Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi Coherent Thoughts

We've reached that point in the offseason where I try to spin 1 or 2 shreds of CFL news into a somewhat draw out post in an attempt to provide content, lest you learn that you can live without my weekly sentimonies (you can't and don't you forget it). I'll start by opining on what's going on across the CFL (spoiler alert, it's nothing) and end with a listing of what CFLers are getting NFL tryouts.

- The big news is Kavis Reed being named GM in Montreal. There are usually concerns when a successful coach makes the jump from coaching to front office... so understandably there is a great deal more when a not successful assistant coach makes the jump to GM. By the way the news articles on this are incorrectly reporting that Reed was the successful man in the GM search. The more accurate report would be that he was the only one crazy enough to step into the current Alouette mess.

- The Reed/Chapdelaine combo has already led to rampant speculation that the Als will target Durant in free agency. I could certainly see the interest and if I'm Durant, a viable suitor certainly increases your bargaining power. I still keep telling myself that this will all sort itself out and Durant will be back in green and white... though I'm hedging by bets and stockpiling whiskey in the event that I'm wrong about that.

- You can tell who is in a good salary cap position by who has the space to re-sign people in December. If you have unused cap space you use it now to get a leg up on re-signing players. We have extended Roosevelt and Cox so we must have some $$. BC, Ottawa Calgary and Edmonton are too.

NFL Watch
Here's a list of CFL players who have had NFL tryouts so far
Greg Ellingson - Chicago
Adam Bighill - New Orleans
Otha Foster - New Orleans
Kenny Shaw - Chicago
Khalil Bass - New Orleans
Tony Burnett - New Orleans, Detroit
Bryan Burnham - Minnesota, Arizona, New York Jets
Mic'hael Brooks - Minnesota, New England, New York Jets
Alex Bazzie - Minnesota, Arizona
Deon Lacey - Minnesota, New England, Denver, Detroit
Derel Walker - Minnesota, Chicago, New Orleans
Nevis Drake - New Orleans
Richie Leone - Arizona
Shakir Bell - New England
Quincy McDuffie - New York Jets
Diontae Spencer - New York Jets
Greg Van Roten - New York Jets
Frank Beltre - New York Jets
Mitchell White - New York Jets
Forest Hightower - Detroit

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Free Agents

For the most part all is quiet across the CFL landscape... with the exception of Montreal where Plan A was a Maciocia/Taman combo and plan B appears to be Kavis Reed. While I feel that we have been denied some comedic gold with Maciocia spurning the Als, Kavis Reed is one hell of a consolation prize. That is of course unless you are an Alouette fan, in which case this is the equivalent of coal in your stocking, when what you really wanted was a slightly less crappy lump of coal.

Today, I will delve into the list of potential Rider free agents and opine on who we should be priority re-signings and who shouldn't let the door hit them on the way out (provided they weren't already among the literally hundreds already cut by Jones). I will leave Durant our of this analysis. I've already written plenty about him and there' been no new news. There's only so many ways I can say that there are no viable alternatives that would represent an improvement.

Top Priority:
When I look at the list of pending FAs, 2 names stand out above the others: Otha Foster and Willie Jefferson. Foster was an unheralded but key piece of our defense. He is a veteran leader who plays the very difficult cover LB spot and can drop and play HB. Getting him back would be huge step in establishing an impact D. Jefferson played only a few games with us but was easily the most impactful d-lineman of the season (not that the bar was set high). A pass rush is key to pretty much anything you do defensively and Jefferson is an athletic freak who can chase a QB, drop into coverage and knock passes down. The fact that he's an athletic freak who is not one of Jones' conversion from another sport projects is also a plus in my books.

Important targets:
Not an absolute must, but I would like to see these players back.
Dylan Ainsworth - There's a huge question mark on him after missing all of 2016 due to injury but he can provide needed Cdn depth on DL and is a very solid special teamer when healthy.
Thaddeus Coleman - He's an adequate lineman but for a team with no OL depth that's good enough to warrant attention.
Jeff Hecht - Similar to Coleman he's adequate at best but really solidified the safety spot. I think we should be looking for the safety of the future but Hecht should be retained so we at least have a reliable option if that doesn't pan out.
Andrew Lue - Lue is part of the seach for safety of the future. He's young, Canadian and has potential to be a safety or at least contribute on teams.
Jorgen Hus - A reliable snapper is a must... plus his name is Jorgen, not many teams employ a Jorgen (at least outside of Europe)
Jeff Knox - The presence of Eguavoen, Jones and Muamba push him off the top priority list but Knox is still a guy I would love to have back.
Gregory Alexandre - Can provide depth at Cdn defensive tackle (which is important if we plan to start Gaydosh)

I honestly don't care whether these people return or not.
Phil Bates
Ivan Brown - love his energy and hustle
Randy Chevrier - good emergency fill in but not likely in the future plans
Jeff Fuller - extremely talented but is made of glass we have a bunch of good import WRs so not sure how much $$ you want to tie up in him with more glaring needs
Mitchell Gale - if needed he's an adequate back-up QB but I'd like to think we can find better (our current track record would disagree though)
Corvey Irvin - Was a much hyped offseason signing but was pretty underwhelming for most of the season. I'd take him back but for what he did last season there are probably cheaper options.
Curtis Steele - He's a decent blocker and had some good games (when we actually decided to run) but I'd like to think we can find an impact running back as opposed to an adequate one (like McKnight could have been)
Jonathan Williams - Between age and injury, not sure what he has left

I think we should see other people
Shamawd Chambers - In retrospect it would have been equally as beneficial to just keep Getzalf. We are not exactly in a position to be too picky about Canadians but his salary can likely be put to better use.
Matt Webster - Never been a Webster fan and I'd like to think that we are to a point where the fact that he is a token Canadian Special teamer does not equate to long-term tenure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Welcome to the offseason

The weather is bitterly cold and there is no football for the foreseeable future (I'm mean sure there is the NFL but as a Vikings fan I'm doing my best to block from my memory)... clearly the offseason is upon us. And things get different in the offseason. I mean clearly not the punctuality of my posting which is as erratic as ever but other things.

For those of you new to the CFL offseason here's the low down. There will be a flury of news between now and the first week of January as teams try to re-sign their pending FAs. Then there will be a lull. Then free agency will open... then another lull. Then that combine event here in Regina... and a lull. And so on. I will keep you up to date during the actual notable events and fell your time with mindless filler posts that are occasionally entertaining during the lulls.

Other than the fact that there is growing concern over the future of our franchise qb, our projected starting RB was murdered and a big name defensive end retired (did you really think that 2016 "the year of the retirement" wouldn't end with another retirement?) it's been a relatively uneventful offseason. Pretty sure we are just missing "criminal charges" and "social media faux-pas " for a line in ridiculous offseason occurrences bingo.

The list of potential free agents is out. Outside of Durant, names like Otha Foster and Willie Jefferson jump out as priorities. On the topic of Jefferson, turns out both he and Fuller signed one year deals upon returning from the NFL. I'd be very curious how much we paid them because unless it was substantially more than others were offering they would be stupid to sign with a non-playoff team and miss out on playoff money. Either we made it worth their while or they need to find new agents.

I will have a full analysis (or at least half assed analysis) on our pending FAs next week. I would expect a singing or two before Dec 31 and then a bunch more in early January when the new salary cap year starts. For now I will leave you to your Christmas shopping... which by the way a donation is a loved one's name to the Rider Prophet fund makes a great gift. I'm not a registered charity or anything but I'll gladly accept your donations just the same.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Holy Hell

The 2016 CFL season ended with a huge bang (and I'm not talking about what most of the RedBlacks likely did after the game). What started as a so-so spectacle of an unstoppable force crumbling like a prairie highway, ended with one of the most dramatic, ridiculous finishes seen in many years. Miracle comeback, onside kick, a kneel down that featured more F-bombs than are normally uttered during a Rider loss, overtime, bobble catch. It was crazy! An outstanding way for the CFL to cap off the season!

I'll be the first to admit that seeing Burris choke would have been entertaining, but seeing Calgary choke is certainly a damn good consolation prize. Their stingy D looked lost for most of the first half. Jamar Wall uncharacteristically got worked over. Bo Levi Mitchell looked like he decided to come to the Grey Cup as Bad Hank. To their credit they managed to overcome all the odds and fight their way back. Hell if they knew how to get 2 yards they probably would have won (at least they didn't go full Seahawks and throw a pick).

As for Ottawa, I feel very happy for their fans. I feel mostly happy for the players and coaches and feel a mild bit of contempt for the doctors who managed to unlock Burris' knee and rob me of my perfect Harris as QB scenario after teasing me with the possibility. Give them full credit, they took it to the best team in the CFL and made them look very average. I'm sure both Burris and Sinopoli both appreciate the blacks squares they got to honour their achievements as Grey Cup MVP and Most Outstanding Canadian. Can't we envy pop for something with class leading technology and stuff?

Side note (and I know this makes me a terrible person) but for how much they harped on it, is anyone else even the tiniest bit skeptical that the whole Burris knee thing was fabricated? I don't think that would actually happen but it did seem to make for a very convenial narrative.

