Monday, July 15, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Where we at?

It was probably for the best that I was up north fishing at not actually able to watch the last game. I know two languages but would probably have needed to learn 3 more to have enough curse words at my disposal to endure that.

So coming off the bye week we sit at 1-3. Is it time to panic? Well this is Rider Nation… of course its time to panic!! Fire the coach, publicly flog the GM, fix our offense by bringing back Durant and Szarka, wonder out loud if any of the good teams will trade us their back up QBs for late round picks and players we don’t want. Also likely a good time to blame our failures on some complex conspiracy theory where the league wants us to fail.

This annual July crisis has been a habitual occurrence, which is why I’m not nearly as concerned as some. Quick history lesson:

2017 – Riders start 1 and 3. Mad panic ensues. We go 9-5 to end the year and end up one play away from the Grey Cup.

2018 – Start 1 and 2. Mad panic ensues. We go 11-4 to end the year and host a playoff game.

Face it. We suck at the start of seasons. Gotta go back to 2014 to find early season success and its not like we want to talk about how the rest of that year went down. Not saying I like it, just saying its been happening for a few years now. In football it’s not how you start it’s how you finish… unlike the bedroom where its more about where you finish and how quickly (but I digress).

So these early season struggles are not new to us. We know we have the ability to overcome them. So let’s take a look at what our issues are and how we actually go about the overcoming part.

While you could certainly put a lot of the blame for the last game on missing 7 starters… 3 of which are on the O-line. We are not a good enough team to withstand that kind of roster depletion. But I think we likely would have lost to Calgary even with our starters because something bigger has plagued us all season… inconsistency.

Over the first 4 games our offense has played well in 2 of them, our defense has played well in 2 of them and our special teams has played well in 1 or them. Even if you discount what we did against Toronto (because its the equivalent of Madden on rookie mode at this point), we have seen our defense play well and we have seen our offense play well. Its just that its rarely at the same time and you are pretty much rolling the dice on whether the good version shows up in any given game. If we play defense like we did in Hamilton or offense like we did in Ottawa then we can hang with any team in the league. If we continue our pattern of choosing which one phase we will play well in this week (save for last week when they all decided to start the bye week early) then we may finish with less wins then a team that fired its coach after the preseason ended and its GM after its first winning streak in years… and replaced him with Joe Mack.

It starts with coaching. We have the talent but if they are not executing then we need to find a way to better prepare and get the most out of the talent when it matters. Offensively I think we also need to check our expectations. The only games where our offense produced over 17 points were against the 2 worst defenses in the CFL. I believe we are better than what they showed against Calgary but maybe we just look really good offensively against bad defenses and what we can really expect is a more average offense (i.e. slightly above what we had had last year). I’m not saying give up on Fajardo, he still has more upside than I’ve seen in a Rider QB in a while. I’m just saying let’s be more realistic about what we are… and that is not a top end O, at least not yet.

This upcoming back to back set against BC is massive. Win and life suddenly improves. Lose and life gets infinitely worse.  Buckle up.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Riders vs. Stampeders: Western Test

Saturday the 1-1 Stampeders come to town for an evening battle with the 1-2 Riders. It will be the Stamps’ first road game of the young season. It will be the first time the Riders face a western opponent this season. While the official standings count wins over east and west teams equally, unofficially wins against the east are worth like half of what they are against the west.

This game could come down to who can withstand injuries better as both are dealing with a number of them. As of writing this, KD Cannon and Nick Marshall look unlikely to go and there is concern as to whether Lauther will be ready. Of course all the Stamps talk is about Bo Levi Mitchell who seems unlikely to play. They are also in trouble up front. After losing Ja’Gared Davis in free agency, the guy who was supposed to replace him got hurt in preseason and the guy replacing him got hurt in Week 2. Add in an injury to Junior Turner and Ese Mrabure and Calgary is essentially fielding any D-lineman with a pulse. They also have a couple nicked up DBs in Roberson and Smith.

Defensively I’m assuming Bo doesn’t play. Actually, as a Rider fan well versed in our longstanding tradition of making stars out of unknown QBs, I would actually feel better if Bo was playing (the long term psychological impacts of Rider fandom would be a riveting/terrifying study). There is one guy we need to shut down if we want to win this game… Eric Rogers. Calgary has 4 passing TDs this season, 3 of them have gone to Rogers. Dude has 20 TDs in 30 regular season games (and that doesn’t include his stellar playoff performances). I would feel better about containing him if Marshall played but that’s looking unlikely. I wonder if Shivers will pull a Jones move and switch to match-ups and have Gainey shadow Rogers… the prospect of either Blace Brown or Solomon Means covering Rogers is terrifying (I have more faith in the guy I haven’t seen play yet). Our best defense against Rogers will be pressure on Arbuckle. Put him under duress in his first start and hope he crumbles. Calgary has the worst run game so far this season (averaging just 3 yards per attempt). With a young QB you can bet they’ll try and get that going but we need to not let them. Lock down the run and force Arbuckle to win it on his own. We will need our new found ability to force turnovers to continue.

