Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Embarrassing

Riders 0 - Bombers 31

Not sure how that could have gone worse short of Chris Jones getting caught making anti-semitic comments on camera. Look, I expected the Riders to lose on Saturday. It was a short week. We were banged up and missing guys. And the Bombers (who are no slouches) needed it way more than us. So the fact that we lost was not surprising. The fact that we showed absolutely no fight, effort, or knowledge of which direction the endzone was did surprise me. It was so bad that I can only assume Chris Jones spent his post game speech channeling his inner hockey coach from Letterkenny and knocking garbage cans around while yelling "F&$*$^*# Embarrassing!"

Now let me preface my comments on the game with the following. The loss sucked but this is not Armageddon (save us Bruce Willis). We still have the second most wins in the CFL. We still are 1 win away from a home playoff game. We are still heading to the playoffs. I know that standard practice in Riderville is bounce wildly from planning the parade route to sharpening our pitchforks and calling for everyone including maintenance staff to be fired but let's all just breathe a bit.

Ok, with that out of the way let's detail how craptacular that game was.

Zach Collaros must have contracted the severe case of the sucks that Nichols had on his last trip to Winnipeg because man he was awful. I get that he actually made some good throws only for the receivers to screw things up but he was awful. Maybe he needs glasses or maybe the last hit to his head caused colour blindness but he seems oblivious to opposing DBs. He wasn't the only one sucking. Kyran Moore had a brutal game. Marcus Thigpen played like he wanted to be anywhere but there. He actively avoided contact and his pass blocking was really just gentle touches as he backed out of harms way. Holley was awful. Shaw is inconsistent. What you saw was an offense that is not very good to begin with missing their best 2 receivers and using a patchwork O-line. It's been so long since we found the endzone that the last time we did the Argos were still in the playoff hunt; Cleveland beer fridges were still locked; Capital Point was still on schedule; shall I go on? We don't need much from out O but we do need something. Saturday they weren't even up to those low standards. If only we employed someone whose sole job it was to ensure our team produces offensive points? Oh wait, we do. I hope he's paid by the TD.

With the exception of that long Adams TD I thought the defense actually did pretty well in the beginning given how their O was actively working against them. Eventually they did succumb to the general lack of effort of the whole team but given the injuries they faced and the fact that they had overcome not just their opponents but also their own offense I'd say they did alright (that's the closest I'll come to a compliment)

This is the kind of game that you let sink in just long enough to humble you and then burn the tape and move on to the next challenge. As I said, the loss is not as doom and gloom as some would lead you to believe. For me, the bigger concern are the injuries to Bladek and Brooks. Both of which sound serious. Suddenly that trade for Blake becomes so much more important.

Would love to see Jones channel his inner Belichek and say "We're on to Calgary"

Other Random thoughts:
- Brandon Bridge is more awkward than a sex talk with your parents. I'm also sick of hearing about his athleticism. He runs like a baby deer learning to walk and accomplishes nothing in the process. How is that "athleticism" worth gushing about?

- Alexandre Gagne is a good special teamer.

- I'll end on a lighter note. I learned something amazing last week and anyone who follows me on Twitter will know what I'm talking about . The twitter world seemed blown away by this so I'll share it with anyone who might have missed it.

Gainer is an anagram of Regina.

I know... Mind Blown!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Riders vs. Bombers: Tough Road Trip

Saturday the 10-5 Riders head to Loserpeg for their 3rd and final meeting of the year with the 8-7 Bombers. I’ve had this game circled on my calendar for a while and not in a good way. Having to travel to Winnipeg on 5 days rest is by far the toughest turnaround on our 2018 schedule. We already wrapped up the season series… well more correctly speaking, Matt Nichols already gift wrapped us the season series with his dreadful Banjo Bowl performance. The Riders need just 1 win over their final 3 (along with 1 BC loss) to clinch a home playoff date. The Bombers could still conceivably finish out of the playoffs and damn if it wouldn’t feel good to play a role in that. The Riders are on a roll having won 7 of their last 8 and 3 in a row. Though for context remember that our last 3 games have come against 2 teams not making the playoffs and 1 team playing like they don’t want to make the playoffs. None of them were convincing wins.

