Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The End Of The Line

Riders 21 - Argos 25

Months and years from now when we look back on the 2017 season it will be viewed as a successful year. We went from a train wreck in 2016, overcame a 2-6 start and came within 1 score of a Grey Cup appearance. We went from basement dweller to legitimate contender. But for now in the days following the East Final we can only feel great disappointment and a as if a big opportunity was missed. 

Let me get a couple things out of the way before proceeding:
1 - If you think our defense cost us the game, you're an idiot
2 - If you think the refs cost us the the game, you're an idiot
3 - If you actually think there is some kind of anti-Rider conspiracy  you're... you guessed it, an idiot.

With that out of the way, onto the game...

That game was 3 quarters of misery followed by a 4th quarter than was a roller coaster of emotion from the highest of highs, to pretty low (given our history of heartbreak you can't even put that game among the top 10 in disappointments).  I went from cheering so enthusiastically that animals and small children got scared to cursing so prufusely that said small children learned some new new words (It's ok, they weren't my kids). On one side of the ball we were playing some of the best football you will see. On the other, I'm not even sure what we were doing could be considered football... until the 4th quarter.

I can't say enough about the job the defense did. We should have been pummeled by the Argos but the D somehow kept us in the game. They forced 3 turnovers, they kept Wilder largely in check, they kept SJ Green a non-factor. They did all this while receiving not only zero support from their O but having their O actively working against them. Yeah they couldn't get the stop they needed on that final drive but there is no way you can fault them. They played their asses off and were the only reason we had a chance.

Offense started great with a nice drive for a FG. Then there was about 40 minutes where it was like watching flashbacks of Michael Bishop's '08 playoff game or Kerry Joseph's '14 playoff game. Kevin Glenn decided to be the crappy, playoff choking version of Glenn, and was intent on ensuring every Argo defender had a reception. It was weird because when we pulled him the first time I was pissed because I didn't think he was doing that bad yet. Bridge came in and was equally terrible (though in a less "here Toronto, take the ball" kind of way). Glenn came back in and well I'm actively trying to repress that part of the game with rye. Something clicked in the 4th and Bridge finally put a drive together but it was a matter of too little too late. For me, the creativity of last week's O was gone. No sweep to Owens, no screens against pressure, lackluster run game, forgetting Duron Carter existed for the 2nd and 3rd. We knew coming in that the Argos would get pressure and still seemed powerless to do anything about it until too late in the game.  You can't win a playoff game when you don't play offense for 3 quarters. Feels an appropriate time to break out this timeless Mo Lloyd quote from 2008: "You can play against the deaf, blind and the homeless and you will never win a game with (seven) turnovers''

Man is Christion Jones electric! As much as I knew there was a ton of time left on the clock, I so thought he'd stolen the game for us.

As I said, we will eventually look be back and be proud of the steps we took in 2017. But it's a bitter pill to swallow knowing that even 1 more quarter of quasi-respectable offense and we are likely still playing football. Oh well. We walk off with our heads help high, knowing that even though it wasn't our best game, we still fought tooth and nail until the final whistle. I bet bosses across the prairies are happy, productivity just avoided a cataclysmic drop.

Thanks to all for another great season. I love the interaction on Twitter and in the comments (even those idiots who say I have green tinted glasses when I predict the Riders to lose, entertain me). Stick with me through the offseason as I'll have coverage of the Grey Cup and all the offseason goings on. Not to mention a ton of filler posts to keep you entertained over the dreary winter break.

Other random thoughts on the game:
- Chris Jones is the model of consistency. +30 or -20... same outfit. I wonder if he only has one shirt or a closet with like 20 of the same shirt?

- When I lamented Bradbury being named our ref, I got a ton of "at least its not Proulx" from folks on the interwebs. I realize I'm in the minority but I think Proulx is a damn good ref. I'll be starting a fan club complete with T-shirts next season.  I fully realize no one will by the shirts since its essentially like wearing a kick me sign but its the thought that counts.

- I get that it wasn't blatant but I still don't understand how that wasn't roughing the passer on the pick 6. I've seen less contact on a QBs head get called. By the way I get the irony of being mad at Bradbury for not throwing a flag. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Riders vs. Argos: East Final

Well here you have it Rider Nation, after spending much of the season lamenting that we did not play in the much weaker East division, we now have an opportunity to represent the East in the Grey Cup. I doubt many thought we would find ourselves one game away from the Grey Cup after our offseason/rocky start. Turns out there may be method to Jones’ madness (though I will say that at time he is a bit heavy on the madness even for my liking). At a combined age of 243, Glenn and Ray may be the oldest combined starting QB age in playoff history (at least if you exclude games where Damon Allen played).

That East-Semi win was sweet but we have to put that behind us as Toronto represents a very different type of challenge. Unlike Ottawa I don’t expect Trestman to not try and pressure Glenn and forget he has a good running back at his disposal. Jones and his staff we need to come up with new game plans on both sides of the ball.

Offensively the key will be dealing with pressure. I don’t know what game film Rick Campbell watched but let’s assume Cory Chamblin (Chamberlin as he’s still often referred to around these parts) watched the vast amounts of footage showing Kevin Glenn/our line struggling when pressure is sent. Toronto has a very talented front 4 and thus the ability to get pressure without relying on blitzing (though you can bet those will come too). Our O-line will need to step up and play their best. McAdoo can also help by keeping Thigpen heavily involved. Toronto is #1 against the run so it may be slow going at times but we need to stay committed to keep the offense balanced and the D-ends from teeing off on Glenn (not to mention that Thigpen is a threat to break one on any play). Keep the Owens sweep going, toss in some swings/screens. Hopefully Glenn is as dialed in as he was last week because he’ll need to make quick decisions. Get Carter involved early again, lean on Roosevelt when in doubt and look for Owens. With all the focus on our big 3 and Thigpen I think Owens could have himself a big game. First and foremost, we need to control the ball. The stakes will be high and turnovers can be killers… just ask the RedBlacks.

Defensively, for all the hype that Ricky Ray and that passing game will get (deservedly so), the #1 thing we need to concern ourselves with is shutting down Wilder (easier said than done). In just 10 games Wilder put up 1400 yards. Trestman loves to use his RB both as a runner and a receiver and Wilder has been deadly at both. Pressure and sound tackling from the front 7 will be key. Even if we do manage to contain Wilder, Ricky Ray is still a pretty good QB and has some quality weapons in Green, Posey and Edwards (that Dyakowski/Edwards trade was one of those that works out great for both sides). Our DBs need to bring their A game (I’m looking at you Kacy Rodgers). Toronto chews up a ton of yards (#2 in offensive yards) but doesn’t score a ton of points (lowest scoring offense of any of the playoff teams) thought they were better down the stretch. In their last 7 games their failed to crack 29 points only once… and it just so happens that was against the Riders. Toronto can beat you in a lot of ways so we need be disciplined on D. We also need to make every play that presents itself as I don’t see Ray making as many mistakes as Harris did so we need to seize the few opportunities there may be.

For the second week in a row we get a match-up of marquee returners. Both Jones and Martese Jackson have multiple kick return TDs to their name. The team that best manages to corral the opposing returner will have a big advantage in this game and I really like how our special teams have played all season on both sides.

