Monday, November 11, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Impressive Regular Season


We now know our opponents for the West Final and in a surprising turn of events it’s the Bombers. Bo Levi Mitchell was out there handing out turnovers like he was trying to promote a new bakery, which warmed my heart. While I certainly have lots to say about the upcoming playoff game, I’m going to save it for later in the week.

Today I want to spend a bit of time reflecting on how good of a regular season we had. As I’ve done now a couple times this year, I compiled some stats comparing the 2019 Riders to the 2018 ones.

After 18
2018
2019
Difference
% Change
Wins
12
13
+1

Offense
Points
450
487
+37
+8%
Offensive TDs
25
44
+19
+76%
Passing Yards
3971
4769
+798
+20%
Rushing Yards
2014
2030
+16
+1%
Sacks allowed
27
37
+10
+37%
Turnovers
35
25
-10
-29%
Defense
Points allowed
444
386
-58
-13%
Passing Yds allowed
4425
4119
-306
-7%
Rushing Yds allowed
1655
1667
+12
+1%
Sacks
45
56
+11
+24%
Turnovers
41
33
-8
-20%
Special Teams
Punt Return Avg
11.9
9.0
-2.9
-24%
Opponent Punt Ret Avg
9.2
15.1
+5.9
+64%
Kickoff return avg
25.3
25.4
+0.1
+0%
Opponent Kickoff Ret Avg
20
17.5
-2.5
-13%
Net punt avg
33.4
35.4
+2.0
+6%
Penalties
137
185
+48
+35%
Players Dressed
71
67
-4
-6%

A couple things jump out for me. First and foremost is the 13 wins. Many of you (myself included) have never seen a 13 win season. Seasons with 13 loses I’m familiar with but not wins. Hasn’t happened in since 1970 and is only the 3rd time ever. I’ll also remind this comes despite a 1-3 start. Expectations were lowered when Dickenson and Shivers took over for Chris Jones but fortunately they didn’t buy into that.

Offensively, touchdowns were up 76%... that is not a typo. Scoring was up slightly but the source was very different. Instead of relying on the D and Lauther, we actually just had an offense that did it’s job. Go figure. The number that stands out here for me is turnovers. They were way down. That’s one of the things that has most impressed me about Fajardo is that he’s smart with the ball. Just 8 INTs and one of those came on a 2 point convert. For comparison, Collaros threw 9 last season and did not play even close to a full season. Some will point to sacks being up as a negative but that’s more a product of running plays that could conceivably result in a sack rather than running exclusively hitch screens and runs up the middle. For all the criticisms against McAdoo (and I have had many) he deserves credit for what he did this season. He’s a very bi-polar OC. When he has a QB he trusts (like Fajardo and Reilly) things look good. When he clearly loathes his QB (Bridge) his playbook becomes so limited it could fit on a post-it note.

Defense is what really stands out for me. Many (myself included) assumed the loss of Jones would negatively affect our D. Turns out Jason Shivers had other ideas. Less points allowed, less yards allowed, more sacks, overall a less explosive but more solid defense. Turnovers were down but if you track them over the course of the season, the trend is encouraging.
First 6 games: 4 turnovers
Middle 6 games: 11 turnovers
Last 6 games: 18 turnovers

For comparison we had 10 turnovers in the final 6 games of 2018. Turns out Shivers picked up a thing or two from all those years working under Jones.

Special Teams was a curiously the one area that struggled… under a Head Coach who is a noted Special Teams expert. Lauther had an off year (even before his final game performance). I still trust him for a money kick come playoffs but he didn’t have a great regular season. Kickoff returns were great. Punting… well let’s not rehash my obviously anti-Saskatchewan views on our punter. I mean his is a West All-star so clearly its me that’s wrong about things. I apologize.

So let’s appreciate what an amazing season we’ve had so far. Who would have known that Jones bolting and Collaros getting KO’ed would have us falling upwards.

Now, let’s start getting pumped for the West Final. We are 60 minutes of football away from a return to the Grey Cup and all that stands in our way is the much hated Bombers.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Random Quasi-Coherent Playoff Thoughts



With the Riders enjoying a bye, it gives me the opportunity to breakaway from my normal game previews to just opine on whatever thoughts pop into my head on this Friday. I can’t promise they will be particularly witty or even relevant thoughts but its Friday and you’re probably looking for an excuse to no actually of your job or house chores or whatever it is you are choosing to slack off from at this moment.