Let’s start with the defense, those glorious game saving bastards. This will be a stiff test for them as Winnipeg remains the most productive offense in the league. In fact they have scored twice as many offensive TDs as we have (yet somehow turned that into 2 less wins). I expect 2 things to be very different from the Banjo Bowl. First, Matt Nichols is not current in the midst of a mental breakdown and is unlikely to serve up 2 pick 6s (Though if I am Willie Jefferson I would be waving my arms all game seeing if it gives Nichols PTSD). Since his Banjo Bowl meltdown Nichols has been improving. Turnovers are down, completion % is up. But he’s still not doing anything spectacular. Averaging just 233 yards per game and he faced 2 not great defenses. The other difference from last meeting, which I think will have a far great impact is Weston Dressler. The Winnipeg O really seems to struggle when Dressler is out. He is a reliable chain mover that they didn’t have last meeting (UPDATE: Looks as though Dressler may not play now). Priority 1 remains the same: contain Harris. They are 2-6 when he doesn’t get 18 touches. I would gladly take the chance that Nichols wins the game with his arm and focus more effort on stopping Harris. Get pressure on Nichols (because he seems to hold up to pressure about as well as a Styrofoam plate) and take away the underneath stuff. Only one QB is worse than Nichols on the deep ball (and that’s the recently benched Bethel-Thompson). Let’s not make life easy on him. Winnipeg turns the ball over 3rd most in the league and we will need a few of those to have a chance in this.

Offense… I honestly don’t know what to expect. Maybe someone should tell them that the mid-field stripe is not the endzone. We seem to move the ball fine out of our zone but stop abruptly upon hitting the opposing side of the field. This isn’t half-court basketball. One thing for sure is that we need a run game. We had none on Monday and seemed to have no interest in trying (it was like McAdoo circa 2017). Collaros has a slight tendency to throw picks and Winnipeg is a very opportunistic D. Without a run game to take the pressure of Collaros and the pass game we are screwed. Receivers have quickly become a MASH unit. Roosevelt and Lambert are out. Moore is banged up but looking promising. Thank god Stanford was shipped out of town or Collaros might think about trying to pass to him again. Caleb Holley looks to return and he better play like 2016-17 Holley because 2018 Holley (pre-injury) was not very good. We need to lean on Thigpen (which I doubt we do) and we need Kenny Shaw to step up (which is possible). O-line will have their first big shuffle since we realized that Harrison was god awful (yet somehow deemed better than Bond in camp). Labatte to centre and then one of Blake, St John or Vaughn to guard. Regular readers (and those with functional eyesight) will know that I think Labatte is a far better centre than Clark (well pretty much better anything but TD catcher). Be interesting to see how they adjust to the shuffle. With all the injuries and the short week I’m honestly expecting next to nothing from our O (so the usual). Best I’m hoping for is limit the turnovers and hope the D can bail us out.

Want some stats to support the Riders’ chances of winning?
-       The Bombers are a woeful 2-5 against West teams (worst in the west)
-       The Riders are 5-2 against the West (no one has more west victories)
-       The Riders are also 5-2 on the road.

Want some stats to support the Bombers’ chances of winning?
-       We are shuffling on offense due to injury
-       We are playing on 5 days rest. They are not.

I think the Riders are capable of winning this game but I do not think it is likely. We are good in close games (mainly because all we really do is close games) , the Bombers are not so if we can keep it close we have a chance. It will take a TD on either D or Special Teams (which we are capable of) and grinding it out on D (which have also been known to do). But again I would say us winning is possible but not probably. The short week plus travel proves too much to overcome.

Bombers by 10

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies:

Riders 19 - Eskimos 12

Happy Thanksgiving to all... well except those from Edmonton. Not a great day for those people. But for the rest of us, it was a great day. Well, more specifically it was a not so great day with an ending that made up for the rest of it. But as long as we keep going home happy I'm not about to complain about the rest of it.

We've been wondering for 3 weeks where our dominant defense was. Well Monday they came storming back with authority. 5 sacks, 3 INTs, less than 50% completion, zero TDs allowed and a massive pick six from Big Willie High Stepper himself. They were dominant in this game and it was only because of their effort that we managed to win despite struggling in the other 2 phases of the game. In the 4th quarter with our hopes waning they pitched a shutout and added the aforementioned TD. A lot of things did not go well for the Riders on Monday but defense was not one of them. I'll forgive them the couple stupid penalties they took because they more than made up for it. I don't like having to rely this heavily on the D but its a hell of a feeling knowing we have a D capable of putting a whole team on its shoulder and willing it to victory.

I was cautioning people who were getting excited about our re-surging offense after the past 2 weeks. What you saw was what happens when we play a team not currently eliminated from the playoffs (though its not looking great for Maas and crew at this point). We had absolutely no run game or push up the middle. Mason's longest run was 5 yards. Not sure why we didn't try running Thiggy outside but far be it from me to question the genius of McAdoo and his close to record low number of offensive TDs. Collaros was not terrible (minus that pick). If Kenny Shaw could catch Collaros would have had a TD. If we hadn't taken a useless holding penalty on Marshall's long run we may have had another. We just could not get out of our own way. I was a huge huge fan of the absence of Stanford in the offense. Though new Getzlaf (Brian Jones) is not that much of an improvement.