And thus ends the 2016 season, but be sure to stay with me throughout the offseason as I do my best to use my wit, humour and analysis to get you through the long offseason. Once the Grey Cup moratorium on news is lifted business will pick up and I will be right there to keep you up to date... or at least within 3-4 days (it's not like I was punctual or reliable at all times during the regular season).

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs: Grey Cup Edition

Six months, 9 teams, 81 games and 20,737,837 challenges for irrelevant pass interference all come down to this... 1 last game for the chance to have your name etched on a cup that may break during the etching process. Its the top team in the West vs. the top team in the East (which is a lot like saying the best figure skater in the Sahara) in front of literally dozens of fans, some of which are only there because of cheap pizza.

Don't let me intro fool you, I am very much looking forward to the Grey Cup. Love the game and what it's all about!

Grey Cup: Ottawa vs. Calgary
Who I want to win: Complicated answer... my ideal scenario has Henry Burris giving us a vintage Burris playoff performance (think ball flying by his head in 2013 or any one of the myriad of turnovers over the years) and Trevor Harris coming off the bench to lead an improbable comeback victory. I am conditioned to generally not cheer for the Stamps so I guess if that can't happen I would prefer Ottawa wins anyway... but the last time Burris won a Cup he openly wept well trying to explain the deep significance of "We Are the Champions" so that is certainly a drawback of that scenario.
Who I think will win: The Calgary Stompeders (spelling error is intentional for once as I think they will indeed Stomp the RedBlacks)
Why: Honestly don't see a weakness on the Stamps that RedBlacks can exploit. Defense is rock solid (and an under appreciated reason for their record), they have a powerful run game, they have great receivers, Mitchell looks unstoppable. Stamps would have to falter in multiple areas before they begin to show weakness and I don't see that happening. Anything can happen on Grey Cup Sunday and I actually expect a somewhat exciting game (at least early on) but if you are betting against the Stamps you either didn't watch a CFL game this season or are currently on a drunken Grey Cup bender (in which case, good on you).

Enjoy the great Canadian tradition that is the Grey Cup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Tuesday Edition

Apologies for the lateness of my sentimonies (I'm sure you all didn't know what to do with yourselves) but in the hierarchy of the demands on my life it may surprise you to find out that this free internet blog is not at the top of the list. But you didn't come here to see a list of excuses... if that's what you are in search of there are Eskimo and Lion fan forums that will better serve your needs.

In true Canadian fashion we were treated to a blizzard game. The most surprising thing is that the blizzard game featuring the #4 team in the West and a sub-500 East team was by far the better quality game than the good weather game featuring the top 2 teams in the league.

In the East final, Edmonton was done in by their defense. It was weak all year and did not have an answer for Ottawa until they had dug themselves a huge hole. By contrast Ottawa's D is finally showing signs of life again. It was great to see Tristan Jackson get a TD. I still love that guy. It was also great to see an actual East team win the East. The bonus is that Ottawa has a lively fan base that should hopefully breathe some life into the sputtering Grey Cup festivities in TO.

In the West, that was just a merciless ass kicking. It was fitting BC wore white because they might as well have just waved a white flag partway through the 1st quarter. I'd call Calgary cocky but it ain't cocky if you can back it up and right now the Stamps are just that good. As I said in my pregame write up, they are strong in virtually every aspect imaginable. Unless a number of key players are inadvertently run over by Quick 6 or intentionally Tanya Hardinged they will be tough to beat.

My favourite part of the West Final was Milt Stegall going on and on about how the game was over and then Climie chimes in (presumably after getting a frantic earful from the producers) reminder viewers anything can happen and its no over yet... but it was.

It's now Grey Cup week or as people in Manitoba refer it "that week in November where nothing noteworthy ever happens... ever". For those going, have fun. For those not going, take solace in the fact that you will know more about the Grey Cup party than most Torontonians.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs - Division Finals

Kinda sad to think that there are only 3 games left in the 2016 season. The positive of course from a Rider perspective is that each passing week brings us closer to 2017. Though my liver is about the only part of me that does not wish there were still meaningful Rider football going on.

East-Final: Edmonton vs. Ottawa
Who I Want To Win: Ottawa but only if Harris is QBing. If Burris is under centre then I want Edmonton. I know its petty but sports is about entertainment and I find Burris' post-season meltdowns entertaining.
Who I Think Will Win: Ottawa
Why: Logic would dictate Edmonton as the favourite... hell given the sad state of the East division if a new western franchise was formed tomorrow, it would be the favourite. That said, I'm going against logic here. I have seen many hyped crossover teams get whooped in the East Final... err check that, according to the interwebs, I have seen exactly 2 teams ('08 Esks and '09 Lions) come up short in the East Final. But my grossly exaggerated point remains, this game favours the home team... especially given the Ottawa crowd. Also, I think Ottawa is one of the few teams with the firepower to go toe to toe with the Esks in an offensive shootout. Add in questions around Reilly's health and you have the makings for an upset... unless Burris has other ideas.

West-Final: BC vs. Calgary
Who I Want To Win: Some kind of act of god whereby nobody wins
Who I Think Will Win: Calgary
Why: So few weaknesses on that Calgary team. As much hype as the offense gets, that defense was a huge strength of that team. Add in a rock solid O-line, a seemingly endless string of impact receivers, a power run game and Bo Levi Mitchell. I mean there's a chance one of these strength falters on Sunday but I doubt they all falter simultaneously. This should be a damn good game... which should in theory go without saying when discussion the division finals but in my mind this game is the defacto Grey Cup. Winner is the most likely team to win the cup... which brings me back to my initial wish for a scenario where they both lose. As someone who watched a ton of pro-wrestling growing up I can think of many viable scenarios that could lead to this.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Thoughts on Durant and the Semis

Despite the fact that the Riders weren't playing, the division semi-finals were actually very entertaining to watch... unless of course you were a Bomber or Ti-Cat fan. The good news is that much like Rider fans, years of disappointment and heartbreak have well prepared them for coping with Sunday's results. This morning I will touch a bit on my playoff thoughts and then I'll get into some thoughts on the negotiations with Durant. (This is the point of the article where most Rider fans will just start skimming until they see Durant mentioned again).

Both games were amazingly similar in that they started out looking like they were going to be absolute pummelings and actually turned into very exciting games to watch. Out East, I was actually very surprised at how close the Ti-Cats made it. I mean, their top receiver was a guy named Tyms (which it turns out is not just a clever marketing ploy by Tim Horton's field). A healthy Ti-Cat roster I think would have won but the Ti-Cat trainers got more work this season than the Riders' seamstress. They did manage to contain Bowman and Walker... though they mainly accomplished that by letting White have his way with them (bold strategy).

Durant... just kidding, continue skimming those of you just here for Rider news. Out West, all the talk will be about the 61 yard FG attempt (which was a terribly stupid call for the record) but I think the bigger talk should be about how the Bombers managed to piss away the 19 point lead they had and where their offense went in the second half (after a monstrous start). I'll be the first to admit that the Bombers and Matt Nichols in particular greatly exceeded my expectations for them. Kinda sad to see them lose since I want neither the Stamps nor Buono to win next week... but then I remember its the Bombers and screw them (As a Rider/Viking fan if I can't be happy... and I most certainly am not... no one can).

Okay Durant talk for real now. I have been asked a lot this past week what I make of the apparent breakdown in negotiations. I maintain that its just both sides posturing for bargaining strength and that a deal is still likely but I've definitely downgraded by outlook from probable to mildly concerned... and the closer we get to February (still plenty of time) the greater that downgrade will be. Maybe I'm an eternal optimist but after committing to Durant, coming off major injury, in a clear rebuild year with zero expectations I can't imagine Jones is crazy enough to turn around and hand the reigns to an unproven QB in a year where winning is expected, Durant is mostly healthy and there are zero... I repeat zero other alternatives. If we choose to pass on Durant then the next most viable options are Burris and Glenn (why not just throw Nealon and Butler in there too?). Durant is currently our best option and that's why I think a deal will get done. By the way, in terms of who has the upper hand in bargaining, its clearly Durant. He has at least one viable alternative (likely Montreal... possibly Toronto), the Riders have many other options, none of which can be described as viable.

I'd also like to address the rampant discussion on Jonathan Franklin. First of all clearly we are interested (we just can't say so publicly because that's overt tampering and only idiots get caught doing that when round-a-bout tampering is so easy). That said, Edmonton is not just going to give him away for free... unless Ed Hervey succumbs to some kind of head injury in the near future. Many have brought up the speculated deal where Edmonton wanted Josiah St John and our first round pick for Franklin. For one, given St John's subpar (and like always 1-2 seconds delayed) play the price has likely gone up. Second, gutting your Cdn O-line depth is a terrible strategy. I don't care if you acquire Bo Levi 2.0 he won't make a lick of difference if he's always on his back because your line is utter garbage. A top tier OL and a mediocre QB will win you more games than a garbage OL and top tier QB. I'm not saying don't investigate the availability of Franklin, I'm just saying if the cost is our ability to build OL depth then I'd pass.

As I said, I still think a deal gets done with Durant. Just keep in mind that the decision makers tend not to put much weight in what I think.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs

Rider football may be over (some would say mercifully), its not like I have anything better to do, so I though I would opine on this weekend's playoff match-ups.

