Friday, September 29, 2017

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Headed East

After a short week, the Riders are in Ottawa for a Friday night match-up against the 5-8-1 RedBlacks. This is the first on a 2 week eastern road swing for the Riders and a chance to get back in the win column.

A lot a pressure will be on our offense in this one. The fact is that over the past 6 quarters (2nd half of Hamilton, plus the Calgary game) they have put together exactly 2 drives. There’s no way to describe that as anything put awful (unless of course if we were in Montreal then it would be considered a drastic improvement but I digress). The good news is that Ottawa’s defense is nowhere near as good as Calgary’s (I don’t think anyone’s is near as good as Calgary’s). The official stats would tell you that Ottawa has allowed the 2nd least points this season. While technically true, the stats are inflated by 2 of their last 4 games being against Montreal and another being played in a torrential downpour. This unit has the second least giveaways and allows the 3rd most passing yards. We should be able attack them. It starts upfront as we won’t be passing to anyone if Kevin Glenn is on his ass or Brandon Bridge is awkwardly running for his life. O-line needs to control the line of scrimmage and I think they can. We also need to help them out by actually establishing and staying committed to a run game. The RedBlacks allow 5.8 yards/carry (2nd worst in the League). We will have to wait to see if Richardson can save our run game (spoiler alert: he can’t) but LaFrance and Morris need to get a heavy workload here to ease the pressure on our line and QB. Roosevelt is predictably out but hopefully Carter will be closer to 100% because I think he could have a massive game (though out of precaution we should make sure he always lines up on the opposite side of the field as Rick Campbell). Grant and Holley will need to step up to fill the Roosevelt void. Not much about the RedBlack defense scares me. We can’t be reckless but I think our O can finally have a productive outing against them.

Defensively I could summarize my analysis with two words: Ryan Lindley. About the nicest thing I can say about his performance last week was that it was nice of Lindley to give Durant some company in the terrible play club. Lindley has as many TDs as I do. It will be his second game and the rain should be less of a factor so he probably won’t be as awful… but I don’t honestly believe Ryan Lindley poses a huge threat to our defense. Ellingson and Sinopoli are great receivers but that is predicated on Lindley’s ability to get the ball to them. Look for Ottawa to try and get William Powell (who ran for 107 yards last week) going early to take pressure off of Lindley. Priority 1 is stop the run and control the line of scrimmage. With SirVincent Rogers out they are now down 3 starting OL. We need to exploit that. If Ottawa is forced to rely on beating us through the air then they are screwed. We just held the vaunted Stampeder offense to 15 points… no reason why we can’t dominate this group (even if Drew Tate makes an appearance). Ottawa has turned the ball over the second most times this season we need to keep that going. Gainey is due for a 2 pick performance.

Short week, on the road, after a disappointing performance at home and missing one of the top offensive weapons, there is always a risk of a letdown game here. But I don’t see that happening. We were one score away from beating far and away the best team in the CFL so I expect the Riders to come out swinging and come away with a win they should have against a weaker Eastern opponent.

Riders by 10

Be forewarned, when we win I intend to using the title “Capital Punishment” in my Monday post. Patent pending for all you media types who will surely want to steal this.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mnday Mrning Sentimnies: What's missing?

Riders 9 - Stampeders 15

Regular readers will probably have glossed over the title of this post and assumed it was just one of the myriad of spelling/grammar errors that permeate this blog. In fact, it was a very clever joke. What's missing? .... The letter O was missing... the O was missing... get it?... well the joke loses some of its ingeniousness when I have to explain it like this. LEt's just assume you all think I'm witty and move on.

Sunday the Riders Defense played one of their best games of the season. They allowed 0 TDs, just 15 points and forced 2 turnovers against one of the best Offenses in the League all while losing the time of possession battle by 10 minutes and spending a ton of time on the field. It was an incredible effort. Unfortunately timing was not on their side as they timed this great effort with an absolute dud of an offensive performance. For the first 55 minutes they did nothing and it was too little, too late when they finally decided to be useful. Though in true Rider fashion they did just enough to get our hopes up before dashing them. 

Give credit where credit it due, the Stamps are far and away the best defense in the league for a reason. That said, in the freakin' CFL where every rule favours the offense, to not must even a solitary rouge on offense in 55 minutes is an embarrassment. Yet again we had not ability to deal with the pressure and didn't seem inclined to call plays that would compensate for that save for that outside run to Morris that went for 9 yards and we never went back to and that screen to LaFrance that was called back on penalty. Loosing Roosevelt certainly hurt us and Carter was clearly not running at 100% (plus had one of his head not in the game games) and saw a ton of Tommie Campbell. So that meant we essentially spend the day trying to mount a passing attack with Grant, Holley, Bagg and Bailey against the top D in the League. It didn't work. We were super close to a couple big plays but close doesn't count for anything... except when it comes to restraining orders, trust me on that one.

Special teams had a really good day in coverage. Bartel had one of his best days punting this season and our cover teams filled in the rest. Returns were a different story. Jones went too much east-west for my liking and we ran into the kicker a couple times... only once according to the refs. 

As I expected we went toe to toe with the best and stood our ground but spend too much time idle on offense and made too many mistakes to beat a team as good as the Stamps. This was a defensive performance we can be proud of and build on... and an offensive performance that was a lot like my love making abilities, too late in getting started and once it does, over before anything really productive happened. Gotta regroup and get back at it in a short week.

Other random thoughts:
- During the usual chorus of boos that serenade the introduction of Proulx as the ref, I strongly defended him saying he's one of the best refs in the league. He proceeded to screw up the coin toss thus totally disarming my defense of him.