Brett Lauther proved to be human, missing 2 key FGs that would likely have been a far bigger deal had Willie not saved the day. Bartel also had a couple bad kicks. Overall special teams did not have a great day. We have proven we can win games on defense and special teams. Makes it a lot harder when only one of those shows up.

We failed to score an offensive TD, we missed 2 FGs, took over 100 yards in penalties and still emerged with a win. That's been the Riders' style this year. I can think of no more fitting way for us to hit double digit wins and book our playoff spot. The win maintains our 2 game lead for a home playoff game. We also managed to tie Edmonton in the season series. The next tie breaker should it come down to it is winning percentage in West division games. At this point we win that. Essentially we are a win away from a home playoff game. That should have us all high stepping like Willie.

Other random thoughts:
- The turkey sack celebration is among my favourites. Gobble, gobble.

- Not sure if it was just my perception but Devon Bailey often looked lost pre-snap, with people constantly having to direct him.

- If you get sacked by Sam Hurl you should hang your head in shame.

- There were no less than 4 trains during the game. Whoever schedules trains at CP must hate the Riders. 

- I don't get this world. When Andre Proulx gets announced as ref there is a chorus of boos even though he is a good ref. When Al Bradbury announced as ref their is silence despite the fact that he is far far worse than Proulx. Get your hatreds right people!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Riders vs. Eskimos: Liberty Bird and Football

Remember back in the post 9/11 era when the US was so angry at countries that wouldn’t support them that they encouraged people to stop using those country’s names in food? French Fries became Freedom Fries. Turkey became Liberty Bird. This is the kind of quality useless information I have floating around in my brain. I could use that space for things like learning a new skill or remembering my anniversary but instead I use it for things like liberty bird, Simpsons quotes and Intercontinental champions of the early 90s. I’m good with my choice. By the way if the current US administration tried a campaign to rename food/drinks for political reasons would that make Black Russian a "Bad Guy Ally"? OK enough of my poor attempts at political satire. Onto the game.

This is a big one. Bigger than the obligatory turkey TSN will show between Rob Black and Duane Forde as Black lamely comments about Forde eating the whole thing. A victory puts us 3 games up on Edmonton. A victory of 8 points or more means that Edmonton is guaranteed to finish below us in the standings and leaves us 1 win away from clinching a home playoff game. A loss drops us right back into the middle of an “anything can happen” scenario in the west. We have built up some breathing room, it would be nice to keep it.

Our defense really needs a bounce back game. I get that they allowed less than 200 yards in Montreal but they have been okay at best over the past 3 games. Definitely not dominant. And dominant is what you need if you want to take down Mike Reilly. He leads every pretty much offensive statistic. But as good as he is, he’s been struggling of late.  After starting 5-2 the Esks have dropped 5 of 7 since. Reilly threw 6 INTs through the first 7 games but 5 INTs in just the last 4 games. The last 2 games have been especially brutal: 1 TD to 3 INTs; shut out in 5 out of 8 quarters with just 18 total points. To their credit the Esks have taken the appropriate remedial steps and fired their Special Teams Coordinator. Its his fault their O-line has allowed the 3rd most sacks, its his fault the Esks have turned the ball over more than any team. With the headset and Gatorade jug having already taken the fall, Jason Maas needed a new scapegoat. Its unclear at this point if Duke Williams plays. If he doesn’t a massive hole for an already struggling unit. If Duke sits, between him and Walker that 18 TDs and 2200 yards gone… or put differently, over 50% of Reilly’s production.

We need to dominate the line of scrimmage in this one. Take away the run and put Reilly under duress. We also need to stay disciplined in the secondary. We’ve had too many busts of late. I like a lot of Matt Elam’s skillset but man coverage is not his strong point. I’d rather him at safety or LB if Butler or Purifoy are healthy enough to check back in. Last week, we broke Hughes’ sack slump. This week we break out of our turnover slump. I’m guessing 2, one of which goes for a TD. In our last meeting, we held Reilly to 257 yards and that was with Derel Walker playing. The D should feed off the home crowd and have a performance like what we’ve come to expect from this group. Reilly will make some plays and keep things close because that’s what he does but I expect the D to come out on top.

Offensively, hopes are running high after a 4 TD performance in Montreal. As much as I’d like to believe that was the turning point for the offense, I’m not yet convinced. If they can produce against a team with a chance of making the playoffs I’ll start to believe. Here’s the good news though… Edmonton’s defense is the 3rd worst in the CFL behind only Montreal and Toronto (not great company to be in at this point). Two places I think we can attack them with some success. First is on the ground. Esks allow 5.5 yards per rush, second worst in the league. Keep Mason running hard and mix in some Thiggy. The second one goes against my better judgement to suggest but its chucking it deep. Esks have allowed the most pass plays of 30+ yards. Also, Collaros actually has been very good at the deep ball of late. His deep completion % is better than Reilly and Mitchell (he’s second among starting QBs). This of course requires Shaq Evans to continue playing not like Shaq Evans. It requires targeting Lambert and Moore. It requires not even thinking about targeting Stanford. Not sure at this point if Shaw stays in or if Roosevelt returns (likely Shaw) but either provide Collaros another quality passing option. The key though is balance. He can’t just rely solely on the deep ball (that’s some of the Esk O's issue this season). We had great success in Montreal because we exploited some short slants. We need to find some underneath completions to open up the deep shots. As much as I think our D will step up, you need to be prepared for the possibility of a shootout anytime you play Reilly. A few weeks ago I would have laughed/wept at our chances in that scenario. Now I’m cautiously optimistic.

