Friday, July 29, 2011

Riders vs. Stamps: Get Your Game Face On

Saturday the 1-3 Riders take on the 2-2 Stampeders with second place on the line. Yes thanks to the wonders of the CFL we were able to go from a winless team to having a shot at second with just one win.

Since its the Stamps we are playing I think we should get in the spirit of things and do as their ad campaign says and get our game face on. Like this kid...

Whose game appears to be pooping.

Or this lady...

 Whose game appears to be fellatio. (Odd ad campaign by the Stamps)

Anywho as for the game, if you had asked me before we beat the Als, I had this pegged as the team who has been playing like crap vs. The team that has been embarrassing themselves. Sadly that left the team that had been playing like crap with a distinct advantage. Needless to say I was pretty sure I would have to resort to the “drink until they’re pretty” approach. That of course all changed when we remembered how to play on Sunday.

The big question is of course whether Sunday was the start of better things for the Riders or just a fluke. Either way tomorrow’s match-up is one between 2 underperforming teams. The Stamps may have 2 wins but they have looked quite frankly bad in each one and could easily be 0-4 given how they played.

One of the major problems had been the fact that Henry Burris has been less accurate in his pass attempts than I am in my typing attempts. He seems to be bouncing a concerning number of passes off the turf in front of his receivers. This leads me to believe he has bad posture. A common problem among men his age. A simple solution would be a bro or manzier. I bet he could even find a black one to match his jersey... oh wait...

Other than Burris’ issues, the Stamps have also been hurt by the fact that they have the league’s least accurate kicker, an O-line that has allowed the most sacks in the league and the fact that they are by far the most penalized team in the league (you’re shocked about that last one I know). They also appear to have forgotten who Joffrey Reynolds is. But for all their issues, you still need to be concerned about an offense that boasts as many weapons as the Stamps... especially when your defense has only played one good game so far.

The Riders are a tough team to evaluate so far because they were a completely different team in game 4 then they were through the first 3. Overall though we learned that in order to win we need Durant to use his legs, our front seven to get big time pressure and lastly we need to cut Tad Kornegay. Through 4 games we actually have the best average gain per rushing attempt. In theory that should work to our advantage this week since the Stamps will be starting a new MLB with Juwan Simpson hurt. Problem is that its looking doubtful that Cates will play. Charles should still be able to chew up the yards (provided he actually holds onto the ball) and Brandon West may get a few chances to show what he can do.

Keys to victory are pretty much the same as they are every time we play the Stamps. On defense we need to keep Burris in the pocket and force him to pass with lots of pressure in his face. Without the ability to either run himself or hand off, Burris tries to be a hero and make big plays. That usually leads to turnovers, especially with JP patrolling the middle.

Offensively, we need to bring a strong running game and try and exploit the absence of Juwan Simpson. Generally Getzlaf is a Stamp killer, mainly because the interior of their secondary is crap. Just ask Ricky Ray and Fred Stamps how good their HBs are. If Getzlaf can continue actually catching the ball he should have another good game. We should also see a lot of man coverage which should mean good things for Getzlaf. As always though, it all begins with Durant using his mobility.

Expect a highly physical and tightly contested game between 2 teams trying to prove they are better than their records. It will come down to the wire. In the end...

Riders by a Durant rushing TD

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Major League Tours – Banjo Bowl Bash 2011

If are considering making the trip Winnipeg this year to check out the Banjo Bowl, I strongly encourage you to check this out…

Major League Tours is once again organizing a trip to the Banjo Bowl. Package includes transportation, hotel accommodation and a game ticket all for a very reasonable price.

If you want more information check out their website at

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Where Did That Come From?

Riders 27 – Als 24

Its amazing leading up to the game it was pretty much universally assumed that the Riders were going to lose the game, yet once the game was over there were a remarkable number of people claiming that they knew the Riders would win. Riigghhhttt.

I am decidedly not in that group. I had our odds of winning somewhere around the same as the odds of Amy Winehouse making it to her 30th birthday (too soon?). But of course these are the Riders and this franchise has a long history of blowing games we should win and then turning around and winning games we have no business winning. It’s as engrained in our history as telethons and pant-less mascots.