Offensively, Fajardo gets to prove whether he is a good QB or just a good QB when facing East teams (two very different concepts). From what I’ve seen, I like his chances. His reads are quick, decisive and usually correct. And his ball placement has been spot on. Tre Roberson has 3 INTs and had a 4th called back on penalty. If he plays we need to be wary of him. With Calgary hurting in the front 4, the best thing we can do is pound them with the run. The Stamps are allowing the 3rd most rush yards per game. Pound it and be smart with the throws (i.e. stereotypical McAdoo offense). But we can’t give up the aggression we’ve shown in the past 2 weeks. The reason we have scored 30+ in back to back weeks is because we’ve been willing to take chances and push the ball deep. A stat that I found interesting is that Calgary has allowed zero big plays this season (passes over 30, runs over 20). We need to change that. Calgary is allowing 32 points per game (which amazingly is 5th best in this zany high scoring season). Three weeks ago I would have placed our odds of notching 30 on the Stamps somewhere close to Corey Chamblin’s win % since September 2014 but now I think we have a legit chance. Fajardo has zero turnovers since becoming the starter… continuing that streak would go a long way to helping us win.

Normally a short week spells trouble, especially when your opponent is the Stamps. But they are more beat up than us so the odds even out. I expect we will find some way to make this difficult but I also expect a win.

Riders by a William Powell TD

Programming Note: I’m headed out on my annual fishing trip and will be off the grid until Thursday. So there will be no Monday Sentimonies. If we win, drink a rye for me. If we lose, drink 2 rye for me and curse at whoever is responsible.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tuesday Morning Rain Delayed Sentimonies

Riders 32 – Argos 7

Well we had to wait out a storm to get there but the Riders finally got their first win of 2019 on Canada Day. You know it’s a good night when the only negative thing people are talking about has nothing to do with actual football… more on that later. It was the first time this season where we played well in more than one phase of football and low and behold, it led to a victory… albeit against the woefully bad Argonaut (keep that fact in mind before planning the parade).

Offensively, Cody Fajardo was dialed in a chucking yet again. I really want to know who wore #7 in game 1 because he simply can’t be the same person as the #7 I’ve seen for the past 2 weeks. He’s calm, he’s decisive, he’s deadly accurate even when pushing the ball down field, he protected the ball. He did everything you could ask… except score 3 more points so we could all get deals on tires (thanks a lot you selfish bastard!). I really like how he was threading those quick slants into tight windows and hitting his WRs in stride. I thought our new look OL held up pretty good. The Argos may not be good but their front 4 are: Lemon, Laing, Bishop III are a damn good trio. It wasn’t always pretty and there were some close calls but they held up and did their job. That is a line with 3 starters 27 years old or less. It’s been a while since the line hasn’t relied on a lot of old guys. That Kyran Moore TD was my favourite play of the game. D finally forces a turnover and boom 1 play we go for the jugular and make them pay. As soon as Moore caught that ball I immediately started celebrating and didn’t even watch him finish his run. Upon watching the replay, Willie Jefferson is disappointed in the overall lack of showmanship and high stepping.

Defense had a bounce back game (though again keep in mind it was against the woeful Argos). We got turnovers! Both deep in our territory to keep points off the board. Moncrief is my favourite defender by far. So talented. More than in previous games I noticed us moving Edem around. There were times when Moncrief dropped to safety. I also saw Judge drop back. We’ve got versatile players nice to see us using that more. It was also the most I noticed the front 4. They got close a whole lot in that game and if nothing else had solid pressure. On the downside we missed a ton of tackles and had we been playing a better team that could have cost us. Still they allowed only 2 plays over 15 yards and the lone TD was scored on a play where the ball was deflected and landed in the hands of guy that was nowhere close to where it was intended to go.

When Christion Jones opened the game by ripping off a 43 yarder I knew we were in for a good night. Returns were better. Lauther was perfect. Ryan’s kick placement and hang time was better. It was the first game this season were special teams contributed in a positive way.

Overall it was a decisive and much needed win against a team that we were supposed to beat. The Argos aren’t good but I’m not going to apologize for beating them. The real test now becomes whether we can sustain this success with 3 straight West teams on tap.

Now onto Gainer-gate. Look, you want to make Gainer thinner to promote a healthy lifestyle? Great. Want to give him shoes? Don’t really get it but fine by me. But what in god’s name did you do his face?!? I haven’t decided on whether Facelift Gone Wrong Gainer or Gainer On Drugs is more fitting. I really don’t get why we felt it was necessary to alter the costume of one of the most beloved mascots in Canada. Did the other suit get wrecked and we tried to save money by getting a discount guy to make the replacement? When I saw him working out in the video I was really hoping that he’d come out as Gainer on steroids, just ripped. I feel that would have been better than having to look at those eyes.

Other random thoughts:
-        I love the crowd after rain delays. Only the diehards stick it out so it’s also as loud as when everyone was there.
-        The Riders are still taking too many penalties. They averaged 10 in the first 2 games and added 9 last night. Gotta clean that up. Especially the stupid ones that Davis and Evans took.
-        You know you are a bad defense when the ever elusive Cory Watson is out there breaking out ankles.
-        Want to get a drink while the game is on? Lined up. Want to get a drink during a rain delay? No line-up. It may take you 20 mins to navigate the concourse to get there but still… does that not seem backwards?
-        I feel as though during rain delays, they should just put highlights from famous sports movies on the big screen: Waterboy, Varsity Blues, Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans and so forth. That or just air the rowdy drunks encouraging the TSN panel to do hilarious things.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Riders vs. Argos: Canada Day Home Opener

Monday the first regular season home game of 2019 goes down at Mosaic as Corey Chamblin (or Chamberlain as I believe he prefers to go by) and the Argonauts come to town. One team will emerge with their first win of 2019 (unless they tie). At first when I heard we opened on Canada day, I was like “right on”! Then upon closer inspection it’s a night game, on a Monday with many having work the next day… so that’ll certainly put a damper on the atmosphere. Fortunately I have Tuesday off so I guess I’ll just have to up my game to compensate for everyone else.

