Friday, August 29, 2014

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day 2014

What a week for Rider Nation! We are riding a 5 game win streak, its time for the annual Labour Day Classic and we get Weston freakin' Dressler back! Life is pretty good.Well at least its good for everyone who didn't invest in a #7 Doege jersey... which is everyone except Doege's mom. Sorry Mrs. Doege.

The Riders have won the last 9 Labour Day games. It was a winning streak that began the year we opted to bench Nealon Green in favour of Marcus Crandell. It still ranks up there as one of the happiest Rider moments of my life (this is how much I hated Nealon). One thing that is nice about this year's match-up is that for the first time since 2007, there is actually some legitimate build up to this one. Ever since '07 (one of the most epic Labour Day games ever), the Bombers have usually been an embarrassment coming into the game (generally finding new ways to define embarrassing. Remember 52-0?). The only exception was in '11 when we were embarrassing and they were good... but we ended up embarrassing them anyway. The good news is that the fact that the Bombers are actually winning games should coax a few more Bomber fans to come to the game (well technically due to their poor hygiene its actually a bad thing for public health but it does make the atmosphere that the game more exciting... just bring some isogel).

Last time we played, we beat them without scoring an offensive TD... can you imagine the score if we can get our offense going again?

I said it last time and I'll say it again, the Winnipeg OL is brutal. They allow the most sacks and Winnipeg has a League worst 4.2 yd avg gain per rush. It is the most glaring hole on that team and one that the league's most sack happy D-line is ready to exploit again. I imagine this time around they will at least make an attempt to slow down John Chick (key word being attempt). That should make life easy on the rest of our D-lineman. Another weakness of the Bomber O is the turnovers... they are aplenty. Poor run game (Grigsby has talent but is not consistently productive) + Poor pass protection (did I mention the OL sucks) + young QB = Turnovers. Its not rocket science. Nick Moore may play this time around which certainly helps the pass game but overall I have full faith in our D to smother them. Bombers average over 25 points per game but only 14 points per game against West opponents.

Offensively all the talk will be about Dressler and while I expect him to be involved he is not going to be the miracle cure to our pass game all by himself. Sounds like Durant will play which is good, as good as Tino did in relief, Durant is still our best chance to win. Look for us to run early... run late... generally just run lots. Winnipeg allows over 110 yards per game and we will surpass that (maybe even in one half). For how important the run is I like having 2 RBs (or maybe even 3 in the off chance both Allen and Messam dress) to rotate in. Bomber safety Leggett is quickly developing into a playmaker so when we do decide to pass we need to be wary of him. I see Getzlaf in for a busy day and Taj too. Dressler and Getz will pull attention inside leaving room for big plays to Taj. I don't expect anything as dramatic as the Joseph sneak in '07 but look for Durant to use his legs 2-3 times when we really need the yards. Don't expect an offensive onslaught but we will score a few offensive TDs.

Honestly my biggest worry heading into the game is giving up a big play on special teams. Happened in BC, happened against Montreal. Between our D and our run game we can grind out victories if we limit these big plays. Stoudemire has established himself as a great retrurner (wonder if we are having second thoughts about keeping Marshay Green and cutting Stoudemire). My issue is not that we suck on coverage. My issue is how our depth is being testsd. We get Hurl back which is huge but we have already lost Hughes, Moore, Regimbald and McHenry (honestly never thought I'd see the day where losing Regimbald was noteworthy). We need a solid outing from whoever we cobble together on teams. Will also need another big game from Milo.

Simply put, we don't lose Labour Day. We win when we are favoured, we win when we have no business winning, we win with Michael Bishop (or at least in spite of him). There's just something about Labour Day. Add in the boost that Weston gives us and you have a recipe for a happy ending. I don't think their offense is better than our defense. Provided we get even a mediocre performance from our O we will win.

Riders by 14

Headline: Happy Ending Ensues When Riders Beat Their Own Willy

(You didn't think I'd do a whole Labour Day post without as least one Willy joke did you?)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Labour Day Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for Labour Day Weekend

Prophet Jr - Montreal, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Calgary
Rider Prophet - Montreal, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Calgary
Mrs. Prophet -  Ottawa, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Calgary
Step-Prophet - Montreal, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Calgary
Momma Prophet - Montreal, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Calgary

Remember to get your picks in by kickoff on Friday

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Evening Sentimonies: Nothing Is Guaranteed

Riders 20 – Lions 16

If you had told me before the game that the outcome of the game would hinge on an O-lineman making a diving catch on pass thrown by Sunseri, I would have started sobbing uncontrollably. Turns out that was just one of the many plays (though certainly the most spectacular) that defined a total team win.