There’s no denying that Toronto became a stronger team down the stretch and they pose a far more formidable opponent than the RedBlacks mainly because they have a veteran QB and more playmakers on defense. While prepping to write my pre game preview I always pour over the stats and pull out interesting ones. I also make up stats when I can’t find any good ones. Just kidding… or am I? Most of you are too lazy to prove me wrong even if you wanted to (insulting your readers is always good practice right?). Anyway, the stat that is the most telling for me headed into this game is this: Toronto is 3 and 7 versus the West (and 1 of those wins was a victory over BC in a game that was meaningless to the already eliminated Lions). Toronto is no pushover but I think they are beatable. The Rider have the ability to make big time plays in all 3 phases of the game. Between that and Toronto’s struggles against Western opponents, I like the Riders to prevail in what will essentially be a home game for them.

Riders by a Duron TD.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Gettin' Thiggy With It

Riders 31 - RedBlacks 20

One down, two to go

Sunday the Riders rolled into Ottawa and handed the defending Grey Cup champs a convincing defeat. Early on it looked like we were in store for a classic CFL shootout but as the game wore on the Riders took more and more control of the game. The end result actually could have been even more lopsided as the Riders missed opportunities for plays on both sides of the ball.

For me, the big story was the offense. They looked awesome. Kevin Glenn was dialed in and played his best game since before he injured his hand. He was calm in the pocket and pin point on his passes. He was aided by an O-line that gave him enough time to do his taxes before having to throw. For whatever reason, the RedBlacks chose to not send pressure (something Glenn has struggled mightily with of late) and instead sit back in a zone (something Glenn picked apart). Curious game planning but Glenn took full advantage. Even when the plays didn't go as planned, luck was on Glenn's side. There was that play where he was running/stumbling for his life and stumbled at the exact right moment to slip harmlessly to the turf as two RedBlacks KOed one another. It also helps when your RB absolutely lights it up. Thigpen was unreal in that game. Even if you exclude that 75 yard run he still damn near cracked 100 and was over 6 yards per carry. His speed and elusiveness were deadly. I'm a big Marshall fan but you can't take Thigpen off the roster at this point. I also thought McAdoo had a good game plan (something I don't say too often). Sweeps, swing passes, runs, getting Carter involved early. The game did not devolve into the shootout it looked like it might but the way the offense was humming I think we could have won even if it did.

The defense started out bad. Our corners both got beat routinely and should have been beat for more yards than they were if Harris was able to connect. That was the worst game I've seen Kacy Rodgers have. But despite the poor start the D turned it around and after that Spencer TD in the first quarter, only allowed 2 FGs until garbage time. A key play was that Eguavoen pick. Not only was that a textbook interception, that was the play that ended the brewing shootout. Jones noticeably dialed up the pressure throughout the game and while it did lead to some long completions, it also lead to sacks and errant throws by Harris. We also managed to take the run game completely out of it (Powell just 8 times, only 2 times in the second half). You'd almost think Steve McAdoo snuck into the RedBlack booth for how much they ignored the run. 

Even on special teams we were pulling out all the stops with the sneaky Owens to Jones reverse. 

I said before the game that turnovers would be the key and the Riders won that battle 4-1. And on the lone giveaway the D forced a FG and Thigpen went for 75 yards on the next play. 

The next game will be a far greater challenge but the way were are playing in all 3 phases I have no reason to doubt this team. God I've missed playoff wins!

Other random thoughts:
- That limbo celebration was pretty outstanding but I have to wonder if it contributed in anyway to Ellingson tweaking his knee later.

- I don't get the "Kevin Glenn gets revenge" narrative. First off that was like 4 years ago. Second, every single non-Edmonton game is a Kevin Glenn revenge game. 

- Crezdon Butler is a hell of a player

- For the fake FG to work we actually have to kick an actual FG with Vernon Adams as the holder. The second anyone sees anyone but Bartel set to hold for the FG its a dead giveaway that kicking is not in our plans.

- Still can't get over Rob Black calling Keelan Johnson "the stripper" 

- That onside kick was more of a gently pass the ball to Hecht than a legitimate attempt.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Riders vs. RedBlacks: East Semi Final

Playoff football has been upgraded from "something we vaguely recall used to be a thing" to "actual reality" as the Riders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. They are headed to Ottawa for a showdown with the RedBlacks. The Riders are trying to become the first West team to make the Grey Cup via the cross-over. The last time we crossed over in 2005 it didn't go so well. We have the whole "Not starting Nealon Greene" thing going for us this time and based on that fact alone our chances of victory are significantly improved.

We split the season series with each team scoring a road victory. The Riders employing the majestic rouge to secure victory and the RedBlacks employing the "hope your opponents stop playing defense" strategy. Needless to say these 2 teams are very evenly matched and a close hard fought playoff game is expected. I personally could go for a vintage mid-2000 semi final Rider game where our running back just single handedly wins the game but short of McAdoo's secret alter ego who loves running more than anything appearing, I'm not betting on that.

Offensively we should be coming at Ottawa with all our weapons. Roosevelt and Marshall will play and Carter should be primarily used on O. Some super tough decisions coming as at least one of Holley or Owens has to sit and I don't know if we can somehow squeeze Thigpen on there. Dennis checks in for Labatte which is fine talent-wsie but forces a ratio change (either LaFrance, Stanford or a second Cdn DT will need to start). But the important thing is we have weapons and we need to use them. We play our best offensively when we get the run game going so let's lean heavy on Marshall (or Thigpen or LaFrance or whoever is carrying the ball). That said, while Ottawa was #2 against the run, they were #7 against the pass. Use the run to set up shots to Roosevelt and Carter mixing in Grant when those 2 are keyed on. Let's not overthink this. Roosevelt and Carter are our best offensive weapons so we better use them and use them a lot. Glenn will start that's not a question. The question is will he get more than a token series before being yanked. I'm torn between being more fearful of Glenn's perennial playoff failures (and recent sucktitude) or Bridge's playoff inexperience and brazen disregard for caution. We can't be afraid to push the ball down field but we also can't turn the ball over. I guess we go with the patented "roll with Glenn until he sucks" plan we've been employing. Its not a great plan for the most important position in a do or die game but we've gone with worse in the past (i.e. the aforementioned Nealon Greene plan).

Defensively, Jones has been non-committal to date but I expect Eguavoen and Johnson to play meaning we should essentially have our starting D (James and Foster being to only 2 big pieces missing). Ottawa's offense runs through 2 people and if we can contain them our odds of victory sky rocket. #1 we gotta stop Powell and the run. #2 We need to contain Ellingson. Harris was tied for the league lead in passing TDs despite playing only 15 games and Ellingson handled the bulk of those. They certainly have other weapons but with Sinopoli out and Ellingson contained the RedBlacks are a whole lot less potent. Easier said than done but that's the goal. As always we need to be aggressive up front to limit the run and force quicker throws. Ottawa had the most turnovers amongst playoff teams and I think we will need a minimum of one of those to win.

The last consideration is of course special teams where there are dangerous play makers on both sides. We know what Christion Jones can do (I always want to shorten his name to Chris Jones because I'm lazy but then people think I'm talking about the coach, so I'd have to say "the black Chris Jones", and then further clarify that by black I meant skin, so Christion it is... how's that for a meandering segue?). Be nice to see Jones go off. On the flip side, Diontae Spencer can spring a big return at any time. Cover teams need to have another lock down game.