I’m in the awkward position of wishing our opponents hadn’t just got embarrassed in their previous game. I mean, based on what Toronto did last week and what we did, we may find out if the scoreboard gets to triple digits. But then again, this is the Riders and I have seen this scene too many times to be confident… remember that last 2 times Montreal came to town? I believe that Toronto isn’t as bad as they looked last game and I also believe there is no way a McAdoo offense can sustain a 40 point output. Make no mistake about it, this will be a competitive game. The Riders don’t do things the easy way.

Let’s start with the offense for once (since they finally showed signs of life). The Riders scored 25 offensive TDs all of last season… they have 7 already. Last season it took them until game 7 to get their 7th offensive TD. All eyes will be on Cody Fajardo to see if his week 2 performance was a one week aberration (like that time Ryan Dinwiddie threw for over 400 yards) or whether he can actually sustain success. Look for us to scale back the gun-slinging early and go back to our more conservative, run heavy offense. Its great that we can push the ball down field quickly but I see us only doing that if we have to (and based on how Toronto looked game 1, we might not have to). Look for a lot of Powell (who will be looking for a bounce-back performance). Micah Awe got hurt in Game 1 and if he can’t go then Powell is in for a big day. Toronto’s front 4 should be good with Lemon, Beltre, Laing and Antigha but they didn’t show it last week. Toronto’s secondary is nothing special (and will likely be down two starters due to injury) so when needed I think we’ll be able to lean on Evans, Roosevelt and Moore. As much as a conservative game plan makes sense, I would like to see us attack early. If we can get an early lead and get the home crowd revved up, Toronto may just crumble once again.

Defensively, its time to man up after getting embarrassed last week. Fortunately, a Chapdelaine led offense is the cure for what ails you (unless of course you are the Argos). We of course have first hand experience with him. The Argos, have James Wilder, Chris Rainey and the Terrell Sutton for depth… so it makes great sense that they ran 6 times for 12 yards last game. Sure the score pushed them away from the run as the game went on but 6 rushes?!? He also had Derel Walker (his $285k prized receiver) in pass blocking at one point. If our D can’t manage to break our turnover drought this game then we are screwed for the season. Also, given how pass heavy Chapdelaine tends to be, this could be a big game for the front 4. We need to shut down the run early to force them into being a pass happy offense. They have solid WRs in Walker, Edwards and Green so it won’t be easy but I do expect a bounce back game from this unit.
What worries me is special teams. We need to play better there. We are giving up a league worst 18.5 yards per punt return. So great, Ryan can punt 5-10 yards farther than Bartel, we are giving up more than that on the returns. There have been 4 punt returns over 30 yards this season in the CFL… the Riders have allowed 3 of those. Need Ryan to be better on his placement and hang time and we need our coverage guys to tackle when they have the chance. With an arsenal of talented returners (Jones, Thiggy, Moore, Purifoy) its gotta be a matter of time before we break one… home opener is as good a time as any.

Two last keys to the game. First is discipline. We have committed 20 penalties in 2 games. That’s a pace of 180 penalties on the season… 20 more than the woeful Alouettes committed last season (and they were the worst in the league by far I this category). Gotta clean that up. Second is win the turnover battle. We currently have committed 5 turnovers (most the League) and forced 0 (the only team not to do so). I feel the takeaways will eventually come on defense but even just tightening up the offensive giveaways would be a big help.

On paper this is a game we should win… therefore given how the Riders do things, we will win but it will just be in a game where we go down early, struggle more than we should and win in last minute dramatic fashion that takes years off my life.

Riders by a Kyran Moore TD.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: 40 Points?!? And We Lost?!?!

Riders 41 – RedBlacks 44

Show of hands. If I had told you in advance of Thursday’s game that the Riders would score 24 points in the first half and 41 points by the end of the game, how many of you would have bet a considerable amount on the Riders? I know I would have. I’m honestly not sure what shocked me more, the fact that we scored 40 and lost or the fact that we scored 40 period.

This was just an unexpected game. Two young QBs who had their struggles in Game 1, so of course they both throw over 350 yards and commit no turnovers. Two strong defensive units, so of course its one of the highest scoring games in recent memory. Just a whole lot of weird. It was a damn exciting game to watch but the end was yet another loss.

Look I’m as encouraged as anyone that our offense suddenly broke out of a slump going back over a year but there are no morale victories. We lost again and we lost again because we aren’t playing good enough football. In both of the first 2 games we have played well in only 1 of 3 phases. First game it was the defense playing great, while the offense struggled. Thursday it was our offense playing well but our defense giving it up like a drunk co-ed on Friday night. There have been just two constants. 1 – We can’t play well in more than 1 phases at a time. 2 – Our special teams are brutal.

Let’s start on the offense. With talk of rotating QBs in the air, Fajrado stepped in and seized the starter’s role and would not let go. He looked like a completely different QB from Week 1. Decisive, accurate, aggressive, protected the ball, seemed to be aware that passes longer than 4 yards were permissible. He hit 8 different receivers, leaning heavily on Moore and Evans (who finally broke his endzone curse). He got decent, but not great, protection up front (I mean he got sacked on a 3 man rush where a guy came clean off the edge). But you have to be happy with what the offense did… which is something we have not said around here for a long, long time. When we stepped back and chucked it deep at the end of the first quarter I damn near fell out of my chair in surprise. McAdoo seemed to trust Fajardo and open things up as a result. Hopefully that continues. Can’t remember the last time I said that I liked our game plan on O.

