Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: A Win Is A Win

Riders 27 - Ti-Cats 19

The good news is we won! The other good news is that unlike some sports, there are not points awarded for style or artistic merit... because that was an ugly, ugly win. But it was a win. Given the lack of those around these parts over the past few years we probably should be less picky about the ways in which we achieve victory. I rode a roller coaster of emotions during that game that was along the lines of yay, expletive, yay, expletive, stressed pacing of my living room, yay, expletive, we're not going to lose to expletive Hamilton are we?, expletive, massive sigh of relief, conflicting emotions that settled into happiness.

Offensively we started slow, played pretty good up until the Roosevelt TD... and then went to complete hell. Just god awful for the duration of that game. Zero first downs for the remaining 24 minutes of the game and the 6 drives we had netted us the following yards:  -9, 0, 6, 8, 0, -6. For the mathematically challenged that works out to -1 net offensive yards over 24 minutes of game play. Bridge was about what you expect from a back-up. Took him a while to get into the game but when he did he threw the ball well. For how much people talk about his athleticism he is an awkward and ineffective scrambler but his arm was good.The bulk of my issue was with our idiotic play calling. From the comically inept Vernon Adams series (even the hotdog vendors know it will be a QB run), to running LaFrance 3 times while protecting the lead and trying to milk to clock, to not running once with the lead and 2:52 on the clock (we took a whole 16 seconds off the clock on that drive). With the exception of Carter, you can't really blame injuries. When the back-up plays that's when your OC needs to be at his best to build a game plan to play to his strengths. McAdoo choose instead to regress to his old habits. 

The Night at the Roxbury celebration was pretty awesome. My favourite part was ROb Bagg's reluctant participation. Duron has now gotten Glenn to conga and Bagg to head bob... that's impressive.

Defense deserves huge credit for a very gutsy effort. Not only did they have to step up and bail out an offense that disappeared in the second half, they had to do it with a line-up that was duct taped together. When Radford showed up at safety, you knew things were getting dicey. But despite the adversity they battled through forced 5 turnovers, allowed 1 TD and were the primary reason we emerged with the win. Given how awful they were to start the year I never that I would be typing that but Jones is finally fielding a Defense befitting his reputation.

Our returners are cursed. Christion Jones, Demski, now Thigpen. Can't keep the good ones healthy... and yet I still don't see a scenario where Owens plays. Too bad because Thigpen was looking real good.

It may have been ugly but not all wins are going to be pretty or pummelings. Good teams overcome adversity and we did that on Friday. Sure it was against a bad team (I mean the only way that last play could have been worse is if they sent in the 3rd stringer to be QB) but a win is a win and winning is always a good thing (even if that 4th quarter took my blood pressure to dangerously high levels). Now we play the waiting game to see how serious our myriad of injuries are. With Calgary up next we're going to need all the healthy bodies we can get because if we play like this next week then we are screwed.

Other random thought:
- We found out why a 6'7 350 pound DT was available to sign with us mid-season... he's not very good.  The few plays I saw him, TJ Barnes was doing a whole lot of nothing.

- Brandon Banks is one heck of a diver. Yeah that Hecht hit was a hair late but Banks played it up like he was up for an Emmy. That PI call was embarrassing. You'd think Rogers had shot poor Banks the way he flailed.

- I still can't get over what a stupid call that was by the Ti-Cats.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Friday Night Football

Tonight the 5-5 Riders are in Hamilton to face the 2-8 Ti-Cats. A few weeks ago this game seemed like a free space on the bingo card and that we would abuse them like a Jason Maas headset. Turns out the whole Austin firing himself thing seems to be working as the Cats are now on a two game win streak and have passed the “dumpster fire” baton to Montreal. Personally I still wonder if it was John Chick holding them back. Fact remains that Hamilton is undefeated without him and Edmonton is winless with him (birthrates at the Chick household are at an all-time low as a result). Thanks to the wonderful mess that is the East division the team that started 0-7 has a legit shot at a first round bye, while a team that is currently .500 is at risk of missing the playoffs.

All the talk all week in Riderville has been about Kevin Glenn’s hand. Photos of him signing autographs were more highly analyzed than evidence in a criminal trial. As of right now Glenn is a game time decision. My gut says it’s unlikely he plays but if he’s even close to able to go, you know he’ll be in there. While his presence certainly changes our offensive game plan, his absence is not debilitating. Bridge is a step down from Glenn but not enough that it should be problematic. First and foremost we need a heavy dose of LaFrance. With Ted Laurent still out, I would attack them on the ground a lot.  If Bridge plays I would utilise his legs to attack as well. He’s not the precision passer Glenn is but his mobility can certainly compensate for that and open up his receivers down field. Even if you just included their 2 games under June Jones, Hamilton would still have the 7th ranked pass defense. Don Unamba is manning one of their corners. Can’t tell me we can exploit that with one of our receivers. The Ti-Cat defense has been playing far better these past 2 games (allowing 22 points per game as opposed to the 35 they were accustomed to) but remember that one of those games was against the back-up QB (Ott) and one of those games they almost lost because they couldn’t execute a kneel down properly (Tor). We should not fear this defense even with Bridge in. Be aggressive, control the line of scrimmage, run the ball, push downfield with Carter and Roosevelt. Limit the turnovers and we should be fine.

