Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: I Was Saying Boo-uono

Riders 35 - Lions 16

Saturday's victory is brought to you by the letter D. D for defense, D for Dominant, D for... Donuts (I ran out of relevant D words). 

Saturday night the Riders had a chance to lock up a home playoff game and take a big step towards possibly finishing first and man did they ever seize that opportunity. BC was behind in the game from the get go and but for a brief period at the start of the 3rd where Purifoy had about the worst back-to-back plays you can imagine, they were never really even close. If you had told me prior to the game that Collaros would get KO'd and Bridge would complete 4 passes in relief I would have openly wept (I would not have been shocked but wept nonetheless). But it turns out that out D decided they were going to win it on their own and our run game decided to join in the fun.

Let's start on D. It's fitting that in a season that we relied so heavily on their unworldly play that they would step up and do it again in the regular season finale. That first half was unbelievable. They allowed nothing. 2 points, very few yards and that was despite the offense fumbling on our side of half. Sutton was a complete non-factor and they really only allowed two long completions. Toss in 2 return TDs to tie the CFL record and you have a dominant performance. Willie Jefferson is our MOP there should not even be a debate at this point. Tobi Antigha is a hell of a player. He had a sack (as D-ends tend to do), a pick (as our D-ends tend to do) and should have had another pick when he had blanket coverage on a deep pass. Not many guys can you count on both rush the QB and cover 20 yards downfield. He's a special talent. If we get that level of play from that unit come playoffs: look out. 

O would likely have been a very different story if Odell Willis hadn't blatantly tried to end Collaros' season. Collaros was looking dialed in early. Doesn't seem right to me that a guy can get pulled for concussion protocol while the guy who used an illegal hit to put him in that condition gets to continue playing but what do I know? What I do know, actually is that Cameron Marshall is awesome! We needed an offensive strategy that involved Bridge doing as little as possible and Marshall stepped up in a big way. I will also give a huge shout out to the O-line. Marshall ran well but he was aided by some nice holes by the boys up front. For the whole second half BC knew we were running but could not stop us. Shawn Lemon was non-existent in the game. That's back to back weeks where the line held their own against a good opposing front 4. Kyran Moore had a solid game. Not sure why neither Roosevelt or Lambert weren't more of a focus but given that I spent most of the game cringing anytime Bridge did not handoff the ball I won't complain too much given the success we had. 

We currently sit in first place and god willing, Wally Buono will give Rider Nation the best parting gift ever and beat the Stamps next week (I was just joking all those times I told you to get off the field, we're cool right?). But even if it does not come to pass we have a home playoff game. We also have the best record against west division teams at 7-3. We have beat every West playoff team twice. Style wise it wasn't pretty to watch at times but the results are damn impressive! We are good team and will be a force to reckoned with come November.

Honestly the only negative from Saturday (other than the Collaros BS) was the lack of fans. For a province that supposedly has the best fans there were sure a lot of empty seats for such an important game in great weather. Better get your butts to the stadium come playoff time.

Other Random Thoughts:
- Bridge has no touch on his passes. They are all the same panicked, 100 mile an hour fast ball... even on 3 yard passes.

- I know Jefferson does great work in our community but Jovon Johnson got robbed in the award for community service. He's made it damn near a full-time job.

- Alex Gagne leads the league in Special Teams tackles yet I bet most people don't even know who he is. 

- Didn't notice him much but given our run defense, I assume Lavar Edwards did okay in his debut.

- Zach Evans leads all Evans' in touchdowns this season. 


Friday, October 26, 2018

Riders vs. Lions: Get Off The Field Wally

Saturday night Mosaic Stadium will play host to a big time event, something that will be remembered for ages. I’m talking of course about our last chance to hurl insults at Wally Buono (assuming he actually stays away from coaching this time). There’s also a pretty big football game going on as the 11-6 Riders take on the 9-7 Lions. The Riders are looking to clinch a home playoff game and keep their slim chances at first place alive. BC is looking to keep their chances of a home playoff game alive. The stakes are higher than people who tried marijuana for the first time this month.