East-Semi: Edmonton vs. Hamilton
Who I Want To Win: Hamilton
Who I Think Will Win: Edmonton
Why: A healthy Hamilton would have a good shot... only problem is Hamilton is about as healthy as the Riders are playoff bound. Tasker, Fantuz, Owens, Murray, Stephen, the list goes on. I don't think Hamilton has the players on defense to contain Reilly/Bowman/Walker and without Fantuz and Tasker, they don't have the firepower on offense to win in a shootout. The again, the Ti-Cats played them extremely close in Week 19. I would really like to see Austin completely out-coach Maas and have Maas complain about how it was the live-mic's fault (by the way I'm completely aware of the hypocrisy of not liking Maas given that our coach is far more notorious for acts of douchebaggery but I'm fickle and I don't care).

West-Semi: Winnipeg vs. BC
Who I Want To Win: Nobody
Who I Think Will Win: BC
Why: Look I know I should probably be pulling for Winnipeg. Lord knows their fans deserve something after all this time. But as mentioned above, I'm fickle an misery loves company so if the Riders have to be miserable so do the Bombers. Aside from my personal biases, I also think BC has the edge. Had this game been in Winnipeg I think they maybe could have pulled it out but BC certainly has the edge offensively and while Winnipeg may have the stronger defense overall, I think BC's will do enough to get the win. That said, if say Winnipeg were to win because Paul McCallum misses a short FG in overtime I would also find that an acceptable outcome.

I will be back on Monday providing my Sentimonies on the Durant contract situation as well as likely explaining why my above playoff picks were wrong.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Merciful Ending

Riders 18 - BC... do you honestly care what the score was?

The 2016 Rider season came to an end about 2 hours before kickoff on Saturday and they went ahead and played 3 hours worth of football anyway. It was not for the faint of heart... or the sober. Kadron Boone but the "boo" in Boone. Our O-line put the "offensive" in offensive line. And the QBs... well I ran out of witty sayings but they were pretty brutal too. A senior citizen who hadn't touched a football since last year scored 14 points... which more than triple our production throughout all but the final few minutes.

If you only watched the first 10 minutes life was pretty good. You saw lots of defensive pressure, 3 turnovers, a close game and Joe McKnight lay one of the most devastating blocks I've seen all season on Gaitor. If you watched beyond that you are either a glutton for punishment like me, or misplaced your remote and were too lazy to get up and look for it. This wasn't unexpected. We were in full evaluation mode (a few people I didn't even know who the hell they were) playing a team that cared a great deal. What was unexpected was our offense being based on spinning a wheel to randomly decide which QB to send in and having that QB throw consistently high and wide forcing our receivers to try and make dangerous highlight reel catches for 2 yard gains.

Here are a few random observations on what I gleaned from the game:
- Jefferson and Muamba are impact players. Those 2 signings will give our 2017 a huge boost.
- Greg Morris is an unheralded addition that boost our Canadian content 
- Nic Demski is like the new Getzlaf. Drops way more than he should but capable of making some damn good plays.
- Not sure how much to read into it given that BC had given up all effort by that point of the game but Brandon Bridge looked the least awful of any QB.Guess the bar was set pretty low.
- Rob Bagg never quits. True professional that guy.

That's about it. It was an ugly end to an ugly season and we are all eager to move on to bigger and better things.

I'll end today by commenting on THE story in Saskatchewan following the game... negotiations with Durant. Seems relatively positive negotiations went south over the weekend and now there's doubt about the future of the franchise QB. A couple things here:

1 - 90% of negotiations is posturing so don't overreact to anything said at this point.
2 - Can you blame Durant for not wanting to concede anymore? The utter crap performance of the remaining Rider QBs has to skyrocket his bargaining power. Anytime Jones offered something too low I would just respond with "Gale, Kinne, Bridge, Moniz, Lee, Coleman, Smith, Waters... you still think you can do better than me?"
3 - I sincerely hope this is all just both sides jockeying for negotiating leverage in a deal that will eventually get done. At this point there is currently no viable alternative to Durant so unless he's hiding a clone of Doug Flutie somewhere in New Mosaic, Jones better find a way to get a deal done.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Riders vs BC: Does Anyone Care?

Saturday the Riders close out the 2016 season with a game that may challenge civic elections in terms of people who are interested enough to care. Look I'll watch the game (lord knows I've watched worse football) but this won't be a very good game. Given how well our team showed up in front of an emotional and engaged home crowd, how much worse do you think it will be on a road game where we are starting a guy named GJ at quarterback... what kind of name is GJ? Add some letters and at least make it GI-Joe, now that I could get excited about.

I won't bother breaking this game down to much as essentially it boils down to this. BC is the home team and a win clinches them a home playoff game. We are on the road and will likely be in full "evaluate the new guys" mode. Short of all 46 BC players breaking their femurs in pre-game warm-up, I don't see this leading to anything but an ass kicking.

But if you're reading this, you are likely a glutton for punishment like me and will be watching, so here are some things we can collectively watch for. It sounds like the Durant extension is an eventuality but we don't yet have a bona fide back up or heir apparent. Jake Waters may have been the guy (though I doubt it) but he broke his collar bone. That leaves the aforementioned GJ Kinne as the guy to watch. I'm expecting next to nothing from him (other than getting killed behind our NO-line) so anything positive he does is gravy. I would expect Brandon Bridge to get a chance to throw but then I don't think very much of him either. I'm a real ray of sunshine today I know. Maybe one of them will surprise me but in all likelihood neither are part of the QB competition in camp next year.

With the huge news that Roosevelt has extended through 2018 (sweeeeeeeet!) the pressure now on the other import receivers. With guys like Collins, Holley, Craig, Fuller and Edwards possibly competing for 2-3 roster spots the time is now for the new guys Bates, Boone, etc... to start getting notice.... though them catching a pass is contingent on our QB having enough time to get a pass off before being sacked so its not an ideal spot for them.

Given that its likely the D is on the field a lot, it will be a good chance for some of those guys to make an impression. Guys like Hunter and Adams in the secondary or some of the potential Canadian safeties like Lue or Webster could all make a case for why they should be brought back next year. Even my new favourite player Milhouse could take a step forward and earn the name Thrillhouse (I have t-shirts printed just in case).

Either way I recommend rock bottom expectations and some alcohol as a precursor to enduring this game. Then we can all say good riddance to 2016... which was somehow almost twice as good as 2015. Next will be good right? Right?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Farewell Old Friend

Riders 6 - Lions 24

For a franchise with its share of heartbreak over the years, it was somewhat fitting that old Mosaic Stadium left us with one last loss.

I won't spend too much time talking about the game itself... it sucked. It was pretty much exactly what you would expect when a team competing for a home playoff game plays a team competing for a top draft pick. Our O-line looked like they preemptively moved all their blocking ability to the new stadium. They were about as effective as a group of nerdy elementary school kids playing Red Rover against a professional football team. Quarterbacking wasn't much better. Every snap Durant took lowered his negotiating power by $1000. Every snap that Waters took, increased Durant's negotiating power by $2000. Defense certainly looked like they were missing a number of starters. My new favourite player didn't even get a sack. I was hoping I'd get a chance to yell out "Everything's coming up Milhouse!".  We didn't even get to enjoy one last TD celebration in the stands. Start to finish the game sucked.

Fortunately there was something far more important going on that kept the fans engaged. Despite the on-field performance we were in a celebratory mood as we gathered to say goodbye to an old friend. And I must say we sent her off in style.

From the Snowbirds flyover, to all the family connections to Piffles Taylor, to the light up wrist bands that I'm convinced were just a clever excuse to mas distribute monitoring bracelets, to a pretty good halftime show (at least as good as you can get with mascot soccer or junior cheerleaders dancing around Spergeon Wynn) to a closing ceremony that fittingly honoured some of the biggest legends to ever play here. It was a memorable night.

Not sure how many saw but we even got one last idiot running on to the field... well kinda. He got about 7 steps onto the corner of the endzone and rather than making a break for midfield, he turned back towards the stands where he was swiftly thrown not so gently into the stands and then onto the ground. I'm sure those 7 steps were worth the lifetime ban, fines and other legal issues.

While, I'm excited for the new stadium (and hopefully winning games again), it was bittersweet to say goodbye to our little corner of the world up in 206. People who were once strangers are now beloved friends. We had the best game day host who game after game became one of the highlights of gameday.  Even the Rams 50/50 guy who sold me nothing but losing tickets (at times my numbers were so off I wondered if he was indeed a legit seller), yes even him I'll miss. It may have been a dank crap hole... but it was our dank crap hole and I wouldn't trade the memories or friendships formed for anything... except maybe a winning 50/50. I look forward to the new friends memories that new stadium will bring but this old house has etched itself on all of our hearts.

As if old Mosaic were in a giving mood on Saturday, it gave me one last memory as a left for the final time. One last time I parted the seas of fans on the ramps and past through their midst. What good is being a Prophet if you can use your powers for your own benefit once in a while?