Special teams will likely play a factor. As much as I joke about the Esks Special Teams Coordinator being a scapegoat, they do rank dead last in average return yards so its not like the firing was completely without merit. You can bet the new guy will throw some wrinkles at us. Given that we have allowed 3 kick return TDs this season there is some concern. Need to play solid in this phase if we want to win.

I hope the magnitude of this opportunity is not lost on the team. Our remaining schedule is brutal. After this we have a road game in Winnipeg on 5 days rest. A road game in Calgary. And a home game against a BC team that is not about to go down without a fight. This is actually one of the best chances we have at a win left. A loss is not devastating but a win is huge.

Struggling or not, Edmonton is a tough opponent. Plus there’s that whole “the Riders never do things the easy way” thing. Here’s 2 stats that reinforce for me the way I think this game will go. The Esks are 2-5 on the road with their only road wins coming in Chris Streveler’s first ever game (and just barely) and in Montreal. Also, the Esks have been horrendous in the 4th quarter. In the past 5 games they have been shutout in all but one 4th quarter and produced a solitary FG in the other. I like us at home and I like our ability to find ways to win (no matter how ridiculous or improbable) over Meltdown Maas and his 4th quarter futility.

Riders by a Lauther FG

Bonus Stat I could not fit into this write up:
The Eskimos have scored just 4 more points than the Riders in 2018. Sure our stats are padded by 12 return TDs but I still found that crazy.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Not How I Saw That Going

Riders 34 - Als 29

If time machines existed and I could go back and have conversation with myself on Friday here's how it would go:
Me: So do you want to know how the game goes?
Past me: I don't know. Do I?
Me: Well I won't ruin it but I will tell you that we allow Manziel to pass for 2 TDs.
Past me: That's not good. But our defense scores right?
Me: No
Past Me: Special Teams?
Me: No. In fact the Riders will need to rely on their offense to win the game.
Past me: Well $^%&&*
Me: Specifically they will need to score 4 offensive TDs or we lose.
Past me (openly weeping): I'll bet everything I have against the Riders
Me: You really shouldn't bet with a guy who has seen to future.
Past me: You might be right. OK before I bet you, do we win the turnover battle?
Me: No we lose that 2-0
Past me: Double or nothing on the Alouettes

Having watched every Rider game of 2018 I'd have to say that my biggest takeaway is that its a good thing that football is not a judged event where things like technical ability and artistic merit matter. But as you can tell from one look at Chris Jones' wardrobe, he cares not for things like style. He cares only for winning. Sunday was yet another chapter in the "well, at least they won" season the Riders have been having.It wasn't pretty. It made me curse more than I'd like to at my TV but I'll take a win however we can get it.

In a surprising turn of events I will start by criticizing our defense followed by complimenting our D. It's like Bizzaro World. For the 3rd straight game our D was unimpressive to say the least. Sure they got 5 sacks but against a line as awful as Montreal that is pretty much a given. Kinda like getting $200 for passing Go. No turnovers and way too many lapses in coverage and missed tackles. I get that you don't necessarily game plan for a double reverse flea flicker but as the safety in the play Elam needs to not let people behind him. Then on the second TD Jovon blitzed and nobody bothered picking up the WR he was on in coverage. I can't say for sure but again it looked like Elam who erred. Either way it was a continuing string of not great defense and that's concerning when you look at the teams remaining on our schedule. I'm glad our O was finally able to do a favour for the D but if you are counting on that happening many more times then you are a worse gambler than past me in the fictitious scenario above. Jones needs to get things figured out.