Much is being made of the impact Masoli has had on rejuvenating the Ti-Cat Offense. First off the Ti-Cat offense didn’t really exist through the first 8 games so anything beyond falling backwards is technically an improvement. Second, their offense still isn’t very good under Masoli. 7th in scoring, 9th in passing yards. So yeah “not very good” is an improvement over “utterly embarrassing” but it’s still not very good. Foster and Knox will play and I expect Foster to have a huge impact even though he will go largely unnoticed in the game (which is exactly what we want). A big concern is Masoli’s mobility. He ran for 73 yards last week and that’s a dimension to their offense that we can’t allow. A lot of it will boil down to re-establishing dominance in the trenches. We got zero pressure on Nichols last week but the Hamilton O-line is not as good as the Winnipeg to the same extent that my quarterbacking skills are not as good as Tom Brady’s.  I have no clue what kind of shape he is in but I am very intrigued to see TJ Barnes play… all 6’07 355 pounds of him. I mean I’m sure Jones will have him dropping into coverage but when he does rush he may just eat a Ti-Cat in the process… literally. Overall we need to take away the ground game and force Masoli to beat us through the air. We need to put pressure on him because Masoli is prone to big mistakes…. He has 13 interceptions and 5 fumbles over his past 10 starts. Time for a bounce back game for our D.

I get that Hamilton is not the pushover they were at the start of the year but this is still a game that we should win. We need to prove that the Edmonton road game wasn’t an anomaly and play solid ball on the road for a second time this season. If Glenn plays, I say we win by 2 scores. Assuming Bridge plays, I’m still going Riders but with a smaller margin of victory.

Riders by a Roosevelt TD

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Snap Back To Reality

Riders 28 - Bombers 48

While the ride was fun while it lasted. As good as the Riders had been playing, you had to know that they would come back down to earth at some point (unless you were in that delusional group that thought we would run the table and host a playoff game). That point turned out to be Saturday in Winnipeg. Where they were over-matched by Winnipeg in pretty much every aspect of the game. The only redeeming thing is that they get to come back to Regina. While they won, the Bombers and their fans have to stay in Winnipeg and that's a fairly harsh punishment. 

Unlike the red hot starts of the previous 3 games, the Riders started slow and were in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up. To their credit they fought hard but they never could fully pull themselves back in the game. The last 3 wins were categorized by playing well in all 3 phases. This loss was categorized by playing poorly in 2 of the 3 phases. 

Defense had their worst showing in a long time. Granted 14 of the points weren't their fault but still when you give up over 30 it means you didn't do very well. It started up front where we could not get within Nik Lewis' waist line of Nichols. I mean I get fans in the stands keeping their distance from Winnipeggers due to the smell but for the players its kinda their job. No pressure meant Nichols had all day to dissect our secondary, seemingly moving the ball at will at times through the air. We also failed to capitalize on chances for big plays. We could have had a couple picks in the first half but didn't manage to squeeze the ball.

Special teams was another area that struggled, something that hasn't happened much this year. Their returns were big, ours weren't. Their trick plays worked, ours didn't. I don't mind the calls on those onside kicks. They are high risk plays where you either look like a genius or an idiot. Saturday we were the latter. 

Offense actually played reasonably well. I mean the 2 turnovers by Glenn were a problem (neither was a great read) but we scored 4 TDs which is generally enough to win you a game when you get support in at least 1 of the other 2 phases. I liked our commitment to the run with LaFrance and thought he did well. Not the explosiveness of Marshall but a steady, reliable production. Given the success we've had against Winnipeg, I would have liked to see us test the deep routes to Carter/Roosevelt a bit more. I think we noticed the lack of Bakari Grant receptions that usually get our O going. Overall not their best outing but offense was far from the reason we lost. 

On top of failing in 2 of 3 phases, we added some coaching errors to make life more difficult. Should have challenged that PI call (or should I say the mentally forcing a player to trip over his own feet call). I get that going to the command centre is always a dice roll but that was a key point in the game. We didn't appear to have a great plan defensively to compensate for the loss of Nick James. Just too many things working against us to beat a team that played as well the Bombers. 

That said I feel the need to remind you that I said many weeks back that we needed to go a minimum of 3 and 2 in this western set to be considered a legitimate post-season chance... and we accomplished that. We are currently on the outside looking in but we are positioned to be relevant in the back half of the season. For the past 2 years we would have killed for that.

Other random thoughts:
- Bridge is definitely far above the Tino Sunseri level of back-ups but I still think if he has to play any significant time, it hurts our chances. Can we win with him? Probably. Can we dominate like in the previous 3 games? No. Given Kevin Glenn all the steroids... err I mean totally organic old man serum.

- We lost the loudest stadium thing (like I said we would) and I'm okay with it. You don't like it? Then be so loud next game that TSN has no choice but to do a rematch.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2017

Buckle up, this one could get nasty!

There’s always added intensity to Bomber/Rider games but this particular one has the makings for a nasty one. When you factor in the loudest stadium competition; the allegations of injury faking, spiting, mascot assault; some chipiness on the field; not to mention the bad taste in the Bombers mouth from getting embarrassed last game… add all that tension up and this game has potential to boil over really quick.

Fun fact the Banjo Bowl would have been called the Banjo Cup were it not for the fact that a whole generation of Bomber fans have no clue what a Cup is. They also don’t know what oral hygiene is but I digress…

The opportunity before the Riders this weekend is huge. Not only do they look to extend their winning streak and heighten their climb in the West, a win here puts the Riders 1 game back of Winnipeg but more importantly gives us the season series. The race is in the West will be tight so having the season series with both the Bombers and Lions would give our playoff aspirations a massive boost.  