The one major thing I saw that was the biggest factor in our victory was effort. The players came out fired up, played with heart and give it their all, something that was lacking over our first 3 games. I don’t really like seeing Makowsky take a penalty after the whistle or seeing Durant get creamed because he refuses to go down but to me that shows that at least the players care and that they are giving it their all. And low and behold when we play with intensity our overall level of play improves to where we can compete with the best in the league again. Go figure.

I have been fairly hard on Richie Hall so far for his sad sack (or make that no sack) defense but he stepped it up yesterday. Obviously knocking Calvillo out early made the defense job easier but I was impressed with their play even when Calvillo was in there. We were getting pressure, forcing incompletions and most importantly getting a number of 2 and outs. When you can hold the Als to just 10 points in the first half you know you are playing well. Even Sean Lucas (who I have also been none to kind to) stepped things up. That catch he made on the interception was pretty damn impressive. This leads me to wonder, where the hell this has been all season?!? The thing I can deduce is that clearly it was all Tad Kornegay’s fault J

Offensively I was convinced that somebody had rewired the headsets because clearly that wasn’t Berry calling those plays. Then I saw him later in the game complaining about his headset not working… turns out I was right. The whole offense was a complete 180 from what we’ve seen so far this year. Durant was using his legs, we established a run game, we showed some creativity, we platooned Cates and Charles… hell even Chris Getzlaf showed some uncharacteristically reliable hands. Again where has this been all season? It is really that hard to figure out that our offensive production increases proportional to the amount of time Durant is mobile in a game? Durant only threw for 177 (most of which came on one play) but when you add in a mobile QB and a strong ground then all of a sudden there isn’t that same reliance on Durant throwing for 300.

One note on the Cates/Charles platoon. While it’s a great strategy and one I think that is long overdue, there needs to be some guidelines around its use. Firstly when you are inside the 5 you should send out the big strong guy to try and power it in rather then the little quick guy who will have no room to run (also going empty backfield on 2nd and goal is stupid! Especially when you are relying on Dinwiddie to make the pass. At least have an RB in backfield so defense think there is a remote possibility we might run).  Guideline #2: When the game is on the line put the big strong sure handed guy in not the little guy with a history of fumbles (that one should be obvious but apparently not). Simply put that was a ridiculously stupid coaching decision. Run Cates twice, if you don’t get the first down punt and Als have a long field and 20 seconds to put up 10 points.

But rather than dwell on the few mistakes we did make, let’s focus on the great team effort turned in by the team in the face of great adversity. The team believed in themselves when very few others believed in them. Let’s not get too excited here though. We are still a 1-3 team and have lots of room to improve. Let’s not do the predictable Rider fan bipolar switch and go from borderline suicidal “won’t win a game” talk to parade route panning “we’re the best again” talk overnight. I’m happy with the win and the progress the team made but we still have a long way to go.

Other random thoughts…
- If Craig Butler gets fined for a helmet to helmet hit, Dwight Anderson better be facing some supplemental discipline for gouging Dressler’s eye. Last time I checked, the CFL hadn’t adopted any pro wrestling rules that would okay such a move… but if they did someone better give Jerrell Freeman a chair for next game (now that would be awesome).

- Did anyone else see that feature they did on the kid featured on the Stamps’ “Game Face” promotion? What the hell kind of face was that on those billboards?!? Clearly it wasn’t a game face. Looked a lot more like a “taking a poop” face. Of course given how the Stamps shit the bed, maybe that is what the game face is in Calgary.

- I know that teams have realized that injuring Buck Pierce is the key to beating the Bombers but they should think about being a bit less blatant when they are hitting him late. First the Stamps now the Argos. And it’s not even like you need to resort to late hits to cream Pierce. He plays so recklessly that there will plenty of legal opportunities to lay a big hit on him.

- Way to go Dalton Bell, after over a year of being forced to sit on the bench while Cleo Lemon embarrasses himself, you finally get a chance to prove yourself and choke.  Given Barker’s overt love of Lemon (which is not yet at Maccioccia – Maas levels but getting closer) you might as well get used to holding a clipboard.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Riders vs. Alouettes: Ayez Peur

Sunday the winless Riders travel to the land of poutine to play the undefeated Als. Objectively looking at things, unless the Als do the traditional French thing and surrender we are pretty much screwed.  I mean i have been racking my brains all week to think of a reason to be hopeful... but so far it’s been harder to find than a French woman who shaves her armpits.