Everything not related to the offense was utter garbage. Defense had no answer for Dom Davis (who shocked a lot of people, myself included with his play). Nick Marshall had a rough day. Some of it was just great coverage getting beat by an even better pass but some of it was just not good coverage. Solomon Means is terrible. I bet he was cheaper than retaining Butler but the drop-off in performance is staggering. He was 7 yards off and 2nd and 3. He was nowhere close to his receiver at other times. He just wasn’t good. Front 4 had their moments but haven’t been the game changers we need them to be. We also still do not have a turnover. It’s no secret that no turnovers for this team will make it really, really hard to win games.

I feel reasonably confident that the D will get this fixed. I can’t say the same for the special teams… they have been consistently awful through the first 2 weeks. Where to start?

It’s great that Lauther can hit from 57 (what a kick!) but it would be nicer if he could consistently make easier kicks, like say a convert. 3 missed kicks in 2 games is not a good start. He’s also averaging 10 yards less on kickoffs than last season. Get your crap together!

Christion Jones has exactly 1 job on this team, return kicks. He literally does nothing else. When we have great returners like Thigpen, Moore and Purifoy on the roster who also do other things, Jones needs to be awesome to justify a roster spot. Mediocre returns and fumbles are not awesome. I’m not giving up on him but maybe a week off to think about things will be good for him. And yes I know some of it is blocking but when you watch him return he simply isn’t the same guy we were used to. Get your crap together!

And how about the most popular man in Riderville, Jon Ryan? So far I would say he’s actually had a negative impact on our team. Sure he can kick far but he consistently outkicks the coverage leading to big returns. Now one solution is to find special team gunners who can run faster but I’m guessing its far easier to just have Ryan take a bit off his kick or angle it higher. Bartel had a weak leg by comparison but at least the coverage knew where to be and when. I’m shocked that Dickenson (a noted special teams guru) doesn’t have this unit better prepared.

While they have come close in back to back weeks, the simple truth is that you can’t expect to win in the CFL when you only play good in one of three phases. I still feel a bit like I’m in bizzaro-land praising the offense and scolding the D and special teams. Not time to panic yet (we have started awful the past few years and recovered) but the window to get our crap together and remain relevant this season starting to close.

Other Random thoughts:
·        Everyone is jumping on Rider fans for their hypocrisy regarding Mak Henry. Look he was correctly penalized and he should he fined. No place in the game for that. I think a suspension is a bit harsh but wouldn't argue a 1 game too much… but if you think the Simoni hit and the Henry hit are comparable then you are an idiot.
·        Not a good look for Dickenson to miss challenging a play because he didn’t have his headset on. Someone needs to get the message to him.
·        First passing TD in 7 games… 7 games!.. in the CFL!
·        Did I mention that Solomon Means is useless?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Digging Deep

For the third Thursday in a row the Riders play football. I like Thursday football but would just prefer my team not be in it every single week. It really hampers my ability to drink away my sorrows. This time they are in Ottawa still looking for their first win of 2019. Ottawa is riding high after knocking off Calgary at McMahon in Week 1. I still don’t really understand how that happened.

Thursday the Cody Fajardo era begins… err I mean the Cody Fajardo featuring Isaac Harker era… err I mean the McAdoo will flip a coin to see which QB comes out which series era. Fajardo will start but I imagine will be on a short leash. He’ll need to prove that last week’s happy feet, errant passes performance was just a one off and that with a full week of prep he will come out and perform better. As much as I like Harker and his potential I would actually prefer if Fajardo played competently enough to keep Harker’s involvement minimal. Noel Thorpe consistently fields top notch defenses and the prospect of a rookie QB going against that now that there is pro game film of him is intimidating. The game plan remains the same, run early, often and again even when it doesn’t make sense. Powell is the workhorse but I would like to see us get Thiggy some more touches, whether its handoffs or short passes to him in space. Ottawa’s secondary is talent laden but their front 7 is nothing special. Not that they are bad, but nothing for us to fear. Need to find ways to get Roosevelt more involved. He’s a reliable vet that the young QBs can lean on. RedBlacks held Calgary to 22 offensive points. Bo Levi Mitchell is a slightly better QB than the combination we have so if we can get 20 points in this game it will be a big accomplishment.

Defensively, after watching the Ottawa game last week, it appears the key to the game is not letting Dominique Davis get to 4 picks. Three is fine but that fourth one apparently sparks the comeback. It will start with limiting Mossis Madu. He’s been an underrated but productive back for many years. Last week Ottawa gave him 30 touches and he produced 140 total yards. We need to shut that down and put all the pressure on Davis.  He never gives up but I’d like to think our D can make him pay dearly. I say we get 2 turnovers minimum. Their group of receivers is not all that impressive RJ Harris is their leading guy and Caleb Holley is #2. Holley was an OK WR here but if our secondary can’t contain him then I have grossly overestimated them. Obviously Sinopoli is still there and good but he’s becoming more a possession WR. Shut down Madu. Get a strong pass rush to make Davis uncomfortable and force mistakes in the pass game. That’s our recipe for success.

We need to win 2 out of 3 phases to win the game and since we ain’t winning offense that mean special teams suddenly become very important. Lewis Ward doesn’t miss (except when it comes to minimum height requirements for amusement park rides) so Lauther better up his game. Richie Leone is arguably the best punter in the CFL so Jon Ryan had better up his game. We need to flip the script from last week and have a big return go in our favour and our coverage be solid. Christion Jones looked rusty last week but I’m predicting a breakout performance for him. Maybe not a TD but a big long game changing return.