Lots has changed since these 2 teams met back in week 11. After starting 3-6 the Lions have gone 6-1. They were the early favourites to miss the playoffs but now have a shot at second. Much like the Riders they have been powered by their defense. Mid-season acquisitions of Sutton, Posey, Lemon and Coleman strengthened them. Offensively they pose a challenge but then again 12 stuffed animals strewn about the field would prove challenging for our offense. It starts up front. We need to be able to keep Lemon and Willis from getting to Collaros. BC now leads the league in sacks so we need another strong showing from our OL. A strong run game would help. BC ranks 6th against the run so we need to attack that. After last week’s showing give me more Cam Marshall. When we pass Collaros needs to make good decisions. Keep leaning on Lambert and spreading it around to the rest. Roosevelt will be back which is a big boost. Rose and Orange have combined for 10 INTs this year so Zach can’t be reckless with the ball. (Side note: I just found out that Anthony Orange is just AJ Jefferson with a changed name. Who knew?). 2 TDs, no turnovers and a ton of FGs seems to be our recipe for success so that should be the target. I think we’ll need 25 points minimum to win this.

Defensively while BC has certainly been playing better of late they aren’t among the top Os in the league (ranked 5th overall). Since they started playing Terrell Sutton two games ago he has had 22 and 16 carries. So, its no secret that he is going to get the ball a lot. He’s fresh from woeful underuse in Montreal. Priority 1 is stopping him. BC’s O-line is so-so so if we can take away the run and turn up the pressure on Lulay, good things will happen… at least for us, no so much for Lulay and is achy-breaky body. Hughes will play and you can bet he will be fired up to get back to football. We need to keep Burnham and Posey from making the big plays in the pass game (easier said than done with the catches Burnham can make). If Lulay is forced into extended drives I think our defensive strength will win out. BC also turns the ball over 3rd most in the league and we will likely need a few of those.
Normally we would need to be wary of Chris Rainey on returns but he will not play so that's less of a concern (still we have allowed to many of those this year). It would also be nice to add some big returns of our own. We got close last week with both Marshall and Purifoy. I’ll predict Moore takes a punt to the house in this one.

This will be a tough match-up. BC is playing their best ball at the right time. But here’s the thing… the suck on the road (a younger Prophet would have found a way to spin the term suck on the road into an inappropriate joke but I’m far more mature these days). They are 2-6 away form BC place. They have 5 passing TDs on the road. That’s bad even by our lowered offensive standards here. They did just win in Calgary so they aren’t hapless on the road but it is a weakness. While it would be fitting for the Riders to do things the hard way and lose this game, I think they will come out strong in front of the home crowd. I expect an early defensive battle with very few points scored. Things will open up in the second half but in the end the Riders will take care of their own business…

Riders by 5

Side note: Given that if we lose this game by 2 or less we can still win the season series and clinch 2nd there are a number of crazy scenarios that could arise. For example: dying minute of the game we are driving, down 5. A TD wins it but an FG could clinch us second. Do you kick and easy FG to lose by just enough? Or risk getting the TD to win outright? I personally think that Chris Jones plays to win and that’s how he will coach and let the standings take care of themselves. But if the Stamps win Friday and first is no longer attainable it then you start to wonder. I mean this wouldn’t even crack the top 10 list of craziest things Chris Jones has done.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Digging Deep

Riders 29 - Stamps 24

The first thing that popped into my mind following the Riders' win on Saturday was depth... well actually the first thing was "Holy Crap!" then depth. There have been many concerns raised about Chris Jones the GM over his tenure (most of which were very valid concerns) but I can't help but think about how far the depth on this team has come in his 3 years.

The win in Calgary featured 3 missing defensive starters yet the D didn't seem to miss a beat. It featured 4 rookie receivers who all contributed significantly (and were all better than the lone veteran import WR that dressed). Our "back up" RB logged almost 100 yards from scrimmage (plus a huge return). Most impressive was at O-line. There have been concerns throughout Jones' time here about the razor thin depth we had at OL especially Canadians. Yet Saturday, despite missing 2 Cdn Starters we fared just fine against one of the top defensive fronts in the CFL... and briefly we had to play our back-up to back-up to the back-up OL when Schram came in. Jones and Murphy take a lot of flack but this is one time they deserve kudos. If our depth was of a lesser quality we could not have won that game. 