As much as I love all the hype and excitement surrounding the Riders over the past month, I am still not in the “The Riders have arrived” or the “Rebuild is complete!” camp. This is by far the best I have felt about this team since 2014 but I feel the need to remind you that we have exactly 1 road win this season. And if you exclude the shellacking we put on Edmonton we have just 42 road points (15 of them coming in garbage time). Banjo Bowl is a tough one to win and I need a bit more evidence before anointing us “road warriors”.

Turnovers and a high performing offense have masked just how bad the Winnipeg defense has been this year. They have allowed the second most points and yards (second only to Hamilton), have held a team under 30 just twice in the past 7 games, and have allowed an average of 35.6 points to Western opponents. We need to capitalize on that (like we have in the first 2 meetings). Losing Marshall is a huge loss. LaFrance is an adequate fill in and we should still lean on him in the run game but he lacks that explosiveness Marshall has provided us (though I think a sprinkling of Greg Morris could help there). The big concern is pass blocking. I think it was an underrated part of Marshall’s game so hopefully LaFrance/Morris can step up there.  On the passing front, stay aggressive but not so aggressive that we give them life with turnovers. Get Carter going early, keep Roosevelt involved, mix in Grant and a little Bagg to keep them on their toes. Again, the defense gives up points in bunches, we should be able to keep that trend going.

Defensively I interested to see what happens to our pressure without Nick James. He gave us a huge boost when he arrived so others will need to step up to keep that going. Winnipeg’s O-line is very good but we need to be more disruptive on Nichols in the pocket this time around. Tackling certainly needs to be better this game. We played solid defensively but could have been even more suffocating if we’d taken guys down on first contact instead of seventh. We also need to keep being opportunistic and getting those takeaways when the opportunity presents itself as well as not letting our foot of the gas like we did late last game. You can bet LaPo will want to cram his no huddle O down our throats out of spite for the diving… err I mean totally legit but coincidentally timed injuries thing. We should probably come prepared with a back-up plan for dealing with that in case Plan A… err I mean in case those randomly occurring injuries don’t have the completely unintended consequence of slowing them down again.

The first quarter will go a long way to deciding this game. While I would love an explosion like last week that ends the game before it really begins, I don’t think we can count on that. But if we can be aggressive early and get the crowd out of it then I don’t see any reason why our current wave of success can’t continue. In our first 6 games we had a total of 22 first Q points (3.7 avg), in the last three games 54 – 3 (avg 18). We need the latter. If we let Winnipeg get an early lead and the crowd get on us then we will have an uphill battle to fight. Even if we can endure what I expect to be an early push by the Bombers and enter the 2nd quarter close score-wise then we should be good.

Based on how the Riders have been playing, I think a fourth straight Rider win is very plausible. But my gut is telling me to be wary. There are 3 ways of doing things: the easy way, the hard way and the Rider way, which is a more winding, soul crushing, rollercoaster ride version of the hard way. So as much as I see playoffs in our future, my gut tells me that rather doing it the easy way (i.e. beating Winnipeg and holding the season series), we will do the Rider way and find a far more complex route to the post-season. I see a very tight game but I think we lose a close one and come back down to earth a bit.

Bombers by a Medlock FG

I do feel compelled to mention in closing that lately my predictive powers have been on par with most weather forecasters. If there were a prophet licencing board they likely would have revoked my certification by now.  So there’s a good chance I’m wrong here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Labour Day Edition

Riders 38 - Bombers 24

All is right in the world again, the Riders won on Labour Day! The win was the team's third straight. The mythical creature known as the winning streak has returned to Saskatchewan.

The game was essentially one of the greatest opening quarters of football you'll see (unless you are the Bombers, in which case it probably could not have gone worse), followed by a pretty good 2nd quarter, followed by a second half with far too much coasting for my liking. But I'm willing to forgive that part given the outcome.

As with all our wins, it started in the trenches where we continue to play well. Offensive line gave Glenn great protection. Defensive line faced a very good Bomber OL but did good work (at least before the second half when it was a whole lot of 3 man rush). The other thing that continued was the Riders seizing opportunity. Forget to cover Roosevelt? TD. Telegraph a pass so much that Ed Gainey doesn't even have to move? INT. Leave a crease on teams? Big return for Demksi. 

It's nice to finally see the defense play consistently dominant. They allowed just one TD through 3 quarters and forced 3 turnovers. One of the big positives of landing Chris Jones was the extensive resume as a successful D Coordinator. But I think many were start to wonder if we hired the same guy because our defense has been pretty questionable during the Jones era up until now. Apparently Jones should have told Gainey he was playing like crap a long time ago because even since their talk Gainey has been on fire (and this is coming from a noted Gainey detractor). I also notice Henoc Muamba a lot this game than the rest of season. 

Offense just continues to roll. They must have noticed something on tape because they really attacked those slant routes with a lot of success. We ran the ball 10+ times. Duron continues to do Duron things. Glenn avoided his token boneheaded pass. I don't like how ineffective they were in the second half. At no point did I feel much confidence despite our big lead. We allowed the Bombers to stick just close enough rather than keeping our foot on their throats. We were fortunate our defense held a very good offense at bay.

The biggest concern coming our of that game is injuries. The Cam Marshall one looked bad. I always worry about those non-contact injuries. Losing him long term would be a big hit. Also concern about Labatte. A) he's our best OL B) I don't want an opportunity for Clark to sneak back in with the starters. Hopefully Demski isn't too bad either.