What impressed me most was out mental toughness. The game started in about the worst way possible: huge kickoff return, FG, bad offensive series, punt returned for a TD. Boom! Quicker than the Blue Jays fell out of the wild card race we were down 10, on the road. Would have been easy to crumble there… but they didn’t. They kept fighting and clawed their way back into the game. The 2nd half also started in about the worst possible way. Sunseri forced into action, throws a beauty long bomb to a wide open receiver who drops it, then Allen drops the next pass and we punt. Would have been easy to let that series erase any momentum we gained and be the beginning up the end… but it wasn’t.  The team simply refused to give up. They buckled down and fought hard until the clock expired. They emerged from a tough place to play with a hard fought victory because they didn’t let the myriad of bad things that happened affect them. Full credit to that locker-room and that coaching staff because a team this mentally is going to be hard to beat any week.

Beyond just mentally tough, this game also proved that we are a physically tough team. After getting embarrassed by Harris in week 1, we responded by completely shutting down the run game, only allowing 56 yards rushing to a very good running team. On the other side we imposed our will in the running game, racking up over 200 yards rushing against a very good front 7.  We won the battle in the trenches and not surprisingly that led to victory.

It was also a game redemption. After a week of heavy criticism (some of it from yours truly), Milo responded by nailing 40+ yard kicks all night long. After finding his ass firmly attached to the bench, Anthony Allen stepped up big in the absence of Messam. He was the big punishing back we needed. After a preseason which made us doubt his ability to step up when needed, Tino Sunseri stepped up and did what was needed to lead us to victory.

Every did their part, everyone kept fighting, everyone shares in this victory... though let's be honest, the heart and soul of this team right now is that defense. They haven't allowed a TD in 2 full games.

It may not have been the prettiest path to get here but 6-2 is a very good record and better than I thought this team would be at this point. Up next is the Labour Day Classic... time to start prepping my liver. I would also recommend making sure your vaccinations are up to date, there's no telling what our neighbours to east my bring to town with them.

Other random thoughts:
- Our special teams cover unit struggled but I think a bit part of that is the hit our depth is taking. Neal Hughes, Sam Hurl and Spencer Moore were already out and then Regimbald and McHenry on top of that. That is a huge blow to our playmakers on teams. 

- Not sure how close Neal Hughes is but he can play Labour Day if healthy and we could really use him. I also wonder if we put a call into Daryl Stephenson again. 

- Another turnover free game

- I still think Anthony Allen is the best receiver of any of our RBs. 

- It's crazy how well timed those full sprint blitzes of Brackenridge are 

- Still can't get over that Clark TD, there are receivers half his size who could not have made that catch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Riders vs. Lions: Guaranteed Win Night

Sunday the Riders travel out west for a showdown with the BC Lions. Oddly enough this will be the last time we see the Lions in the regular season. This will be our chance at redemption after they beat us in week 3. We had them on the ropes in the first half and then inexplicably went to hell in the second half on route to an embarrassing loss. Fear not, after an exhaustive inquiry it was determined that it was all Hugh Charles’ fault so we should be good to go this time around. Actually, we haven’t lost since cutting Charles so maybe they were onto something.

Lions President Dennis Skulsky has guaranteed a win. The move is both a good marketing move (it has generated some buzz for the game) and a terrible football move. The Lions won’t gain any extra motivation from it but it will piss off the Riders… and that defense is not a group of guys I would want to piss off.

It goes without saying that the primary objective here is emerge with a win (no matter how ugly). However, another thing to keep in mind is the tie breaker (as crazy as it is to be discussing that in August). I expect the West standings to be super close so any leg up you can have in terms of tie breakers will be very valuable. If we beat BC by 14 points or more we take the season series. Follow that up with a win on Labour Day and we would have the tie breaker over 2 of our 4 division rivals which would be solid footing at the halfway point of the season.

The Lions started the season like hot garbage (is that worse than cold garbage?). Their first 2 games were bad. They lost to Troy Smith for pete sake! But over the last 6 games (starting when they beat us) they have been looked like a completely different team. Just take a look at how they’ve improved both defensively and offensively (where the biggest improvement as occurred).