As a I side note, following Saturday how little will anyone (players included) care about our game in BC next week?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Riders vs. Lions: The Finale

Over a century worth of history and memories all comes down to this… one finale game at Taylor Field (this of course assumes we ignore the Rams playoff game, which we will for simplicity and dramatic effect). I imagine fans will be in one of 3 categories on Saturday: the emotional ones sad to say goodbye to a place that has been a huge part of their lives; the pragmatic ones who can’t wait for this dump to be torn down and get to our fancy new digs; and those so drunk they are only loosely aware there’s a football game at all let alone one of sentimental importance. I will likely be more so in the first group (with a hint of group 3) though I certainly won’t be crying. I can’t however rule out the outside chance dust gets in my eye or someone cuts an onion.

While much of what is written this week will focus on the sentimental aspect of the game, I will focus on the game itself. I already did my trip down (check it out here) memory lane and others will surely write more eloquent/factual/grammatically correct tribute. I share the mix of excitement/sad to see it go feeling that most have but would like to see one more quality game of football before it’s all said and done.

I see this as a measuring stick game. BC is one of the top teams in the league and how we fare against them will be very telling in terms of how far we’ve come in our rebuild. On the surface you have to be mildly concerned about the match-up. I mean we just played like ass against a team that didn’t care. BC is in contention for a home playoff game so they care a great deal. If we come out like we did last week fans may petition for the second half to be cancelled and move straight from halftime to final ceremony.

Unlike the last 2 teams we played, BC actually has an offense. A good one at that. #2 in points scored, #1 run game. Arceneaux among the best in the league and Burnham has been playing unreal of late. Also there’s not a throw that Jennings can’t make. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on our secondary. Hopefully Cox is back. We will need to generate pressure from our front 4 and not just Jefferson… would be nice if someone else did something. Our LBs will also need to be active to limit the run game. Jennings is an electric QB but he’s young and prone to mistakes. Best chance of success will come by forcing him to throw lots and under duress.

Offensively we need to come out aggressive (like we did against Toronto and Hamilton). BC has a good defense overall but that secondary is not nearly as effective without Yell and Lee. There are favourable match-ups to be had if we are willing to test them. In saying that passing the ball requires actual pass protection from the OL… of late asking them to pass block seems to be akin to asking them to solve complex calculus questions by with an abacus. Rather than assume they will just turn off the suck switch why not help them out with a consistent ground game, some TE sets for more blocking and quick hooks/swing passes to get the ball out quick? Rolling Darian out would also help limit the pressure. BC is 2nd worst in turnovers forced so the risk in being aggressive is minimal plus it’s not like we have anything to lose.

Anyone with any sense of logic would pick the Lions in this one. But if there’s one thing that Taylor Field has brought us over the years its games that defy logic (that and probably a lot of babies resulting from post game “celebarations” ). I’m going in expecting a loss and just hoping we are competitive but I would love if the old field could give us one more magic moment. I’m talking a come from behind victory that leaves the crowd thundering and shakes what’s left of the supporting structure in the stadium (possibly getting a head start on demolition). So for one last time at that dingy old dump we’ve come to love, logic be damned!

Riders by a Tyler Crapigna field goal

PS -  For old time sake can we get a huge "Get off the field Wally!" from the crowd for the last time at Taylor Field?

One final bold prediction: When they announce the starting line-up on Saturday, expect to hear something like this “and your starting QB for this game and for next year at new Mosaic Stadium the newly re-signed Darian Durant!”

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: So Losing Is Still A Thing?

Riders 14 - Als 19

If I was an eternal optimist, or just one of those people who think the Riders can do no wrong, I would open today's post extolling the good strategy of the Riders for keeping the drive for the #1 overall pick alive. As you know, however, I am instead a bitter, jaded realist who could write a novel entitled "Things the Riders did wrong this year". If actual encyclopedias were still a thing it would make a great (and depressing) series.

In a meaningless game between two of the worst teams in the CFL on a rain-soaked afternoon, its hard to imagine a group of people who wanted to be there less than the fans. Turns out the Rider players, coaches and even the refs did not want to be there either as all seemed to go out of their way to put minimal effort into the afternoon. The care factor just didn't seem to be there on all accounts.

The Cole's Notes version (do people still get that saying?) is that our O-line showed a complete inability to pass block and our offensive play callers realized way too late into the game that Joe McKnight was the only thing we had going for us. Consider this: Over the first 23 minutes of play the Riders ran 11 offensive plays. 4 plays went to McKnight who totaled 31 yards and never got less than 4. The remaining 11 plays combined resulted in a total of -12 yards and only one play went for positive yards (3). It doesn't take a genius to see that maybe we should have given up on the pass plays (that only resulted in sacks and incompletions) and focused more on feeding the ball to the one guy who was actually being productive. As a Vikings fan I had the distinct pleasure of watching both my teams in consecutive days show no ability to pass block... and both refuse to adjust their play calling accordingly. I fully support the Fulton trade but we clearly have taken a step back in the trenches since he left. For all the gains we've made this season in talent O-line remains a glaring need.

Offense's futility squandered a pretty good defensive performance (albeit it against the worst O-line in the league and a depleted receiving corp). They put up 6 sacks and could easily have matched their yearly total if not for the escapability of a clearly greased up Vernon Adams. That's what it sucks being the first D to play a new QB. Next opponent will have the benefit of seeing his tendencies on film. Even so, if you exclude the TD they allowed when a Durant fumble set the Als up on the 2 yard line, the D did their job in this one (other than going offside way too much). One guy who blew me away was Tevaughn Campbell. All I have ever seen from him was a super fast guy with no coverage skills but Saturday he looked like a bona fide DB out there. Great play on his INT and I noticed him a couple other times for positive reasons.

As I mentioned the players weren't the only one mailing it in. The usually challenge happy Chris Jones clearly didn't want to lengthen the game anymore in Saturday. Also the refs, were so eager to be out of the rain that they missed that blatant head shot on McKnight at the end. I don't really care about how it affected the outcome of the game (let's not forget the game is meaningless) but if you really care about player safety then letting a guy torpedo himself headfirst at another player should probably be noticed and punished.

In the end the game was pretty much two pretty good defenses against two pretty bad offenses (minus what Adams was able to improvise) on a dreary day where the primary concern of pretty much everyone involved was "when will this be over". Personally I blame the presence of Jordan Sisco. I still have no idea how anyone in their right mind could see fit to honour him with the other deserving 2013 Grey Cup honorees. He literally contributed nothing. I'm convinced his mere presence caused a cosmic force of terribleness that affected the Riders.

Side note: I was the only guy in the stands booing when that Chip Cox fumble return TD was called back (on an embarrassingly bad plunge by the Riders). I have Cox in Fantaseh and that offside penalty may have cost me my playoff match-up.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Riders vs. Alouettes: The Drive For Five

Saturday features a match-up so far off the marquee that if it were not the second also game ever at old Mosaic, people might not care. One team comes into this game on a role, playing their best football of the year just in time for the final stretch, stabilizing their roster and generally giving their fans something to get excited about. The other team comes in just trying to find a fire extinguisher that will keep the dumpster fire moderately under control. They have won just 1 of their last 6, their GM just cut their top 2 receivers (just one of many crazy roster decisions this season), they are giving a rookie QB his first start, limping down the stretch and generally giving their fans reasons  pursue other sporting interests. The amazing thing here is that the latter is the one that still has a playoff shot (granted the odds are so slim that it would take 4 miracles and a government legislated intervention to actually materialize).

Coming into this year Montreal was essentially an extremely talented defense that was saddled with a mediocre offense. This year they are essentially a talented defense that has been gutted by headscratching attempts to save money (that evidently aren't working as the $300k over cap rumor just won't go away) and is saddled with a mediocre offense that has also been gutted and a crazy GM... and a terrible kicker... and, well in the interest of brevity I'll stop there. (As an asside it feels really weird to spend two weeks in a row blasting opponents for being gong shows given how our season went down).

Our defense will be missing Hecht and Cox which I think will provide a huge test for how far this defense has come. The secondary has remained unchanged for close to 2 months now. How will a new combination fare? The good news is that Montreal barely qualifies as being able to be referred to as an offense. They have the least yards gained this year and second last in points scored... and that was before they cut Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford and turned to a rookie QB with 4 completions to his name as their starter. Never like facing a QB without much film on him but given the general potency of the Als offense, I'm not sure we should be concerned. It starts upfront, the Als O-line is dreadful (most sacks allowed). Our front 4 need to make life miserable for Adams all day. Three things we need to watch, 1) Brandon Rutley is a very talented RB so we need to keep him in check. 2) With a new safety and without Cox as our lockdown DB I could see a bust in coverage leading to a big play for a guy like Cunningham. Gotta limit those. 3) Nik Lewis will get his catches. I'm sure his gravitational pull must help the ball come his way.

Offensively, I think we all want to see what Joe McKnight has for an encore. The Als have the worst run defense in the league so its a prime match-up for him. Feed him the ball until someone proves they can stop it. At this point in the season the debate is of course how much to play Durant as opposed to evaluating new guys. Its a home game, the team is on a role, I say give the fans what they want and let Durant play. The final road game can be for the back-ups but in the final home games at Mosaic give us our franchise QB well into the 4th at a minimum. Als have the #2 pass D and are #2 in points allowed so it won't be a cake walk if we can't get the run game going. But with contributions from Holley, Collins, Craig, Bagg and Demski, I think we have the firepower to put up at least more than the 2 FGs the Als offense will be producing (unless Bede is kicking again... then you can only count on half of that).

