Friday, August 30, 2013

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Labour Day Picks

Here are the Prophet Family picks for Labour Day:

Prophet Jr: - Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Toronto
Step-Prophet - BC, Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Toronto
Rider Prophet - BC, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Toronto
Mrs. Prophet - Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Toronto
Momma Prophet -  Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Toronto

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day Classic

It’s a date many football fans circle on their calendar even before the schedule is even out. It’s one of the most anticipated dates on the regular season schedule. It’s a holiday from work that ironically celebrates labour… It’s the Annual Labour Day Classic.

As is tradition here on the blog I will open with some facts about our neighbours to the East given that many will be loading up their station wagons and making the trek to Regina.

Fact: The Manitoba Coat of Arms is actually an accurate portrayal of the province’s most famous beauty contest, featuring the top 4.

Fact: Based on the sucktitude of their sports franchises the city is in danger of having an injunction remove the reference to “win” in their city name. That would leave them with the option of just going with Nipeg or the more literarily correct Loserpeg.

Fact: Most adults from Manitoba were in elementary school when the Bombers last won the cup.

Fact: Many of those adults are still in elementary school

Fact: In spite of the rampant inbreeding and rock bottom intelligence levels of Manitoba residents, they would have been better off the hire someone internal to the province to run the Bombers than the gong show they have created for themselves.

Onto the game…

As much of an event as Labour Day is for Rider fans, it has certainly gone downhill over the past few years for those outside of Rider Nations… in particular Bomber fans. In ’07 we were treated to the last true game deserving of the title “Classic”. In ’08 we started Michael Bishop (enough said). In ’09 they started Michael Bishop which should be “enough said” but there was also the whole Mike Kelly/Pacman Jones/White Boards/Barrin Simpson botching the coin toss fiasco. In 2011, the Bombers got a glimmer of hope with them having a successful team and us having an embarrassing one… but we still ended up embarrassing them. Well at least until last year when we redefined the meaning of embarrassing them.

Since 2005, the Labour Day Classic has meant guaranteed win day for the Riders. And the Bombers generally seem to roll in in some ridiculous form of disarray as a franchise and this year his no different. They fired their CEO, GM and OC. They will likely be firing their current HC at the end of the season. They have declared no less than 3 different QBs as “their starter for the year” and now brought in a 4th guy (who will likely also be dubbed “the starter for the year” at some point). And that is without even getting into their issues at OL, ineptitude on defense, struggles in kicking and general terribleness.

The Bombers have the worst passing defense in the CFL and are allowing opposing QBs to complete a mind blowing 71% of their passes. Honestly the could likely improve their pass D by just forgoing coverages and just standing there idle and praying the ball accidentally bounces off of one of them. The only redeeming aspect of their defense is the D-line which leads the league in sacks.
Also, for reasons I can’t really explain they have the best run defense in the CFL. I assume that’s because teams find them easier to pass than Go in Monopoly (or Edna Krabappoly if that’s more your thing).  Offensive keys will be blocking upfront to keep Durant upright and give him time to pick apart their abysmal secondary. I expect Sheets to be stuffed early but break out late in the game (as per normal). Running a couple screens early will help slow down the pass rush and neutralize the only part of the Bomber D that is of concern.

And if you thought I was critical of their defense, just wait until I break down their offense… which I hesitate to even call an offense because that would imply they have the ability to score. They have 5… 5! Passing TDs this entire season. They have also amassed more penalty yards than rushing yards. Early signs point to Justin Goltz getting the start but I expect to see at least one other QB during the game. I secretly hope its Pierce so we can play the traditional Buck Pierce Injury Pool game. Either way our D should be able to manhandle whatever they throw at us. Their OL is about as good at protecting the WB as their DBs are at protecting against the pass. So our front 4 should have a big game. The only thing that concerns me about the Bombers O is word that Cory Watson may be back from injury and he at least brings some talent and physicality to compliment Edwards. But good receivers are about as useless as shampoo to a bald man when the QB is terrible (or on his back, or then stretcher)

Get lead early, force them to attempt to pass and be aggressive… basically just play our game and don’t let up in any phases and this should be our 8th win without too much trouble. I know we proved in ’11 that records don’t matter on Labour Day but honestly I just don’t see a way the Bombers can win this one (short of mafia intervention).