- In the first 2 games the defense was allowing 143 yds rushing, 283 yards passing and over 25 points per game. Over the last 6 that has dropped to 91 yards rushing, 177 passing and 19 points per game

- In the first 2 games the offense averaged 219 yards passing, an abysmal 68 yards rushing (with Harris and Logan that’s just staggering) and 15 points per game. Over the last 6 that has risen to 280 yards passing, 134 rushing and 28 points per game.

- Also consider that the Lions turned the ball over 9 times in the first 2 games and only 9 times in the next 6.

My caveat is that their opponent over those 6 included Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto on 4 days rest. They did beat Calgary so it wasn’t all a soft schedule.

Offensively I have no clue what to expect in terms of QB. The general rule of thumb is “once you go black, you never go back” but if you watched last game, you saw the Lions employ the lesser known “once you go black you randomly insert a ginger at odd times” strategy. Whether it’s Lulay or Glenn under centre, the primary objective has to be limiting Andrew Harris. The man single-handedly embarrassed our entire defense in week 3 and you simply can’t expect to beat the Lions if you struggle to bring down Harris on first contact.  I expect the D to come out looking to avenge the week 3 embarrassment, hopefully that translates into sound tackling. Priority 2 is ensuring Arceneaux doesn’t burn us with a big play. Week in week out the guy shows he is a threat to score at anytime. If I’m the Lions I’m looking to get him matched up on Macho. Outside of Arceneaux the Lions have a decent set of receivers but no one that I don’t think we can handle. Overall the key match-up though is in the trenches. No team has allowed more sacks than the Lions. I don’t think I need to remind you about what our DL can do. If our DL can control the line of scrimmage it will make life harder on Harris and it will make life miserable on Glenn/Lulay. I expect the Lions to scheme extra protection towards Chick which could mean a less productive day for him (maybe only one or 2 sacks) but the rest of our DL will benefit from the attention he demands. At least 4 sacks overall is my guess… nay it’s my guarantee.

For our offense, we face the stingiest pass defense in the League… which suits us just fine because passing isn’t one of those things we are big on any way. If I’m the Lions (or any team for that matter), the strategy against the Riders would be stack the line and focus on eliminating the run until the Riders to prove they can you beat through the air. Thing is I think we can beat them through the air…in theory… though even communism works, in theory. Unlike the headshaking decision against the Als to mostly forgo the run in the first half, even though we are likely to run into a defensive wall at first we still need to commit to running early and often. We can’t shy away from a stiff run blocking front, we have the talent on the OL and RB to go toe to toe with anyone on the ground so let’s prove it. We put up 90 yards in one half against them last time… do it again (minus the whole untimely fumble leading to unemployment part). Key to running effectively will be getting blockers on Elimimian. Left unblocked he will terrorize our run game. While our primary attack should be “pound it down their throat”, I think we also need to get creative to slow down that talented front 7. Play action TE leakouts could be effective given the aggressiveness of the LBs. I would also like to see us try and get Ford the ball in space on swing passes and what not (I realize that his catching ability is questionable but we gotta try). One other thing I think could be very effective is 2 back sets. Given that Messam is Canadian it would be easy to get both him and Ford on at the same time that gives the defense 2 things to pay attention to vs. focusing all on one guy. Mix it up with both of them seeing the ball and then every so often is we toss is a Durant run I think that would go for big yards.

I don’t see us passing often (bold prediction I know). I stand by my ongoing conviction that JR LaRose isn’t a very good safety. We didn’t have Getzlaf the first time around (we were still suffering through the Riley experiment) and I think he is a guy that can really exploit that middle. As big as Bagg has been for us lately I see a quieter night for him. BC’s DBs are very aggressive and those wide-side passes scare me. Work the inside, run lots and I think we are about due for a long bomb to Taj for a TD.

