st down, I all of the sudden realized that if we didn’t make this next pass that the season would come down to needing to make a 42 yd FG… this of course caused me great worry. If it had actually come down to that, I’m pretty certain that it would have been enough to push my heart over the edge. Fortunately it never came to that, and hopefully it doesn’t ever come to that.

There is nothing better than the atmosphere at Mosaic for a playoff game. The intensity of the crowd (at least those of us who cared enough to buy a ticket to the game) is completely off the hook. It was so loud in the there that I don’t know why they even bothered with the entrance music, nobody heard it. And the crowd didn’t let up even hours later in the 4th and OT when they were needed it most. There were multiple procedure and time count penalties caused by the raucous crowd. I’m partially deaf, can barely speak and my arms are still sore but it was worth every penny.

At the end up the day, that was playoff football. Two good teams going toe to toe in a knockdown drag out fight that goes down to wire. Hats off to the Riders for never giving up, the games won’t get any easier but if we can show that kind of resiliency every time we step on the field, we will be a tough team to beat.

Rest up and recover Rider fans because we get to do it all again in 6 days

Saturday, November 13, 2010

National Post: Playoff Panel

For a 3rd time Matt Brown from Fantas-eh and I were invited to be part of the National Post's panel for a look at the playoffs.

Check it out...
http://sports.nationalpost.com/2010/11/13/post-panel-breaking-down-the-cfl-playoffs/

Friday, November 12, 2010

West Semi Final: Riders vs. BC

Nineteen weeks and 72 games of CFL football have come and gone and all that’s really been settled is that Winnipeg sucks (which we all knew anyway) and that Edmonton is in dire need of a complete overhaul (again pretty much anyone outside of Edmonton saw this coming years ago). Other than that the results of the previous 4+ months are as meaningless as the incentives in Casey Printers’ contract with the Lions as this point. There are 6 teams still in contention for Lord Grey’s Cup and 1 loss is all it will take for that dream to end.

Sunday the 10-8 Riders will play host to the 8-10 Lions with a plane ticket to Calgary for the West Final on the line. It’s amazing how quickly things have changed here on the prairies. Three years ago, a ticket to a Rider home playoff game was the most sought after thing on the open market. People happily were taking out second mortgages on their houses to pay the exorbitant scalper prices that were being charged and in a few cases I think trading their firstborn straight up for a ticket. The prairies were in a frenzy since playoffs in Saskatchewan were about as common as the National Yachting Championships being held here.

Fast forward to today, 4 straight home playoff games seem to have taken the lustre off the whole thing for many people. Kickoff is under 72 hours away and the game is not yet soldout. Playoffs on the prairies seem have become ho hum and expected, not cause for celebration as they should be. Just ask anyone who cheered for the Riders during the 80s and 90’s how lucky we are. Playoffs are a big deal. So put your green and white on, get yourself a ticket and let’s turn Mosaic Stadium into a madhouse! … unless of course you’d prefer to go back to the days when the only exciting thing going on at Taylor field was the locker-room sale.

After a pretty embarrassing start the Lions are heading into the playoffs with a ton of momentum having won 7 of their last 10 games including their last 3. This has got a lot of people talking about how the Lions are playing much better football. While that may be, its pretty easy to “improve” when you start off playing so bad that the TSN actually had to consider moving Lion games to the Comedy Network since the content was technically more comedy than actual sport. Also BC’s last 3 opponents all had nothing to play for so it’s hard to put a lot of stock into them.

The Lions “offense” is essentially 3 plays. 1) Big return by Yonus Davis. 2) Check down to Jamal Robertson. 3) Toss up a long pass and pray the receiver can track it down. That said I’m shocked at how well that plan has worked for them down the stretch. They have a fairly good defense. Their front 7 is very solid (though they are susceptible to the run). Their secondary is below average but it does have Ryan Phillips who seems to consistently have Durant’s number.

The X factor to consider with BC is their special teams. Yonus Davis is one of most dangerous returners in the league (he actually scares me more than Chad Owens) and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Also Paul McCallum is enjoying one of the finest seasons in his century long career. Not to mention the fact that he will no doubt have a chip on his should after getting snubbed for the West MOP nomination. Sure Henry Burris had a great year but McCallum made a lot of short FGs… come on, what’s more outstanding than that?