On paper the home field would tend to favour the RedBlacks but they were only 3-5-1 at home this season and we were above 500 on the road. If we exclude QB I would be feeling extremely confident about our chances but the problem is that QB is a somewhat important position. I don't buy the whole "this is Harris' first playoff start" narrative. He's a damn good QB. I think this game will be extremely close and come down to who makes the least mistakes. In that regard the Riders were +12 in the turnover ratio while Ottawa was -12 so I expect a turnover or 2 to decide this and we are more likely to be on the right side of those.

Riders by a Duron TD (I just pray his TD celebration doesn't somehow feature Rick Campbell).

Get pumped! There's no better feeling than the playoffs and we've been too long without that feeling.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Below is a guest article written by Terry Ott
Roughriders Played In First Two Grey Cups Televised in Colour

The 2017 Saskatchewan Roughriders are heading east to play the Ottawa Red Blacks in the CFL East Division crossover playoff game at TD Place Stadium, (for Baby Boomers and older, Lansdowne Park) and those without a ticket may watch the game in 4K HDTV in a broadcast that is stunning in its video and audio quality.

And while those exquisite HDTV broadcasts are quickly becoming old hat and/or just expected to many viewers, things were quite different in 1966 and 1967.

51 years ago, CFL football in colour WAS an event.

So, when '66 football fans lucky enough to have colour sets-they sold for the equivalent of about $2000 in today's bucks- gathered around their TVs on November 26 for the 54th Grey Cup game from venerable Empire Stadium in Vancouver they were greeted by a CTV/CBC Grey Cup broadcast that for the first time appeared in colour.

And that meant that our basement in Stoney Creek, Ontario, a suburb of Hamilton, soon became pretty crowded around 4PM EST as my dad fired up our Zeneith Model 5430-it took several minutes to warm up-and the first images from Empire arrived.

Colour sets back in the mid 60s were mostly tube affairs and they generally needed a whole bunch of TLC to maintain colour saturation, tint, and contrast with adjustment usually having to be made even when changing channels.

We received the broadcast from CFTO channel 9 in Toronto, helped along by a rotor antenna which was essential to get a good signal in the days well before the CN Tower blasted out a very strong, clean UHF stream. Saskatchewan viewers could grab the broadcast via the then newly established CTV affiliate CHBE/CHRE out of Moose Jaw/Regina.

Believe it or not, seeing the images from Vancouver in what could best be described as rudimentary-yet acceptable- colour really lit up our rec room as the game almost became secondary to the format.

And since most of the viewers in our basement were rooting for the western Riders over the hated Ottawa Rough Riders who had blasted the hometown Tiger-Cats in the '66 East final by a score of 72-17, Saskatchewan's first Grey Cup victory was sweet indeed.

But look closely at the broadcast-and it is very good fortune that a colour video tape survived because back in the day, colour tape was expensive and networks routinely recycled it, making this '66 copy a rare one-and you will note that as the game wears on and the cloudy, rainy day adds to the lack of light at Empire,and you will see the "colour" start to turn towards a low  saturation  even with the stadium's lights on. To say nothing of the replays, that were offered only in black and white.

Still, the 1966 Grey Cup broke great new ground for the Canadian Football League which had lagged behind the NFL, AFL and NCAA football in providing colour broadcasts of games, mostly due to cost consideration and stadium lighting.

The Riders returned to the CFL national championship in the Centennial year of 1967 at a refurbished and expanded Lansdowne Park to take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, with the Roughriders a decided favourite on a  cold and blustery December 2 with the playing field frozen solid and snow piled along the sidelines.

However, despite elements there was an abundance of light even though it was slightly overcast-which actually aided the colour broadcast as bright sunlight tended to cause light/vapour trails off player's helmets-and the game was a full colour broadcast, improved upon from the '66 Vancouver debut in both colour quality and picture detail.

Unfortunately,the Riders' 24-1 upset loss telecast by the CBC/CTV has apparently not been preserved on colour videotape-as evidenced by all versions leaked to YouTube so far-and only this package of film highlites captures the game in colour. (Advance to 1 hour, 4 minutes to view: Hopefully, a colour 1967 Grey Cup videotape will surface at some point.

So, when on November 12 you  tune into the Riders' quest to take the first step to become the  initial crossover playoff team to advance to the Grey Cup, consider where it all started, in what passed for, in living colour.

Terry Ott is a Hamilton based freelancer who has written on the CFL since 1997.
He can be reached at

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Eastbound and Down

Riders 13 - Eskimos 28

The regular season came to a close on Saturday as the Riders lost to the visiting Esks and in the process secured their place in the East-Semi final.  The only thing harder to find than nice things to say about this game was my testicles following that frigid game. I did discover that sitting in the cold for 3 hours while drinking and yelling is not a cure for the common cold. The more you know. It's also not a cure for the clap... or so I hear.

Anyway back to football...

While we played them pretty close through the first half, in the end the Esks prevailed as the team that wanted it the most (even though both teams seemed to be operating at partial effort). We simply made too many mistakes: too many penalties, missed tackles, errant throws, poor execution and on and on.  It just seemed like our focus had already shifted to next week... or possibly to escaping the cold at the end of the game.

There are so many things that puzzle me about our offense. Such as why we refuse to utilize our best receiver in any meaningful way. Or why we refuse to go back to plays that actually work. For example we ran a screen to LaFrance for 18 yards followed by a sweep to Owens for 10. Both great plays to counterbalance the Esk pass rush, both highly effective, both never used again for the remaining 3 quarters of the game. I also think that we need to make a firm decision on QB heading into the playoffs. Given that Glenn has totaled more times pulled than passes completed over the past month, I think the choice is obvious. Just like we should be using our best receiver, we should just fully commit to playing the QB that gives us the best chance to win. About the only bright spot offensively was Marcus Thigpen who got Thiggy with it (patent pending) on a number of occasions. This time a year depth is the difference maker and Thigpen is an example us the quality depth we have (something we haven't had in while). 

Speaking of depth the bad news is of course that we will need to rely on it as Labatte went down and barring some experimental steroids (that we of course would never use do to our commitment to the integrity of the game) he is out for next week. Hopefully Dennis is ready to take his place but that of course forces a ratio switch that is not ideal for a team trying to roster 2 import RBs. Jovon also got dinged up though his chances of playing seem better. Which is good because for all our depth, DB is one place where we apparently have none.

Speaking of the D, they held their own reasonably well for 3 quarters before succumbing to a lack of offensive support, cold, fatigue and Greg Morris fumbling (I like so much about Morris but unfortunately he's developing a habit of putting it on the turf). We didn't get much pressure on Reilly (which usually spells trouble) and lacked to big plays that tend to fuel us. I would like to see this Carter at DB experiment ended. As an emergency option he's serviceable but he's too good a receiver and too mediocre a DB to spend this much time on D.

Despite what the coaching staff might tell you, I don't think we were putting full effort into this game. We rested guys, we used Christion Jones sparingly. Hopefully next week when it matters we can turn the good back on. It would have been nice to win and stay out west but we know we can win out East too so there's no reason to worry. It was a disappointing end to a very good regular season, now let's hope the post season has good things in store. 

Other random thoughts:
- That anthem singer missed out on singing last week and clearly was out to milk this week for every second she could. That anthem was not just artistically drawn out but bordering on painfully slow. This is November in Saskatchewan, just give us the quick version so we can get our toques back on.

- I'm constantly amazed at how much explaining the refs need to do at the coin toss. "That is a tail. Do you understand?"

- Lost in the chaos of that missed convert was Bartel attempting the rare drop kick.