As a team eliminated from the playoffs I don't like being cocky but the Riders are playing with a great level of confidence, while the Als are just counting down the days until this dreadful season is over and their rebuild can begin. After 2 weeks on the road, the roar of the home crowd should give the Riders the boost they need to get a victory that should easily be their's.

Riders by 14.

Given that is the second last game at old Mosaic, I'm planning on getting an early start on calling dibs on all the stuff I'll be taking home as a memento. So I call dibs on my bench in the stands, the north goal post and the Max Tron.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies:

Riders 29 - Argos 11

Don't look now but the Riders have as many wins in the past 5 weeks as they did in the previous 18 months. They are now on the second longest win streak in the CFL, could finish with the 5th or 6th best record... and have no shot at the playoffs. I realize the Riders have no one to blame for themselves for their lack of postseason opportunity but still the fact that if they were an East time they would be in contention for a home playoff game does suck a bit. It also highlights how horriawful (a combination of horrible and awful) the East division is.

After spending the bulk of 2016 (and 2015) as the worst team in the CFL, its weird to talk about how crappy an opponent is. But man oh man are the Argos crappy. Have to assume there will be firings come November. They are playing like a team that cut all their offensive weapons and put all their faith in a QB who is terrible... oh wait. To be fair, this wouldn't be this first Willy to over promise and under deliver.

For the Riders, it was all about Joe McKnight. 150 yards rushing, 8.8 yards per carry. He was damn near more effective on the ground in the first half than the Riders were in the month of August. I for one did not see that coming. I also assumed based on how the season had gone that after how effective he had been in the first quarter that we would inexplicably stop running the ball. Temper the excitement a bit because the Argos are awful but he showed some great vision and speed. Be exciting to watch him down the stretch. Kudos also to our O-line who were run blocking really well. Some huge holes for McKnight. Given that they were pretty awful in pass protection it made me wonder why we bothered passing.

Pretty early to be thinking about training camp (though I bet many of have been since mid August)
receiver depth but I am excited about the brewing battle at import receiver. Holley, Edwards, Fuller, Collins, Roosevelt, Craig. A lot of talent there. Speaking of Joe Craig, he may have scored one of the easiest punt return TDs I've seen. He just ran in a straight line. I do like what he has been showing at returner.

I won't read too much into our defenses performance against a non-existent offensive threat other than to say they continued their strong play of late. Henoc Muamba shook off a shaky first game to have an impactful game 2. While I don't think Hecht and Bennett are the best players out there you can't over emphasize the stability they have brought to our secondary since their arrival. I would say our D just had their easiest challenge of the season but after watching the Als' game I think they have it in them to give the Argos a run for their money.

It may be too little too late in terms of winning anything but dammit this winning thing is fun!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Riders vs Argos: Keeping the streak alive

Fresh off spending a day practicing on Parliament Hill, the Riders continue their Eastern road trip with a stop in Toronto.  Given the hype surrounding Austin Matthews and the Jays, I'm not sure anyone in Toronto will actually notice or care except for the few Rider fans and families who show up.

The Riders and Argos enter the game on very different trajectories. The Riders have the second longest winning streak in the CFL after rattling off 3 straight wins and the mood is generally pretty positive. The Argos enter on a league worst 4 game losing streak (and have lost 7 of their last 8) and the wheels appear to be coming off both on and off the field. Between the still mind-boggling Willy trade and the sudden cutting of their entire receiving core, the Argos seem intent on tanking for the 1st overall pick in the draft. Only problem is they can't even manage to tank effectively because they gave their pick to Winnipeg. Don't forget that this was once a team that had Ricky Ray, Zach Collaros AND Trevor Harris in their QB stable. Now all they have is a battered old man Ray and a useless Willy.

Offensively the only consistent thing they have going for them is Brandon Whitaker. He quietly has close to 1300 yards from scrimmage. Priority 1 defensively is shut him down (both as a runner and receiver). Shaw and Spencer are good receivers but I will gladly take my chances with Willy throwing behind an O-line that gives up the 2nd most sacks. Not sure what happened to Willy but it really looks like Winnipeg broke him mentally (hell I'd breakdown too if I had to live there). He's a shadow of the young (dare i say) up and comer that started his career here. Toronto turns the ball over lots and our D is vastly improved. So, provided we can limit the big plays (which the Argos rank dead last in), we should be okay.

Were it not for a rash of injuries I honestly think we would steamroll the Argos but it will be somewhat of a patchwork offense. Fulton is gone. Edwards and Fuller are injured (side note the only knock on Fuller is his tendency for appearances on the injured list so something to keep an eye on). Demski is banged up and may not play. For reasons I don't yet know Steele will be replaced by Joe McKnight at RB. The only positive news that Ricky Collins seems ready to step back in. Now the Argos allow the 2nd most points so they are vulnerable but they also force the 2nd most turnovers so we need to be careful. Also you can bet Shawn Lemon (and his damn near more sacks than our entire team) will be fired up to make an impact. I hope we continue the recent trend of coming out guns a blazing. Between Holley, Bagg, Collins and even Craig we have the weapons to put up points if Durant keeps throwing like he has been. The key will be sustaining that though and not having our offense disappear for large portions of the middle of the game. Remaining committed to run game would help, as would knowing when to dial back the long bombs and just take 5-10 yards passes.

It seems wrong to be cocky about our chances given how dismal the season has been but as I mentioned, if we were fielding the same offense as last week, I honestly think we would have destroyed the Argos. Fielding a new offense levels the playing field a bit. I think the biggest factor will come down to confidence. We are a confident group right now and it shows in our play. The Argos look anything but confident and it shows in their play. We need to attack them early because if they fall behind I don't see them showing much fight. But if we start slow and let them get an early lead it could be the opposite and their confidence could build.

There's always a chance that Willy plays he first non-craptastic game of the year but I far prefer the odds of that not happening.

Game will be closer than it should be but in the end...

Riders by a Rob Bagg TD

The only good news is that Willy picked the best city in the country to suck in. In Toronto, not only will Willy's poor performance not lead to laughter and ridicule. It will largely go unnoticed. Many Torontonians may even comment that they didn't know Willy was in yet.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Happy Thanksgiving

Riders 32 -RedBlacks 30 (OT)

Don't look now but after mustering just 1 win in the first 10 games, the Riders have won their last 3. It's now been a full calendar month since we last lost. And while playoffs are but a pipe dream (don't give me that mathematical chance crap), I must say that this whole winning thing feels really good. This particular win was made even sweeter because it was fueled by a Burris interception and a Milo miss. I should say that I have nothing personal against Milo, always liked the guy. I just figure that after all his misses here, he kind of owed us that one.

The game highlighted many of the aspects that the Riders have improved at... as well as many issues that have plagued this team all season.

On the good side, we once again came out guns a blazing on offense. Going straight for Ottawa's jugular. Durant was dialed in and the way he was throwing that easily could have been a 3 score game early if our receivers could catch. We spent all season napping through the 1st quarter and playing catch-up all game. It's no surprise that when we are aggressive early and build up a lead, its far easier to win.  Our defense has gone from embarrassingly awful to holding Harris/Williams/Ellingson/Jackson/Sinopoli to one score through 3 quarters. We got turnovers (plural!). We got sacks (also plural!). They were a real difference maker instead of something you prayed sucked just enough not to cost us the game. Willie Jefferson made a huge impact in his first game. Justin Cox is a stud. Ed Gainey is making me hate him less each week and Fred Bennett is one tough SOB to hang onto that pick while taking that hit.

On the bad side... we saw our potent first quarter defense go to sleep until part way through the 4th. Some of that was receivers not catching. But I think a big part of it had to do with a refusal to adjust our game plan. I liked pushing the ball downfield early. But when your D is locking things down and you have a lead it no longer makes sense to keep our offense based on deep shots. Curtis Steele had 5 carries for 50 yards... it doesn't take a mathmegician to figure out that he should have had at least double the touches. Also the short 5-8 yards passes that we decimated Hamilton with disappeared. Defense also came unglued in the 4th. Ottawa has a potent O so it's no surprise they finally managed to get points on the board but 22 in one quarter is ridiculous. Penalties hurt us. Honestly if Mrabure-Ajufo were American he would need to find a new career. Mediocre play coupled with very poor penalty-filled decisions the odd time he actually gets in position to make a play.

The good news is that unlike earlier in the year where the team would have crumbled based on this adversity, they actually battled back. That TD drive by Durant was so clutch. And that TD grab by Bagg was a sight to behold. Durant even got us back in position to kick a game winning and FG. I maintain that if the snap isn't off and if Bartel has time to spin the laces out that Crapigna would have made that 55 yarder. It's such a weird feeling having confidence when your kicker lines up again.

As exciting as the win was, it apparently came at a high cost. Edwards and Fuller are done for the year with hand injuries. Its too bad because Edwards he been flat out impressive. As for Fuller, unfortunately one of the few knocks on him is that he's often good friends with the injured list. Demski is out short term with a shoulder injury as well as what we hope is a curable case of Getzlafing.

