Monday, July 29, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Almost Domination

Riders 45 -  Lions – 18

As it was, Saturday saw an embarrassing beat down of the Lions at the hands of the Riders. Had the Riders not decided to go to sleep for 2 special teams plays the results would have been even worse. The Lions just laid there and give it up so easy that there is probably a social media justice warrior out there right now demanding the Riders be brought to justice for having their way with them against their will… that and stuffed animal rights. Won’t someone think of the stuffed animals?!?

The Riders had a chance to pounce on team was reeling and bury them early and boy did they seize that opportunity. Coach Dickenson said coming into the game they wanted to start on D regardless of the coin toss to set the tone. The plan worked. Elimimian sacked Reilly on the second offensive play of the game and the D was relentless all game. They help Mike Reilly to 66 yards passing… 66! I have seen Reilly amass that in a single pass before. Throw in the 44 rush yards we allowed and BC would have almost been better off to just not play offense. Mike Reilly is probably getting to the point where he would be ok with that strategy. The only thing missing from a strong defensive performance was turnovers. Louchiez Purifoy had a massive game. In addition to his big kick return (nice to see a consistently strong returner finally hit pay dirt) he played rock solid in the secondary. I still can’t believe Ottawa just outright cut him last year. Their stupidity is our gain I guess. Overall I just love how we came out aggressive and took the play to a struggling opponent. They essentially allowed a FG.

Offensively I liked what we did as well. BC has an underperforming front 4 and we attacked them with a strong run game over and over again. By the midway point of the game you could tell the Lions turned off the effort and checked out. We know from last week that BC’s secondary is vulnerable but we didn’t really need to attack it as the ground and pound was working and Fajardo was effective in working the underneath stuff. Normally a day where Cory Watson is your leading receiver is not a great day but when your defense allowed nothing and your RB is chewing up triple digit yards then its not so bad. I still like Fajardo’s decision making and reads. That fumble wasn’t ideal but compare how often his passes go to the right place and think back to last year and how often Collaros found the wrong coloured jersey. A patchwork O-line did their job and kept the QB clean and powered a strong run game. Fajardo’s mobility certainly bails out our O-line sometimes but when you look at how deeply we have tested our depth, you have to be happy with how they are holding up. Nice to have Bladek back.

Special teams was a mixed bag. Purifoy’s return was huge. Jon Ryan had one excellent punt (and a rouge where even over the radio you could hear Rider fans cheering… sigh). On the flip side allowed not 1 but 2 kick return TDs. Had we been playing an even mildly competent team that would have been killer. We’ve allowed way too many big returns. It cost us the season opener against Hamilton and unless we get it shored up it will cost us again.

We went on the road and took care of business knocking off a weaker team. We now sit at .500 and have locked down a season series with a western opponent. That’s the good news. The dose of reality is that our only wins so far this season have come against teams that are likely to be have their football gear packed in garbage bags come playoff time. The wins have come against teams with a combined 1 win on the season. Tougher games are ahead and we need to start playing  more consistently in all 3 phases to keep this up. The good news is that when you look at the Toronto’s, BC’s and Rick Campbell’s horrendous decision to concede a safety, life looks pretty good even at 3-3.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Riders vs. Lions: Road Test

Saturday will be a first for one team. Either the Riders will get their first road win of the season or the Lions will get their first home win of the season. It’s a big game for both teams. Many are tossing around the term “must win” for the Riders but I don’t buy it. Obviously this is a game we should win and need to if we plan on being competitive in the West but we could survive a loss and still sneak into the playoffs. BC on the other hand… this is damn near must win for them. A loss puts them at 1-6 having lost the season series to Edmonton and then us. That is a big hole. They will be desperate and a road trip to BC will be a different environment than a home game.

This will be a game of adjustments. Teams won’t radically change what they did from last week but will look to add wrinkles to either shore up areas of weakness or take advantage of something they saw on film. BC has a lot to shore up (which is putting it mildly) but the Riders have a lot that can be cleaned up as well.

Let’s start with the offense. I can’t help but open with praise for our O-line. This will be the 5th different grouping of starters in 6 games with Dan Clark as the only guy to start every game (hands up if you predicted the guy recently in a car accident would be the most durable one). I won’t say they have been playing at an elite level but our QB isn’t getting killed (well I guess technically I need to say that the only time our QB is getting killed is when he’s illegally headhunted while sliding on a run play, but that’s not on the OL). Many people fretted about our depth coming into the season. I personally didn’t get that criticism as our depth is as good as its been in years. But guys like Shepley and Vaughn have stepped up. Even Schram has been serviceable when needed. Getting Bladek back should be a boost.