Offense... WOW! Now it was against a really bad team but still it was an impressive showing especially when you consider our best WR didn't play. It was looking like it was going to be the day where everyone I have repeatedly pointed out never scores gets a TD. Mason, Moore... hell Evans even almost snuck in. I really felt our WRs stepped up in this one. Kyran Moore is an impact player and he has only played a handful of games. Evans picked a great day to not play like Shaq Evans. Even Kenny Shaw contributed in a very Bakari Grant-like role. The only downside was Josh Stanford. Repeat this with me again people "Nothing good happens when you target Josh Stanford". How has no one on our team figured that out yet?!? Collaros still had his miscues but overall played a solid game. That TD pass to Moore was more luck than anything. He realistically threw into triple coverage and was actually targeting Lambert. He completed 70% of his passes (and his WRs dropped a couple) produced 4 TDs (unheard of this season). What I like was the final FG drive. He got the ball on our 29 with a 2 point lead and 8 minutes on the clock. He managed to drive the ball 66 yards while taking 4 minutes off the clock. Sure a TD would have been a better end than an FG but that was a big time drive for an offense that has been struggling. I also need to compliment McAdoo for half decent play calling (I'm as shocked at this turn of events as you are). We actually had a short passing game that wasn't screen-based. Those quick inside slants were open all day and we kept exploiting that. We needed our O and for once they stepped up and helped carry the rest of the team. Let's not lose sight of how bad their opponent was but let's also focus on the positives here.

I've written this so many times its starting to get worn out but... in the end we won and that's all that matters. I was mildly concerned for a while that I was going to have to type a post about losing for a second type to Montreal. It was mostly going to be profanity and diagrams that would warrant a PG-13 rating. Fortunately the Riders found another way to win.

The win gives us a 2 game lead over Edmonton and 3 games over Winnipeg (since we have the tie-breaker) with 4 games to go. Its a rough 4 with every western opponent on tap and 2 tough road games but we control our own destiny for a home playoff game. An 8 point win over Edmonton on Thanksgiving Monday would leave the magic number at 1 to clinch. I won't lie, I did not expect a home playoff game this year so I'm pretty pumped that its a real possibility.

Other Random Thoughts:
- Seriously Chip Cox? You got dragged for double digits yards by one of the smallest guys on our team? Hang your head in shame.

- Tre Mason did the real life equivalent of a double jump on that play he went airborne. I still hate, hate, hate shotgun on third and one.

- I do wonder what Manziel could do with a competent GM, Coaching, O-line, Receivers.

- I big part of me was hoping Jefferson was going to pick off Manziel. You just know he would have been high stepping at the fifty yard line while making the money sign.

- 4 Tds?!? Still doesn't seem real.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Riders vs. Alouettes: Le Revenge

Sunday the Riders travel to La Belle Provence to face the Alouettes. Normally when we face an opponent that is in an embarrassing state of disarray as the Als are I would spend a large portion of this write-up pointing out and making repeated fun of all their faults. I mean I could probably do a couple pages on the wonders of Kavis Reed’s leadership alone. But alas, I can’t really bring myself to do this for the simple fact that… we’ve lost to this dumpster fire, at home. It was a long time ago and I think we’ve made strides as a team since then but still, it’s a thorn in my side.

Plain and simple this is a game we need to win and should win. We are in the driver’s seat for 2nd in the West while they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a 4th straight season (a near statistical impossibility in a 9 team league). The sad part is that they don’t even get to benefit from their futility as they don’t have a 1st round draft pick FOR THE NEXT 3 YEARS. I know the Riders aren’t big on doing things the easy way (see last week) but this is the easiest game remaining on our schedule and we need every win we can get in what will surely be a dog fight in the west down the stretch.

Its no secret that our defense has had its struggles of late. By no means has it been playing terrible football but its not been playing the dominant kind of defense we grew accustomed to and quite frankly need. Well this game is a golden opportunity for them to re-establish their dominance. The Als’ offense is awful. How awful you ask? Worse than the Riders. Yes, that awful. They have scored less offensive TDs than us, have the least yards, the least points, most INTs thrown. While many will point the finger squarely at Johnny Manziel, for me, the core of their problem starts with their O-line. It is god awful. They would probably be better off starting cardboard cut-outs of other famous O-linemen then their current group. One could point to the fact that Kavis Reed traded away a stud Canadian guard in Ryan Bomber for an import DB, or the fact that after acquiring Landon Rice as part of he Manziel trade they cut him and he proceeded to sign back with Hamilton as possible factors in the state of the Montreal O-line but who am I to questions Kavis Reed’s forensics. They have already allowed 48 sacks. For context, last season the Lions allowed the most sacks all year with 49. The Riders have allowed 14 sacks the season, the Als allowed 17 IN THE PAST 3 GAMES! Its been a while since Charleston Hughes notched a sack but I guarantee that ends on Saturday. Anything less than 5 sacks against the Als should be considered a disappointment by our D.

Two things to be weary of with the Als O. One is William Stanback. He has an impressive 6.4 yards per carry and is one of the few bright spots in Montreal. No one runs less than the Als so its not a massive concern but we need to limit his impact when he has the ball. The other thing is the scrambling/improvisation of Manziel. He’s a guy that if you can keep in the pocket and make him beat you with his arms… especially in that offense, and especially behind that line, he will crumble. The front 7 need to assert their dominance in this one and I expect them to. This is an offense that averages under 17 point per game, I like our odds of keeping them under that. 