It may have been closer than it should have been but I am not about to complain about a team that has made watching them lead me to drink due to excitement as opposed to drinking as a coping mechanism.

Other random thoughts:
- Josh Bartel has been damn good this year. He looks nothing like the guy who was here during his first tour of duty here.

- If they ever advertise a game where Burris is mic'd up, I won't watch it. His constant whining is intolerable.

- Durant joking with the ref about the "block" he threw was pretty funny.

- Unlike Jefferson, Muamba had a rougher time re-acquainting himself to the CFL

- Joe Craig has been impressing me as a returner

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Back at It

Friday the Riders travel to the land of mediocrity aka the East Division for a match-up against the 6-6-1 RedBlacks. The last match-up back in June of course featured the highly anticipated Gale vs. Jensen match-up as Harris got injured early. It resulted in the Riders’ first win of the season… a fact that I don’t think the Redblacks were made fun of for nearly enough. The RedBlacks will be looking to separate themselves from the crap that is the rest of the East division (or barring that, suck slightly less than everyone else in order to maintain their lead in the division). The Riders will be looking to extend their winning streak to 3 (they haven’t lost in close to a month!). The wins may be meaningless but the boost to team and fan morale as they build towards 2017 is huge.

Coming off the bye week you may need some reminders on who is and isn’t with the team anymore as there were a number of changes that occurred. Willie Jefferson, Jeff Fuller and Henoc Mumba are in. Kendial Lawrence and Derrius Brooks are out (though unless you are a devoted follower of the team you probably won’t even remember Brooks as he spent all year on the injured list). These all look like great additions (and all have signed beyond just this season) and I’m very excited about all 3. But perhaps temper elation just a bit for a few games. Let’s not forget we were also excited when we signed Chiles, Lemon, and Lawrence.

Ottawa’s offense is a curious case. On paper they have unbelievable firepower evidenced by the fact that they lead the league in passing yards and completion %. But they are only #6 in scoring. Three things are holding them back. The first is their O-line… it’s been struggling. They have lowest gain per rush in the CFL and they allow the 2nd most sacks. The loss of SirVincent Rogers puts a massive hole in a unit that wasn’t firing on all cylinders before. The second is the revolving door at RB. Since their #1 guy William Powell went down in preseason, they have started 4 different guys. At the rate they are going, I’m slated to start game 17 for them. The final thing is Chris Williams (you heard me). After starting the season looking completely unstoppable, Williams has been inconsistent and unproductive most weeks. Consider these stat lines:

Chris Williams first 4 games: 36 targets, 31 receptions, 556 yards, 6 TDs
Chris Williams last 9 games: 76 targets, 43 receptions, 650 yards, 3 TDs

Some of the drops he’s been making even Chris Getzlaf would make fun of him for. Still he’s insanely dangerous as are his counterparts Jackson, Ellingson and Sinopoli so the secondary will have their work cut out for them. Key will be attacking that beleaguered O-line. If Harris has time he will dissect us. Even if we don’t get to him (which, looking at our sack numbers is a pretty safe bet), simply hurrying him or forcing him to move his launch point will help. The lack of a credible run game may open up chances to blitz our LBs more.

As for our offense, the key will be patience. Ottawa allows the third least yards and is number 2 against the run. Their biggest issue is their undisciplined play leads to a ton of defensive penalties. They lead the league in that category and it costs them. We need to take what the defense gives and wait for them to Plaxico Burress themselves (or I guess updating that referencing Aqib Talib themselves). We can and should take shots downfield but should do so sparingly and use the run game and the short/medium passes (like we saw against Hamilton). Ottawa’s outside pass rushers don’t overly scare me but one guy in particular in the middle needs to be kept in check… Zach Evans. He’s flourishing in his first full year as a starter. It’s too bad we never had the chance to keep him here… oh wait. Our O will need to do their part to keep us in this game as I see the big receivers for Ottawa putting up points.

Here’s a surprising fact: the Riders have won more home games this season than Ottawa. Then again the Riders are winless on the road so take that with a grain of salt. In fact the last 2 eastern games the Riders played they lost by a combined score of 94-10. You can blame the night life in Montreal… not sure what the excuse in Hamilton was... steel mills and ?

I honestly don’t know how this game will go. The Riders have been playing better and are coming off a bye. That could either lead to them coming out refreshed and firing on all cylinders or flat and slow going. The RedBlacks have been super inconsistent (tie the top ranked Stamps yet lose to Logan Kilgore and Mitchell Gale) so they are beatable. That said, they are not completely injury ravaged like Hamilton was and actually have semblance of a defense unlike Edmonton so they will be the toughest test we've faced in a while. 

I expect a close game but since I can't decide I'm going to play the odds and bet against the team that has yet to win on the road. Seems they do better when I bet against them anyway.

RedBlacks by a Sinopoli TD (I need the Fantas-eh points)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: New Mosaic Stadium

Even though it was a bye week in Saskatchewan, it was still a big weekend for football. We finally got our first taste of football at the new Mosaic Stadium. It was a small scale version of what we can expect come 2017 but there was no shortage of excitement in the stands on Saturday.

Here are some of my observations of the day:

- My experience started when I arrived at the gates and was "randomly" selected for a metal detector scan. Don't get me wrong security is a good thing but are you telling me that the mom and her small children that preceded me were not just as likely to be packing?

- The first thing I noticed was how bright it was. Its a beauty. A stark contrast from the dank pit we are used to.

- I like the wide concourse. Though I was reminded that they can engineer a more user friendly stadium but you can't engineer people to not walk like idiots.

- Until you actually stand under it, you don't appreciate how ludicrously massive the screen is. I mean you can tell its huge from the road but standing under it is a wow moment.

- Aside from the endzone seats (which I personally loathe), there did not appear to be a bad seat in the place from what I saw.  Great sightliens even from places you wouldn't normally expect.

- They grossly underestimated how much food was needed. Lines were crazy long and before half time most menus were half scratched off. Getting booze was super easy. Hopefully when the permanent food kiosks are in operation, things will go bit smoother.  That's the kinda thing this test event was meant to sort out.

- By the way the waffle gridiron sandwich from beer bros was surprisingly awful. I would not recommend. Opt instead for the 2 foot hot dog. It's essentially a loaf of bread with a giant tube of meat jammed inside.

- The 50/50 hit over $85,000... that just over $5 spent per person!

- Organizers were blessed with a perfect storm. Weather was superb for October and they lucked out with the Rams playing some great football this year. Had the stadium been completed a year earlier we may have had to freeze our ass off while watch the Rams get steam rolled.

- Speaking of the Rams... Noah PIcton is one hell of a QB. So many times I watched him throw and thought "were in the blue hell is that pass going?!?" only to see a Rams receive appear at the last second in the pecfect place. Picton's placement and sync with his receivers is something.

- The final couple minutes of that game were astoundingly weird to watch. The Rams were in FG range for the nail in the coffin late only to do the one thing they couldn't afford and turn the ball over. Then the Huskies get confused on what down it is and throw a 7 yard out on 3rd and 20 to effectively lose the game.

- One thing I did appreciate, the lack of challenges and ticky tacky pass interference/illegal contact calls.

All in all it was a great day, and left me pretty excited for the new season. Its somewhat cruel that after giving us a sample of a brand new stadium, for a first place team in sunny weather, they now return us to the old crappy stadium for meaningless and likely cold games.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bye Week Musings

The Riders are on a bye week and while I considered also taking a bye week, I decided instead to take a far more traditional approach and work but just give half assed effort. Now given that usually half ass it when I'm "trying", I would technically be more quarter assing it... but let's not get too technical here.

To satisfy your insatiable desire for football talk and your far more satiable desire for my commentary, here are some random bye week musings.

-  He may not be a converted receiver, basketball player or notable racist like we usually look for in a d-lineman, but Willie Jefferson is a solid addition to our D-line. He's versatile and talented... if we actually let him rush the QB he may boost our non-existent sack numbers. That said Jones will convert him to safety.

- I will go on record as saying I am decidedly against getting rid of Durant,  but given how crazy Popp has been this season, if he called I would at least listen to what he has to offer. Likely it will be nowhere near enough for us to even consider it but again, he's done some crazy things.

- Count me firmly in the "Extend Durant" camp. We have nothing even close in terms of talent waiting in the wings. We can't afford to enter 2017 with uncertainty under centre and pretty much any scenario that doesn't involve Durant is full of uncertainty.

- As the secondary finally starts to stabilize, the remaining glaring needs for the Riders remains in the trenches: O-line and interior d-linemen.

- I don't get people who justify the decision not to suspend Austin by saying that because there was no precedent Orridge's decision was logical and now they can bring in a new policy in the offseason. I call BS! The beauty of not having a precedent is that you get to set the precedent. And to me the idea that you touch a ref, you miss a game makes a hell of a lot more sense then you touch a ref, we will change where you coach from.

- How can you say that the league is not going easier on coaches than players? Austin bumped a player last year and a ref this year and received zero suspensions. Duron Carter bumped a coach once and missed a game (eventually). What do you think would happen if he did bumped a ref?

- Really looking forward to the Rams game on Saturday. Not just because of the new stadium but also because the Rams are playing some really exciting football.