I mean they have the league’s leading passer, leading rusher and highest scoring offense. We counter with the league’s most giveaways, lowest scoring offense, most points allowed, worst pass defense, and least sacks. But we do lead the league in one notable category: kickoff return yards (though that is only due to the fact that we get scored on so many times that we return kickoffs more than any other team. It’s a quantity over quality thing)

How’s that for a motivational speech? ... Don’t laugh I borrowed it from Coach Marshall.

Calvillo is playing like a man possessed this year. I’m pretty sure he just wants to make damn sure he will break all of Damon Allen’s record this year so he doesn’t have to come back for another year. Personally I want to see him break all the records early and then spend the rest of the season running nothing but QB draws to see how close he can get to Damon’s rushing records. I mean he’ll already hold every passing record worth holding, as well as the record for most times he or someone in his family overcame cancer (seriously at this rate it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that his kid got cancer over the offseason but beat it and Calvillo go on to have another ridiculously successful season) , why not try to add some rushing records?

Bottom line is, the Als are solid at pretty much every position. One guy who especially scares me is Brandon Whitaker. He’s making the Als look like geniuses for ditching that overhyped Cobourne. In the last game, the Argos covered everything deep leaving Whitaker open for like 100 receptions. Question is, given the Richie Hall soft zone mentality, how many more receptions will he get against us? The only weaknesses I can see on the Als is that their secondary isn’t anything special and Josh Bourke will be sitting due to injury meaning they will be starting a new tackle. But those are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

Of course no discussion of the Als would be complete without discussing their effeminate and testicular based names. It must be hard for the Als play-by-play guy to avoid sounding like he’s describing a gang bang: “Shea and Diamond are in the middle with Dix on one side on Cox on the other. Cox and Dix converge and nail the tight end and Diamond and Shea are there to clean up the mess.” Only in Quebec I tell you.

As for the Riders, its gut check time. They need to step up and show their testicular fortitude less they be emasculated by Montreal’s Dix and Cox (which really aren’t that big). They’ve already seen one of their cohorts get shipped out and if the rest don’t start improving their play they could be next. Its not about wins and losses, its about playing with heart (like Shane Falco). If all 42 players played with heart and 100% effort, the wins would take care of themselves. 

The way I see it, if the Riders hope to compete with the Als they will need a huge game from Durant and Dressler.  Problem is that requires a receiver other than #7 to be good enough to pull attention away from Dressler.  Durant also needs to use his legs to extend plays, buy time for big passes (which the Als can be vulnerable to) and chew up yards. 

Defensively Richie’s philosophy has always been eliminate the run and make team one dimensional. Problem is that would suit Calvillo, Richardson, Green and Bratton just fine as they are likely not intimidated by our secondary and would be content to carve us up through the air. Hopefully having James Patrick back will help stabilize that unit. Its damn near impossible to confuses a man who has literally seen every ever play invented over his career but we need to try. Disguise some coverages, do an homage to Etch and send a ridiculous blitz, anything to knock Calvillo off his rhythm. Calvillo gets rid of the ball quickly and even if he didn’t it’s not like our ends would get to him so our linemen need to get their hands up and try and block site lines and bat things down. Defense have a tough test but we’ve proven in the past that it can be done.

Overall I expect a better performance by the Riders (mainly because they really couldn’t get worse unless they forgot their pants and scored on themselves). There is a lot of heart in that locker room and they will come out looking to prove they aren’t the laughingstock they have seemed to be so far. That said, I think Montreal is just too good at this point. I can see us keeping it close but in the end we are trying to fight fire with a scented candle. We will move in the right directions and the wins will come... but not this week.

Als by 17

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Is Wrong With The Riders

How could this happen? How could we go from the dominant team in the West Division for the past 4 years running (minus 2008 when dozens of broken fibulae and even more Michael Bishop turnovers ruined our season) to this bad in the blink of an eye? That is the question that fans across Rider Nation (or at least what’s left of it after the mass exodus caused by our losing streak).

Thing is this didn’t happen over night, it’s been 2 years in the making and is only now starting to come to a head.