The good news is that BC’s D-line is not very good. Most people focus on how bad the O-line is (and rightly so as their protection is about as rigid as a wet Kleenex) but the D-line has also been pretty bad. They have just 7 sacks in 6 games (Charleston has 8 in 5 by himself). We need to take advantage of that. For all their faults BC does have decent run D but we need to stay committed to the run and stay balanced. That will allow us to really attack when we choose to pass as Fajardo should have the time he needs. The other thing we need to take advantage is the massive mismatch on the corners. Our WRs (Evans and Manny) are big and talented. Their corners are of average height and make Solomon Means look ok by comparison in terms of their talent. Let’s not wait until late in the game to attack that. If they roll coverage to Evans to compensate for last week then send Moore on a seem or feed Manny on the other side. We have the most pass plays of 30+ yards and BC offers us the chance to pad that lead. I really don’t think we need to change much offensively from last week other than to not take a second quarter nap.

Defensively we got some things to fix. There were too many long runs, too many easy completions and too many missed tackles last week. Our offense managed to pick up the slack and the D did hold them to FGs but a QB like Reilly will eventually make you pay for giving up freebie yards consistently (assuming he is able to peel himself off the turf). We need more disruption from our front 4. Hughes had a monster game but it would be nice to see someone else step up. Front 7 needs to make sure tackles the first opportunity. Had we done that last game BC’s yardage would have been cut in half. BC averages just 14.5 points per game at home. Let’s keep it that way. Hammer Reilly, make sure tackles and avoid giving up the big play. That’s the recipe for success. Adding to our woeful league low 4 takeaways would also help. Word is Solomon Means is being benched in favour of LJ McCray. I know next to nothing about McCray but already like him better.

Special teams has been slowly improving after a dreadful start to the season. Big returns were a factor last game and can be again. We need our kick coverage to be sound. It would help is Jon Ryan could not boom massive rouges… even though I’m sure there is a large crowd of Rider fans at BC Place waiting to give him a standing O if he does.

This shouldn’t be as easy as it was at home but man... we should win this. We have a clear advantage on both sides of the trenches and should be able to take advantage of that on both sides of the ball. Only thing I see hurting us would be turnovers or a big kick return but Fajardo is actually pretty good at protecting the ball (provided you ignore what happened against Calgary) and BC is not great on special teams. God I hope I don’t end up regretting typing that.

It will be closer and require more fight but in the end…

Riders by 10

Let’s just all hope that we escape this weekend’s action without a fabricated and ridiculous mascot controversy

Monday, July 22, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Home Win

Riders 38 – Lions 25

Well is wasn’t quite the sackfest I had hoped for (never thought I’d type those words) but the Riders took care of business Saturday night on home turf and got a much needed win over a struggling Lions team. The Lions should have known it was not going to be their night when their flag was upside down during the pregame festivities.

I remember that happening once before back in like 07 or 08… we won that game too. Maybe we are onto something.

Up until Marcus Thigpen decided to be all awesome, I thought we were turning in a pretty mediocre performance. Not bad, but doing enough bad things to let an inferior team stick around in a game we should have won more handily. That return seemed to spark the team and remind them that “oh yeah the Lions are terrible and we should crush them”. First half was plagued by missed tackles, missed coverages and pretty underwhelming pressure from our line against a BC O-line that I think I could have got a sack against. That said, it was really a Richie Hall-style bend but don’t break performance as the only TD in meaningful time was very much aided by a BS pass interference call. The D gave up way more yardage than they should have (particularly on the ground) but locked down when it mattered most.

I feel the need to talk about our front 4. Charleston Hughes was a beast and has been all year. The others… particularly our very, very expensive D-tackle pair have been very mediocre. Not bad, but at their price tag I expected a lot more disruption. I worry what will happen when the back half of the season hits and Hughes’ production declines. Is anyone capable of stepping up?

Offensively, other than the fact it took us way too long to figure out that maybe we should take advantage of the match-up on the outside, I thought we did good. We stayed committed to the run even though it wasn't going great. O-line didn’t allow a sack. Fajardo had a bounce back game. Made good reads and put up points. His legs were a big factor. Obviously he chewed up yardage but I like that he keeps his eyes downfield when running. That Moore TD was made possible because he kept looking for a pass even as he was on the move. Fajardo did have 2 picks but that is misleading as one was completely Kyran Moore’s fault and the other was on a convert. Overall he protects the ball well. With Arceneaux and Evans on the outside we had a huge size (and apparently talent) advantage. As mentioned, we should have clued into that way earlier in the game.

Special teams had a solid game. That Jon Ryan throw might be craziest play that never happened. First the design was interesting as we faked the onside to the left and then threw right. LaFrance made a ridiculous catch (that he made look very easy) and then Al Brabury gave the most confusing penalty explanation I’ve ever heard. We all the learned “The Card Rule” not that we wanted to. You see he was eligible but ineligible and so the card rule comes in but only if it’s an even numbered day in an odd numbered year. Only knock on special teams is that Ferraro has no distance on his kickoffs. But then again we didn’t really plan on him kicking this year. Punt coverage is getting timing down better with Ryan… we are even having the opposite problem as before and taking no yards. I honestly wonder if we coached him to just kick rouges because the math on our average net punt is worse. PS – If you cheer and punter getting a rouge… give your head a shake.

