Thursday, July 30, 2015

Riders vs. Eskimos: We’re Screwed

Spoiler alert: I don’t see us winning this week.

Clearly we have angered the football gods and the cost of our wrongdoings is 2-3 of our starting players per week. The only logical thing to do is get out in front of this and pre-emptively “sacrifice” players. So let’s take Steve Miller and Tino Sunseri out to centre field and break a bone of their choosing with a baseball bat. Hopefully that will appease the football gods. It’s really the only rational thing to do at this point.

This is one of the weirdest seasons I have ever lived through… and I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff over the years. The best way I can describe this is if you took all the injuries from 2008 and combined them with all the sucking of 2011 you’d get the 2015 Riders (just with less Dinwiddie and Bishop… though never say never at the rate we are going). With Glenn out any remote chance we had of winning this week is gone, let’s just be up front about that. The only good thing we had going for us was our offense and now we are sending our 3rd string QB against the stingiest defense in the league in a tough road match-up… I mean there’ s a chance Brett Smith miraculously leads us to victory but there’s also a chance a bus load of bikini models show up at my house asking if they can have a pillow fight in my house while their only set of clothing is in the washing machine. Let’s just say odds are good that both my washing machine and the Riders’ win column will go unused.

Not to give up on Brett Smith before he really gets a chance but I have my doubts about him. Usually even when they struggle you can “it” in a young QB that goes on to have success. I have not seen “it” from Smith. We did the smart thing last week in rolling him out to cut the field in half and make his reads easier. However on one play he badly missed a short out, on another he damn near ran for a first down before deciding the throw the ball. Tough situation to come into and maybe he looks better now that the initial nerves are gone but I have my doubts. Edmonton is damn good defense. They will know and attack Smith’s limitations. I expect them to run blitz and focus on keeping Smith in the pocket and basically daring us to beat them through the air.  If we are to have any chance of offensive success the key will be misdirection. Esks will be looking for Smith to roll out so fake the rollout and run a reverse the other way. They will be looking for the run so put Messam, Allen and Demski in the backfield and make them try and guess who’s getting the ball. Try some different receiver or tight end screens. Have Smith test the defense with his speed running the ball. High percentage plays that still keep the Esks from pinning their ears back and killing us with pressure. Edmonton has tough run D but maybe we should try something crazy like giving the league’s leading rusher more than 4 snaps.

Defensively, Shaqir Bell will run all over us like pretty much every RB we’ve faced. You can count on that. I personally don’t think Matt Nichols is very good (never have) and I think Chris Jones is slowly coming around to that conclusion as well. If we can somehow keep things close I could see Franklin making a second half appearance again. Nichols is slowly being phased out of the picture in Edmonton. I actually expect our defense to keep things close for the first half of the game but a lack of offense will keep them on the field and wear them down late in the game. Any remote chance of us winning also likely requires either our defense or special teams to score a TD. Though given that our defense struggles to even get a turnover the aforementioned pillow fight is probably more likely.

Short of Edmonton defaulting the game due to all their players being placed under quarantine for a suspected deadly disease, I don’t see any scenario that results us winning on Friday.

I will still watch and cheer and pray for some kind of miracle but honestly if we can keep it close and lose less than 2 people to season ending injury that’ll be doing alright.

Eskimos by at least 2 scores.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Same Old

Riders 21 - TiCats 31

Stop me if you've heard this one before... the Riders play 3 pretty quarters of football only to go to hell in the 4th and lose. Throw in the usual injured starting player and we've pretty much seen the same thing 5 times now. Each time it ends in a loss and a collective decline in the health of liver's across the province.

I actually thought the defense played not bad for a large part of the game. They we far from perfect (far, far, and then go a little further yet) but they showed glimmers. Even late in the game when Glenn threw that pick inside the redzone (which was a terrible decision, not sure what his read was there but he read wrong) they held the Ticats to a FG. But numbers don't lie and we gave up 130+ yards along the ground to Gable. They also managed to go another game without a turnover and a single solitary sack. Have they been worse? Yes they have. Are they even close to good enough? No they aren't. Alex Hall has been a massive disappointment. I even noticed him on the sidelines late in the game on a fairly key down so obviously the coaches are seeing it to. We can't seem to generate much pressure and Hamilton is far from being one of the upper echelon O-lines.