On paper you have a team that already has their starting QB and both starting guards on the six game IR on the road facing a team that just beat the best team in the league on their own turf (something that rarely happens). Logic says the RedBlacks should win quite easily. But the Riders are built to win in spite of their offensive production and their talent on D gives them a chance to do that. The Riders are also a team that seem to start performing about the time everyone has given up on them. I say they play better than expected and squeeze out a low scoring win. 

Riders by a Brett Lauther FG from 45 yards out (it'll be one of his 5 FGs on the day).

For the love of god let this game break the streak of our QBs getting headshoted and the calls betting botched! Three in a row is enough. One more headshot and I say we go full WWE and arm our blockers with metal chairs to defend our QB.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Well That Went Awful

Riders 17 – Ti-Cats 23

Three plays. Three F’N plays!!

I was among the more optimistic people when it came to Collaros, but even I knew there was no way he was playing 18 games. Still, even the most pessimistic of folks had to think he would last more than 1:04 into 2019. It marked the third time in three straight non-preseason games where our QB was the victim of a brutal headshot. It also marked the 3rd straight time where the consequences for the perpetrator were next to zero. Player safety my ass! If the league and the players association really cared about player safety, headshots would be an immediate ejection followed by a minimum 1 game suspension. But they don’t care. Neither side. If I’m Zach Collaros I would asking the CFLPA for a refund on my union dues because unless they support stiff suspension for Simoni Lawrence rather than appealing his suspension and getting it reduced to a fine (which is my guess for how this plays out) then they really aren’t doing a damn thing to protect his interests.

/End rant.

Dirty headshot aside, the Riders actually had a chance to win by following the same script as last year. Strong defense, hard running and a pass game so simple I could use it on a team of 7 year olds. We have perfected the system and it works great… unless you do something like give up a TD on special teams. We aren’t really built to overcome that.

Defense had a great outing. Not flashy but rock solid. Less then 170 yards passing allowed. Less than 70 yards rushing allowed. 1 sack. 4 tackles for a loss. Only 1 TD allowed. The only thing they lacked was a turnover. Basically Marshall got caught biting up once. You take that play away and its less than 200 yards and no TDs allowed. I would say Jason Shivers passed his first test with flying colours. Which is good because basically him and his defensive unit will have to carry us… I mean carry even more than originally expected. They were always going to have to carry us.

Maybe if Collaros had stayed in we would have seen a more inspired offensive game plan but I’m not so sure. The old McAdoo staples were on full display. Short passes when big yards are needed. Hitch screens. Randomly and inexplicably switching QBs when the other one has a good drive going. Shot gun formation on 3rd and short (and then running directly up the middle at Ted Laurent, the biggest man on the field).  To be fair to McAdoo, Cody Fajardo looked god awful when he attempted to do anything but run. His passes rarely got within the area code of where it was supposed to and his feet kept moving like he was performing the god damn river dance. If you want some numbers to back up his sucktitude, he only completed 52% of his passes despite only attempting a pass greater than 9 yards twice! (granted a couple were on his receivers) I’m glad we got to see what we have in Harker. He was decisive, quick in getting his passes out and willing to stretch the field… all qualities that will likely put him in McAdoo’s doghouse.

Now before we start building statues of the guy and naming our babies Isaac, let’s wait and see how his second appearance goes. He looked good but there was no way Hamilton game planned for him or bothered to track down film from the Colorado School of Mines. Let’s see how he does now that teams have some film on him. Second game is always the true test of a rookie QB.

We didn’t play that great in 2 of 3 phases and still had a chance to win. It was self-inflicted wounds that ultimately hurt us (you know, aside from the intentional brain wound that Lawrence inflicted). Punt coverage cost us 7 points. Brett Lauther cost us 4… he makes his kicks and the final drive is for an FG not a TD which would have drastically changed things… McAdoo would have had time for like 3 hitch screens.

Collaros is done for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. That means our season now hinges on either Harker or Farjardo. The good news is that offense isn’t something we are used to so it won’t drastically affect our approach.

Other random thoughts:
-        Losing a QB and starting Cdn OL in game 1 is about as close to worst case scenario as it gets. Zach Evans was also briefly out. It got so bad that when I finally saw an injured Ti-Cat my first reaction was  “oh thank god its them for once!”. Yes, I know, I’m a bad person... at least I didn't cheer.
-        Overall I thought Dickenson did okay in his debut. My only issues with him were the wasted challenge (there was no chance that was going to be successful) and the 3rd and 2 from shotgun (which may be a McAdoo thing). Some didn’t like the 4th quarter gamble on the 3rd and 8 but given the time on the clock and no time out, I thought it was the right call.
-        Not sure I’ve ever seen Delvin Breaux be targeted so many times.
-        Its strangely comforting to be accompanied by the Stampeders in the CFL basement. Gotta focus on the positives at times like this.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Riders vs. Hamilton: Season Opener

Thursday the Riders travel to Hamilton to open the 2019 season against the Ti-Cats. The last 2 times the Riders opened the season against Hamilton (2014, 2012) they won so hopefully that continues. Its interesting on both sides of the field as both teams remain relatively unchanged from the previous season… except for fairly major coaching changes. Both Dickenson and Steinhauer are entering their first seasons as head coaches.