- As nasty as it was (haven't seen a guy that motionless for that long in a long time), I don't think there was intent on the defender to head shot Roosevelt (it certainly wasn't as bad as the Awe hits). That said, if you are serious about player safety, those are the type of hits our need to get out of the game. 

-  I don't mind the fake punt call but the execution was atrocious. When a play is based entirely on the element of surprise, Adams can't stand there and let the defense adjust before snapping the ball. 

- Said it last week and I'll say it again. Bridge is a terrible and awkward scrambler. He does not look natural at all at it. I don't using his legs to roll out and extend plays but he sucks at actually running. Hopefully he will think twice about trying to jump over people. Of the 3 times I've seen him do it, one went for a TD, one the ball was fumbled out of bounds and one he got pounded. Not a great success ratio.

- Those 2 breakups Butler had on those screens were outstanding defense.

- Its a good thing I've curtailed my gambling because if you had told me we were going to hold the Stamps to 15 points and no TDs I would have bet my house, kids' college fund and kidney on a Rider win.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Riders vs. Stampeders: Back Home

Sunday the Riders return home for an afternoon match-up against the lead leading Stampeders.

Calgary is good (just another example of the quality analysis you’ve come to expect from this blog). How good? They’ve lost 1 game (to Montreal of all freakin’ teams). Their offense has scored the 2nd most points and turned the ball over the least and it features a wall of protection so good that it’s drawing Trump’s interest. The O-line has allowed just 12 sacks all year (QBs like Reilly and Jennings would kill for that kind of protection). But as impressive as the offense is, I think the defense is backbone of that team. They are allowing a microscopic 17 offensive points per game and force the most turnovers. Since losing to Montreal (which I still don’t comprehend) they haven’t allowed more than 25 points and held teams under 20 points on 6 of 8 occasions. Throw in the most dangerous returner in Roy Finch and a rock solid kicking game and you have a team that can (and has been) dominating in all 3 phases. The only real knock on them is their inability to win with some class (got your back on this once Coach Jones).

But you probably didn’t come here to listen to me extoll the virtues of the Stamps. In fact, I feel dirty going this long without saying something disparaging about them. So let’s get to how the Riders can contend with the top team in the league.

The bad news is Calgary embarrassed us last time. The good news is we plan infinitely better at home. We have never scored less than 37 points at home and our lone home loss came in overtime. Very promising to hear that Glenn and Labatte are good to go and that Carter is probable. We will need all our offensive weapons if we are going to contend with the stingy Stamps D. First and foremost we need to establish a ground game. If McAdoo slips into one off his “pass on every play” phases, we will become one dimensional and the Stamps will eat us alive (hopefully just figuratively). Last game I believe the technical term for our play in the trenches was “sucked utter balls”. We can’t let that happen again. You can bet Dennis is eager to get another chance after getting embarrassed back in July. When it comes to passing we will have to be patient and get creative. Assuming Carter plays, I expect he will see a whole lot of Tommie Campbell. That means our other receivers will need to step up and do the heavy lifting. That said, we shouldn’t be afraid to take shots to Carter occasionally. He will catch it, just ask him. We need to limit turnover and keep Glenn upright. Offense will have a tough enough job without negative plays further digging us a whole.

Defensively, a big key will be not having half the defense go down to injury (more solid analysis that you won’t find anywhere else). Our D gave a valiant effort last week but I have a feeling that Dave Dickenson will be a bit more adept at exploiting Hecht and Radford should they find themselves among our starting defenders than June Jones was (Dickenson > June Jones, the top notch analysis by me has no end). The Calgary O is a lot like a used mini-van: not much to look at, doesn’t have that wow factor, but will get you where you need to go. Their recipe is simple give Mitchell time (he enjoys a level of protection that most world leaders don’t), don’t turn the ball over (league low 11 turnovers), stay committed to the run (though the possible absence of Messams could greatly impact that) and be opportunistic when chances for big passes come up. Best way to combat that starts up front. Much like our O-line, our D-line was embarrassed in Calgary. We need to win in the trenches to limit the run and force Mitchell to throw without the benefit of enough time to do the Sunday Crossword. There is a chance one or both of Kamar Jorden and DaVaris Daniels could play which improves the Stamp pass attack. Though assuming Foster can last a full game, we have the talent to compete with them with him Johnson, and Gainey (who in following with his trend will get 0 INTs and then 2-3 next week). I don’t see us hanging our usual 38 on the Stamp D so our D will need keep them under 25 points for us to have a legit shot.

Special Teams could also be a big factor and I’m not just talking about the famed running ability of Rob Maver. Roy Finch has been lethal in returns. Early in the year our kick coverage was top notch but that has been visibly slipping of late. Hopefully additions like Knox, Bouka and Brouillette will help shore that up because we can’t afford the give big plays to Finch. I personally suggest that Brouilette (who will continue to practice law) threaten to sue Finch if he has a gain over 20 yards. That’s the kind of out of the box thinking we need to topple the mighty Stamps.

Realistically we should be targeting a minimum of 10 wins to get into the playoffs. That means going 4-3 over our remaining games. More specifically that translates to going 3-1 against out eastern opponents and 1-2 against the west. Should be pretty doable. This match-up is second only to our road game in Calgary next months in terms of the toughest games we have left. So it probably won’t surprise you to hear I’m skeptical about our chances in this one. We are a powerhouse at home so I don’t see Calgary bending us over like they did back in July. That said, I have yet to see a reason to doubt Calgary. They are strong in every phase of the game. It will take 60 full minutes of our very best ball to beat them. Thus far even in our wins, I have seen stretches of the game where we don’t play our best. It will be a close game and we will go toe to toe with them until the end but…

Stamps by a Marken Mitchel TD late in the 4th.

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.