Offensively you pretty much knew we were screwed when a white dude with the #16 sauntered out into the huddle instead of a black dude wearing #5. I'm sure we all frantically checked to down and yardage wondering what the hell Brett Smith was doing out there for anything but a plunge. He's way too raw at this point to be effective. Prior to Glenn checking out I liked what I saw from the O. As expected, the Hamilton D is a very tough opponent so production was down but we found ways to move the ball in spite of that. It took us a while but by the end of the first half we were hitting a stride.  I really liked how we actually put some faith in our short yardage unit and drove straight instead of trying all that WR sweep crap. I did think Glenn was way too locked onto Dressler. I mean I get that he's our best receiver but you can't key on him that much against a D as good as Hamilton.

In order to win you need other phases to help out when another is struggling. Thus far it has been our O trying to carry the D. This week our O had some struggles and our D could not compensate. We already proved you can't win when only one phase of the game is going well so could we really expect to win when no phase performed all that good? Simply put we are not a good enough team at this point. And there is no miracle cure on the injury list that can save us. Emry and Green might help but I still don't think we win even with them in. You can tell just how defeated I am because normally this space would be filled with anger, ranting and cursing but all you see before you is a defeated man. I unfortunately see this getting worse before things get better.

Other random thoughts:
- Whatever happened to Glenn did not look serious but if he misses any time then there goes about the only glimmer of hope we have this season. Tino Suneri may soon make his not-so triumphant return to the field.

- I was impressed with our special teams unit. Coverage was pretty good all day.

- Dressler is such an amazing guy to watch because of the little things he does. On that play where he ended up throwing an incompletion, most receivers would not have had the presence of mind to jump on that live ball and they definitely would not have thought of throwing it away to preserve yards.

- The unnecessary roughness call when Hall walked Collaros out of bounds was beyond ridiculous. No way they make that call if that is a receiver and I'll go as far as to say no way Durant would get that call.

- Chris Best led our team out of the tunnel... that to me just seems wrong. I miss the days of Kitwana flying out of there or Kornegay making his X signs. We need some more fire in the bellies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Riders vs. Ti-cats: Make It Stop

Sunday the Riders host the 1-2 Ti-Cats looking to end a winless start to the season and finally give the fans something to cheer about at Mosaic Stadium rather than just covering the stands with our tears… and curse words. For all the lamenting about the start to our season, if we win (and that’s a big if I realize), Hamilton (aka the unquestioned superpower in the East coming into the season) will drop to 1 and 3. Bottom line is the post-game news conference will feature one of Angry Kent Austin or Angry Corey Chamblin (good time to be a reporter I guess).

It will be an interesting match as the Riders and their #1 ranked offense face off against the Ti-cat defense which has allowed the least yards of any team. They are allowing a microscopic 68 yards/game rushing and are #2 against the pass. It will be interesting to see how that holds up against the powerhouse combo of Messam and Allen which is chewing up over 160 yards per game. What I’ll be curious to watch is how Orlando Steinhauer game plans for the Riders. He likes to send a lot pressure and do it frequently. That would likely be unwise against the quick release pass game of Kevin Glenn and the ability of Messam catching out of the backfield. Will he dial back the pressure and force us to make plays or will be play his game and hope we buckle?

We finally get some good news on the injury front as both Ryan Smith and Nic Demski will play. Depending on your opinion of Taj Smith you may also view us shutting him down as good news (also curious to see if his December court date suddenly gets moved up). As good as that defense is (and it is damn good), I don’t think we should try and get fancy. Our offense it built on running the ball well and spreading passes around to everyone (including the RBs). It will likely be very tough running for Messam/Allen (I don’t see us getting close to our 160 yd/game average) but we need to remain committed to it. We may need to use quick passes to Dressler/Smith/Getz to open up the run lanes. One thing we do need to fix is our slow starts. We have only 1 first quarter TD and 2 FGs so far this season… given our ability to epically collapse defensively late in games, building a large lead early would be helpful.

Our defense is a perennial concern a) because I’m never sure if we will be able to find enough healthy people to actually field one and b) because even our relatively healthy D has been horrible. We are now down 3 of our 5 starting defensive backs, replaced by Hollins, Tisdale and Pep Suber. Zach Collaros leads a potent passing attack but if you look closer at things you will find that strong defense and special teams are masking a lot of offensive issues in Hamilton. The Ticats defense and special teams have a combined 5 TDs… the offense has just 4. Part of the offensive struggles are due to the fact that they have no run game (ranking dead last with 62 yards per game). In fact their running backs have a total of just 27 carries this season (by contrast ours have 72 carries). Their offense is simply way way too pass-centric (I find typing these last couple lines ironic given the preseason concerns over Chapdelaine being too pass-centric). They do get CJ Gable back this game which should jump start that run game (at least until he gets hurt again).