If you believe what people are saying in the media and on social media (which as we all know are always correct), the Riders are screwed and should just give up the season and go into full rebuild mode now while the Ti-Cats should just sit back and wait for homefield advantage in the East Final to be handed to them. I suppose based on that I could stop my pre-game analysis here and save us all some time.

Problem is I don’t buy it. Look I get that the Riders are not the favourites to win the West. Not going to try and argue that but personnel-wise they are essentially the same team as the one that won 12 games last year and had the best record against west teams of any team. Obviously losing Jones hurts and there’s no way they score that many return TDs again so maybe a bit of a regression there but the defense is still very good. As for the offense they were damn near historically awful last season… and still won 12 games! Run game will be better, receivers will be better, back-up QB can’t be worse. Based on those offsets, even if you factor out the "lucky" wins from last season why is it so crazy to think 9-10 wins is realistic? Maybe I’ve just hit the rye too early, I don’t know... ok well full disclosure I definitely hit the rye early but it may or may not be the reason for my optimism. As for Hamilton, yes they are the best team in the East but that’s like being the least racist guy at a KKK convention, not really something to brag about. They only won 8 games last season and haven’t really improved a great deal on paper. Long winded way of saying think this match-up is far closer than people think.

Might as well start on the defense since it’s no secret they will need to carry us. We finally get to see our new look front 4 unleashed. A fresh and healthy Hughes-Johnson-Evans-Leonard, look out! It needs to start up front with them. If we can be disruptive just with rushing 4 then our defense has a huge advantage. Two things you need to take away to beat Hamilton. Need to contain Brandon Banks (which I assume will fall to Ed Gainey again, who did well with the assignment last year) and need to keep Masoli in the pocket and not gaining yards with his legs. That requires the D-ends playing contain and the LBs staying clean and making sure tackles. They are going with Thomas-Erlington at RB. He’s an underrated runner but our front 7 should be up to the challenge. Outside of Banks and Tasker, their WRs aren’t anything special… certainly not for our secondary. Hamilton averaged 26 point per game against west teams last season and I see us keeping them under that. Probably not the flashy game changing plays people are expecting but just solid suffocating D. That said Masoli is a turnover machine with 18 INTs and 6 lost fumbles last season.

Offensively if we can find a way to score 3 offensive TDs, we win. Given that we averaged less than 2 last season that’s a big ask. Its no secret that we will be a run first offense. Hell we will probably be a run second and possibly third offense. Key to the game is Powell… and of course the OL creating holes for him. Add in a little Thiggy here and there and we should have a solid, ground game. Passing? Well that’s the big question mark. Hamilton has a very good front 4 in Davis-Laurent-Wynn and the other guy who I know relatively little about. They also have Adrian Tracy and Jamaal Westman on the IR so will only get better. Clearly we will look to help our line with running and short passes (behold the return of the hitch screen in all its glory!). We are going to need to stretch the field at least a bit to sustain drives. Roosevelt is the key guy there but he will most likely see a heavy dose of Delvin Breaux so guys like Cannon and Evans will need to step up. I would also look for ways to get Kyran Moore the ball in space. I expect Steinhauer to have the Ti-Cats playing really good D. So this could be a low scoring affair. We don’t need Collaros to do much just not make mistakes and sustain drives.

I don’t have much to base this off other than gut feel but I do think the Riders will win. It will be nail bitter and it will likely be ugly but they don’t ask how they just ask how many.

Riders by a Fajardo QB sneak TD.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Official Prophecies 2019

It's time for my annual prophecies and I'm continuing what I started last year and taking a bit of a different slant on the format. Hope you enjoy.

Yo, avid readers, let's kick it!
Prophet baby
Rider Prophet baby

All right stop, grab a drink and listen
Prophet’s back with a brand new prediction
Prophecies, something I don’t take lightly
And I stick to em’ wrongly or rightly?
Will we reach the top?
Yo, I don't know
Turn up my mic and I’ll flow
To the extreme, I drop my thoughts on this year
I just they don’t cause much fear
Beginning will be better than expected
The Jones awful start, Dickie will get corrected
Deadly, that’s what we’ll see from our D
As long as someone doesn’t get a felony
Ugly, not pretty, That will remain the tone
Best news yet, we’ll find the endzone
If there was a problem
Yo, Dickie’ll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Prophet baby
Rider Prophet baby

Now Rider Nation is jumping
Start 6-2 and the fans be bumpin’
Quick to the point, the sacks we’ll rake in
Front 4 cooking QBs like a pound of bacon
Lock down, will our defensive aim
Elimimian will play less than 10 games
Big years for Moncrief and Marshall
Also towards Cam Judge I am partial
Rollin at second in west
On Labour Day you know we’re still the best
But that’s when it will falter
And the course of the season it will alter
Will people freak out?
Only excessively
Late season skid put postseason in jeopardy
I immediately regret trying to rhyme with jeopardy
But are we dead?
No! we’ll continue despite calls for everyone to be fired

Collaros will be better but he’ll be no genie
Powell will run our offense he’ll be a meanie
Offense will be better but people will whine
More TDs and INTs less than 9
Fajardo will start 1 or 2
Look for Kyran Moore to have a breakthrough
Come year end we’ll be 10 and 8
Third place with the Bombers on plate
Playoffs at IG Field
Hard fought game where we refuse to yield
Collaros will have a big game
Nichols? Well he’ll come up lame
Onto the Stamps at McMahon
But things won’t go according to plan
That’s what I see
In 2019
But don’t worry too much, been years since I’ve been right

If there is a problem
Yo, O’Day’ll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Prophet baby
Rider Prophet baby

Monday, June 10, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Preseason and Roster Thoughts

It was a busy few days for the Riders. They closed out the preseason on Thursday and then proceeded with the easiest part of the any coach's job... the cuts. I don't want to dwell too much on the preseason results with actual meaningful football just days away but I will give a few thoughts on the game and then some thoughts on the names that made the team, and those that did not.