We beat our third straight West team and probably the second best team in the league at this point. This is the happiest I've been since early 2014. Let's keep it rolling.

Other random thoughts:
- Hat tip to whoever thought up the card stunt with old bench colours. That was awesome!

- Winnipeg will be louder than we were. Yeah we were loud but nothing crazy. It would have been louder had security not taken my milk jug noise maker away. Who knows what kind of anarchy I would have unleashed with that milk jug.

- So we were blatantly faking injury to slow down Winnipeg's hurry up offense. It's very dirty pool and had it been done to us I would have lost my marbles. But Chris Jones will do everything in his power to win so I guess until someone stops him from doing it, he'll probably continue.

- Can some explain to me what the F we were doing on that last series in the first half. At first I was surprised that we were throwing and not just running out the clock but then it looked like we were trying to get it into Field Goal range. So that's good. But then we don't try the FG and throw it again instead. I was very confused.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day Classic 2017

With the exception of playoffs (which have been reduced to mere myth around these parts of late), Labour Day is the most highly anticipated game on the schedule. Regardless of the records of the teams coming into the game there is always a playoff-like intensity to the game. No small accomplishment when you consider that for the better part of a decade one (if not both) of the teams came into this game with a dreadful record. This year however, for the first time since I believe 2007 both teams enter the contest playing solid football. That ’07 game turned out kinda alright so there’s reason to be excited for this match-up.

The weekend always brings an influx of Bomber fans to give added intensity to the game. I mean sure they might have hygiene practices that  make actual barnyard animals seem cleanly by comparison and sure they have romantic interests that make actual barnyard animals a bit nervous but they are generally good folks and we should welcome them… and then boo them until our lungs collapse.

There are two ways I could present the Bombers, both of which are factually accurate. 1) They are one of the hottest teams in the CFL with 5 straight wins and sit among the leaders in the West Division. 2) They have an inflated record with their only wins have come against the East, the lowly Riders and the utterly battered Eskimos… most of which were very narrow margins of victory. For me the truth lies in the middle.  I’m not ready to appoint them a new superpower in the West but, opponents aside, they have been playing very good football. Until (if?) Edmonton gets healthy they are the #2 team in the West at this point and not to be taken lightly.

Winnipeg actually lead the league in scoring… and I’m talking actual points not just with their cousins. They hung 40 on us last time so we’ve seen that firepower firsthand. It is all led by Andrew Harris. He leads the best running attack in the CFL and would be considered a damn good player even if you excluded his rushing stats and considered only what he catches. Priority 1 has to be containing him and that means sound tackling. We have to get him down on first contact and not let him rumble for more. Despite my long help belief that Matt Nichols wasn’t a great QB, he’s playing at a very high level this year and making me change my stance. He has an impressive 17/5 TD/INT ratio and just seems to have the ability to will his team to those narrow victories. As surprising as it is that the Bombers score the most, to me it’s equally surprising that the Riders allow the 2nd least points defensively. We are also allowing a league low 61.4% completion rate to opposing QBs. Our defensive resurgence has coincided with James replacing Minter and Butler replacing Lyles. Like last game it needs to start up front. Winnipeg has a good O-line but they are allowing the 3rd most sacks so they can be beat. Disrupt Nichols, take away his safety blanket in Harris and we and that will allow us to dictate the things as we have done the past 2 weeks. Weston Dressler will return so another key would be not forgetting he exists in the 3rd quarter.

Offensively we have never scored less than 37 points at home this season and we are facing a defense that allows the most points of any team that did not stupidly try to hire a controversial coach this past week. They are by no means a pushover as they have the most interceptions and second most turnovers but they can be scored on. They have allowed 30+ points 5 times this season and the only team they held under 25 was Hamilton. Once again it starts in the trenches. I expect the “no longer held back by Dan Clark” O-line to have a good game and keep Glenn upright. I would also be looking to attack the Bombers on the ground. They allow 5.2 yds per carry (2nd worst) and allow the most runs of 20+ yards. A sure-fire way to negate the pass rush and reduce odds of turnovers is let Marshall pound it. Randle and Heath are playing good on the one side of the secondary but I would not be afraid to attack the other side with Carter and Roosevelt (or Grant or Bagg for that matter). Outside of strong play in the trenches, the other must is protecting the ball. For the better part of 2 years Winnipeg has thrived on the turnover, take away those and they become a very beatable team. No easy task but we are second best in the CFL at maintaining possession. We just need Glenn to avoid his customary “what the bleep were you thinking” pass per game. I see 30 points as an almost certainty for us and just hope our defense can keep it under that.

One last thing to mention is that Winnipeg allows the most kick return yards. Given our vastly improved return game this year that may be an area to watch for a momentum changer.

Prior to last year’s loss (which I am still super bitter about for the record) I would have picked us to win even if Vince Young was our starter and his back-up was a potato (for the record I would like our odds better with the potato than Young) because we never lose on Labour Day. This year however it’s not an automatic. We’ve been proven mortal and Winnipeg is playing their best football since 2011 (a year where we embarrassed them on Labour Day by the way). I don’t expect the ass whooping we’ve seen the last 2 weeks. I expect a game befitting the name “Classic”, close, hard fought, exciting.