We really need our D-line to step up if we have any hope of winning. Hamilton’s O-line is not that great (allowing the second most sacks thus far) and if they want to keep throwing way more than they should our D-line needs to make them pay by harassing Collaros. Assuming Hamilton is aware of the existence of game film I imagine they will try to test our ability to contain with Collaros running the ball (we had some minor issues there last game). I imagine they are also smart enough to test Pep Suber (likely with Bakari Grant). We have just 2 turnovers in 4 games… if we can’t generate at least a 3rd we will be dropping to 0 and 5.

If goes without saying also that Brandon Banks is dangerous. He has 2 kick return TDs and has had 2 more called back due to penalties. Our cover teams better be rock solid in their assignments… and we should probably find ways to no kick the ball in Banks’ direction.

I have gone back and forth a lot between thinking we will lose and thinking this will be the game where things finally go right. My head says take Hamilton. They have a great D and are getting healthy (Gable and Norwood will be back). By contrast we have a terrible D and have had so many injuries they are considering adding a hospital ward to the new stadium.

But my heart says that despite all logic we will find a way to win at home. The return of Smith and Demski will give us a boost (though the boost would admittedly be bigger if they played D) and we have been so close week in week out. I wouldn’t wager any money on this but I’m going with my gut.

Riders by a rushing TD.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 5 Picks

Here are the Prophet family picks for week 5

Rider Prophet - Calgary, BC, Edmonton, Saskatchewan
Prophet Jr - Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Hamilton
Mrs. Prophet - TBD
Step-Prophet - Calgary, BC, Edmonton, Hamilton
Momma Prophet - Ottawa, BC, Winnipeg, Hamilton

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Choose Your Own Sentimonies

As you know I am currently on vacation. I typed this post before I left. It's in the style of the old Choose Your Own Adventure Books. I'll be back with actual live posts on Friday.

What a game! (If the Riders won proceed to bullet A. If the Riders lost proceed to bullet B)

A - What a great feeling to finally get that first win as I predicted we would. (If the Riders won convincingly proceed to bullet 1. If the Riders won by the the narrowest of margins proceed to bullet 2. If the Riders won by some miracle of god that was so lucky it would never happen again in a million years and you are almost ashamed we won that way, proceed to bullet 3.)

    1 - No doubt the home crowd played a factor. After being so close in the previous weeks you just new they were due for a breakout game. Hopefully they can carry that momentum into next week.

   2 - Who cares how we won. At 0-3 we can't afford to be picky.

   3 - Who cares how we won. At 0-3 we can't afford to be picky.

B - Yet another disappointing outcome. (If the Riders got pounded proceed to bullet 1. If the Riders found yet another epic way to choke away a sure victory proceed to bullet 2. If you are so angry you want to punch a small animal proceed  )

    1 - Our defense is useless, I've seen velvet ropes that are better at stopping people. I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping with our downward spiral. Bet against us in proline and use the winnings to fund your drinking.

    2 - Even people big time into S & M don't like chocking as much as the Riders do. I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping.

   3 - Please don't punch a small animal. Instead go after something more your size, like an ostrich (dibs on the eggs and meat if you do). I suggest drinking heavily as a means of coping. Please avoid alcohol such as rye than will only heighten your rage. Stick to beers, wines... or absinthe if you really want to escape life for a bit.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Riders vs. BC Lions: Fourth Times A Charm

Friday night the BC Lions come to Mosaic for the 2nd game in a back to back tilt with the Riders. Needless to say this is a big game if we intend to be competing for anything other than 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft. A loss drops us to 0-4 for the first time since that dreadful 2011 season (Remember that one? With all its Marshall and Berry and Dinwiddie? *shudder*) it also loses us the season series with BC. I realize that a team without a win has bigger concerns than season series but the optimist in me would like to believe those series will be relevant at some point this season… provided we can field at team at said time.

The injury woes just keep piling up for the Riders as you can now add Weldon Brown and Levi Steinhauer to the not-so-exclusive “Done for the season” club. Brown hurts a ton because he is one of our best defenders and I’m afraid to think how much worse our D can get as the on-field talent diminishes.

The frustrating thing is this… as ridiculous as our injury situation has been this season, injuries are not the reason for our struggles. We could have a winning record even though our injury carts have put on more miles than Gainer's cart. So the question becomes how to we break out of this slump and come away with a home victory on Friday?