As for our offense, well let’s just say I’m not nearly as optimistic. The big news is that we are resting Roosevelt thus taking one of the 3 people who have actually crossed the goal line out of our offense. Kenny Shaw steps in which could be a good thing is he’s anything close to his Argo days but who knows. That leaves Josh Stanford as our most experienced WR… let that sink and fill you with a sense of dread. I would play Rob Bagg if it was up to me to add some veteran presence to the receivers but I doubt we do. With Roosevelt out that means we need to lean on Thigpen, Williams-Lambert and Kyran Moore (in that order). Pound Mason to keep the D honest but make sure Thiggy is involved early and often (note to Steve McAdoo: those 2 concepts are not mutually exclusive). He can turn any play into a TD. In the passing game Lambert becomes your go to guy (please not Evans or Stanford) and Kyran Moore needs to be kept involved because he too has the speed to turn any play into 6. Montreal is not a very good defense: 2nd most points allowed, most yards allowed, least takeaways. They have been playing somewhat better in recent weeks, though that is relative to the utter awfulness of the start of the season. Collaros needs to limit his INTs. Montreal has 21 points off the league low 20 turnovers they’ve forced (that's an amaing 1 point per turnover) so if there was ever an opponent for him to get his groove back its this week. It would be nice to see 3 TDs again but more realistically I’ll settle for 2 TDs and doing something of value in the second half leading to Lauther kicking FGs in the 40 yard range. If we can sustain drives, that defense will tire out as the game goes on and their offense offers no support.

Montreal has always been a tough place for the Riders (can’t imagine what there could possibly be to distract you there). We are actually 1-5 in our last 6 visits to McGill Stadium. So we can’t afford to look past this game. The good news is that the Alouettes themselves are 1-10 in their last 11 visits to McGill stadium. Based on our season so far its tough to be hugely confident in the Riders even in a game like this but I just don’t see us losing this game. Our defense should be able to win this game by themselves. I don’t expect a lopsided beat down because we don’t do things the easy way but I do expect a win that does not come down to the opponent missing a kick.

Riders by 14.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Close Doesn't Begin To Describe It

Riders 30 - Argos 29

Call them ugly wins, call them improbable, call them lucky... whatever you call them the Riders have had quite the knack for them this year. There was the 3rd and 1 stand in BC, the "rely on Matt Nichols to embarrass himself" in Winnipeg, not to mention all those times we just assumed our D would score enough to win us the game. I thought we hard flirted as close to the edge of narrow wins as was possible... I should have known better. Saturday's "rely on the opposing team missing 2 key FGs while your kicker makes a 56 yarder to escape with a 1 point victory" definitely brought new meaning to "narrow victory".

Offensively we came out firing, scoring on the first possession and notching not 1, not 2 but 3 offensive TDs. The first time we've legitimately done that all season. I mean it was against the worst defense in the CFL but looking good against a bad defense is better than looking bad against a bad defense right? Unfortunately after that 3rd TD our rejuvenated offense decided to pull a Vontae Davis and call it quits and treated us the offense we were used to for the remainder of the game. There were some positives about our O. We remembered who Williams-Lambert was. We fed Roosevelt the ball. We gave Thigpen the ball more than twice (and low and behold he does awesome things). But there was also a lot of hot garbage with our O. As much as we did better at involving Thigpen in the O, guess how many touches he had in the 4th quarter with us needing a score? 1. I don't know what about the previous 12 games leads us to think that Tre Mason and Shaq Evans will find he endzone but when it mattered most that's where we were looking and not to a guy who has found the endzone 6 time. Collaros is about 40% good QB and 60% oh my god what were you thinking?!. That first INT I'm not sure what about that look made him think he should throw there, receiving was not open at all. The second one was the right read but he through behind him on an out to the sideline (can't do that). At times it seemed his go to play was panicked dump off to Spencer Moore. Collaros leads an offense with the lowest expectations in the CFL. Just don't turn the ball over and everyone will probably be ok with you but he's failing miserably at that. Some signs of life from the offense (again, against the worst D in the League) but more is needed out of them when we start playing teams that will actually make the playoffs.

Defense was not dominant for the second week in a row. They got a pick and a couple sacks and really locked things down in the 4th quarter but they gave up way too many yards, missed a lot of tackles, missed a lot of coverage assignments and allowed a lot of points. D was actually a beneficiary of Marc Trestman releasing his inner McAdoo and doing some questionable things. If you aren't going to attempt at least one bomb to Duron I'm not sure why you roster him. More concerning was him keeping WiIder on the sidelines. Wilder got just a handful of touches in the first half in favour of Burks (who wasn't that great). Finally in the 3rd quarter they leaned heavy on Wilder and he produced a ton of yards and the O put up points.  The in the 4th quarter they didn't give him a touch on 2 of the final 3 series. I don't get it but it worked in our favour. It's not like the D played like crap but they turned in a very average performance and we are not a team that is built to win when the D is not dominating. 