If my heart lasts through to the end of the game, I expect to see the Riders emerge victorious and re-establish their Labour Day superiority over our eastern neighbours (to go along with our superiority in reading levels, tooth count, and winning Grey Cups more than once every 30 years). Had we not forgotten Weston Dressler existed for 3 excruciating minutes last game or made a routine FG, the Bombers don’t beat us Game 1 and we are a vastly improved team since then. They have improved too but not enough to stop the roll we are on.

Riders by a FG (Crapigna totally redeems himself)

One last note, get LOUD! Let’s prove the full extent of the volume capabilities of our new home. Cowbells, milk jugs with pennies in them, vuvuzelas, if it makes noise, bring it! Just be warned, if you use it on offense better bring some mustard because I’ll be jamming that thing down your throat. Most important scream your lungs out. If you can can’t on Monday morning then you have failed as a fan. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Wow

Riders 54 - Esks 31

Did not see that coming!

Heading into Friday's match-up in Edmonton, a lot people (myself included) were in "prove it" mode with the Riders. Prove you can play on the road. Prove you can compete in the West. Prove the win over BC wasn't a one off. Well the Riders came out and emphatically proved all of the above with a dismantling of the Eskimos. The final score greatly flatters the Esks as they were down 40-7 heading into a 4th quarter that amounted to extended garbage time. I don't know where these Riders came from or where we have been hiding them all season but I love it!

The team did so many of the fundamental things right that had been missing in previous road games. Three things in particular really caught my eye.

1 - We dominated the trenches - Offensively we gave Glenn time in the pocket and allowed him to run the offense instead of running for his life... well ok to be fair Glenn wouldn't actually run for his life, more like slowly jog. Defensively we made life hell for Reilly.  We got consistent pressure and really disrupted the pass game. While I would never wish injury on anyone, Dan Clark getting injured may be the best thing to happen to us. Labatte has solidified the middle of that line immensely. Its an odd combo along the O-line but I would roll with it as long as they play like this. Defensively "I'm Nick James Bitch!" is looking like a great add. Steele played one of his best games as a Rider. Antigha continues to be solid. Low and behold when we get even the slightest bump in play from the rest of the line it really frees up Jefferson.

2 - We played aggressive - Previous road games saw us essentially nap through the first half and let the other team dictate the pace of play. Friday we were the aggressors. Defense was hitting and hitting like they meant it. 

3 - We seized every opportunity - In the first 6 games, we had many opportunities we let slip away. Friday we seized every one of them. Botched snap on a Reilly plunge? - recover the fumble and put it in the end zone 5 plays later. Edmonton stupidly decides to not block literally the only guy they should probably should? Blocked kick, defensive score. Missed PAT? Duron does Duron things and steals back any momentum Edmonton may have gained by returning it for 2. Think Marshall will be stopped at the 5? He takes flights and helicopters in for an amazing score. Every time we had a chance to make a play, we did. Hell we had 2 picks sixes in a 3 minute span (old man Jovon's looked like slow mo compared to Rodgers but at the important thing is that we made the plays).

As hard as it was to put much stock in one home win over BC, its equally as tough to ignore 2 dominant wins over west teams. The offense has learned to produce on the road. The defense has made more plays in the past 2 weeks than the previous year and half combined under Chris Jones. I said a few weeks back that we needed to go a minimum of 3-2 in our 5 game west set and we have put ourselves in a position were all we need is a split with Winnipeg to accomplish that and be a very relevant part of the playoff race down the back half of the season.

We now carry the momentum from 2 dominant wins into Labour Day. Man oh man will Mosaic be rockin'! Start warming up your vocal chords.

Other random thoughts:
- I still have no clue how Vernon Adams fell through that crack and converted that 3rd down plunge. You'll also be shocked to know that I hated everything about the 2 plays he randomly ran early in the game. McAdoo gonna McAdoo.

- I really liked how the offense worked the middle of the field with the passes to Bagg. They clearly found a weakness in that D (an obvious place to attack with Edmonton's 8th string LBs out there). I also like that we gave Marshall double digit touches.

- I wonder what was going through Hugh O'Neil's head has he was being pursued by all 300 pounds of Nick James on that blocked punt? "Just take the damn ball! Please don't fall on me!"

- I was super mad at Demski for that awful attempt at fielding the kick return but I feel that the hit he took on that is punishment enough.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Riders vs Edmonton: Please Don’t Suck

Tonight the Riders are in Edmonton to face the 7-1 Eskimos. The Esks are looking to rebound from their first loss of the season. The Riders are looking to prove that the BC game was not an aberration and they can actually contend with the big boys in the West. Doing that will require overcoming a bad habit they have developed this season… playing like embarrassing piles of garbage on the road.

At home we average a whopping 39 points per game. On the road we average a miniscule 13.7 including failing to score any points whatsoever in the first quarter and scoring a total of 10 first half points in 3 road games. We seem to particularly go to hell in the trenches on the road. In our last 2 road games we have given up a total of 343 rushing yards defensively and 7 sacks offensively.  Whatever the pregame rituals have been on the road (likely taking in the local nightlife) have been, they need to change.

Edmonton reminds me a lot of the 2008 Roughriders with their hot start despite an insane amount of injuries. The big difference is that they still have a franchise QB while we were reduced to relying on Michael Bishop. The Esks have shown tremendous depth to thrive despite an injury to pretty much every player not named Reilly. The bad news for us is that they seem to be getting healthy now as the likes of Zylstra and Sewell will return.