Offensively we just need to keep rolling. Our mounting losses on and off the field are masking just how good that unit is. Want some stats? We have scored more points than anyone in the league, we are rushing for an insane 160 yards per game, Glenn is completing close to 80% of his passes, our O-line (including Dan Clark who I routinely berated in this space) have allowed a league low 2 sacks. This is a high power offensive unit and we honestly can’t ask much more of them… except maybe if the O-line (I’m looking at you Labatte) could cut down the penalties. If we keep running hard and spreading the ball around then we will score 28 points minimum.

Pretty much every good thing I just said about our offense, flip it to the opposite and it describes our D. Most points allowed at over 35 point per game. QBs completing a league high 80+% of passes on us. One stat I think it particularly telling is the fact that we have 1… just 1 solitary turnover this season (no other team has less than 4). That puts us on pace currently for 6 on the year… last year we caused 42 turnovers. For god sake the defensive force known as Zach Evans has as many turnovers as our entire team!

I do have to admit that I have seen progress in our defense through the first 3 games. Hell for 3 quarters last week they actually looked competent. They just have absolutely zero ability to finish. I thought our defensive coordinator wanted a D that would cut of the heads of its defeated opponents... instead he has one that places its sword in the opponents hands and hurls itself upon it. We need our front 4 to be a factor again. There is too much talent their for them to be playing such mediocre ball. File this under super obvious but the key to victory is containing 2 BC players: Harris and Arceneaux. Thanks in part to their line BC has had an abysmal run game but as they showed last week they can get Harris involved in the passing game to. Its easier said than done but our LBs need to key on Harris a limit him (tackling on first contact is key because he's burnt our poor tackling before). 

We have been oh so close for 3 weeks now and I truly believe that with the backing of a wild home crowd this is the week where it all comes together. Defense will force 2 turnovers and while it won't be pretty, we will sneak out a victory by the narrowest of margins.

Riders by a Paul McCallum FG (after which he hopefully lights a smoke and flips of BC).

Programming note: I am headed off on some family vacation and will not be back until Tuesday. We will be camping and unless they've recently invented a tree that delivers free Wi-Fi I will not be able to post my Sentimonies on Monday. I won't leave you completely high and dry thought. I have pre-typed a post for Monday to ensure you can have your usual Prophet fix. The post won't contain any relevant information on the game but if that was your primary concern you would have given up reading this blog years ago. See you next week!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are You Smarter Than A Toddler - Week 4 picks

Rider Prophet - Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Calgary
Prophet Jr - Hamilton, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg
Step-Prophet - Montreal, Edmonton, BC, Calgary
Mrs Prophet - Montreal, Ottawa, BC, Calgary
Momma Prophet - Hamilton, Ottawa, BC, Winnipeg

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Afternoon Sentimonies: Finding Ways To Lose

Riders 32 - Lions 35 (OT)

Fun fact, the Riders would be 3-0 this season if one of the rule changes had been reducing regulation to 50 minutes. They would be 2-1 if they cut it 57 minute games. When it comes to finding ways to blow things, the 2015 Riders are more adept at it than some of the "ladies" found around the Craven grounds this weekend.

Truth be told I haven't actually seen the whole game. I watched the highlights and listened to the last ten minutes of the game and OT on the radio in my camp ground at Craven (where I have just returned from so if my sentimonies are less coherent than normal forgive me). As I listened, I steadily transitioned from celebratory drinking (when I assumed we had it in the bag after the Allen TD) to drinking to calm my nerves, to drinking to forget there even was a football game. Fortunately I was in the right place.

Friday night's loss marks just another chapter in what is becoming an ongoing saga for the Riders... inability to finish. Despite an injury list that features a lot of our big name platers, the Riders have been in a position to win every game they've played this season. And each time they find a way to lose. They have no killer instinct and if they don't find it soon, the hole they are digging themselves will soon be too deep to get out of.

Our offense put in another good effort. Kevin Glenn is far from flawless but I think he has been playing some great football. He looks very comfortable in the Chapdelaine offense. Our passing game is good. Our run game is looking really good with both Messam and Allen running hard. Our O-line consistently gives Glenn good protection and must be run blocking well given the yards our RBs chew up. Hands to the face penalties appears to be a curious epidemic for our OL but nothing about penalties makes sense this year in the CFL so I'll give them a pass on that.