Riders by 18

See you in the stands. Let’s rock the stadium 45K strong.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Morning Sentimonies: 7 and 1

Riders 30 – Eskimos 27

I won’t lie the way that game started I was worried we were in for trouble. It wasn’t so much how we were playing as the fact that every down seemed to result in a Rider limping off the field. Anderson, Riley, Clark and worst of all Fulton were all down before my first beer. Scared the crap outta me. Fortunately everyone but Riley managed to return and take part in a darn good football game.

Before I get to the game, let me just get this out of the way because a lot of people are talking about it. That was clearly a headshot by Brown on Reilly. Had the same thing happened to Durant there would have been such a public outcry that it would have simultaneously crashed the internet, phone system and (because we are somewhat still in the stone ages) the mail system. Brown might was well start making his cheque out to Mark Cohon. I don’t think Brown was headhunting or anything but still. What amazes me more is how the refs missed it. They managed to see little stuff like hits a bit too low or a split second too late but fail to see (or hear) a helmet smacking the head of the QB they claim to be protecting?? Unbelievable.

That said, that play was not the reason the Esks lost. And to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

The Esks lost because Darian Durant was dialed in and Kory Sheets was… well Kory Sheets. Like I said in my pregame write up, without a torrential downpour the Esks D can’t keep the score under 30. Odds were better that the Bombers would end a game with the same QB they started with. The lack of a passing TD masks how good of a game Durant had. He made great decisions and moved the ball. Had we scored a TD on 1 or 2 of those FG drives in the first half it would have been a completely different game. I was happy with how Durant played particularly after his struggles last week. Helps when Sheets just imparts his will on a team in the second half and the O-line parts the seas for him to do so. The Esks have the worst run D in the League and we took full advantage. I love that we don’t give up on the run even when it gets stuffed early.

Defensively I was not so impressed but in the end they did what they needed to do to secure the win. Reilly is a good QB and he tries his ass off for that franchise. It’s a shame they don’t feel the need to block for him or stop him from taking a shit-pummeling. That variation on the zone read where Reilly runs up the middle really through us for a loop. As expected, Stamps caused trouble (hey it’s not like many other teams manage to stop him either). That first TD was obviously a breakdown of epic proportions. Stamps should be doubled at all times yet somehow he ended up not covered at all 10 yards past our DBs (guess they all thought Matt Carter was due). The Koch TD was another breakdown. We blitzed the house and were clearly in man on the backside. But 2 DBs bit on Stamps leaving Koch wide open. Can’t freelance like that in man with no help over top. The other Stamps TD was just a damn good catch. So it was a combination of breakdowns and just damn good catches (i.e. Henry, Koch) that caused our problems on D. But that’s just pro football. You’re gonna come up against that kind of adversity and need to fight through. And that’s what the D did… once again making plays when it mattered most. Room for improvement as always but they got the job done.

For the second week in a row the Riders had to dig deep and fight hard to the end to get the win but I think it’s good they are repeatedly proving they can do that. Down the stretch and in the playoffs it’s these kind of games we are gonna need to win if we want to be in the Cup. Blow outs may be easier on my heart but learning how to win the hard ones is what will set this team up for success when it matters most.

The Riders are off to a 7-1 start, something I have never seen in my lifetime. Celebratory drinking is up and downing sorrows in booze is down. Life is as good as it gets here in Riderville… well that’s not entirely true. Next up is Labour Day!!

Other random thoughts
-       The composure Dressler showed while causally turning a juggled ball into an improbable gain is just ridiculous.
-       I’m far from an Anderson fan but that was a well-played pick on Stamps.
-       Given how craptastic their OL is, maybe the Esks should switch Marshall and his D-line to offense. They have shown a knack for enabling the run game and keeping the QB upright.
-       For it being his first game, I noticed Brian Peters in on a number of defensive snaps.
-       In a game that good, it amazes me how Black and Suitor felt the need to go off on tangents like the giant speaker shadow or Rocky.
-       Check that… it should never maze anyone that either of those 2 go off on useless tangents.
-       7 and 1… it’s just so great I want to keep saying it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Riders vs. Eskimos: Take 2

Saturday the 6-1 Riders travel to Edmonton for the 2nd time this season to play the 1-6 Eskimos. Traditionally Commonwealth is a place where the Riders find it hard to win but this season it is the Esks who finding it hard to win there. In fact, Eskimo fans haven’t witnessed a home win since Oct 13 of last year (when they beat us coincidentally).  Edmonton is yet another team that we should beat but doing so damn sure won’t be easy. The fact that we struggled against the Als last week should help us stay focused and not take our opponents too lightly.