The Defense needed to step up and they did. They dominated the first half, allowing just a lone FG and stood tall in the second half when Calgary started fighting back. They came up with a massive second half interception (INTs are always sweeter when they come from Bo Levi Mitchell).  Ed Gainey giving every ounce of effort to keep Ambles out of the endzone on the 2 pt conversion summed up the play of the D.

I love when this team just randomly decides they "hey, we can play offense". It happens rarely but when it does, its a beautiful thing. What's more impressive is that they did it against the stingiest D in the CFL. They showed up early, scoring on 5 of their 6 first half possessions. Yes they were almost all FGs but beggars can't be choosers (we would have killed for a FG last week). In the 2nd quarter they got the ball on their own 5 yard line and proceeded to drive the ball over 60 yards, in 8 minutes for a FG. That's a big time drive. The biggest factor was them controlling the ball (zero turnovers) and controlling the clock (led time of possession by 10 mins and led many long drives).... that and having a ball bounce 6 times then into the hands of Marshall. Credit where credit is due Zach Collaros played great. Spread the ball around, made good decisions, was productive. I was a big Cam Marshall fan last season and man did he come to play in this one. His strong running really helped take pressure off Collaros and keep the chains moving.  Mason has been improving slowly but when Thiggy is healthy I would choose Marshall over Mason at this point. Lambert stepped up big time and gave Collaros a reliable target. Moore bounced back from last week. Even the newcomer Cannon looked good. O-line gave up a lot of pressure early but really stepped up as the game went on (allowing just one sack after that drive where they gave up back to back ones). Turns out St John may have a future in the league after all. The O will probably disappear again next week (that seems to be how things go) but in a big time game where we needed them they delivered. 

That was Rider football. Solid D, lots of long FGs, just enough offense to get the job done and winning despite a down week filled with bad news on and off the field. We seem to do well when there's controversy that people assume will sink us.

Suddenly the 1st place pipe dream is not so far fetched. I have a hard time believing Calgary will lose 4 straight to end the season. But they have tough opponents in the last 2 so I'm upgrading it to "plausible". More importantly the magic number to clinch second is 1. One win, or BC loss/tie and its ours (there's some other math in there but I'm much too lazy to explain it all). We also have quietly amassed the best record against west teams as 6-3. Style points aren't Chris Jones' thing but winning certainly is.

Other random thoughts:
- I would love to hear what Labatte and Johnson were saying to each other when they were face to face. That is 2 big nasty guys going toe to toe. Have to add that while Johnson was concerned with winning the verbal war, Labatte focused on winning the war on the field.

- Josh Bartel had the chance to make a hit on the punt return TD and clearly decided to not try. 

- I like how Purifoy runs on returns. He runs fast and hard.

- The OPI on Lambert was a super chincy call. The other OPI was deserved.

- Crezdon Butler remains of the best at sticking the tackle on WR screens or outside pitches.

- How in the world do we keep beating teams on QB runs?!? Anytime Watford come into the game its a run. Anytime any non-starting QB comes into the game for McAdoo, its a run. It's blatantly obvious to everyone... except Calgary's D apparently.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Riders vs. Stampeders: What Are We Made Of?

Saturday the Riders travel to Cowtown for the 3rd an final meeting of the year with the league leading Stampeders. The teams split the first 2 meetings (in both cases based on huge opening quarters). Calgary will be looking to cement their status as 1st in the West. The Riders will be looking to inch close to a home playoff game (don’t bother me with the scenario where we can still get first. The Riders have to win out and the Stamps lose 3 straight. This is what we call a pipe dream). More importantly the Riders will be looking to put just a god awful week on and of the field behind them and show that they are still a viable contender in the West after stinking up the joint in Winnipeg… and given how stinky Winnipeg is to begin with, its saying something that we managed to make it worse.