- Snow games always remind me of the old University Section throwing snow balls at Ballsy. Good times.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Rider vs. Eskimos: The Battle For Third

Saturday the regular season comes to a close. In a stark turn of events this final Rider game is extremely relevant and has a huge bearing on the playoff picture. The loser of this game will be headed East via the crossover. The winner is guaranteed third and the Esks could even get as high a second and a home playoff game depending on what happens with the Dan LeFevour led Bombers (aka a loss). For all the talk of the weaker East division (most of it justified), my preference remains to win this game and play the West. We don't need to fear any team at this point. The last time these 2 teams met the Riders shocked the country by obliterating the Esks as if we were Jason Maas and they were a defenseless headset. While this game is at home it will have a very different complexion as last time the Esks were without the services of such notable players as Walker, Gable, Grymes, Konar, Bowman and Cummings.

Offensively we need to get out crap together. It's been a long time since we played really solid offense other than a few token series here and there. The old adage is "defense wins championships" and we certainly have defense but you can't win in the CFL without scoring. Just ask the 2008 Riders how far great defense gets you in the playoffs when your offense is non-existent (to be clear I'm not saying our offense is near as bad as when Michael Bishop was at the controls but my general point remains). The fate of our offense is in the hands of our O-line. Chick-Sewell-Cummings-Willis... that is among the best front 4s in the league and if we let them out muscle us a pin their ears, we are done. Glenn will get smothered. Bridge will be forced into panicked bad decisions. We NEED protection. The logic way to help is with a continued focus on the run. We'll see is McAdoo continues to lean on the run with Thigpen as the lead back or if he reverts to his pass happy tendencies. The Esks aren't great at stopping the run so its a logical place to attack. I would supplement the run with those sweeps to Owens and some quick passes to Thigpen and Jones. The other way to ease pressure is by not being afraid to take shots. Carter is due for another big game so lets feed him and balance it with Owens on the short/medium routes and mix in Holley and Grant (who hopefully will now protect that ball like his life depended on it... his employment may). I would love to see Glenn play a full game... but I fear that protection struggles will lead to a Bridge appearance.

Defensively the Esks pose a big challenge. They can come at you with so many weapons: Zylstra, Bowman, Walker and Gable... at that doesn't include the damage Reilly can do with his legs. They lead the league in offensive yards because its tough to shut down that many weapons simultaneously. We need a strong game up front. If we can't get pressure on Reilly he will carve us up worse than he carves up Matt Scianitti. Our secondary needs to avoid giving up big plays. If we can force Reilly to string long drives together I think the advantage switches to our D. Keep them in front of you and make tackles on the first opportunity... not the 4th or 5th like we sometimes do. We will need our D to create a turnover or 2 for us to have a chance in this. I don't see us getting 5 like last time but a couple will be needed. 

The Esks are the second most penalized team. Who would have thought that they would have discipline issues given the cool collected demeanor of their coach? That could be the difference in a game I expect to be tight.

This is not a must win but I think Jones is trying to sustain a "win the next game" mentality and the momentum that can create is a powerful force headed into the playoffs. While a loss is far from catastrophic (and may have the consolation prize of screwing the Bombers) I think we can make a huge statement in this game and gain a huge wave of momentum at the most important time of the season. The Riders have been playing to the level of their competition so I see us coming out very strong against a team on a 5 game win streak. Let's grab an early lead and force the Esks to overcome a deficit and a rowdy crowd (how else are you going to stay warm?).

Close game where we will need a comeback in the 4th but in the end:

Riders by a Bakari Grant TD. He'll win back our love and secure a west division playoff spot in the process. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Ten!

Riders 37 - Als 12

How many wins do the Riders have this season? In the words of Billy Bob from the timeless classic Varsity Blues " Ten! A F*%#ing 10!" I feel the need to start on this point because there is a fair bit of negativity in the air following the Rider game on Friday, you know the one where we won by over 20 like some very astute prognosticator said we would. In the coming paragraphs I will join in said negativity but I feel compelled to remind people that a) we won and b) we have 10 wins and can clinch 3rd in the West with one more. (A year ago we would have killed for either of those to be true... we I personally wouldn't have killed just so we're clear but I'm sure some people would have).

The Riders have a habit of playing to the level of their competition. Beat some good West teams handily, almost lose to Ryan Lindley, beat the Stamps at home, etc... Friday was a continuation of this. If you had watched no other football than the first have you likely would have surmised that both teams were out of contention. Sloppy play, poor decisions, boneheaded mistakes on both sides. Fortunately things righted themselves in the second half when the Riders remembered they were good and the Als kept on being the Als. 

Defense continued their strong play. Turnovers, sacks, shutting down the run, keeping the score very low.  They did their job. We finally found out that Duron is not invincible as he was beating on a couple throws. He also has a clear habit of watching the ball looking for a big play rather than watching his receiver. With any luck we won't see him at CB when it matters most. Butler was fired up and made a ton of plays. Moncrief continues to impress me. And ho hum Ed Gainey got his tenth pick of the year by shear force. I still maintain that Jefferson is our Defensive MOP but 10 picks is still one hell of a feat. About the most entertaining thing that happened while we were on defense was when the announcer first called Matt Shiltz, Matt Schlitz. "Give me six schliztes. Ah F it whatever's free"

Offense was lucky they were playing a bad team. There wasn't a whole lot of good outside of Owens and Richardson. Glenn was shaky but that was one of the few times I would not have pulled him as he wasn't actually doing that bad. Especially considering that Bridge came in and forced it into triple coverage for a pick. Between Crapigna's two uncharacteristic misses and Grant's already much mocked hot dogging we left 13 points on the field. More when you consider that do due how terrible the Als are we routinely starting in their end (I mean one punt was so awful that it netted 11 yards). But as I said, Owens was good and it was nice to see us be able to close out a game by running it down their throats (20+ rushes is always a Prophet pleaser). Lots to clean up but It was nice to see Glenn not be completely useless. More importantly I actually like a lot of what we did offensively (at least conceptually). The sweeps to Owens, the actually emphasis on the run, getting Christion Jones involved on not a blind deep pass. Some actual creativity. If you add that to a healthy Roosevelt and an actually involved offensively Carter, good things could be in-store in the playoffs.

Overall while the game was sloppy, the outcome was a lopsided win over a team we were supposed to beat. Would I preferred we did it without the all the crap? You bet but a win is a win. And the bigger thing is we seemed to emerge mostly healthy (something the Bombers wish was the case). I am jacked for a meaningful November game at Mosaic!

Other random thoughts:
- Too bad the University section isn't a thing anymore. The malfunctioning mic during the anthem was their time to shine. 

- Off the 110 yards along the sidelines, I'll never understand why Cox decided to use the one containing a ref to enter the field. Stupid. By the way, the penalty call on that should clerly be "Illegal use of Cox"

- The first PI call on Montreal was BS in my opinion

- I love how the Riders have legit stopped even pretending to try for halftime entertainment. By this time next year they may either just turn the jumbo tron to TSN or actually do nothing at all.

- Christion Jones is legit (more quality analysis) that stat of him having 1000 return yards in 9 games was eye popping. There were times in Rider history where 1000 return yards would have taken us 1001 kicks. Blocking for him has been solid.

