Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: When You Live By The Sword

Riders 32 - RedBlacks 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Friday the 13th

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

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

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

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

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

Riders by a Duron Carter TD

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: A Tale Of Two Halves

Riders 27 - Argos 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Riders vs. Argos: Road Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riders by a Roosevelt TD.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Finding a Way

Riders 18 - RedBlacks 17

If you thought the Hamilton win was ugly (and it was) then Friday's nail biter certainly set a new bar in that department. I mean that was so ugly that even putting a bag over its head can't make you feel any good. But here's the point I'd like to focus on... We Won! I will devote many words to detailing all my problems with that game but that is all secondary to the fact that we won. Sure it was ugly but somehow some way we overcame a ton of terrible play and a 17 point deficit on the road. Good teams find way to win and we did just that. So let's focus on the winning part. You can bet there will be a lot more adversity in our future and winning ugly will likely be a necessity again. I'm glad we are showing that we have that ability.

I am very torn on what to say about our defense following that game. I mean they did hold our opponents under 20 points for the 3rd straight game. That is impressive and has been needed giving the sudden disappearance of our offense. That said, I thought our defensive game plan was pure idiocy and despite the end result we allowed Ryan freakin' Lindley and a back-up O-line to achieve way more than they should have. Generally as a defense you try and take away the opponents strength and force them to beat you with something they aren't as good at. In this case, literally the only thing Ottawa had going for them coming into this game was Powell.  But instead of stacking the line to stop the run and sending a ton of pressure at the inexperienced QB/OL we ran that %&D%&ing 3 man rush all night. That played right into to Ottawa's hand. I don't get it. Finally in the 4th we started sending some pressure and low and behold, we locked the RedBlacks down. It should not have taken that long to make that adjustment. At no point did someone say: "That Powell guy is kinda good. Maybe we should stop him"? As I said, if a D holds then under 20 then its a job well done but we could have easily cut that in half with a quasi-logical game plan.

As for our offense, someone needs to kick them in the ass... all of them, to wake them up. They have been utter crap for the 7 straight quarters. Essentially accomplishing nothing from the second half of the Hamilton game until the 4th quarter on Friday. I get that Roosevelt is a big loss and we are also down Demski and Bailey but come one figure something out. LaFrance only had 6 carries through the first 3 quarters but why bother trying to establish the run to help your struggling pass game? I know some of it is on the players to execute but 7 straight quarters of futility means that maybe McAdoo needs to adjust his game plan and find something that will work. Maybe try getting that Rob Bagg guy involved a bit more, he seems to be alright at catching (though in saying that Bagg is essentially the new Szarka i.e. the token white Canadian we all want to see be the focal point of the offense). I'm glad that we've reached a point where we no longer need to rely on our O to win us games but 1 offensive TD won't win many games.

The saviour of the game is no doubt Christion Jones. That punt return TD (he bulk of which was just effort on his part) was undoubtedly the spark that saved the game for us. Without that we are likely lamenting losing to Ryan freakin' Lindley. He is so dangerous on returns and I'm glad to have him healthy for the late season push to the playoffs.

At the end of the day I could care less if we won by 1 rouge, won by scoring nothing but rouges or won because the game had to be called because all the footballs were gone. Winning is the #1 concern and the Riders managed that on Friday and now sit in 3rd place. 

Other Random thoughts:
- The call on the Bakari Grant fumble was brutal. Even though it benefited us it was clearly a fumble. That man needs to lose the sleeves, he has ball security issues and I think the sleeves play a big roll in that. 

- Kick coverage is once again doing a good job. Having Glenn Love back and Jeff Knox has given them a big boost.

- While Holley really didn't step up as expected, I wouldn't mind seeing more of the other Grant (aka Antwane).