Keys to the game defensively are eliminate Robertson. Travis Lulay is not that great of a QB so in a high pressure game if we take away his safety valve he will start to unravel. The bulk of Robertson’s yards come on short dump offs that he turns up field for 1st downs. Our LBs will have to key on him. Also James Patrick will have to prove why he is the best safety in the league. Lulay is far from an accurate passer and he likes to throw up long balls and pray someone in orange comes down with them. Patrick should be able to just play centre field and break on those long balls. He should be all over those balls like Man in the Bush on a… never mind you probably are happier not hearing the end of that one.

Offensively I think the key is don’t turn the ball over. BC does not have an explosive or high scoring offense so if we can get up early and play smart, they will struggle to play catch-up. Durant needs to just do what he did last week, spread the ball around, use his legs and make smart decisions. A weak safety and ball hawking group of defenders (Phillips, Marsh, Banks) should be very vulnerable to double moves. If there was ever a game for Wes Cates to break out this would be the one. BC has extremely weak run D and will be expecting us to pass all night (as per our usual game plan). Cates turned in some spirited performances last postseason so hopefully he’s got couple more left in the tank.

Above all else, given the skill of Yonus Davis and the repeated incompetence of our special teams unit, the key to victory is adequate special teams. I’m not asking for outstanding, I’m not even asking for good, just please, please don’t do anything stupid. If Grease-Mullen secures the ball and we contain Davis going the other way we will win, plain and simple. I know its asking a lot but if there was ever a time for Jim Daley to do something useful… now is that time.

Pound for pound the Riders are a better team than the Lions but in the playoffs all bets are off. The Lions will point to the fact that they beat us the last time they played us in the West Semi. But I will point to the fact that without Michael Bishop literally handing BC the victory, it will be slightly more difficult to beat the Riders on their home turf. Okay that may be somewhat of an understatement since a team of war-amps and computer science majors could beat a Michael Bishop QBed team.

I expect a close fought game that puts tremendous stress on my heart but in the end you have to bet on the team with the better QB, the league’s best receiver and strong supporting cast with a raucous home crowd on their side.

Riders by 10

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Morning Sentimonies: That’s More Like It

Riders 31 – Esks 23

Well it looks like the month off really helped the Riders as they ended the season on a high note knocking a desperate Eskimo team in front of a sold out crowd (now there’s a run on sentence that would make my high school English teacher shake his head in disappointment).

Admittedly the start of game did not do much the ease the fans’ many concerns coming into the game. Porter was running all over us, our offense kept stalling well short of the goal line and Warren Kean continued reminding us how comically inept Danny Maccioccia was. Late in the 2nd quarter, we were down 11 points. Though with the scoreboard not working properly, I may have just been confused and we could have been up 11 (I still don’t get how the entire scoreboard can work except the team names part). I’m sure at this many fans were busy placing their home-playoff tickets on Ebay and sharpening their pitchforks for the public lynching that would not doubt take place following a 5th straight loss.

But momentum took a massive swing in the Riders’ favour in the waning minutes of the first half. Offense started clicking and the defense dug in, as the Rider put up ten points in just over 2 minutes to cut the lead to one. It would be the start of 26 unanswered points for the Riders who took a strangle hold on the game in the 3rd quarter and never looked back. You had to love the Durant TD right before the half. Every single person in the stadium (including myself and the entire Esk D) assumed Cates would be getting the ball for a 1 yd plunge. Durant rolled out and faked the handoff. When he rounded the corner there was nobody between him and Moose Jaw. He might as well have just done the Charleston into the endzone for as much time as he had.

Durant had a great game. He looked calm and poised in the pocket, used his legs to buy time and gain yards effectively and spread the ball around the entire field. He had 6 receivers with at least 3 catches. That is the sign of a QB who is reading the field well. Most importantly we had zero turnovers. Its amazing how much easier it is to win games when you hang onto the ball. I was also happy with our play calling. It finally showed some diversity: swing passes, screens, quick hitters inside, actually giving the ball to Dressler on the reverse. Edmonton was kept off balance all night.