Thoughts on the preseason game:
- We saw what we needed to from the offense. Collaros started off still struggling to throw to the correct coloured jersey but recovered to turn in a good half. Not a great half but after last season, a good passing game would be an upgrade. We would have killed for 2 passing TDs in a half last season. Sure the Bombers didn't have the full starting D but it was still good to see.

- Powell came as advertised. It's nice to see a run game that's not based on 3 yard runs up the middle.

- Shaq Evans remains the american Chris Getzlaf. Drop an easy one. Catch a hard one. I'm glad for him he found the endzone but I have this sinking suspicious he blew his TD on a meaningless game. Hope I'm wrong.

- Dyshawn Davis is a baller. Glad we have him with Elimimian such an unknown.

- Justin McInnis showed just a flash of what he's capable with at his size.

- There's a reason the people who played in the secondary in the second half aren't the starters.

- Bouka's performance was not all that comforting. His coverage seemed fine but his ability to make a positive play when the ball arrived was not on display. Hope that was on anomaly.

- For a brief moment when the Bombers fumbled late in the game I thought we were destined to finally win preseason game. That feeling lasted mere minutes before reality came crashing back in. Oh well, at least it was a competitive, entertaining game.

- The Riders' approach to sprucing up game day seems to be throw a bunch of shit at the wall and hope something sticks. A DJ in Pil Country (still not sure why), trying to get "the Rider stomp" going (it failed), the new Flex Cam (has potential) and random bloopers (stunning success). 

Still good to be back in the stands.

Onto the roster.

- Only one cut really surprised me and that was Chad Geter. 3 sacks and strong special teams play. I thought he was in line for a bigger role but seems to have been beat out by Lavar Edwards... who had a strong preseason.

- Crezdon Butler surprised many but not me. His career was not on the right trajectory. He went from great halfback, to decent corner to not having a set position in consecutive years. The shelf life a of DB is not long (especially given how many NFL miles Butler had before coming here). Seen it with Chris McKenzie, seen it with James Patrick. DBs don't trail off slowly in performance. It makes guys like Eddie Davis and Brandon Smith who can sustain success for so many years all the more impressive. 

- Deon King was a bit of surprise based on much time they gave him with the 1s during camp. But Dyshawn Davis being awesome was a factor. Also it would appear Idowu beat him out. 

- Other than that if you were surprised by the cuts, you weren't playing attention. They were as predictable as the fact that Brandon Bridge and Josh Stanford are both currently unemployed.

- I'm going to get pre-emotively on this and pump the brakes on the Harker hype train. I can already predict that following Collaros' first interception there will be calls to appoint Harker the starter. As a back-up QB in Saskatchewan he ranks only behind Corner Gas cast members and Jon Ryan in terms of popularity. I like his potential but he's 3rd on the depth chart for a reason. Let him develop a bit before naming him saviour of the franchise. 

- By my math we need to put 5 people on the IR by Thursday. I assume Elimimian, Lenius, Arceneaux will be on there. Terran Vaughn may go the one game. Sounds like Labatte might as well (which isn't great but we do have depth to survive). We have a ton of Cdn Lbs on the roster and I have a hard time thinking we dress all of them (Judge, Hurl, Gagne, Chevrier, Teitz, Bartlett)

Overall I think we are in good shape. Question will be if Means/Bouka can lock down the CB spot. 

Buckle up Rider Nation. Regular season is days away. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Riders vs. Bombers: Preseason Game 2

Thursday we get our first taste of live Rider football at Mosaic... or at least as close to that as you get in the preseason. I shared some stats in my Monday Sentimonies about just how awful the Riders are in the preseason. So I'm fully prepared for us to play miserably and I'm fully prepare for portions of Rider Nation to lose their collective minds about the results. That's how we roll around here. Lose a preseason game = fire everyone, call Kevin Glenn and convert Jon Ryan back to receiver. Win = plan the parade route. There is no in between.

I did some research into just how meaningful preseason results are. I went back to 2006 (yes I am somewhat ashamed of how much effort I put in researching the preseason) and the results were telling. No team has lost both preseason games and gone onto win the Cup. So if you believe that correlation is causality then Thursday is a big game.

Sounds like Collaros will play the first half... which means that on every single offensive play (and any defensive plays that head towards our sideline) fans will be anxiously holding their breath hoping he doesn't get hurt. I don't want to see him in the game unless the starting 5 OL is in front of him and a veteran RB and WRs are available to block. I get that he needs to get some real game action in to prep for the season but if we are being honest, given our offensive strategy (i.e. do the absolute least possible) I'm not sure you'd notice a rusty Zach Collaros over a finely tuned one. I'd like to see him make quick decisions, get the ball out quickly (and to the correct jersey). 

As for what else to watch I'll be watching...
- I'll be watching the line and how they perform without Labatte (who is being rested). Be interesting to see how Clark does so quickly after his car accident. 

- Hopefully the WRs step up. Kyran Moore was not great in the first game and it will be Shaq Evans' first game. They will probably only get 5 yard passes on 2nd and 9 but hopefully they make the best of the cards they are dealt.