The task is daunting. Calgary is the best team in the league and they are dominant at home. Since 2014 they have lost 6 home games TOTAL. Add to that the injuries that have been mounting for us and the fact that we have adopted a bold “offense is optional” approach to the season. On the flip side though, Calgary is facing as many injury troubles as we are. We also beat them in the last meeting… and I wold argue, outplayed them for 3 of the 4 quarters of the first meeting. Calgary is tough but we know that we can beat them.

Let’s start with the defense because truthfully they are essentially our LeBron James and the remainder of the team is his previous supporting cast in Cleveland. I’m convinced if you go back and watch film you will find many defensive players making this face to the O. 

Formula to beating Bo is simple (its just not easy). Take away the run and pressure him. He is used to a level of protection usually reserved for foreign leaders and when he doesn’t get that he gets visibly flustered. It’s crazy that we need to be worried about WRs when facing a team that has lost 4 top tier receivers but Rogers and Matthews are dangerous. No one throws deep more than Bo so we need to stay disciplined in the secondary. Take away the big plays, force the long drives and hope that our pressure disrupts things. Calgary has been uncharacteristically prone to turnovers this year. Last year they had 25 total, this year they have 32… and 8 of those came in the 2 games they played us. Gotta force turnovers and quite honestly gotta find a way to get one to the house.

The best thing I can say about our offense is that it kind of neutralizes a big strength of the Stamps. They have the #1 D (allowing just 17 ppg) but it really doesn’t matter how good your D is when facing an O this bad. Take that Stamps. I know we all know that our offense is brutal but for context: the Riders only currently have 22 offensive TDs. That would put them on pace for 25 TDs on the season… or more correctly if you go based on the past 2 games that puts them on pace for 22 TDs. That would be the lowest total since the 2014 RedBlacks put up 24 in their inaugural season. It would be the least of any playoff team since the 2010 Argos put up 29. It would also be worse than both the 2011 and 2015 Riders (remember how awful those teams were?). So this offense ranks among the worst in the past decade. Were it not for a super human defense and a damn good special teams group we realistically aren’t a playoff team and the calls for a coaching change would be deafening. Much like Roy Shivers’ downfall was his unwavering faith in Danny Barrett (and Barrett’s downfall was his unwavering faith the Nealon Greene) I can’t help shake the feeling that Jones’ downfall will one day be his unwavering support for Steve McAdoo.

But enough about how bad our O is. Let’s talk about what we need to do to have a chance in this. Interesting stat for you, the Stamps have only allowed over 21 points 6 times this season… and twice was against us. Granted we had 3 defensive TDs against them but still we seem to play Calgary better than pretty much anybody. It starts up front. Our make shift O-line will need to play their tails off against one of the best front 4 in the CFL. The combo of Singleton and Thurman (a very underrated LB) make running the ball hard but we still need to try. A solid mix of Mason and Thigpen to keep the D-line from pinning their ears back. Collaros needs to put on some glasses and start making better decisions on his throws. A good suggestion would be that if the ratio of defenders to receiver is greater than 1 to 1 maybe try throwing elsewhere. Our receivers also need to up their game. Sounds like we get Lambert back which is a boost. I also expect Moore to rebound from a brutal showing in Winnipeg. If Brandon Smith sits again due to injury, we need to attack the rookie Amos in that HB spot. Honestly if the O can put up 1 TD, 3 FGs and not turn the ball over we have a chance in this. Based on the last 2 games though, that seems to be asking a lot.

To beat a team as good as Calgary you need to win at least 2 out of 3 phases. That means special teams will need to be difference makers. A return TD would be huge or even forcing a fumble on coverage.

On paper even though they are beat up, the Stamps should win this game. I know we are not as bad as we looked in Winnipeg but between our offense and the mounting injuries we are in tough up against the #2 offense and #1 defense in the league. But as we all know games aren’t played on paper and this wild and whacky CFL season has proven that. Fact is we have played Calgary better than anyone this season. Fact is we have beat Calgary once already. Fact is no one has more road wins than us. Fact is you are sick of me saying fact is by now.

I just have this gut feeling that this is one of those games where the Riders defy logic and come about and play rock solid football. So logic be damned, I’m going with my gut.

Riders by a long Lauther FG (he’s well rested after literally doing nothing last week).

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.