- I love Durant but personally I thought the video was a bit much. Show him on screen, cheer him but save the sappy video for when he retires.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Riders vs. Alouettes: The Return

Oh how times can change in 17 weeks. Week 1 seems so long ago; when the Riders lost to the Als in the season opener. Questions abounded in Riderville about the quality of our team, coach and kicker. The Als were riding a wave of optimism and were viewed as an early contender in the least… err I mean East. Flash forward 3 months and the Riders are playoff bound and should reach double digit wins (our kicker is pretty good after all too. Go figure). The only thing the Als are contending for is 1st overall draft pick and tax exemption due to their senior citizen status. I still can’t believe we lost that game to them. Then again I can’t believe that of Montreal’s 3 wins, 2 of them were against us and Calgary.

I’m sure Durant had something different in mind for this game when the schedule first came out. Instead of leading a strong Alouette team into his old stomping grounds and making all Rider fans desperately miss our former leader, he instead is getting a pity start because Kavis feels it’s the right thing… that and the Als’ other QBs are terrible.  Most teams out of the playoffs adopt a “play the young guys” philosophy to audition for next year. The Als are playing Durant… though on their aged roster maybe Durant does count as “one of the young guys”. I expect and will be fully participating in an extended ovation for Durant. The guy poured his soul into this franchise and was a key player in arguably the greatest moment in franchise history. He is the second most successful QB this franchise has ever had and deserves to know he is appreciated. Once the game starts though, I also expect and will be fully participating in thunderous boos for every pass he bounces off the tuft (that’s a lot of boos). See it’s possible to respect an opposing player but still mock him mercilessly.

I could list you any number of stats to demonstrate that the Als are terrible. Nine straight losses (by an average margin of 23 points), winless on the road, least points scored, most points allowed and on and on. And it’s not just on the field that they embarrassing themselves. Off the field has been highly entertaining (for anyone not associated with the Als franchise): trading SJ Green for a 6th round pick; cutting Bear Woods and having the GM and coach disagree on the reasons; firing said coach (though he was admittedly a bad coach); pretty much anything involving Kavis Reed (which unfortunately for the Als is everything). They are screwed and the fact that they think Kavis is the guy to fix all this (with his right hand man Joe Mack) is further evidence of how screwed they are. Dig up stupid!

On to the game…
Offensively, we need to get back on track. Last week’s points total was inflated by a punt and INT return TD… and a fumble that set us up on the 3 yard line for our lone offensive TD. Glenn starts and honestly I think this has to be his last chance as the starter. If you can’t produce against the worst team in the CFL then what hope is there for the November games that really matter and involve credible teams? To help him out we need to stay as committed to the run game as we were in Calgary. It may shock you to learn that Montreal has the worst run D so we should be able to ride Richardson to a lot of yards. Still say we need to find ways to get Christion Jones involved in the O and if there was ever a game to experiment, this is it. When we pass, nothing in that secondary really scares but I would certainly be looking to exploit former Rider Tevaughn Campbell (he remains an extremely fast guy with minimal ball skills. Case in point the time he gave up a safety on an interception).

Defensively bring the pressure. For all the things the Als do poorly (aka pretty much everything) they can run the ball effectively (#2 in the League). We need to take that away from them. I have always been a big Durant fan but one of his recurring deficiencies was that he is not good at the hot route. Pressure will lead to mistakes… or balls where the intended receiver is the hash mark. Duron will be manning the corner again. I expect Durant (who is oddly more accurate on deep balls than short ones) to test that. I don’t think Duron is super human on the corner, he can be beat but you are playing with fire because one off throw is all it takes for him to score and that amps up everyone. This is a defensive unit that held Calgary without a TD in 2 games… I like their chances of standing up to a unit that no longer cares and wasn’t very good even when they did.

After a big win over the best team in the league this game has all the potential of a letdown/trap game and I would honestly worry about it… were it not for how bad the Als are. This is a game we should win and should win easily. We have failed to score 30 points only once at home… and that was against the best D in the League. By contrast Montreal hasn’t held a team under 29 points since early August. So essential the outcome hinges on whether you think Montreal can score 30 points against us. Given that they haven’t accomplished that feat in over 2 months I like our odds. Can’t overlook this game still have to go out and play hard but in the end…

Riders by 20… you heard me.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Shock and Awe

Riders 30 - Stamps 7

Hands up if Friday went exactly as you expected. OK those of you with your hands up are bold face liars (and also look ridiculous with your hand up because of something someone on the internet told you). The Riders going into Calgary and handing the the Stamps their first loss at McMahon in the regular season in 2 years and doing by a 3 score margin was not what anyone expected. Especially when you factor in the drama of this week and the whole, playing our best WR at CB for the first time in his career thing. It was for me, the biggest win of this season. It was amazing. (Side note: the last team to beat the Stamps in Calgary just so happened to go on to win the Grey Cup. And their coach just so happened to be Chris Jones).

99.9% of the narrative following the game was Duron Carter. And why not? It's an amazing story. Plus that pick 6 alone is one of the sweetest feelings in the world. If you could bottle that up and save it you could sustain my happiness for years. But for me this win was about way more than Duron. This was a total team effort, with all 3 phases contributing in huge ways. Duron got the headlines but 43 other guys and our coaching staff deserve a ton of credit as well.

Offensively, they inexplicably did everything I asked for. I mean the first few plays where our offense seemed to be based on Josh Stanford was a bit concerning but after we got past that we correctly pulled sitting duck Glenn for mobile Bridge. Our running backs ran the ball 24 times. That is not a typo. 24 f'n times (i.e. more than McAdoo has run in the past month). The first drive of the second half was a thing of beauty even though we only got an FG. We consistently ran on first down and consistently had 2nd and manageable and were able to convert (imagine that?). Cam Marshall's return was obviously huge. It just seems McAdoo trusts him and runs a lot more as a result. Even Richardson did well running the ball. If you exclude those 2 picks (one of which was Stanford's fault, one of which was just ugly) the offense did a good job. Not a great job but the way the defense was playing they realized they didn't have to take unnecessary risks and did exactly what they needed to to be successful.

The defense just held one of the league's top offenses without a TD for a second straight time! Calgary had chances in the first half they failed to capitalize on. Wrong routes, drops overthrows. We played solid but we're a bit fortunate. That second half though, we were dominant. We sent pressure and that pressure actually got to Bo. We asserted our will on a very good offense. I actually thought Calgary had a poor game plan. They said they wouldn't specifically target Duron and didn't... and probably should have. I also though they should have run Williams more than Messam. But the bottom line is our defense locked it down. Very impressive.

Special teams was a factor. Jones was electric yet again and is getting great blocking. Punts and coverage was solid. I almost don't want to type this for risk of jinxing things but Crapigna has only missed 4 kicks all season. Dude is solid and we are lucky to have him.

We clinched a playoff berth which is great but was pretty much a certainty, the bigger thing is we proved we can beat anyone. After two seasons of getting killed by west teams we have now beat every single west team and have a winning road record. I say we finish strong and aim to go through the West. We have confidence now and that is a dangerous asset. Wins are always sweet but beating Bo and the Stamps is that much sweeter.

Other random thoughts:
- While completely unnecessary, cursing Henry Burris is a great way to endear yourself to Rider Nation.