- How did anyone think this NFL Colour Rush thing was a good idea?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: We're Going Streaking

Riders 20 - Ti-Cats 18

The Riders delivered something to fans many months earlier than we were expecting based on the current pace... another win. Under the lights of old Mosaic on Saturday night, they defeated the Ti-Cats on a last second FG. In the process, the racked up as many wins in the past 7 days as they have in the previous calendar year. So you'll forgive me if I seem a bit confused and not quite sure what to do with myself. I'm just a bit rusty that's all.

In reality this outcome should have been expected. We were facing a team missing half their normal starters on each side of the ball... this is a game we should have won. We're just surprised we actually did because, well... you've seen the last 3 months. But perhaps its a sign that the Chris Jones regime may finally be starting to turn the corner (more specifically turning off of Gong Show Blvd and onto Respectable Ave). I won't lie though, during that 4th quarter my emotions went from hopeful, to prayerful, to we're screwed, to we're totally screwed, to I hate Mitch Gale, to "this is what I get for being hopeful", to "I wonder if the beer stand is still open", to "Mitch Gale! I always loved that guy".

I noticed 3 big things this game that have been lacking this season that I see as keys to the victory (you know minus playing an injury riddled team).

The first was being aggressive early. This team averages 2 points per 1st quarter (two!). Saturday they rattled of 10 first quarter points (this most they've done all season). Instead of playing chase all game as we habitually do, we forced Hamilton to chase us... and amazingly discovered its a bit easier than our usual method. Durant started with 4 straight completion and an FG, defense got the pick, he fired 5 of his next 6 complete and then most importantly answered a Hamilton QB with a rapid fire 3 for 3 drive culminating in the bomb to Edwards. For a team with nothing to lose, I hope I see a lot more of this early aggressiveness.

The second was the development of a short game. All season our passing game has been a bipolar combination of long bombs and passes so short you wonder why we even bother. Saturday we suddenly unleashed a flurry of 6 to 10 yard passes. We picked apart a depleted secondary and strung together some nice long drives. A short game like that goes a long way to masking the deficiencies of our OL. It was another welcome sight.

The final thing was that we are effectively spreading the ball around. Losing Roosevelt sucks but the silver lining appears to be that its forced us to lean on other guys instead of him being our only hope. Holley, Bagg and Edwards are carving out big roles offensively. Demski got involved. Hell even Chambers emerged from a witness protection-like invisibility to make a catch. Add in a more consistent reliance on the run game and you have an offense that can keep defenses off balance. I would add that the continued absence of "that stupid Brandon Bridge play"is also playing a positive role.

Do I think the Riders are suddenly a good team? Lord no! We squeaked out a win against a team struggling to find 46 healthy guys to dress. But headed into the bye week the Riders are playing competitive football, winning and more importantly re-instilling hope in a fan base desperate something positive... 3 weeks ago all of these were mere pipe dreams.

Other random thoughts:
- The continuity is certainly paying off defensively. They aren't world beaters but they are playing solid football and lacking the myriad of mistakes that plagued them previously (minus that whole breakdown on the Masoli TD).

- Jeff Hecht is an average at best safety but I love him. That massive hit he laid was awesome but to me more awesome was him reading that play and then getting himself in position to make the play. After struggling through the likes of Webster and Francis who were rarely in the same area code as the ball, its a welcome sight.

- While I agree that the 3rd down gamble 37 seconds left was the correct call, I had zero confidence in our ability to successfully run it. I would have kicked the FG knowing what I know about our team. Guess that's why they don't give me button up all black shirts, sunglasses with the wrap around band and let me make the big decisions.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Riders vs Ti-Cats: There's a Chance

Saturday night the 2-10 Riders host the 6-6 Ti-Cats. Due to the general crappiness of the Est division (or at least inconsistent play by the teams that should be good) Hamilton is in 1st in the East. I have been trying hard all week not to become one of those people who suddenly get way overconfident in our bottom dwelling team after a win... but as much as I'm convinced we are still not a good team I can't shake the feeling that we actually have a chance in this one.

Unless you've sufficiently repressed the memory with alcohol, you'll recall that the last time these teams met we lost 53 to 7. Since that meeting though, something has occurred that evens the scales a bit. That something its pretty much every relevant Ti-Cat player getting injured. The list of those unlikely to play includes Owens, Tasker, Tolliver, Stephen, Dyakowski, and Gable. Don't get me wrong Collaros is still playing and we are the Riders so we are certainly underdogs here but that is a big disadvantage for the Ti-Cats to overcome. Things are so bad that had to trade us for one of our DBs, that's pretty low.

Despite the injuries, the defense is still mostly in tact. Laurent, Chick, Lawrence, Davis... they have play makers all over the field and enter this contest as #1 in yards allowed. I'll be honest the match-up of Laurent and Chick on our O-line is concerning. To have any hope we need to start by feeding the ball to Steele like we did last game. If he doesn't get double digit touches then we are in big trouble. Durant also needs to not throw 4 picks like he did in Hamilton and not wait to score a major until the 4th quarter like he did last week. I would be testing whoever ends up at safety. I would also try and establish a short game. We seem to be able to pass for 3 or 20 yards with no in between. We need 5-8 passes to really keep the chains move and sustain drives. Lean on Bagg a bit more underneath.  Most importantly we need to get the ball out quickly when we don't run... unless you really think Vonk can block Laurent.

Defensively we need to take advantage of the 2 main weaknesses of the Ti-Cat O (not including all their players being hurt). First is their O-line is struggling. With a clean pocket I'm convinced Collaros could throw 3 TDs left handed but he has been facing a ton of pressure and its leading to errant throws and turnovers (where the Ti-Cats lead the league). We need to attack that and make life miserable for Collaros. If he's throwing under pressure to a bunch of new receivers then bad things will happen. The other weakness is that Austin is the only coach who hates running more than we do. And it's not like he'll suddenly decide to run more with Gable out. We need to take advantage of their one dimensional offense. Increased pressure up front. Aggressive in pass coverage.

I do believe we have a chance in this game and could very well win... I just know that if I predict a win, they will lay and egg out of spite. So as a public service to you the fans, I will predict Collaros whoops us good. That will ensure that we have a chance of winning. You're welcome.

Hamilton by 10

On a personal note, Step-Prophet's RMF team will be playing at halftime so you will see me down there in my Prophet jersey doing some coaching.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: What do I do?

Riders 26 - Eskimos 23

I'm honestly still in shock. It doesn't seem real and honestly I don't really know what to do. It's been so long since we won that I've forgotten what to even do with myself. My mouth is doing this weird curving up thing that I believe is called a smile.

To be honest I still really don't know how we did it. Through 3 quarters the only thing we had to show offensively was a punt single (but only because of a wind aided 86 yard kick).  It was not at all surprising given that we were missing our only offensive weapon... and then curiously made our other weapon a scratch on game day (Lawrence). But it was just an ugly ugly day offensively out there... that somehow resulted in a doubling of our win count. Everything follows logic here in Rider Nation.

Regular readers will know how much space I've devoted to vainly calling for the run game. So they will appreciate how much personal satisfaction in saying I TOLD YOU SO! Its no coincidence that when we finally commit to double digit carries for our RB, good things happen. Maybe we should try doing it more than once every couple months. Our O-line isn't much in the way of pass blockers so why not let them run block instead? As as that game winning TD could not have come for a more deserving guy, that finish covered up a downright awful offensive performance against a D that isn't very good. That said, for a team as desperate for a win as we were, I'm not about to start complaining about how good we looked while doing it.

Defense it slowly coming together. I think a big part of that is that we are finally getting some continuity in the secondary. Amazing what happens when you don't make wholesale changes every week. Our defense is weird to watch. They didn't play all that well but still I thought they were a big factor in the win. Justin Cox is a treat to watch (headline: Prophet declares Cox a treat to watch). Ed Gainey stepped up with what I think was his best game in green and white. Continuity plus improved play calling and scheming is resulting in a D that is not a massive liability.

I do need to make mention of just how bad the Esks are. They barely beat us twice and then lost to us... that's like losing to a blind kid in a game of I spy. Simply put a team with Reilly, Bowman and Walker should not lose to a team who does not play offense until the 4th quarter.

So we might as well soak it in. This brief moment of happiness amid the misery that has been 2016 is a welcome respite. Let's enjoy it and ensure that our celebration contains many, many drinks and equally as many crotch chops.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Riders vs. Eskimos: Round 3

Excuse me? Pardon? What was that you said?

The lowest scoring offense in the CFL will likely be without about the only good thing it has going for it? 

I see.

Calleb Holley how are your hands? Excellent, please take this note over to the refs telling them we forfeit.

Honestly I should not be so downtrodden but I don't see how an offense that has been next to non-existent will suddenly come to life when its most/only explosive weapon doesn't play... even against a defense as bad as the Esks.

The Esks come in a surprising 5-6. By virtue of not being the Riders and not having their QB sparring with his receivers they likely make the playoffs (something we can only dream of) but still the Esks' season has to be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. They have a top notch offense but that defense... well let's just say they are lucky the Riders have deflected some of the attention away from how bad they are.