- In the second half we should see the back-ups so I'll be watching Justin McInnis in particular in his first action.

- Defensively Micah Johnson is sitting which gives guys like Jeremy Faulk, Charbel Dabire and Tresor Mafuta and opportunity for some valuable reps at DT. 

- The linebacking core will be an area of interest for me. Each passing day makes Elimimian's likelihood to play week 1 less and less which means someone needs to be ready to step up. Looks like Plan A is Cam Judge at MLB and Dyshawn Davis outside. We will likely see a lot of Deon King in the middle as well. Hope they can instill some confidence.

- In the secondary we will get to see what we have at safety outside of Edem as he is being rested as well. Looks like Crezdon Butler gets first crack at the spot with Bouka on CB. BE interesting to see if Butler can translate his veteran savvy and sure tackling to success in the middle. It would also be nice to see at least one new DB show some promise. I love our starters but I'm not sure what we have backing them up... plus no Duron to bail us out there this year :)

- Lastly I will be watching the crowd give a standing ovation for every Jon Ryan punt regardless of length. Look he's a great guy on and off the field but a punter should not be the most hyped guy on the team... even one like ours who make frequent use of our punter. 

I'll just be happy to be back in the stands watching football. Normally this is the game were we would play the Official Rider Prophet Preseason Drinking Game but when you factor in the Thursday night game and the price of alcohol... I can't see that being good for your employment/wallet/health/relationship status etc... But hey... if you're still hardcore like that, the rules are below (participate at your own risk).

1.     Every dropped pass of fumble you drink
2.     Every time the announcer screws up, drink
3.     Drink 2 if a flag bearer is out of formation during pre-game
4.     Every time count, illegal formation, no yards or offside penalty you drink. Two if it’s on the Riders. Four if it’s Too Many Men
5.     Every TV timeout you drink 
6.     If someone calls for a fair catch you shot-gun a beer
7.     If a player who is not dressed gets credit for a stat or penalty, you drink
8.     If a cheerleader falls, you drink
9.     If a Mexican player scores a TD, down a bottle of tequila while wearing a sombrero (Traditionally this was the Jordan Sisco, it just gets modified each year).

Monday, June 3, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: At Least We Weren't Shut Out

Riders 1 - Stamps 37

I've just gotten used to the fact that the Riders are awful in the preseason. I decided to look into how awful after Friday's game. The results: since 2009 we have won just 3 times (and tied once) and since 2016 our average margin of defeat has been 26 points. So yeah, preseason it not really our thing.

Preseason is usually ugly ball but the Riders started 2019 with a particularly ugly performance even by preseason standards. We scored just one point and there should really be an asterisks beside it because it seems wrong that we were rewarded with a point for a field goal "attempt" that was so wide it almost didn't cross the goal line before going out of bounds.

But before we get all doom and gloom about it. Let's remember that this is preseason and the results are about as valuable as Alouette stock. If you want to extol the wonders of Bo Levi Mitchell and his starting receivers for carving up a defense featuring only 3 projected starters be my guest. If you want to bemoan the fact that our offense couldn't do sweet diddly despite the best players being rested then go ahead. But it will make you look silly.

Sure I would have liked to have seen more positive things but I'm not ready to go in full panic mode. Though given that the Green and White scrimmage sent some people into a panic maybe me telling people to calm down is futile.

There was some good, so let's look at that:

Cody Fajardo looked good. What I liked was that he was quick and decisive with his reads, got the ball out quick and placed the ball well. Now the caveat is that its hard to give too much praise to a guy who produced 0 points and never attempted a pass over 10 yards. But he did his job (exactly what McAdoo wants from his O) and wasn't helped out by his WRs.

Both RBs showed nice flashes. Butler seems to be the faster more explosive player but he really pissed me off on that one run where he has a sure first down and channeled his inner Josh Stanford and geared down and got tackled short. Still like his potential. Morrow was not as speedy as Butler but still looked fast and seemed to make better decisions and cuts.

The O-line only really allowed 1 jail break and it was late in the game so the group that started did a decent job. It was good to see Shepley go back in after getting hurt.

Defensively Dyshawn Davis stood out. I thought our edge rushers got close on a number of plays. Give them our starting DTs and it would have been a very different story. I maintain that Geter will have a good year. Mak Henry had a good push resulting in a goal line stuff... that was promptly erased by at least 3 people lining up offside including Bouka casually sauntering around well offside.

Brock McCoin was about the only WR who stood out but he looked like he broke something in his arm so that's unfortunately probably it for him. (Also remember that he only stood out in an offense that didn't throw over 10 yards).

That was about it for the good. 

Watford looked OK but he was noticeably slower on his reads and way more erratic in his ball placement. He remains a faster Michael Bishop. I don't really see him progressing much beyond what we've seen. Did Harker show enough to unseat him at #3? Not decisively but he didn't look out of place on the field so I'd almost be inclined to keep him over Watford and see if he can progress.

Our starting secondary seems pretty safe because there was not a lot of good in terms of back-end coverage. 

The game was a whole lot of awful but most people involved will soon be unemployed or glued to the bench so take it for what it's worth and just enjoy the fact that football is back.

Other random thoughts:
- That shanked Ryan punt would have resulted in a standing ovation at Mosaic.

- I strongly believe that if you attempt to challenge in the preseason you should be kicked in the nuts. Punishment should be tripled if you lose... that said I think the booth got the call on the challenge wrong (go figure)