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?