We managed to get more than 1 phase going and it led to a win (go figure). Offense was good. Special teams was good. Defense was OK. And you know what, we can win if we get 2 good phases and 1 ok phase. Trick will now be if we can repeat that performance on the road.

Other random thoughts:
-        Cory Watson has been an underrated contributor this year.
-        Elimimian still has a ways to go but the improvement from last game was noticeable
-        This is your weekly reminder that Solomon Means is terrible. Bouka can’t be worse can he?
-        The Riders have now scored 30+ points 3 times in 5 games. Last season we did it only 6 times total and that was because the D was chipping in.
-        I take back most of the bad things I said about Shaq Evans. Dude is kinda good.
-        The Riders sing along segment is the greatest thing about game day. William Powell’s dancing and the intensity in his eyes during Old Town Road was worth the price of admission.
-        I know why we can’t challenge illegal contact. Coaches ruined that one real quick. But how, when it gets upgraded to PI, is that not reviewable? I hate when technicalities take precedent over getting it right when the system supposedly exists to get things right.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Riders vs. Lions: Need This One

Saturday night it’s a battle of two teams that would be winless were it not for hapless Argos. It’s the first of a two game set and while it’s still early in the season, the next 2 weeks could go a long way to determine who will finish last in the West. As I see it, if we win both… life is good. If we win 1… there’s still hope. If we lose both… the actual apocalypse will seem tame by comparison to the doom and gloom that will engulf the province.

Before the season started, if we had been placing bets I think many would have correctly predicted that this game would feature the offense with the least yards and the second least points (less than 20 per game). Most would have incorrectly assumed that offense would be led by the back-up Rider QB… not Mike Reilly.

So yeah, the Lions got issues. It’s not a shock to many that spending over $700k on a QB and an additional $250k on a guard (a freakin’ guard!) would lead to roster deficiencies elsewhere. But many (myself included) assumed that an offense featuring Reilly throwing to Burnham and Duron would at least be mildly competent. But that is not the case. First and foremost the BC O-line is horrific. They couldn’t block an inanimate cardboard cutout of a defender. Let that be a lesson that if you are going to blow your wad on a QB maybe invest in some serviceable tackles. The O-line issues are compounded by the fact that BC’s RBs are the worst I’ve seen in a long time at pass blocking. They are never in the right place. Finally their personnel issues are compounded by terrible play calling. Despite their complete inability to keep Mike Reilly from getting killed, they routinely run pass plays where there is no route less than 15. It makes no sense.

That said you can’t take any offense lead by Mike Reilly lightly. Our defense should be able handle things but they can’t coast through it. They need to give full effort. It starts up front where our front 4 should have a 5 sack minimum. They should absolutely manhandle the BC O-line. Johnson and Evans have been quiet this season and that needs to change. We also can’t let BC establish a run game as I’m sure they will try. Keep BC one dimensional and that will ensure Reilly stays up close and personal with the Mosaic turf. Having Marshall back should help stabilize the secondary… though Means is still out there and you all know I think he’s awful. Whoever is on Duron should do all they can to keep him from getting involved in the game. Keep the ball away from him and keep running your mouth and Duron is good for a least one major penalty. BC has the third most turnovers so getting one or two of those would go a long way to winning this game.

In terms of our offense, it would sure be nice if they decided to do something again. A strong running game would help. BC has decent run D but William Powell is supposed to be the motor than runs our O so lets get him going. One interesting deficiency of the Lions is their D-line. One would assume that with Claybrooks at the helm… and decent talent in Willis, Coleman and Louis they would be a strength but they are not. They have just 7 sacks and they aren’t getting a push from their big guys in the middle. To help Fajardo get his mojo back I suggest using Thigpen and Moore for high percentage passes where they get the ball in space. Grymes and Lee are good at HB but BC’s corner’s should not scare us. Arceneaux will make his debut and you can bet he wants to prove himself to his old team. BC has allowed the 3rd most points.

Special teams will also play a factor in this game. Up until now BC’s has been terrible. Their punting was awful so they wisely brought in Josh Bartel. Their returns have been non-existent so they brought in Ryan Lankford (who had a 42 yard punt return against the Riders in week 2 as a RedBlack). BC has the second worst punt coverage so we’ll have chances there. Not sure at this point if Jones or Lauther are a go.

From a record perspective, we aren’t that different from the Lions. But there are just different feels to both teams in spite of that. We have been inconsistent as all hell this season but we have seem glimmers of hope. BC needed a missed field goal single to beat the Argos. There hasn’t been a lot to be hopeful about since free agency for them. Reilly is getting killed and BC will likely find a way to get him sacked during the coin toss. The Riders should be healthy and rested coming off a bye and have the home crowd on their side. Maybe I’m just an overly optimistic homer but this is a game the Riders should win and will.

Riders by 12.

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.