- Between the Rider defenders beaking Bo after the pick and Chris Carter piling on on Twitter. That pick 6 was the gift that kept on giving

- How have opposing defenses not figured out that every Vernon Adams play is him keeping and running? It's not hard to figure out.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Riders vs. Stampeders: Round 3

Tonight the Riders are in Cow Town for their final road game of the regular season. The Riders will be looking to bounce back from a late game collapse last week while the Stamps (13-1-1) will be looking to continue their dominance. They have won 11 straight and I honestly can’t remember the last time they lost at home (had I been motivated enough to put in 30 seconds of effort I could tell you that the only time in the past 3 years it happened was in week 16 of the 2015 season… I really need to get me an intern to outsource all this work to… or a helper monkey). After a week spent talking about the Ottawa collapse and Duron drama, it will be nice to actually get back to football. Wait… what’s that? We are totally not done talking about the Duron drama? Sigh. Look here’s my 10 second take. It should surprise no one that Duron is high maintenance and wears on people (we knew what we were signing up for) and if you think there isn’t more to this story like Dunk/Naylor say and completely believe the Jones version of events then I’d like to sell you some volcano insurance. It’s all really weird and I hope we can find a way to move past it.

On to actual football…

I won’t regale you with all the stats I normally do. Calgary is freakin’ good in all phases of the game. Blah, blah, blah… Calgary scores the most points and allow next to no points. Blah, blah, blah, they pretty much top every important statistical category. You’ve heard it all before. We’ve already lost twice to them and have managed only a total of 19 points over both contests. So there’s no sugar coating that we are in tough this week. But you, my readers (all 6.5 of you) have requested I be more positive so the good news is that Hamilton almost (and probably should have) beat the Stamps last week and in the process showed us the blue print of how to beat them.

Three things were key to Hamilton’s almost success: using Masoli’s mobility, giving the RB double digit carries (even though he was getting only 3.6 per carry) and pressure defensively (2 sacks and the run game was a total non-factor). Now knowing the Riders as I do, they will do the opposite of this and employ old man Glenn’s non-mobility, give the RB 4 carries tops and rush 3 all night. Oh sorry I’m already getting away from keeping things positive. Let’s try this again, it’s hard.

Defensively my primary goal would be putting hits on Messam. My theory is this… the Stamps have all but sewn up 1st place and so they are getting into “make sure the top guys are healthy for playoffs” mode. Messam has been banged up and they aren’t likely to want to subject him to unnecessary punishment. Get physical on him and they are likely to get away from the run (as they did in Hamilton). A one dimensional Stamp offense is beatable. The counter argument is of course that last meeting we freely gave them the run and held them to 15 points but I like my idea better. Based on the last meeting, we know our defense can contain the Stamp O if we play our game. I have no clue what’s happening at CB though sounds like Duron will be the main guy. He can’t be much worse than Lyles so there’s that. I bet her gets picked on though. Also the over under on penalties he takes is 2.5. Is it ridiculous that Carter is our back-up option at DB? Yes. Does it make any sense to play your best receiving option on defense? No. But logic is not exactly a priority for this coaching staff so it is what it is at this point. Overall let’s be physical on D, as I said Calgary is in save it for November mode and not likely to take kindly to being muscled around. That could be our edge.

Offensively, the good news is that Cam Marshall looks to be back. The bad news is that Dan Clark is also back and we have god knows what going on at receiver. Dan Clark is a sack waiting to happen, our O-line has been visibly better in his absence. I get that this is the natural adjustment with Dennis out but I don’t like it. At receiver, Roosevelt is out (and I say he sits until at least the playoffs regardless of how quick he heals up); who knows how much we will see but it’ll be limited. That leaves us with Grant, Holley, Bagg, Stanford (fresh off the street) and Owens (which will make people happy) against the best D in the league. I know I said I’d be positive but short of Marshall getting 20 carries and 175 yards we are in very tough. I’ll remind you we’ve only scored 19 points total against Calgary this season. Personally I would give Bridge the start. Not to punish Glenn but because I think Bridge’s skill set (i.e. mobility and chucking it deep) fit this game better than Glenn. Plus, we only need 1 win in the last 3 so save Glenn to the last 2 home games plus playoffs. But no one ever listens to me (not my wife, not Roughrider coaches, even Siri won’t acknowledge me) so we need to find a way to win the Rider way i.e. with Glenn throwing on 95% of the plays. I would get Owens involved early. He’s not the player he was a few years ago but you can bet he’s fired up to play and will put everything on the line on every snap. We need to get creative with the ground game: Morris off tackle, Jones on a swing pass, heaven forbid a screen. One of the strengths of the Stamp D is how disruptive they can be up front with just 4 man pressure. You need to be able to combat that pressure or they will eat you alive (see: last time we played). Assuming Glenn plays I hope he has a short leash.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t expect to win this game and that’s ok. 1 win or 1 BC loss over the next 3 weeks and we are in the playoffs so the urgency is just not there. We will be on the road no matter what and I don’t think East or West matters much. I get that we can’t just coast for 3 weeks and then randomly expect to flip the switch and be awesome come playoffs but with 2 home games left I’m not overly worried about this game regardless of outcome (most likely loss). Over the last 5 games we have a total of just 9 first quarter points. Any chances at an improbable win hinge on getting on the scoreboard early. Fall behind and we’re done.

As much as I would love to shock those smug Stampeders and ruin their home win streak (and I think it would be possible if we were at full strength). Between injuries, drama and a tough opponent I just don’t see that happening. My biggest hope is that Duron gets a pick and then intentionally runs directly towards Bo to lay a shoulder into him.

Stamps by 10

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: When You Live By The Sword

Riders 32 - RedBlacks 33

There is an old saying, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I don't really know what it means but when in Rome...  Actually, the point that I'm trying to make (and that you probably long ago quit trying to decipher) is that after weeks of living on the edge in terms of squeaking out victories they likely should not have, the Riders found themselves on the wrong side of that edge and lost one they should have won. It was a case of too many mistakes being made in all phases and those allowing the RedBlacks to stick around in a game we could have buried them in.

Chris Jones is clearly a more patient man than me. I would have pulled Kevin Glenn long before half time. He looked like utter crap. And it wasn't just the INTs (though those were very costly), he just looked spooked in the pocket: happy feet, indecisive, poor throw when he did finally pull the trigger. He didn't look comfortable or confident. Jones' patience was somewhat rewarded as Glenn finished strong-ish. Things turned around about the time he realized he should just throw to Carter on every play (what a monster game Duron had). Even when Glenn was playing good, our O was handicapped by just the continued mind boggling play calling of Steve McAdoo. Ever think that maybe our ground game sucks because the rare times we do run its the same run up the middle every time? Not McAdoo. Ever think running the ball once when you have the ball on the 6 yard line is a good idea? Not McAdoo. He called 2 pass plays then went incomplete and forced a FG (one of oh so many on the night). Ever think that running the ball the wind down the clock when you have the lead and there's under 3 mins? Not Steve McAdoo. He threw on 3 of the 4 plays. What the hell?!? I realize that I may not be an expert on offensive play calling (I mean I was the OC of a my boys tackle team and they failed to score a point for 4 games) but even I can figure out this basic stuff that would greatly improve our odds of winning. Had Glenn thrown one less pick, or had score just one more TD rather than 6 FGs then we win. But close only counts in horse shoes and restraining orders (or so I hear).