-        I still don’t think we’ve fully grasped how big a regular season the Riders just head. 13 wins. First place. We just don’t do things like that. Craig Dickenson and his staff deserve a ton of credit. We finished the season 12 and 2 after a 1 and 3 start.
-        Many are choosing to focus on the “I will be in the West Final” part of Cody Fajardo’s comments. While I do believe that part of it I still don’t think we can ignore the “No matter how painful it is” part that immediately followed. The bye week was absolutely needed for Fajardo but just how healthy he will be by the 17th remains to be seen.
-        I say pump him full of steroids. Its unlikely he gets caught and even if he is there’s no way the CFL would be able to figure the discipline before the end of the season so at worst he gets 2 games off in 2020.
-        I’m kidding about that last one… mostly.
-        Here’s you weekly dose of Prophet’s Jon Ryan hate. He should not have been the Riders’ Most Outstanding Special Team Nominee (that should have been Purifoy) and he should definitely not have been a West All-star. At best he’s the 3rd best punter in the West. He’s definitely improved as the season went on but I just don’t get the hype.
-        I’m not sure if it will be in the East Semi or the East Final but the Esks are destined to get beat by like 30 points (and Maas will definitely try and kick 10 FGs to make up the point difference). Odds are good it happens in Montreal but there is a chance they hold it together for that one. But I think we can all see where this is going… the will lose, Maas will break something and be promptly fired.
-        In the West-Semi, since both teams losing isn’t an option, I guess I will hope these 2 teams beat the hell out of each other. Like quadruple OT in -20 degrees. Winnipeg brings a great D and run game. Calgary brings a great pass game and a pretty solid D. There's going to be no easy path to the Grey Cup... unless Winnipeg loses Collaros to injury in a winning effort. 
-        I’m entertained by the whole “Andrew Harris as the victim” for being snubbed on awards. I hope that if I’m ever come up with an explanation from wrongdoing that I have zero proof for, that people will believe me as much as they do Harris.
-        If the RedBlacks really think they can find a better coach than Rick Campbell they would be wise to recall how it turned out when they thought they could find a better QB than Trevor Harris.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: First Place Clinched


Riders 23 – Eskimos 13

That may have been about the most Riders way possible to clinch first place. I mean we never do things the easy way or even the pretty way… and Saturday damn sure wasn’t pretty. So I think it’s fitting that a game in which we were forced into starting a rookie QB in his first start and one in which our kicker missed 4 straight FG attempts, that’s when we clinch first. The only way it could have been any more fitting was if someone had been arrested in an incident on Dewdney following the game.

Defense needed to step up in this one and they did… albeit against a really craptastic opponent. They forced 3 big turnovers, notched 3 sacks and held the Esks to 148 yards passing (45 of which came on a WR throw). I would not have guessed it but AC Leonard was the one leading the way. At times he seemed like the only guy trying on the field. By far his most impactful game of the year and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. While he wasn’t making sacks, I thought Micah also had a good game and was disruptive (at least at times). I wasn’t overly impressed with Gainey or McCray’s performance in this one. On that Smith TD, Gainey ran the laziest coverage I’ve seen in a while. I think a lot of credit should go to Jason Shivers. There was certainly a lot of talk about how turnovers were down but by and large this season, when we needed the D, they’ve stepped up. Without the turnovers in this one we don’t win.

Offense gave me flashbacks to the Brandon Bridge offense of 2018. The one where the OC clearly doesn’t trust the QB so we pick only 3 short passes and run them all game while trying to make someone who clearly isn’t comfortable scrambling try and be mobile. I get that a conservative O is called for with a strong D and rookie QB but there has to be limits. From my vantage point, the only time Harker looked truly comfortable was when he was pushing the ball beyond 3 yards. His first pass to Roosevelt for 10 was good. He just missed Shaq deep. He threw a perfect ball to McInnis (that he dropped). Yet we seemed to deliberately run plays that went away from that. The offensive game plan we called was really better suited to Bennett and his scrambling abilities. Overall Harker did ok. He didn’t turn the ball over at least. He didn’t really win us the game but as least he didn’t lose it.

Lots is being made of Brett Lauther’s performance. Dude got booed in his own stadium, it was bad. In all honestly I was one of the ones booing him. Look, you miss 4 straight in a game, you get booed. I still like him as a kicker and would trust him with the game on the line but he had an awful game, and the 11 points he cost us could have cost us the game. Post game he said his plan was to drink a lot of beers and try and forget this happened. I will do the same to show my solidarity with him. He's still a good kicker and you know he'll be reliable in the playoffs.

But more than Lauther, if we had lost this game it would have been on our coaches. Too many mistakes were made by them. The decision to gamble on third and one from our own 34 in a game where the Esks were doing nothing and we had a 2 score lead was bad. It was made worse by running off tackle. We had second down to try that east-west stuff. On third down in your own end run forward! Then that abomination at the end of the half was something. I don’t know how Harker got so confused on a called sneak (that should have at least been a toos to the endzone) but as soon as it became apparent that he was taking too long, Dickenson needed to call a timeout and kick a FG. Lauther may have missed (haha, just kidding... kinda) but at least its better then running a useless sneak as time expires.

I need to switch gears back to positive now. For all my criticisms of the coaches and players, they needed to be commended for what they accomplished. First F’N place!!!! Few outside that room likely thought it was possible but they believed and got it done. With our QB hurting a 2 week break while our potential opponents beat the hell out of each other is massive. Not only that, we are 1 win away from the Grey Cup. One win on home turf away. Better stock up on Pilsner and Wisers now because there could be an impending shortage.