In the season opener, we thoroughly embarrassed the Esks in all phases of the game. For them to be any more embarrassed they would have had to lose their clothing or change their name to Blue Bombers. They have been improving steadily over the last few games though so I don’t see the win being as easy to come by this time around.  

From a player perspective, I actually don’t think the Esks are that bad of a team. You can see Reilly developing into a decent QB and they have talent at pretty much every position (minus a crap OL and an unreliable kicker). Their biggest issue is that I’m not convinced Kavis Reed has any clue about football. His team is undisciplined (despite the threat of consequences), underperforming on D and seem to find a new way to embarrass themselves each game. There was the game where they changed QBs every second play, the abysmal clock management that lost them the Montreal game, or last week when they lined up for a game losing FG attempt only to have Kavis save things by running out onto the field to distract the refs… and they still looked lost after that. Honestly if I just add the circus music to that highlight reel I’d win $10,000 for sure. I really believe the Esks could be contenders if they had a competent coach. Fortunately for the rest of the West Division, they don’t.

Defensively they should be looking for a refund on all the $$$ they invested in their D-line because they have been woefully underperforming (who would have thought a unit coached by Greg Marshall would ever be described as underperforming?). The D-line is also a big reason why the Esks have the worst run defense in the CFL. Kory Sheets, meet the worst run defense who also no longer has JC Sheritt wreaking havoc in the middle.  This is just the match-up Sheets is gonna love coming off a lowly 74 yard game (talk about altered expectations, there were years when 74 would have marked a good day rushing for us, now it’s disappointing). Game plan should be simple: run until they prove they can stop it and spread the ball around the field. The Esks secondary isn’t anything special. Only Winnipeg has allowed more points so this should be a good chance for Durant to get back on track. Only twice this season has the Esks D allowed under 30 pts… both occurred in torrential downpours, making Mother Nature their leading candidate for Defensive MVP this season.

On defense we need to be prepared for an air show. The Esks live and die on airing it out. They have no run game… or rather they inexplicably choose to have no run game. In their only win this season they managed 123 yards rushing from their RBs, in every other loss they have failed eclipse 65 yards rushing from Charles/White. Mike Reilly is the extent of their run game. Part of it is their aforementioned awful OL (John Chick meet Matt O’Donnell playing tackle). Part of it is that they just choose not to run. Hugh Charles is averaging just 10 touches per game… Kory Sheets calls that a light 3rd quarter. Charles has the ability to score at any time so we need to stay disciplined against the run but in all honesty it shouldn’t be a big concern.

Through the air is where this one will be decided. Reilly loves to throw so our DBs better be ready. The primary concern is Fred Stamps who leads the league in receiving and in is arguably the best receiver in the league at this point. Limiting him should be priority #1. I assume Dwight Anderson will be tasked with that assignment (which gives me cause for some concern). Cary Koch is also developing nicely into a scoring threat (remember when we chose to let him leave via free agency in favour of keeping Efrem the Rabbit?). The Esks also like to use Nate Coehoorn as an outlet on the wide side so we can’t give him too much of a cushion out there. With Macho’s closing speed I’d be tempted to match him up on Coehoorn and let him bait Reilly into throwing a pick.

A big key will be taking advantage of the favourable match-up of our DL on their OL. We should be able to dominate the trenches and harass Reilly. Reilly is developing but he’s still relatively inexperienced and a risk taker. Risk taker forced to throw under duress should lead to bad throws and INTs. After that embarrassing pick 6 to Rey Williams in Week 1, I expect Reilly to direct all his throws away from #48 just to be safe.

A quick mention of special teams, assuming Jock Sanders remembers to actually catch the ball this week, we should have the edge in the return game. As for kicking, Milo has not missed and Grant Shaw seems to honour his role in the Ricky Ray trade by missing a FG for every incompletion Ray throws (actually Ray’s accuracy % is better than Shaw’s).

Esks will make a game of it, I will spend a portion of Saturday cursing out the secondary for not covering Fred Stamps but in the end a solid outing for Durant, a defensive TD and typical Kory Sheets performance will win out.

Riders by 10.