I said in the pre-game that special teams would play a factor and boy did they ever. Brett Lauther is almost inhuman. The Leader Posts ROb Vanstone pointed out that Lauther has not missed in 14 attempts from 41 or longer. HAS NOT MISSED. He now has 2 56 yarders.... TWO! If he was kicking even just above average instead of lights out, we would be in trouble. Nine months from now there will be a large amount of babies named Brett being born. As for Toronto's kicker.... well maybe you can join a support group with Daniel Carlson and Zane Gonzalez. The good news is that by virtue of playing in Toronto you won't have to hide your face in public.

I haven't decided if we are a good team that just keeps playing bad or if we are a not good team that just keeps getting improbable wins. I'd like to thinks its the former but with each passing week, I wonder more and more. I like Chris Jones' post game quote "We never going to apologize for a win". Getting the 2 points and staying in second in the West is the most important thing. I'd be lying if I said I don't have concerns on both sides of the ball looking at what's coming up in our schedule down the stretch but as long as the wins keep coming I don't care so much about how close or ugly or by the skin of our necks they are. My heart may not like it but I'm pretty sure I can't quiet it down with some whiskey. 

Other random thoughts:
- Thank god Collaros eventually made that first TD to Lambert. He was open right from the snap and Collaros waited way longer than he should have to pull the trigger. 

- I don't think enough is being made of Jones still wearing that green shirt. The man hasn't worn colours in years and now suddenly won't take off the green shirt even after the win streak ended. Will he now wear that shirt forever?

- Kyran Moore is one hell of a player. Glad we found him. 

- Really noticed Jordan Reaves on kick coverages.

- Its amazing how Mic'Hael Brooks can just stuff a play when he wants to.

- Chad Geter is quietly turning in a great season as a rotational defensive player.  Athleticism must run in the family what with his brother Derek being so good at baseball.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Riders vs. Toronto: Time To Step Up

Saturday the Riders travel to Toronto looking to bounce back after a dismal showing at home that ended their 4 game win streak. The Argos come in to this game 3-8 and 2 games out of a playoff spot. They are starting to hit desperation time in their season as another loss puts them in a massive hole with a trip to Calgary on tap next week. Much has changed since these teams last met in the season opener. Back then Ricky Ray wasn’t sporting a neck brace, McLeod Bethel-Thompson was never expected to touch the field and Duron Carter wasn’t sporting an Argo jersey.

After getting booed on their home turf (something even Zach Collaros admits was deserved) the Riders’ O needs a rebound game. Now keep in mind based on how things have gone this season that a “rebound” by our standards would be 1 TD, 3 FGs and not turning the ball over. The bar is set pretty low. It starts with Steve McAdoo. The reality is, we have 3 guys on offense with a chance of finding the endzone. Thigpen, Roosevelt and Williams-Lambert. That’s it. They have combined for 10 offensive TDs. Yet if you look at our play calling in recent weeks, our O inexplicably seems to revolve around Shaq Evans (who is creeping up my hatred list), Tre Mason and Josh Stanford. Three guys who have combined for 0 TDs and not even come close. We have to find ways to get our real playmakers the ball. I get that some of that falls on Collaros and where he choses to throw but a good OC would find ways to ensure our top guys get the ball. Marcus Thigpen has 4 total offensive touches in the past 2 games. He’s averaging 7.5 per touch incidentally but no please keep feeding the ball to other players because that makes a ton of sense.

The good news is that Toronto is a great match-up for an offensive in need of a pick me up. To put it in terms you may understand, the Argo Defense is worse at defending than the Rider Offense is at scoring. Yeah its that bad. Most points allowed, least turnovers, least sacks (the entire Argo team is currently tied with Charleston Hughes in the sack race), second most yards allowed. The loss of Corey Chamblin really hurt this unit and it had been compounded by not having their best players on the field whether it be because they are hurt (like Marcus Ball) or because they inexplicably traded them away for nothing (like Shawn Lemon).  They don’t have good run D so that’s where our O should start with a heavy dose of Thigpen and Mason (in that order). Lean on Roosevelt, keep Moore and Williams-Lambert involved and maybe give some token love to Rob Bagg. If we can’t find the endzone on this defense then we are in a world of trouble.