Admittedly our defense has been looking better in recent weeks. In the last meeting they were absolutely torched by Shakir Bell and he likely gets the start against us again. The dilemma is that if you focus too much on stopping the run, Bowman and Walker will torch you like you were a suspected witch in days of yore. Getting bodies on Reilly would help but asking for that would be akin to asking for us to run. I see the D keeping Bell in better check this time around but I still say they give up 25 points minimum (likely closer to 30).

That means that our junk O-line having and good Roosevelt not having offense needs to score 30 points for us to have a chance. There's a honestly a better chance of Curtis Steele getting 15 carries than there is of that. I don't think the offense will be completely impotent as Durant is still a good QB and the Esk pass coverage is a slight step above awful. Holley will get yards and then do something to piss me off. Getting Bagg more involved will be a necessity. Getting Brandon Bridge far less involved would also be good. Somehow McAdoo managed to turn the back-up QBs from the most beloved people in Saskatchewan to the most loathed.

Wish I had something more positive to say but I only resort to blatant lies when they support my own selfish interests.

Esks by 15

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Too Many Mistakes

Riders 10 - Bombers 17

I'm not sure what is more frustrating, watching the Riders last season when they had zero chance of victory or watching them this season when they have a chance at victory but find every way under the sun to screw it up? I mean neither has been good for my liver but latter i considerably easier on my blood pressure. We've shot ourselves in the foot so many times this season that it makes Plaxico Burress seem alright by comparison.

Our defense finally turned in a respectable outing holding the Bombers to season low of 17 points. To be perfectly honest they didn't look that great in the process but we're not looking for style points here. Admittedly Harris being out helped our cause. The D certainly had their issues (like way too many dumb penalties) but they did their job. Hell I even saw our safety correctly read a play and make a stop. I damn near spit my drink out I was so shocked. Sadly said safety hurt himself on that play. Sigh.

Our offense doesn't exist. I mean honestly... where have they gone. The defense cost us many a game but now that they are finally getting their crap together, our O goes to utter hell. Greg Morris showed promise but at this point we need more than promise to talk about, we need results. It's bad enough that we don't score, then we have to add in these trainwreck trick plays that make me think a 3 year old drew them up in finger paints. I get wanting to take risks and be aggressive but either pick better trick plays or practice the ones you pick a lot more. I have a strong dislike for Caleb Holley. He's a talented receiver but all the crap that goes with him his irking me. His first game it was stepping out of bounds rather than fighting for yards. Last game it was crying to the refs instead of trying to stop the defender he let get a pick. This game it was fumbling at a key time. Get you're damn head on straight and focus on making plays!

It's frustrating because we have had so many chances to win games which shows we are on the right rebuild path but it has been plagued with so many penalties, mental mistakes and downright poor coaching that its tough to keep the faith. The only redeeming thing about this weekend was that Chris Jones wasn't the GM bending over to take Winnipeg's Willy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2016

I find myself in an unfamiliar position as I type this post. Generally I’m in a jovial mood because the Riders won on Labour Day and I’m ready to unleash a barrage or ridicule and insults on our halfwit eastern neighbours… ok halfwit isn’t a fair term, its more technically closer to eighth-wit.  But this year, the Riders will roll into Winnipeg with a whimper. The only thing good about their current record is that it is a number that Manitobans can count to as its taught in the 6th grade curriculum.

Everything I said about the Bombers last week remains valid. None of their wins have come against teams with winning records. Their offense is still mediocre at best. I mean, do know how bad you have to be to only score 1 TD on the Riders D? That’s like a Manitoban only managing to get to second base on their ruffied cousin (or as it is more commonly referred to locally: a traditional marriage proposal). The fact remains that if Crapigna could make a kick or if the refs learned what pass interference actually is, the Riders would have beat the Bombers. But hypothetical victories are about as meaningful as hypothetical mortgage payments.

Let’s focus on the adjustments that will need to be made if the Riders hope to change their fortunes. Offensively, let’s start with receivers running the right routes and Durant checking to make sure they do before releasing the ball. We need to continue spreading the ball around like we did. Last game 5 different players had at least 5 catches. Hard for defenders to key on anyone with that going on. I would suggest running but that would be a waste of time so instead I’ll suggest that we keep Durant mobile. Running yes but not all the time. More rolling out. Even just the prospect of him running will open things up (and take pressure off our O-line)

Defensively, if Cox could be less of a cheater that would be great. (in case that doesn’t translate through the interwebs, that is sarcasm). My only real knock on the D was giving up that big play to McDuffie. Take that one pass away and it’s a different game. I also think we gave up a bit too much to Harris on the ground but that will happen with a back like him. D-line looked competent, it would be nice to see them take the next step to being impactful.

The biggest adjustment needed is by the coaches. We can’t afford to sleep through the first half like we always do. If we get down early in an environment as hostile as Investors Group Field things will unravel very quickly. Coaches need to get the players ready to play.

Amazingly enough the all-time Banjo Bowl series is tied 6-6 (though Winnipeg has won 2 of the past 3). As much as I can’t in good conscious bet on this team, this game is no gimme. While it wouldn’t totally make up for Labour Day, a win in Winnipeg would give a much needed boost to a fan base that is growing weary. As much as I would love to see the Riders shut the Bombers up…

Bombers by a Harris TD.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday Afternoon Sentimonies: Airing of Grievances

Riders 25 – Bombers 28

Apologies for the lateness of this post, the results of the football game led me to drown my anger/sadness in various forms of adult beverages (and boy howdy did I drown them good). Needless to say yesterday was a bit of a write off.

On to the Sentimonies…

I have a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.

For today, I will leave the PI call out of this. It was pure utter garbage, we all know it. But if you honestly think that’s the reason we lost Labour Day then you watched a very different game than me. We lost because we only showed up to play football after halftime. Had we not slept through the first half and spotted the Bombers a 13 point lead then we would have won plain and simple. And this is just the latest in an ongoing trend of this team not being even close to ready to play at opening kickoff. Over our last 6 games we have been outscored 112 to 29 in the opening half (that is not a typo). You simply can’t expect to win if you only give half a game of effort. And that lack of preparation falls on the coaches.

And so the remainder of this post will be an open letter to Chris Jones, outlining my many grievances with him thus far.

I implore you Chris Jones. Give us something… anything… some sign that we have reason for hope. We have been a terrible team for 2 full calendar years now. You were supposed to be the one to end that and right the ship. But so far the only signs you have given me do not instill hope. They mostly instill the desire to cue up the circus music or a Benny Hill soundtrack because it will be a fitting description of what is likely to come next. Your reign as GM has been about on par with that of Mike Kelly so far.

You came in and completely blew up our roster, promising to build it back up as a perennial contender. You went out and brought in a bunch of big name free agents to help restock the shelves yet after 10 games about the only success I see are Greg Jones and Otha Foster. Lemon, Chiles, Kashama, and Hazime are gone. Capicciotti, Irvin and Chambers are underwhelming at best. Guys like Brooks, Norwood and King haven’t even seen the field. Thus far all our free agency work appears to be a big swing and a miss.

Then there is our scouting and recruiting. We’ve been told that we have worked out hundreds if not thousands. We’ve dressed what is approaching a record number of players. We had a secret squad of 20 guys. Yet despite all of this what have we actually found? By my count, at best 4 players. Cox is great (pause for immature giggle), Eguavoen is a solid find. I’ll even be generous and grant you Collins and Holley (though I have issues with Holley I’ll get to another time). Four?!?! Out of Thousands. Did we only work out the crappiest football players in North America?!?!? We failed to find even one competent QB to develop so instead we had to trade for a guy and sign other people’s cast-offs. You couldn’t find us an RB, literally the easiest position to recruit for. The interior of our D-line is struggling and the best you can find is a racist who’s been out of football for over a year. If the best you can come up with all of our scouting efforts is 4 players then how in the hell are you going to rebuild our roster?

There’s also the ridiculous attachment to trying to turn people into something they’re not. Our D-line is made up of former receivers and a basketball player. Our starting safety had never played defense before even in college. It’s okay to have pet project, if you think somebody can eventually be moulded into a difference maker but we have like 8 projects on the go and all of them seem to hold prominent spots in our starting line-up. Maybe if we spent less time trying to change people’s positions and more time finding players who actually play those positions we might be in a better place.

That brings me to coaching. Who are you and what have you done with the Grey Cup winning coaching staff we were supposed to have poached? You seem to have no ability to prepare the team to play because we are absolutely dreadful in the first half. We do dumb things like rushing 3 (our ends spend more time in coverage then doing their job), letting QBs who showed up 2 days ago run offensive plays in a game, and not running. There are times when it seems our defensive philosophy is “hope the other team drops it” and our offensive philosophy is “suck and pray we can challenge something”.  Some of our issues are talent related but this team has shown that when it actually shows up it can compete with the top teams in spite of that. But our lack of preparedness and questionable play calling need to stop because we aren’t a good enough team to overcome that.

Even the most ardent Rider fan has to look at the state of things and shake their head. I know interacting with non-football players is not really your thing but the fan base is desperate for a glimmer of hope and one of the job duties that comes with being a supreme overlord is being accountable to the fans. By any measuring stick the first 9 months of your tenure have been a trainwreck (unless it’s the CFL refs calling things and then it’s probably a first down).

We are waiting desperately for a reason to believe. The ball is in your court.