The stats don’t show too favourably on our defense but I don’t think they tell the entire story. Sure they did allow Daniel Porter to run all over us like a drunk Craig Mactavish behind the wheel and Fred Stamps turned in another big game but what did Edmonton have to show for all those yards? … A few FGs and 1 TD (as well as a 2nd TD in garbage time). In addition to keeping the Esks out of the endzone, they also forced 2 big turnovers as well as a safety (thanks in large part to an amazing punt by the Moustached Wonder Eddie Johnson). Was it pretty? No, but they got the job done and that’s all I really care about.

I thought Jerrell Freeman had another good game. Good things happen when he is on the field. Ryan Lucas looked good too. He’s not quite ready to be fulltime starter but with a little more work he could be. I thought we benefited from Kornegay and McKenzie being back in their normal spots. The much hyped Wright had a so so game for his first CFL action some good stuff, stuff mistakes, which was to be expected.

I’m actually still in shock that I have to write this next paragraph. I was assuming that I would just be able to copy and paste last week’s rant on the futility of our special teams change BC to Edmonton and be done. However, our special teams unit decided to shock the world and turn in a half decent performance. By no means was it spectacular or even great but it was free of return TDs, fumbles, blocked kicks and balls bouncing off their faces which for us is a resounding success, Grease-Mullen even had a decent return thrown in there. It’s sad when you are reduced to congratulating people for not embarrassing themselves but what can you do? Congratulations to our special teams on a job done.

Other random thoughts:

- Kudos to the Riders for taking the time to train that flock of Canada geese to fly in perfect formation of the filed during O Canada. While I love the snowbirds as much as the next guy, I think that may have been one of my favourite fly-bys ever.

- Maybe next time when they are picking contestants for that Golds Gym contest, they should ensure that the people they pick can actually spell Golds.

- You’ve got to like Cary Koch, he bides his time patiently all season on the PR and when his number finally gets called he plays like a starter game in and game out.

- Congrats to Andy on becoming the first Canadian receiver since Dave Sapunjis to lead the league in receiving. For years we have talked about how good he could be if he played a full season… now we know.

Overall I was impressed with the total team effort that the Riders turned in. They didn’t have to try but they showed killer instinct and knocked off a team fighting for their playoff lives. Confidence is back in the air and with the West-Semi only 6 days away it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

One last note…

In what has shocked absolutely no one (except maybe Jesse Lumsden), Jesse Lumsden has suffered yet another season ending injury. He tore his ACL while attempting to make his tackle. About the only surprising thing about it was that this time it didn’t involve his paper mache shoulder and that it took longer that a quarter of football for it to occur. While it is a loss for the Stamps they will likely be fine without him. What remains to be seen is how this will impact the Canadian bobsledding team’s performance this season

Friday, November 5, 2010

Riders vs. Edmonton: Season Finale

Saturday the 9-8 Riders take on the 7-10 Eskimos in the final game of the regular season. The Esks come into this game on a hot streak having won 5 of their last 6 games. The Riders come in just the opposite having not won a game in over a month. Oddly enough the Riders are the ones who have locked up a home playoff game while the Esks still are not guaranteed a postseason appearance. This is a rather anti-climatic end to the regular season and is in start contrast to the epic season finale of a year ago.

First of all let me start off by apologizing. It has come to my attention that my criticisms of the team (and those of other fans) during this recent losing streak have been unfair and are hurting the players’ feelings. I would like to formally apologize for any negative comments I may have made. As someone who has never coached or played at a professional level, I am unqualified to critique the team’s on-field play. Again I apologize. Clearly as an uneducated fan I fail to comprehend the intricacies of football such has how giving up repeated kick return TDs is actually a good thing, how being unable to stop the run is not a cause for concern and how a struggling offense is the sign of championship calibre team. Please accept my heartfelt apologies. Our coaching staff is superior to any others in the league and our team is infinitely better than even the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I have already staked out my spot on Albert St for the Grey Cup parade that will inevitably be occurring at the end of the month.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the game…

I really have no idea what to expect out of this team tomorrow. On one hand they could come out fired up in front of a hometown crowd, determined to put an end to the losing streak and gain momentum for the playoffs. On the other hand, since this is just another instalment in the series of “team with nothing to play for faces team whose playoff aspiration hinge on winning”, we could just as easily come out flat and uninspired yet again and lose once again to an inferior team.

By the time the game kicks off Edmonton will know how hard they have to try. If BC wins the early game, Edmonton faces a do or die game. If BC loses, Edmonton clinches the final playoff spot and joins the Riders in the “meaningless game” club.