Our defense actually put in a very solid effort for 3 quarters. They held BC without a TD. But suddenly in the 4th quarter that familiar set our useless bums we've grown accustomed to reappeared offering about as much resistance as me when asked if I want another beer this weekend. Over 3 games opposing QBs have completed 80% of their pass attempts against us and averaged 332 yards per game. We have yet to hold a QB under 3 TD passes. The league is now a passing league more than ever and we appear to be dumbfounded on how to deal with that. Even our much-hyped defensive line which we assumed would be the strength of the defense has produced just 3 sacks and generally lacked the disruptive pressure we expected. Fact is, Chamblin's D wasn't very good when he was a D-Coordinator in Hamilton (granted they were lacking in talent) and they aren't very good since Richie Hall departed and Chamblin took over here. It really begs the question as to whether he is the right guy to be running our defense.

I 100% agree with the call to gamble on 3rd and 1 late in the fourth. That is a play you expect your team to convert on and given how useless our defense is it was way riskier to kick to BC and assume we could stop them then try it end the game with a 1 yard plunge. The execution wasn't great (though watching the replay I think we may have got a lousy spot) but the call was sound. I'd make that same call any day.

What I did not agree with was Chamblin declining the procedure call just after we turned the ball over after the failed plunge. BC needed a FG to tie so why in the hell would we decline a penalty that would push them 5 yards back and make that kick more difficult?!?! The difference between a 55 yard attempt and a 60 yard attempt is massive. That was a major coaching screw up that falls squarely on Chamblin.

So here we sit 0-3, worst team in the league. Its still early in the season and its certainly not time to panic, fire everyone and form a mob with pitchforks and torches. But we do need to start finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose and soon. Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and sexual harassment lawsuits.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Riders vs. Lions: Road Test

Friday night the Riders will be in BC to take on the Lions in a battle of winless teams. It will be the Riders’ first road game of the year… with any luck the change of scenery will jump-start their collective memory so they can remember how to call and execute a defense… preferably one that is more effective than Bill Cosby’s.

Truth be told, I am channelling my inner Saskatchewan hick and heading out to Craven for the weekend. So this was written Wednesday night… meaning its likely something will occur Thursday/Friday to render some of my points irrelevant. I’d like to say I care but by the time you read this I will likely have drowned any lingering cares I have left. 

Offensively we just need to keep rolling. Ryan Smith has been ruled out which certainly hurts but between Dressler, Bagg, Getzlaf, Richardson and whichever of Taj and Williams get playing time we should be okay. Our O-line has been giving Glenn great protection and we have been calling a game plan that perfectly fits Glenn: quick short to medium passes that set up deep shots, spreading the ball around, keeping the run game a part of it. Last week BC let Burris throw for 3 TDs and close to 300 yards (based on that I could probably look decent passing against them) and allowed over 140 yards rushing. This week they will likely be without the ever-reliable Ryan Phillips. I expect their run D to tighten up (they do still have an elite set of LBs) but we should be able to exploit the pass game. BC’s D-line is not as good as Toronto’s so I expect Glenn to have the time he needs to get the ball to the likes of Dressler, Bagg and Getzlaf. 

Defensively I don’t even know what to expect. BC’s O-line looked terrible last game. Outside of Olafioye there is an overall lack of talent there (they are really missing the injured Hunter Steward). Our D-line (aka the only part of our defense I have any faith in… at least when aren’t stupidly calling for 3 man rushes) should have a big advantage in the trenches. There are 2 guys you need to contain if you hope to beat BC. First, you need to keep Andrew Harris in check. He can run and he can catch… and he’s ravaged us in previous years. Second, you need to play tight on Emmanuel Arceneaux all game. He can score from anywhere and is far and away their best receiver. Hopefully we learned our lesson from our awful attempts to cove Chad Owens (when we decided to actually cover him) and will give Arceneaux the attention he deserves. I honestly expect Harris to have a big game just because. Our offense is going to put up 25 points min so all we need to do is hold BC to 3 TDs or less (they scored just 1 last week). Maybe I’ve started my Craven drinking to early but I think they can do that.

Random prediction: Shaquille Murray-Lawrence returns a kick for a TD on us.

BC is a tough, tough place to win but the Riders have been very close to winning the past 2 games. I expect BC to step up their game and play us hard but I really think this is the week the defense finally is useful. Even a somewhat competent game from them and we win.

Riders by a Dressler TD

And hey, if I’m wrong at least I’ll have 2 more days of Craven to drown the sorrows of an 0-3 start.