Defensively this game is all about containing Reilly… good luck with that. He leads the league’s top passing attack and is a leading candidate thus far for MOP. He is as talented on the field as his choice in hats is poor off the field. Any chance of disrupting him starts up front. If we can’t get pressure on him then we might as well just piggy back their receivers into the endzone. Our secondary needs to step up even more so this week as they won’t have the benefit of the QB launching errant throws all over the field like Jennings did. Get pressure, avoid giving up the big pass plays (which Edmonton thrives on) and try and force more FGs than TDs. Even if we play solid defense (which is no guarantee) I don’t see us keeping the Esks under 25 points.  

Defensively the Esks are anchored by the best front 4 in the CFL. Not only do they look to be getting Sewell back for this game (one of the top DTs in the game). They also are the beneficiaries of the Ti-Cats sucktitude and add John Chick. Given how well we play on the road, the prospect of facing a Chick-Sewell-Cummings-Willis front 4 is downright scary (***edit*** seems Cummings is out but it’s still an intimidating front 4). Our O-line has to step up. Our OC also needs to step and bring a game play designed to slow down that rush. Glenn needs to be rolling, using swing passes and most importantly handing the damn ball off! The Esks can be rushed on. They have the 3rd worst run defense and allow a League worst 5.6 yds/carry. We also can’t be afraid to test that secondary early. Let’s make Roosevelt and Carter earn their salary and take shots. Most importantly we need to actually start playing at kickoff. Another slow road start will kill us in this game. We need points and we need them early. I think 30 points minimum is what we are going to need to win.

A couple other random notes, our cover teams (which have been really good thus far) will have a big test trying to contain Chris Edwards. He has quietly established himself as one of the top returners so far. Discipline could also play a role in the game. We are relatively well disciplined; the Esks are about as disciplined as their head coach.

My thoughts on our chances of this game have been all over the map. A few weeks into the season I would have put our odds of victory in this one on par with Hamilton’s win total. Last week, the prospect of playing them without a lot of their big name players gave me a fair bit of hope. Then John Chick showed up and dashed that (stupid Ti-Cats!). Where I have settled is that I am in “prove it” mode. For all the excitement following the BC win I feel the need to remind you that we are an atrocious road team playing the hottest QB in the league. Sometimes it’s better not to over-complicate things.

I do expect us to actually play some competent road football and make this a competitive game. I also promise that if we do somehow win, it will allay much of the skepticism I have about our chances this season. But until they prove otherwise…

Esks by 10

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: How Far Have We Come?

Despite the fact that our position at the basement of the west division has not changed, most people will agree that the Riders are a better team than last. I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible to worse than the 2016 Riders but the Hamilton Ti-Cats have proved otherwise. Anyway, I thought I would take the opportunity over the Riders’ bye week to dig into exactly how much better the 2017 Riders are after 7 games than the 2016 Riders were.

Below is a comparison of the stats after 7 games between 2016 and 2017.

  2016 2017 Difference % Change
Wins 1 3 +2  
Points 138 197 +59 +43%
Offensive TDs 10 20 +10 +100%
Passing Yards 2057 2228 +171 +8%
Rushing Yards 463 514 +51 +11%
Sacks allowed 17 16 -1 -6%
Turnovers 15 9 -6 -40%
Points allowed 233 172 -61 -26%
Passing Yds allowed 2213 2041 -172 -8%
Rushing Yds allowed 643 678 +35 +5%
Sacks 10 15 +5 +50%
Turnovers 10 12 +2 +20%
Special Teams
Punt Return Avg 7.9 11.1 +3 +41%
Opponent Punt Ret Avg 12.8 9.4 -3 -27%
Kickoff return avg 19.5 25.5 +6 +31%
Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg 24.7 20.6 -4 -17%
Net punt avg 32.8 35.7 +3 +9%
Penalties 61 50 -11 -18%
Players Dressed 65 60 -5 -8%

The first thing that jumps out is that there is improvement in every category but 1. Some of the increases are dramatic and some are incremental but its improvement pretty much across the board. Let’s take a closer look at each category.

What stands out here is that we are actually scoring points (almost exclusively at home but that’s another topic for another day). Scoring is up 43% and we have doubled… I repeat doubled… the number of times our offense has crossed the goal line. We have also drastically decreased turnovers. The offseason focus on upgrading our O-line and receivers seems to be working.

Again, scoring is what jumps off the page here. We are allowing 26% less points that last season. Don’t get me wrong are defense still has its deficiencies (particularly in pass defense) but they are a far cry from the utter garbage we fielded last year. This may be in part to a decrease in a statistical category I didn’t track above “players converted to defensive starter from god knows what they were before”. Seems playing actual defenders has its advantages.

Special Teams
This is the one that really caught my eye. I had a general sense just from watching the games that we are playing pretty solid on special teams but I didn’t realize how much better. Our kick and punt returns are significantly better and our coverage teams are allowing smaller returns… particularly on punts.

Overall we are seeing a more disciplined team as penalties are down… as are fines (at least since the actual season started).

I think some of this improvement is a product of the last category in my table there. Unlike last year where our game roster was a constant carousel of players on and off, on route to dressing a record 100 players, this year there is a lot more stability overall. Key is the stability we are getting along the O-line and in the secondary.