When Roy Shivers was fired, this organization made a commitment to excellence at every level of the organization not just the mediocrity we’d grown accustom to. And they held true to that commitment. They didn’t just hire a GM, they hired the best GM available. He in turn hired the best coach available and together they assembled some of the best assistant coaches and players you could find. The result was unprecedented success both on and off the field culminating in a Grey Cup win in 2007.

There was a great deal of change following that year but the team held to its commitment to excellence. They hired an excellent coach to replace Austin and the team continued its string of unprecedented success both on and off the field culminating with what should have been another Grey Cup win in 2009. When you look at our roster and coaching staff in 2009 it’s truly amazing what we had managed to build in just 3 short seasons.

This is where things unfortunately start going off the rails. You see our excellent GM got himself in some trouble because he got a little antsy in the pantsy and was forced to resign. Now you would think at this point that we would stick to our commitment and hire an excellent GM as a replacement… well for reason I still don’t understand we inexplicably abandoned our commitment to excellence and hired Brendan Taman who, on his best days (which are few and far between), is nothing more than a borderline mediocre GM (for me that is the closest I will ever come to complimenting him, it may even be the nicest thing I’ve ever written about him).

The hiring of a mediocre GM set the wheels in motion for a steady free fall from excellence. As our once formidable and enviable set of assistant coaches (Lapo, Reed, Wiley) began being lured away to other teams, we began replacing them with coaches who were far from excellent (Jim Daley anybody?). Same thing on the player side. As the Chicks, Baggs, Williams and Davis’s of the world were leaving us, the Willie Byrds, Prechae Rodriguez and Dominique Dorseys of the world were being brought in.

This descent was masked by a pretty successful 2010 season. The Grey Cup run made us all forget how bad this team played down the stretch and how close we were to being eliminated in the West-Semi. Coach Miller managed to draw out the “Rider Magic” we’d grown accustom to one last time and all seemed right in the world. But under the surface our “excellence” had worn so thin that, unbeknownst to the masses, we were very near a breaking point.

Then 2 things happened that ended up being the straws that broke the camel’s back. First our last remaining excellent coach retired from coaching to take on a front office job. While there was little doubt that Miller was an excellent coach, you’d have a hard time convincing me that he qualifies as an “excellent” head of football operations. We yet again neglected our commitment to excellence in favour of an easier route. With the upper echelons of our organization now full of mediocrity it was no surprise that a mediocre coach was hired to replace our excellent one? Some of the brightest minds in both offense and defense were available but we opted for somebody that nobody else wanted. Again we completely ignored our supposed commitment to excellence. The transition from excellence to mediocrity in both the front office and coaching staff was now complete.

The second thing that caused this collapse was the departure of Andy Fantuz. While this was beyond the control of the organization as apparently Fantuz was so desperate to try for the NFL that he would have accepted a Big Mac as a signing bonus, it still had massive affect on us. Our culture of mediocrity had eroded the depth of talent on the team leaving us extremely vulnerable to departures. Obviously things would have turned out differently had Rob Bagg been healthy but if you look beyond that you can see where out failure to strive for excellence at all levels hurt us.

In the 2010 draft, we used the 8th overall selection on Jordan Sisco. We could have used it on the consensus best receiver available in the draft, Shawn Gore, who is now an impact player with the Lions. We could have selected Cory Watson (who has earned a starting role in Winnipeg and looking better each week) or Spencer Watt (who is also starting and has 2 career TDs already) or even Akeem Foster (who has scored a TD in every game this season). But no, we did the mediocre thing and went with Sisco who has had absolutely zero impact so far. This is just one example.

So if you want to know what is wrong with the Riders, the answer is that the organization has forgotten/ignored/turned a blind eye to the commitment it made in 2006 to excellence at all levels of the organization. Everything else is just a by-product of that.

The only way to fix these problems and get back to being the flagship franchise of the CFL is for the people at the highest level of the organization to realize this and re-commit themselves to excellence. Unfortunately this is something that will take time. While I’m not going to write this season off and start debating who we should take first overall in the 2012 draft (I still believe we have hope), I think we are being delusional if we don’t admit that as an organization we have fallen from the ranks’ of the League’s elite.