I think the team did show signs of progression last game. Run D was improved and Durant looked mobile and more effective than in past weeks (well with the exception of that shovel pass INT that was so bad that it made Michael Bishop look like a proficient passer by comparison). Improvements are being made… but they still have a ways to go.

The Esks will obviously serve up a heavy dose of Daniel Porter in the hopes of recreating the success they had 2 weeks ago. Though the decision to run against the Riders is such a blatantly obvious one that even a partially retarded, blind giraffe could figure it out (though why a partially retarded, blind giraffe would be following football is a questions for another day).

The Riders hope to counter the Esks running attack by starting newcomer Rodrique Wright at DT. At 6’5 and 300 lbs the hope is that Wright will help plug up the middle and attract some double teams to open things up for the rest of our front 7. That’s the theory anyway. I’m sure Etch will draw up some plays that involve Wright lining up at CB or lining him up giving Kitwana a piggy back. Though I’m excited about Wright’s potential I think we all need to taper our expectations of him since he only started learning the Canadian rules under 2 weeks ago. I expect a few penalties and mistakes but this is the perfect opportunity to see what he can do in live action.

Wright will not be the only change on defense as injuries are forcing a number of other changes. Daniel Francis is officially out for the year and Sean Lucas is rumoured to be not far behind meaning big changes at LB. Tad Kornegay will finally reclaim his LB spot that he vacated early in the season to help out in the secondary and Jerrell Freeman will handle the other spot. It’s nice to have the depth to replace 2 starters on D without much of a drop off (hell the way Lucas and Francis have been playing of late it may even be an improvement). The good news is that it looks like Chris McKenzie is healthy enough to reclaim his HB spot. Hopefully that will help shore up some things coverage-wise.

I think emotion will be the deciding factor in this game. The team that wants it more will win. The Riders have the more talented roster but as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, talent is about as useful as a Blue Bomber playoff ticket voucher when the effort isn’t there. The Esks will have built-in motivation as their season may hang in the balance. The Riders will have to find their own motivation be it from their own pride as a professional football player, from their team-mates or from the roar of the crowd.

I know it’s a nothing game but I have a feeling that the Riders will be eager to put the whole losing streak behind them and prove once again that they are a force to be reckoned with. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty (over/under on major special teams gaffes is set at 2.5 and I’m taking the over). I called it 2 weeks ago and I’m sticking to it… Riders will win the final home game.

Riders by a Cary Koch TD.

No post this week would be complete without commenting on the team nominees for year end awards. For the most the nominees were spot on. There were a mixture deserving recipients and default recipients (i.e. BC’s Most Outstanding Lineman and the Riders’ Most Outstanding Special Teams nominee) who are only on there because “nobody” was not an option on the ballot.

But one nomination stood out above all the others… Paul McCallum as BC’s nominee for MOP. Now aside from the fact that it is an utter embarrassment for a team to have their kicker picked as the best player on the team (seriously that is more embarrassing than the time Man In The Bush had to call an ambulance because he got his junk stuck in the mail slot at an old folks home), there is another major problem many are having with this nomination. Follow along…

- Yonus Davis was picked as the top special teams player (and deservedly so)

- Paul McCallum plays exclusively on special teams

- Paul McCallum is not the best player in the only phase of the game he plays in… but is somehow the best player on the team at any position.

The logic is simply outstanding. At this rate I can only assume that Yonus Davis will be named the West nominee for Rookie of the Year despite the fact that he wasn’t the best rookie on his own team

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Saw That Coming

Riders 17 – BC 23

It’s amazing how much easier loses are to take when you see them coming a mile away. I as big a Rider as there is and rarely expect us to lose but before the Riders had even boarded the plane this week, I could tell another loss was in store. As I said, the Lions cared… we didn’t. That was painfully obvious in how both teams played and what the final score was.

Despite the fact that we lost and continued to struggle in a couple key areas there were some positives things that happened in the game.

- Durant’s mobility seems to have returned. He was rolling out and fair bit and took off on a couple of occasions for decent gains.

- Fantuz was once again highly productive. He’s our best receiver so it’s reassuring to see him do something again after disappearing over the last couple games.

- We stopped the run! I realize that BC doesn’t run a whole lot compared to other teams but after over a month of getting run over like a slow moving gopher on a prairie road… it was nice to see that we are at least capable of stopping the run.