Ultimately the only statistical category that matters is winning and we are still clearly the 5th best team in the West division in that regard until we prove otherwise. So while I’m hopeful, I’m not yet on the “the Riders have turned the corner” bandwagon yet. That said, I do think it’s important we take a step back and appreciate that we seem to be headed in the right direction following one of the biggest tear downs and rebuilds in recent memory. But also keep in mind that when your starting point is rock bottom, a few big steps forwards doesn’t immediately put you back on the top.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Vernon Adams and the Rider QB Situation

The Riders ensured it would not be a quiet bye when they acquired Vernon Adams and a 5th round pick in exchange for Tevaughn Campbell and two 3rd round Picks. With the possible exception of daylight savings time, there is no topic that results in as much heated debate in Saskatchewan as quarterbacks. I’m sure there were calls for Adams to be appointed starter before most people were halfway through reading the headline in the press release.

In terms of quarterback recruitment this is the biggest move Chris Jones has made to date. Up until now his QB recruiting efforts can be categorized into 3 categories: Other teams’ discards (Bryant Moniz, GJ Kinne, Mitchell Gale, Jake Waters, Brandon Bridge, Bryan Bennett), Recruits who weren’t that good (Vad Lee, Jacob Huesman, Philip Sims, BJ Coleman, Maty Mauk) and misguided attempts to revive NFL careers (Vince Young and Johnny… errr I mean totally just Vince Young). We considered a ton of options this offeason. There were discussions about Lulay, Drew Tate, Michael Vick, Vernon Adams himself and of course James Franklin. Ultimately we settled on Kevin Glenn though he is clearly just a placeholder for this season.

So now that Adams is here in the flesh what does it mean for the Rider QB situation?

Effect on the backups – Regular readers will know that I am not the biggest Bridge fan. I maintain that if he wasn’t Canadian nobody we care about him. I will admit he has shown more this season that I expected but to put this bluntly, if the Riders actually thought Bridge was the QB of the future then they don’t make this deal.  I fully expect that the arrival of Adams will mean that one of Bridge or Williams has to go (despite what the coaches have said). Personally I would like to see us keep developing Williams as we don’t yet know his ceiling but there may be logic in keeping Bridge until Adams is up to speed without offense (though knowing McAdoo had we played yesterday Adams would have been randomly inserted to run a play so that point may be moot). We didn’t give up a Canadian player and 2 picks for Adams to hold the clipboard, I’ll tell you that much. He’s now the #2.

Effect on the starter – My position has always been that Kevin Glenn is our best shot at the playoffs. So barring injury, he starts as long as we are in contention… and I mean serious contention, none of this “not mathematically eliminated” garbage. If we are not 5-5 following the Banjo Bowl, then personally I think all bets are off. When it becomes apparent that playoffs are a longshot then I say Adams becomes the starter and Glenn makes his annual appearance on the trading block as a rental player.

Effect on next year – Never say never, but this move makes it less likely that James Franklin is coming here (sorry to put a damper 2+ years of anticipation). I don’t see a scenario where we have both Adams and Franklin on the roster. I guess its possible, but like I said, unlikely. We have been trying for 2 year to strike a deal for Franklin and we may have finally decided that the asking price will never be in our acceptable range. Plus, Edmonton would way rather trade Franklin to an East team than help prop up a division opponent (unless they get a ransom for him). So in Adams we may be choosing the certainty of getting someone with a ton of potential on the roster now over taking a chance that we land Franklin in free agency where nothing is ever guaranteed. We still likely try for Franklin but at a minimum we have something to fall back on if your attempts at Franklin don’t pan out.

I’m not ready to appoint Adams the saviour of the prairies just yet but I do think he’s by far the best attempt Chris Jones has made thus far to find the next franchise QB.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Evening Sentimonies: Who was that team?

Riders 41 – Lions 8

There are a couple major concepts (that were previous damn near unfathomable) to wrap my head around in the fallout of the Riders’ blowout win on Sunday. For one, we actually beat a West team. That is a game changer as far as our chances this season goes. Equally as mind blowing, we actually played defense. And not just “good enough to win defense”. Solid, dominant defense. We also started very strong, something we tend not to do. I don’t know who it was that took the field on Sunday night but it certainly wasn’t the Riders I have been watching all season.

The offense went according to script: they play like utter garbage on the road but at home are electric. But for me this game was all about the defense. They made more plays on Sunday than I swear they made in the previous 6 games combined. Coming into this game we had forced 5 turnovers and sacked the QB just 11 times (less than 2 per game). Sunday they exploded for 7 turnovers and 4 sacks. Now I will put a caveat on all of this prior people start thinking we have finally turned the corner defensively. This was against a team with a terrible O-line, missing their most productive WR (and losing another one mid-game) and a QB who tuned in one of the worst performances of his career. Don’t get me wrong, I love that we took advantage of that and turned in a dominant performance but we have to prove that level of play can be repeated vs. just being a one off. Maybe we finally found a combination of players that work. I like Butler at HB a hell of a lot more than Lyles. Also, Moncrief turned in a great performance (minus the part where he ran out of gas 5 yards into what should have been a pick 6). He was really good in coverage all night. Have to give props to Gainey. He has been not very good this year and was drifting his way back onto my hate list but man did he make some plays. None of those picks were easy catches. As much I loved his performance, I wish he would have let Duron get that last INT. Not sure we ever would have heard then end of that. That man can do anything… Just ask him. My only negative comment about the D was that we should probably structure our roster a bit better so Carter isn’t our only back-up DB.