Other random thoughts:
-        The reffing was not good and it negatively affected both teams throughout the game as well as the fans.
-        Another day, another game where Kyran Moore caught every one of his targets. He gets less hype than Shaq but Moore is developing into one hell of a receiver.
-        For all my criticisms of Jon Ryan, I do need to say that he is an excellent holder. Underappreciated but important skill. Salvaged at least one bad snap. He also punted pretty good in this one.
-        For anyone who wasn’t at the game, during the pre-game they asked fans to “light it up” by turning their phone lights on. Only problem is that is was the middle of the day. The sideline guy quickly moved on when it became apparent what a terrible idea it was.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Riders vs. Eskimos: Eye On The Prize


Who would have thought?

Look, we are not a franchise that finds itself in first place at the end of the season very often. We win the West only slightly more frequently then we change our clocks. So you’ll forgive us if not many thought that odds of us finishing first in a year where our GM/Head Coach/D Coordinator/Supreme Overlord (complete with all black apparel) bolted unexpectedly in January and our starting QB was concussed on the 3rd play of the game in June, that this would be the year we end the first place drought. As someone who use the terms “screwed” to describe both the Jones and Collaros events, I’m as shocked as anyone. But as improbable as it may be we sit just one win away from finishing first for just the second time in the last 30+ years. A generation of Saskatchewan children may actually know what a home West Final is instead of assuming its something that is against the law in this province (like a wedding that doesn’t play Cotton Eye Joe).

But we can’t celebrate just yet. We need a win on Saturday first.

Note: I had a super cocky draft of this post already to go and then Fajardo had to go and hurt is back. And throw the whole cocky narrative out the window. I mean, sure Isaac Harker can beat an Eskimo team resting their top players… but my certainty of that fact has dropped and my stress levels suddenly sky rocketed. Damn Riders can’t do anything the easy way!

As much as the potential for no Fajardo adds some drama to this match-up, here are the facts: Edmonton couldn’t beat us at home, with all their starters, having been spotted a 14-point lead. Do we honestly think their odds improve playing at Mosaic, resting many starters (including Harris and Ellingson), in a meaningless game for them? Knowing Fajardo, if there’s a chance he can play, he’ll be out there but even with Harker I still like our odds.

Offensively, for the love of god can we please do something at any point before 3 minutes remaining in the first half?!? Since Labour Day, we are averaging 2.8 points in the first quarter and have scored 3 or less points on 5 of 7 occasions. In just our last 3 games we have been outscored in the opening quarter by a combined 30-8.  Whatever we’ve been doing at halftime just do that before the game starts. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but we should lean heavy on the run… even more so if Fajardo is not playing. Want to suck what little life is left out of a team going through the motions? Run it down their throat early and often. We also need to be quick at adjusting to Edmonton’s pass rush. If they continue getting pressure up the middle early then start swinging it outside or running off tackle or running quick slants or outs. Or just ignore everything I said and chuck it like crazy as we saw in that final drive last week… a strategy I would only advise if Fajardo plays. As much as we need to be aggressive, we also need to be smart and play the long game. The run game might not get huge gains early but as the game wears on, if we keep pounding it at them it will become more effective. Above all control the ball. If we play turnover-free ball I like our chances even without Cody…. But seriously we need some Jesus sprinkles ASAP. Is there a line of Jesus Sprinkle-infused Robaxacet?

Defensively, to say Logan Kilgore offers a different kind of challenge than Trevor Harris is like saying Cheez Whiz that a hobo has stuck his junk into offers a slightly different taste than a platter of gourmet cheeses. He’s less accurate, more likely to toss a pick and generally just not as good. One thing we will need to do is limit Shaq Cooper as you know they will want to lean on the run game to take pressure off Kilgore. I also hope, that our D-line actually makes their presence known. I can forgive not getting pressure on a quick release guy like Harris but if we don’t knock Kilgore around at least a bit, I’ll be concerned (Kilgore has taken 14 sacks to Harris’ 8 in roughly a third of the playing time). Be aggressive, hit hard, suck the will out of the Eskimos. No better way to enter the playoffs than with a dominant defensive performance. D will need to step up and lead in this game whether it’s a limping Cody or Harker playing QB. Make life easy on the O and dominate.

I realize that the Esks aren’t just going to hand us the game by virtue of us showing up. We need to play and we need to ensure we don’t play down to the level of our competition. But assuming the players play with a level of effort that matches the opportunity we should win. If the prospect of being one win away from the Grey Cup and getting a week off while Winnipeg and Calgary beat the hell out of each other isn’t enough incentive, I don’t know what is?

If Fajardo plays - Riders by at least 14. I expect one of LaFrance or Bennett to score a rushing TD in this one.

If Harker plays – Riders by 50 yard Lauther FG that damn near kills me with stress.

Let’s F’N Go! First Place Baby!