Defense finally shut down the run and even added 2 turnovers. But unlike previous weeks where they bailed us out by locking things down in the 4th, they uncharacteristically crumbled. We noticeably dialed up the pressure compared to previous weeks but failed to get much contact on Harris (or when we did we jumped straight into his head) so we sent more guys but didn't have much to show for it. Injuries were certainly a factor as a couple guys had to start that wouldn't normally. We saw both ends of the spectrum there. On the good side was Derrick Moncrief who continues to impress me. On the bad side was Chris Lyles who was a liability just like when he previously manned the HB. He was brutal. We are just lucky Harris over threw a lot because he got beat repeatedly. One play in particular bothered me. They threw towards Lyles and he came up limping visibly. Instead of going down he pretended he was tough and stayed in. I called from the stands that I would go right back after him... and they did. He got beat (again) but was bailed out by an overthrow. Hope Rogers heals up soon. 

Its not a catastrophic loss as our spot in the playoffs is still extremely likely but for a team that has developed a knack for finding ways to win (what you need to be successful in the postseason) they flipped the script and found ways to lose (not what you want this time of year). Lots of things that need to be worked on as we head towards the post season. Give Ottawa credit as they are a good team but we could have taken them down but failed.

Other random thoughts:
- When we actually started feeding him the ball Richardson was not terrible. He should limit himself to only one cut though as he is far too slow for that second cut to do anything useful. That said, he showed me a lot more in the run game than LaFrance did. If you are going to dress him, might as well feed him the rock.

- So I called for Christion Jones to be more involved in the offense but blindly throwing a deep ball to him for what would be his second offensive touch was not what I had in mind. Yes he seemed to have run the wrong route but Glenn threw it before he made his cut. You can likely pull that with our real receivers but maybe find less risky ways for a guy with one offensive touch to get involved. He sure is deadly on returns though.

- The pass interference call on Gainey was bunk (do kids still say that these days?) that said, we never should have let it come to that. Also, Gainey has been looking a lot more like Gainey from the first few games of late (i.e. not very good) rather than Gainey for the middle of the season (i.e. monster).

- I love how the half time show was essentially lets bring out all the guys from the '07 team who still live in Regina and have nothing better to do anyway.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Friday the 13th

The Riders continue their push towards the playoffs Friday night when the RedBlacks visit Mosaic for a late night kickoff. It’s the first of a season ending home stand as the Riders play 3 of their final four at home. I love night games. They always seem to have an added intensity which I’m sure is unrelated to the increased alcohol consumption of the fans. It’ll be a cool one so the booze will have dual purpose of jacking up the fans and keeping them warm.

The big talk around town is of course QBs… though this may be one of the first times in recent memory where those calling for the back-up to play aren’t just crazy wing nuts. There’s no sugar coating that Glenn has been useless since injuring his hand. Through the first 9 games pre-injury he was completing 70% of his passes, averaging 300+ yards and 2+ TDs a game. In his last 4 appearances it’s down to 61% completion, 180 yards per game and just 2 TDs produced over all 4 games combined. His drop in performance has been so dramatic that Kavis Reed will soon be inquiring about his services because he’d be such a good fit with the Als. Given all that it may surprise you that I support Coach Jones in starting Glenn this week. For me it boils down to it being easier to pull Glenn and insert Bridge mid-game than it is to pull Bridge and insert Glenn mid-game if one of them struggles. Glenn has been electric at home (minus the Calgary game) so he gets the chance to prove himself, albeit on a very short leash. Regardless of who is at QB we need to run the ball (you’d think after close to 2 years complaining that McAdoo should run more I would just give up but I’m as stubborn as a mule… and twice as ugly). I’m OK with Richardson and LaFrance sharing the load though I’d rather each got a few series in row so they can get into a grove. I would also like to see Christion Jones used a bit more offensively. He has been used a grand total of once on a sweep but I think given his speed some swing passes to him in space could be deadly. Gotta find a few ways to get him more involved (like Rainey is in BC). Unlike the first meeting we will have Roosevelt in the line-up which gives us a huge boost. Duron has been relatively quiet of late (at least statistically, I don’t think he’s ever really quiet) so it would be good to feed him early to get him going. I wouldn’t force it though. If they key on Carter and Roosevelt then Grant/Holley/Bagg should have space. Take what is given and don’t give them any turnovers (we have the 2nd least giveaways, they have the least takeaways so odds are good there).

Turning to the defense, Ottawa will have 2 key pieces back that they did not have the first time around that greatly change the complexion of this game. Jon Gott will be back in the OL but most importantly Trevor Harris will be back under centre. Going from Lindley to Harris is like going from a tricycle that is missing a wheel to muscle car. That said, I expect a very similar offensive plan from Ottawa as last time: run until we prove we can stop it. I mean if you are facing the Riders and that’s not your primary plan then your intelligence level qualifies you for citizenship in Manitoba. In his 13 starts Harris has 26 TDs to just 7 INTs so the pass game will be a big factor in this as well. No Foster, no Eguavoen and no Rodgers so big test ahead of our defense. It’s nice to finally be in a place to rely on depth from guys like Knox and Moncrief. Hopefully Chris Lyles proves to be a better CB than he was an HB. What I honestly expect from our defense is what we’ve seen the past 4 weeks. They’ll start playing like crap but slowly tighten up as the game progresses and finish having done a pretty good job of keeping the score low. Their artistic merit points would be awful (even from the French judge) but they have allowed the 2nd least TDs and the lowest completion % so, style or not they are getting the job done (incidentally that’s often how I’ve been described in bed).

I would be more worried about facing Trevor Harris after almost losing to Ryan Lindley but it really seems the Riders play to the level of their competition so much like we stepped up in Toronto, I expect us to once again up our game. The fact remains that even with Trevor Harris, the only West team Ottawa has beat this year is BC. What we need is to feed off the home crowd and start quickly. In the past 4 games we have amassed 6 total points in the first quarter. That needs to change. If we can get an early lead and force Ottawa to chase, it will make them more prone to mistakes.

Going to be another closely contested, hard fought game but in the end….

Riders by a Duron Carter TD

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: A Tale Of Two Halves

Riders 27 - Argos 24

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm sure you're as surprised as I am to find this posted before noon on a statutory holiday. Don't get used to it, it'll probably be years before it happens again.

Saturday the Riders accomplished something in 14 games that it previously took them 2 years to do... win 8 games. In the process they took another big step towards securing a playoff berth. Those some of you may have forgotten based on the bast 2 seasons, playoffs are those games that come after the regular season. The magic number now sits at 2: any combination of Rider wins or BC loses amounting to 2 and we are in. 

The game really was the tale of 2 halves. The first half the tale would have been a sad tragedy with multiple curse words in the title. The Argo offense seemed to have our D completely figured out and was moving the ball at will. The Argo defense could have stood still and literally not moved for how useless our offense was. Fortunately the D got things figured out and allowed just 8 points over the final 36 minutes. The offense was sparked by the play of Brandon Bridge who came in a breathed life into an offense that had become a shell of its former self. The result was a second straight come from behind road victory. This one was not ugly but rather a hard fought victory against a very good opponent. Since starting 0-3 on the road the Riders have gone 4-1 away from home.

Let's talk about the defense. Early on it seemed we were so focused on stopping Wilder that we allowed pretty much everything else. Trestman wisely took advantage of that by using guys like Cross, Edwards and Jackson en route to amassing a 13 point lead. From there the defense regained their footing. They were also helped greatly by an offense that managed to stay on the field for more than 2 embarrassing plays per drive. I thought we let a struggling O-line off the hook by not sending near enough pressure but it was used more (and earlier in the game) than last week. A future hall of famer like Ricky Ray won't make many mistakes so taking advantage of the few he makes are a must. Henoc Muamba did just that in securing an interception off a pass Ray should not have thrown. Gotta seize those opportunities to win the close games. As much as I loved that INT hopefully someone on the sidelines slapped him for the decision to pitch it to Gainey. The thought was admirable, the execution damn near caused me a heart attack.