Offense turned in another great performance on home turf. At some point maybe we should look into why they can’t do that on the road, but I’ll focus on the positives for now. It started upfront with a solid performance from the O-line. Unlike Clark, Labatte actually has the ability to read a stunt and the middle was noticeably more sealed up. Having your top 2 OL playing out of position is not ideal but if that combo keeps working I’d be inclined to ride with it. While the defense was the biggest shock of the day, a close second for me was our commitment to the run and Marshall getting double digit carries. It’s such a key part to our O. Overall it was a good offensive game plan we had. The ball was spread around (even to Spencer Moore). Guys were getting open. Glenn was throwing well (minus that pick that was all kinds of terrible decision making). My only real knock on the O was when we went shot-gun formation twice in a row from the 1 yard line. Not going to lie, was losing my marbles in stands. Even though it worked out in the end, I still hate it.

We even played really good on teams. Christion Jones is quickly making an impact as a returner. Short of injury, I don’t see how Chad Owens makes it onto the roster. Our coverage was also pretty solid (minus a couple times).

It was surprising result but a win against the West huge, if for no other reason than to prove we can. We still have a long road ahead of us to claw us back into the playoff mix but Sunday showed that we can hang with at least one West team. The prospect of playing the road after a bye scares me still (it went so well last time) but this is by far the most optimistic I’ve been about our chance this season.

Other random thoughts:
- I still can’t believe that no Rider did anything about Ty Long being at mid-field when they came out of the tunnel. I was hoping someone would plow him but I get not wanting to do that. But at least get in his face and chirp him until he leaves. Back in the day no way guys like Kitwana or Kornegay would have let that happen. Show some pride, defend our turf.

- Riders sure mailed it in for the halftime show. They must take the same approach to being forced to work on Sunday as the rest of folks.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Riders vs. BC Lions: Let’s Try This Again

After getting embarrassed out west, the Riders will get another crack at the Lions, this time on home turf. If you were a big enough sucker for punishment to watch all of the last game, you have little reason to be hopeful for the encore. I mean even the schedule makers are against us as the Sunday night start time precludes most of us from even drinking this one pretty. There is only one thing that is prevent me from limiting today’s analysis to “We’re screwed” and ending it right there. That thing that provides me a shred of hope (that in true Rider fashion is likely to be smashed to smithereens come Sunday) is that the Riders are a completely different team at home.

Well I guess I should qualify that last statement… the Riders’ Offense is completely different at home. The defense is what it is regardless of location and what it is, isn’t all that great… but more on that later. It’s pretty obvious that all hopes in this game rest on our offense. I put the odds of our defense grinding out a close, low scoring victory right up there with the odds of the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl, I mean sure I suppose it could technically happen but... On the road our offense couldn’t find the endzone if they were placed right beside it and pushed in its general direction. They are averaging 13.7 points on the road (a figure that drops to 8.7 if you exclude the 2 garbage time TDs from Bridge). But at home, they seem to be drawn to the endzone like an O-lineman to an all you can eat buffet. 38.3 points per game at home and never less than 37 points over our 3 home games. BC’s Defense is certainly better than the previous 3 we faced at Mosaic but as I said, there is hope in this fact.

So how do we move from theory to reality in terms of a potent offense? Three pretty basic steps. #1 Keep Glenn upright. With Dan Clark out it seems that we are moving to 3 imports with Dennis moving to guard and Campbell taking over at tackle (We can debate the status of Canadian OL depth another time). We need them to step up and actually give Glenn some time. Also, if they aren’t giving them time, our OC needs try a foreign concept called adjusting and roll Glenn out to move his launch point. Or try some screens/swing passes. #2 Run the ball. I have probably written this phrase more than anything else over the past year and half. By now you would think I would have resigned myself to the fact that it is futile but I guess I’m stubborn. Our offense works best when Marshall is chewing up the yards. When he gets the minuscule 5 carries he got last week, our offense becomes 1 dimensional and predictable. #3 Stretch the field I am admittedly not the biggest Brandon Bridge cheerleader but I’ll give him credit for being smart enough to realize that throwing it deep to your playmakers once in a while is a good idea. If all you are going to do is 8 yard passes (especially on 2nd and 10) then we might as well save Roosevelt and Carter’s salary because they aren’t needed here. The famous Kevin Glenn dink and dunk only works if you occasionally stretch the field to back the defense off. I think we need 28 points minimum from our offense to have a fighting chance in this.

As for the defense… well just try not to embarrass yourselves too much. As painful as it was to watch them last week, at least they managed to force a lot of FGs. I hate being this negative but I realistically think that's the best we can hope for. Jennings will be back and I guarantee they will want to showcase what the combo of his arm and Chris Williams’ speed can do. I think we need to do 2 things to give us a chance given that my assumption is we will be giving up a lot of passing yards. First we need to not be such wussy babies in the trenches. BC’s O-line is not that good. It’s one of their few weaknesses. Rather than making them look like all-stars by sending 3 or 4 to go hug them gently for a bit, let’s attack them and expose the weakness. Minter is out which means we likely go with an all Canadian interior, not that it matters much as our interior overall is mediocre at best (certainly an issue). We need pressure on Jennings and we need him to have to throw quick. If he has time, his receivers will obliterate us. The second thing we need to do is not get bullied on the ground. This certainly starts up front but as a unit the 200 rush yards we gave up last week is an embarrassment even by our low standards. We need to plug that up.

I am maintaining my conviction that until the Riders prove otherwise, unless they are playing an East team at Mosaic then bet against them. I would love if they defied expectations. If our offense is as potent as it has been at home then I think we have a legitimate chance. But I won’t go as far as to predict victory. Possible is not probable.

BC by 10…. But the good news is I expect a first half TD from the Riders so that’s progress.