Friday, November 17, 2017

Riders vs. Argos: East Final


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

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

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

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

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

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

Riders by a Duron TD.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Gettin' Thiggy With It

Riders 31 - RedBlacks 20

One down, two to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Crezdon Butler is a hell of a player

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Riders vs. RedBlacks: East Semi Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

SASKATCHEWAN IN LIVING COLOUR

Below is a guest article written by Terry Ott
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SASKATCHEWAN IN LIVING COLOUR
Roughriders Played In First Two Grey Cups Televised in Colour

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

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

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

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

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

Colour sets back in the mid 60s were mostly tube affairs and they generally needed a whole bunch of TLC to maintain colour saturation, tint, and contrast with adjustment usually having to be made even when changing channels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTXa109ajXI

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

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

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

But look closely at the broadcast-and it is very good fortune that a colour video tape survived because back in the day, colour tape was expensive and networks routinely recycled it, making this '66 copy a rare one-and you will note that as the game wears on and the cloudy, rainy day adds to the lack of light at Empire,and you will see the "colour" start to turn towards a low  saturation  even with the stadium's lights on. To say nothing of the replays, that were offered only in black and white.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YsR1rDdy8E

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

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

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

Unfortunately,the Riders' 24-1 upset loss telecast by the CBC/CTV has apparently not been preserved on colour videotape-as evidenced by all versions leaked to YouTube so far-and only this package of film highlites captures the game in colour. (Advance to 1 hour, 4 minutes to view:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S43orMLAL0I) Hopefully, a colour 1967 Grey Cup videotape will surface at some point.

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


Terry Ott is a Hamilton based freelancer who has written on the CFL since 1997.
He can be reached at tjo55@yahoo.com

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Eastbound and Down

Riders 13 - Eskimos 28

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

Anyway back to football...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Rider vs. Eskimos: The Battle For Third

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

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

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

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

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

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

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