About the nicest thing you can say about Kevin Glenn was that at least he made Trent Richardson's performance seem not so insignificant by comparison. He was awful and excluding the 4th quarter in Ottawa has been awful since returning from his hand injury. I would be willing to give him one more chance at home next week because a disrespected Glenn seems to be the best Glenn (but it would be a very short leash). Whether its the hand or the season wearing on him, we can't tolerate this level of play. Especially when we know what we have in Bridge. The energy level in our O visibly picked up when he came in. Full credit to him that was a very good performance. He was crisp and confident on his passes, consistently finding tight windows.. He used his legs to bye time. Most importantly he moved the ball and found the endzone. I still had some issues with what he did. He clearly has only one look in the redzone. The first one to Roosevelt was great. The second and third time he went back to it, not so much. Gotta expand your options there. Also, I hate hate hated his long bomb to Holley late in the game. We were bailed out by that illegal contact call but it was a bad decision by Bridge. We needed a FG and were on the 48. Even as little as 5 yards could have given Crapigna a legit chance. But instead of putting his head down and running (i think he could have fought for 5-7 yards) or at least looking for a medium option, he throws a hail mary. Poor choice. That said, despite that he played a hell of a game and was the reason we won. I was admittedly not his biggest fan at the start of the year but he keeps proving himself when called upon. Roosevelt being back was huge. He played a huge role and opened things up for Carter and especially Grant a lot more.

The Riders just keep finding ways to win and that is exactly what you want to see from your team down the stretch. Finishing back to back East road games 2 and 0 is huge. The encouraging thing is that we have not seen the Riders play their best football since Labour Day yet they are 3 and 2 in spite of that. This strikes me as a team that has potential to put it all together again and get hot in time for the playoffs.

Just 4 games left and 3 of them are at home. 

Other random thoughts:
- Maybe Chris Jones should call out Ed Gainey again. He hasn't looked great over the past 2 and was completely lost on the Green TD. Getting called out by his coach seemed to work pretty good last time.

-  Was anybody really expecting anything more from Richardson? It was his first game and we don't really run much. By virtue of not fumbling and not blowing any pass blocks (that I saw) he did his job. Credit to LaFrance for chewing up important yards when the game was on the line.

- Not turning the ball over is a huge thing in these close games. We also didn't allow a big play on special teams. It's nice to see us not hurting ourselves as we had grown accustomed to last season. 

- Could have made things easier on ourselves by scoring majors instead of settling for FGs on those two 3rd quarter drives.

- I don't like that Cody Fajardo averaged 6.5 yards on his 2 QB sneaks. When your goal is stop them from getting 1 yard,it pretty bad when you consistently let him go that far.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Riders vs. Argos: Road Warriors

Saturday the Riders are in Toronto for the final stop on their eastern tour, an afternoon match-up against the East leading Argos. Despite their 7-7 record a win damn near clinches them the East division crown… which is kind of like being named the coolest kid at a D and D convention. The Riders’ magic number to punch their ticket to the post season is 4 (any combination of Rider wins or BC losses amounting to 4). I’m too lazy to figure out how Edmonton plays into this but they do. The Argos have won 3 straight but balance that stat with the fact that they are 1 and 5 vs. the West with their lone victory coming against the Esks.

The last time these 2 teams met was in July where the Riders prevailed 38-27 but many things will be different about this game. Toronto is not coming of a short week and playing in sweltering heat. Toronto is not missing half of their D-line (Butler and Laing will play this time). And most importantly the game is not being played at Mosaic Stadium meaning the Argos will have home field advantage this time… well I suppose it’s more accurate to say they won’t have the disadvantage of playing on the road as I’m not sure they derive an advantage from the home crowd. Needless to say, the complexion of this game will be very different than our Week 6 meeting.

Offensively we actually need to do something. That would be a good start. We have been abysmal for the past 10 quarters. We are used to putting up more points in a game than we have over that timeframe. I have this crazy notion that Ricky Ray will be moderately more productive than Ryan Lindley so our defense will likely need some help in this one to get the victory. Obviously getting Roosevelt back is huge and hopefully that will help Glenn get back into a groove. Toronto leads the League in sacks so our O-line will need to step up and give him time to throw. We could of course help the O-line out by establishing a ground game but McAdoo seems to be avoiding the run like it has SARS or something (do people still remember SARS or to I need to use a new pandemic to keep my commentary more topical?). In the 4 games we’ve played without Marshall our RBs have produced rushing totals of 59, 34, 15 and 52. That’s left our offense one dimensional and struggling as a result. Sadly our chances to revive the ground game rest with Trent Richardson (who I’ve made no secret about my skepticism of him) but I guess it’s not like he can do worse than we’ve been doing. Run the damn ball! The Argos will be missing LB Marcus Ball so we should be able to attack the middle a bit more. We need to get Roosevelt and Carter going. Bakari Grant is like an American Chris Getzlaf. Productive as hell as the #3 option but unable to sustain that when he’s the #1 or 2 receiver. We’ve slept through the first 3 quarters of the last 2 games. We can’t let that happen again. If we can’t come out swinging early and get points on the board before half then we are screwed.

Defensively, I’m going to make a bold prediction that Marc Trestman has figured out that we are terrible at stopping the run. We rank 2nd only to Montreal in rushing yards allowed and when you are in the realm of Montreal in anything statistically that’s a bad thing. Since Nick James (I’m Nick James bitch! Haven’t got to say that in a while) went down, we have been allowing 144 yards rushing per game, compared to just 87 yds/game prior to his injury. Now it just so happens that Trestman has a hot RB at his disposal who has 566 yards from scrimmage over the past 3 game. What do you think he’s going to do? They are going to run until we prove we can stop it. We need to counter with pressure and pretty much anything but 3 man rush. The Argos have allowed the most sacks this year and are once again without veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl. You want to neutralize the run and limit Ricky Ray? Put pressure on a struggling O-line. Attacking them as opposed to dropping back into coverage is our best bet. As much as we don’t appear to be able to stop the run even if an inanimate cardboard cut-out lined up at RB, I have to give a ton of credit to the D as they have not allowed more than 19 points in the past 3 games. In a league geared for offense that is impressive. The Argos have scored the 3rd least points so if we can limit the run then I like our chances of keeping the score low. Limit the run, harass Ray in the pocket, that’s the recipe for success.

I expect special teams to play a factor in this as well. We know what Christion Jones can do and Martese Jackson has 3 return TDs this season. We need to build on the strong kick coverage we’ve had the past couple games and look to spring Jones on a few long ones.

I think this will be a very close game. Toronto is not a team that can be taken lightly. Our first meeting was closer than the score reflects and that was at home. I have faith in our defense to get the job done (though I’d prefer if they found a way of doing that that didn’t involve getting torched on the ground) they have been playing lock down D and that should continue. That means the game hinges on our offenses ability to not look like they have over the past 3 weeks. My hope is that the return of Roosevelt gives them the boost they need to get out of this slump. Tough to win back to back road games but I think the character built over the past couple gritty wins pays off and we win another ugly one… not Ottawa ugly but ugly nonetheless.

Riders by a Roosevelt TD.