BC Place is a tough place to play and anything less than our best level of play just won’t cut it. That said, we aren’t playing as bad as people would lead you to believe. We keep finding ways to win and if you look at what we did in the 1st half last time we played you’ll see that we can beat BC. As much as our last couple wins have been ugly they have shown that we can fight through adversity and emerge victorious. That will come in handy because we are in for adversity in BC. Expect a hard hitting, tightly contested game. It will take a 4th quarter comeback but…

Riders by a FG… guaranteed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 9 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 9

Prophet Jr - Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Rider Prophet - Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Mrs. Prophet - Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, BC
Step-Prophet - Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary, Saskatchewan
Momma Prophet - Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan

Please be sure to have your picks in by kickoff on Friday

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Fourth Straight Win

Riders 16 - Als 11

Watching the Riders right now is a lot like picking up stragglers at last call. You have to lower your standards... a lot. Its not pretty. You feel some shame. You maybe die a little inside. Part way through you have second thoughts about this working about. But in the end you get what you came for and you can do it all again next week.

Let me start this post by saying that the only points I care about in the end are the 2 points you get for a win. Style points are as useful as a Jacksonville Jaguar playoff ticket. I have seen us play a lot prettier and lose and there is no solace in that. I will take 11 more games like that if it means we go 16 and 2. Now odds that happening are next to nil if we keep playing like this but my point is a win trumps a lack of style point, always will. We are 5-2... we should be a little happier than we seem to be.

Our defense is playing at such a high level that it's pretty much just become the norm; something we expect. If John Chick continues on this torrid pace there will be aspiring football players who start experimenting with the combination of diabetes and hutterite beards to see if that's the source of his powers. He's so ridiculous that refs invent penalties because they assume he's already sacked the QB without even moving. Brackenridge was flying around looking for kill-shots all day (maybe he was pissed he didn't get to unload on Ocho). I got a kick out of the TSN announcers raving about how improved the Als offense looked under Brink... umm... they didn't score. Less embarrassing but same production as Troy Smith. As usual our D came with sacks and turnovers galore and are the driving force in our winning record. Took them a while to figure out the dual use of Sutton and Whitaker but they allowed 1 FG and no TDs... can't ask much more... except maybe a little more hustle from that #97. 3 sacks? been there, done that... you'll have to try harder next time if you want to impress me.

As for our offense, yes they suck but bear with me a minute. I said in my pre game write up that I was surprised how bad that D had been playing given the talent there. This is not a bad defense by any stretch... they have just been under-performing. I think moving Lavrias back to DL and slotting in Bear Woods (a natural MLB) in the middle really helped settle that defense. I'm not excusing our lowly offense but I'm just saying this is a solid defense and we managed over 200 yards passing (a monumental achievement by our standards), got an offensive TD (also a rarity) and didn't turn it over. Great? God no! But good enough? You bet.

Ok now that I've spoken some positive things about our offense now let me get to the criticizing. I still have faith in Cortez (remember all the doubt we had during the losing streak last year and how that turned out) but for an offensive guru the man is doing some questionable things. For example, the Als had the worst run D in the league... and we only ran once in the 1st quarter. Once!! And only 6 times total in the first half. It's like we over thought things. We also left John Bowman unblocked... a lot. That's insanity. That is the guy who should be doubled and we just gave him free reign more than once. Just really odd stuff.

For me the frustrating thing is seeing those glimpses. There were a few picture perfect passes by Durant (like on the Bagg TD) and there was that QB draw where he just willed us to a first down (twice). That's the offensive stuff we got used to seeing and its still there... just mixed with a lot of garbage. I'm not saying our receivers are blameless but at this point in the season if our players can succeed in the offense you are calling... try something new. It's like square peg round hole some times.

Things brings me to Milo. I'll keep this short because enough hate has been hurled his way since last night by others.
1 - Someone should kick him in the nuts every time he misses a FG under 40. Preferably Tearrius George.
2 - I hope his new contract pays him a % of his salary equivalent to his accuracy %.
He's back to "Another Miss For Milo!" form and in an offense where points are at a premium we can't afford that.

While we've certainly got stuff that we need to address, keep in mind that we have won 4 straight and have a pretty solid record at 5-2. Style points are for figure skating. As long as we keep winning, I'll learn to deal with the ugliness... that's what alcohol is for.

Other random thoughts:
- Rod Williams is a great cover guy and a heavy hitter but he sucks at tackling.

- The decision by Montreal not to go for 2 after the missed FG TD was devoid of any logic.

- For all the talk about a reduced role for Taj this week, who got the majority of reps late in the game when things really counted? Not Korey Williams... and rightfully so. That said Taj looked pretty unimpressive for a guy who should have been trying to make amends. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Riders vs. Montreal: Back Home

Saturday the 4-2 Riders look to extend their winning streak to 4 as the play host to the 1-5 Alouettes.