Our D also needs a bounce-back game after giving up close to 500 yards. Its crazy to imagine much better this D/ Special Teams could be if they had an even mildly competent offense supporting them but I’ve whined enough about our O for a while. What we can’t let happen again is the RB running wild on us like Powell did. Wilder is just as dynamic if given space. He’s accounted for close to a third of the Argos’ total offense which by the way is the second worst in terms of both points and yards. The Argos have a decent O-line but our front 4 need to dominate the trenches, limit the space for Wilder and keep the blockers off our LBs. Neutralize Wilder and “McLeod, I have too many names and none of them are first names” does not scare me. He has talented WRs in Green, Edwards and Carter but if you take away his first game where he threw 4 TDs, all he has done since is go 1-3 while throwing just 4 TDs with 3 INTs. Speaking of Carter, two points I want to make. 1 - For god sake if there was ever a game for Nick Marshall to stop getting beat deep because he bites on short stuff this is it. You know Duron wants to score so give him the underneath stuff and make him work for it rather than giving up the long bombs, not like he is famous for his effort levels. 2 – I would be coaching all me DBs to be up in Duron’s grill yapping all game long. No way Duron doesn’t take at least 2 penalties retaliating. One last note on the Argo offense, you need to be wary of the checkdown to Declan Cross. Its another one of the few things that has been going well for a struggling 0.

Special Teams will play a role in this and it should favour us. We have the second most accurate FG kicker. They have the least accurate kicker. We have 4 kick return TDs this season including 3 in the last 2 games. They are allowing 14 yards per punt return, 3 more than any other team in the league. They also recently traded their star kick returner to Edmonton for reasons I don’t really understand.

Never underestimate a Marc Trestman coached team, especially when coming off a bye week. Two of Toronto’s 3 wins have come against teams with winning records (Edm and Ott) so they can contend with the top teams. That said, this is a game the Riders should win. We should be able to win the defensive and special teams phases provided we show up and despite our offensive struggles (well actually struggles is putting it mildly) against this defense they should be able to do enough to get by.

The Riders never do things the easy way so expect the game to be much closer than it should but in the end…

Riders by a Kyran Moore TD.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Same Old Story

Riders 25 – RedBlacks 30

As I mentioned on in my game preview I did not go to the game. I was rocking out to Metallica. Turns out I chose correctly as I was just as likely to see Lars Ulrich play competent offense as I was the Riders. It was probably a good thing for my blood pressure that I wasn’t there. I did not go back and watch the game... as a Rider/Vikings fan I realize that I am by my nature a glutton for punishment but even I have my limits. I’ve watched the highlights and poured over the stats sheets. The texts I was receiving contained more than enough curse words to give me a good sense of what was going on.

I’ll give you a sense of what was going through my mind as I caught myself up on what happened in the game:
·        How in ^$^$^ is it possible to lose a game where you return 2 kicks for TDs?!? Has that ever happened? That’s gotta be the football equivalent of managing to lose a 21 hand in blackjack.
·        Let’s look and see if we can find where things went wrong for our O. Well Collaros completed 10 passes… that usually not a good sign.
·        Well Thigpen is our best offensive weapon. How many times did he touch the ball offensively? Twice. Twice?!?! Who do we think has a better chance of scoring than him? Apparently Josh Stanford because that’s who we targeted in the redzone on that first pick. Pro Tip: Nothing good happens when you target Josh Stanford in the redzone.
·        Roosevelt is our next best offensive weapon. How did he do? Well we didn’t even target him until the second half and looked his way about as often as Josh Stanford. Makes sense.
·        What about Williams-Lambert? Not targeted until 5 mins left in the game. Well why look his way when Stanford is on the field.

I won’t dwell on this too much. Since Saturday I imagine there has been sufficient discussion on how terrible Collaros played and how our Offensive Coordinator seems to be taking a George Constanza approach and doing the opposite of what most instincts would tell you. Or at least the opposite of what a competent OC would do. Sure his “offense” is on pace to score just 23 TDs this season which is less than any team since 2010 (which is as far back as I was prepared to look) and that includes the expansion RedBlacks in their first season. But why focus on that when you can focus on the supreme awesomeness of the hitch screen (which by the way? Has that ever worked for us? I can’t remember an instance of it going for any decent distance)? It’s not news to anyone that we have these explosive defense and special teams but are being held back by one of the worst offenses in recent memory.

I decided to do a check in to see where we are at after 12 games as compared to last year. We have one more win and if you look at every category that doesn’t involve passing or offensive points we are ahead as well.

After 12
% Change

Offensive TDs
Passing Yards
Rushing Yards
Sacks allowed
Points allowed
Passing Yds allowed
Rushing Yds allowed
Special Teams
Punt Return Avg
Opponent Punt Ret Avg
Kickoff return avg
Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg
Net punt avg
Players Dressed

Saturday was a big let down for a team riding a big high but they have still positioned themselves for a solid finish to the season. Lots to work on yet (and by lots I mean primarily just offense) but this team is still trending in the right direction.

When have you ever known the Riders to do things the easy way?