- Cary Koch. The man has played himself into a starter’s role and deserves to stay there for the remainder of the season. I like the cut of his jib.

- Jerrell Freeman. I thought he played a good game.

- Joel Bell’s hustle in forcing that fumble after Ryan Phillips got an INT. Even better was how it bounced perfectly off the BC defenders foot into Fantuz’s possession.

- According to the CFL’s “official” stats, Donovan Alexander when 1 for 1 in passing for 7 yards. It’s been a rough year for him on defense so it’s nice to see him get a chance to contribute in different ways.

- Seriously, did anyone see this? … Okay let me re-phrase that. Did anyone see this who wasn’t experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs?

Normally, the accomplishments listed above would be great news and make me feel pretty good about our team headed into the playoffs. However, for all the positives there were at least 2 negatives to offset them. In no particular order they were…

- Durant’s piss poor decision making. For as much as we rag on Henry Burris for his Good Hank – Bad Hank split personality, I think if we are being fair, we need to also start ragging on Durant for Good Darian - Bad Darian. At his best, he looks like an elite franchise QB. At his worst he is tossing shovel passes to opposing D-lineman without even noticing that his receiver was nowhere even remotely close to where he was throwing. Did he just close his eyes and assume the play would develop exactly as it was drawn up?

- Double D’s tendency for throwing picks was something we could live when we he was being productive and putting more points on the board. But now that he’s struggling to be productive and heaving up tons of INTs it is a major problem.

- On that first INT did anyone else notice Durant’s spot on imitation of Ron Lancaster? He was slowly but steadily back peddling while standing straight up. I haven’t seen too many people other than the Little General use that technique. I also haven’t seen it used for many decades... and for good reason.

- Why did we play our starting QB for the full 60 minutes of a meaningless game? Sure a win would have been nice but it definitely wasn’t worth the risk.

- Grease-Mullen fumbles yet again. Since we all know that the odds of us actually getting a sizeable return are on par with the odds of the Argos, Raptors, Leafs and Blue Jays all winning the league championship in their respective sports in the same year, could we at least field a returner who doesn’t play like his hands are coated in astro-glide.

- In what was likely the least shocking occurrence on Sunday, the Riders committed yet another special teams gaffe then ended up in a TD and also ended up being the difference in the game. It’s a sad day when you long for the adequate Special Teams of Alex Smith that I cursed for so many years.

- We learned that having 11 defenders on the field while in the redzone is likely to lead to giving up a TD. Hmm… who would have thought?

Not that we ever needed more evidence of the supreme idiocy of Danny Maccioccia but I’ll submit one more just for fun. Maccioccia used his 2nd overall pick of the 2006 draft to select a kicker by the name of Warren Kean. Four years later Kean has been cut by 3 CFL teams and odds are good it will soon be 4 after he came up short on a 39 yard attempt. You could tell the kick was wide off his foot but it wasn’t until the ball landed that it became obviously just how bad that kick was. This was the guy that Maccioccia thought was the 2nd best player in Canada.

I thought the purpose of having a central command booth to handle all video replays was to ensure accuracy and consistency with rulings. Well at least they are getting the consistency part right. Problem is that they are consistently bad. On that onside kick attempt, despite clear evidence that James Patrick touched the ball and knocked it out of bounds they still ruled that it was BC’s ball. Unbelievable!!

On that note, was everyone as confused as me when they saw us line up for an onside kick and had Fantuz and Dressler as the kickers? We dressed 2 kickers for the game and yet when it comes down to an important kick we send out our 2 best receivers. Interesting to say the least. Though I guess given how bad Kean looked on his first FG attempt it’s hard to fault the coaches for not trusting him plus I’m not sure Eddie Johnson is physically capable of kicking short (there’s just too much power contained in his leg). Besides that was a damn nice kick by Fantuz!

It was another meaningless game so I won’t get too bent out of shape about the end result but I’d be lying if I said I’m not somewhat concerned about our repeated major screw ups in key area of the game… like you know passing and special teams. Our team is too talented to be written off already as some are doing but there is a consistent trend of failure developing and I don’t think the team can just flip the switch to “good” come November 14th. The team has one more game to get their act together. It will be interesting to see how they respond to this adversity in front of the home crowd