For all the talk of Troy Smith and how bad he has been (and boy has he), the Alouettes’ struggles run far deeper than anything that has been happening on the field this year. It all starts with their coaching staff, which has pretty much been in disarray since last season ended. To summarize briefly: after firing Dan Hawkins early last season, Jim Popp took over as head coach and expressed his desire to stay in that role this season. Instead, the Als ended up delaying any kind of decision until the end of February at which point they surprisingly hired Tom Higgins. In the middle of training camp they fired Rick Worman their offensive coordinator and name Ryan freakin’ Dinwiddie as his replacement. They have since added more big name consultants that I can keep track of and fired their receivers coach (because clearly the Als’ offensive struggles were the fault of the receivers not being able to compensate for a QB who couldn’t place the ball within 15 yards of them).  So regardless of the quality of the players on the roster is it really any surprise to see a team this dysfunctional at the coaching level struggle? They have been behind the ball since the offseason and don’t look to be gaining much ground. Now add a terrible level of play at the most key position and quite frankly it’s a wonder this team manages to dress itself let alone get one win.

It’s too bad for the Als because when I look at their roster, aside from the coaching and QB gong shows, they should have the talent to be a competitive team. And in the woeful East division “competitive team” should coast you to a home playoff game. That’s why we can’t afford to take the Als lightly, they have talent. One of these games they might figure out how to put it to use. 

I was surprised to see how statically bad the Montreal D has been. Most yards allowed, 2nd most points per game allowed, most passing TDs allowed. I have to think part of their struggles have to be related to how bad their offense is and how tired they must be by the end of most games but there must be more to it than that. The stat I like the most is the fact that the Als currently have the worst run D is the CFL averaging 116 yards given up on the ground per game. The struggles against the run surprise me because last year the Als had the #1 run stopping D in the League with almost the some defensive players. Adam Lavarias must not be as good against the run as Emry was. I can’t tell you which RB will get the ball but I can tell you, whoever it is should be able to rack up the yards. I actually expect both Ford and Messam to share the workload with Messam getting the lions share because I get this vibe that Durant hates Ford for his struggles in blocking.

Pass game should get a boost with Taj Smith returning (don’t even act like your surprised by this. In professional sports talent trumps off field activity). Of the 6 passing TDs Durant has thrown this year, half came in the only two games where both Getzlaf and Taj played together. Word is Taj’s role will be limited but I’ll believe that when I see it. I do like that Korey Williams looks to take Chaz Schillens' spot, if he can do something....anything he’ll be an upgrade. We don’t need an aerial assault but Montreal will be stacking the line and bringing lots of pressure so we need to be able to throw enough to take the pressure off. That said I would still pound them with the run. By the second half that D will be tired and Messam can roll over them like he did Winnipeg. I also like countering the pressure with TE leak outs to the likes of McHenry... and dare I say... Dan Clark.

On the other side of the ball, this match-up has all the makings of the Als bringing a banana to a gun fight. They have the League’s worst offense. Our defense is among the most dangerous there is. Montreal still has talented receivers in SJ Green and Duron Carter, but given that they don’t have a QB to get them the ball, they might as well have cabbage patch dolls out there. The Als seem to have finally given up on the Troy Smith experiment. But they are reportedly countering with a two QB attack of Brink and Straight Outta Crompton. Even if you combined the skill of both of those guys you wouldn’t get one capable QB. Only 1 guy on that team scares me and it’s Whitaker. About the only good moments in the Als O have come from him. Priority #1 will be making him a non-factor. That will allow John Chick and the rest of those beasts along the D-line to tee off on whichever craptastic QB the Als serve up. The Als have a better OL than we have faced in a few games so don’t expect utter dominance but I don’t think Bourke is playing at 100% so we should still get pressure.

I honestly expect the Als O to start hot as the surprise factor and lack of film on whatever they will be doing will work to their advantage. By the second Q we will have settled in on D and if they score more than 2 FGs in the 2nd half I’ll be surprised.

Side note on D: I will be interested to see Ocho vs. Brackenridge. There was lots of talk preseason but I get the sense Ocho is steadily mentally checking out. You can bet, given the chance, Brack will unload on him.

First quarter will be frustrating to watch, our O will start slow and D will take a while to settle in. By half time we will be up by a score and will grow that in the second half on route to another win.

Riders by 18.