Friday, September 13, 2019

Riders vs. Alouettes: Looking To Bounce Back

After suffering their first loss in over 2 months, the Riders are back home Saturday looking to get back to their winning ways. Their opponents are the 6-4 Alouettes… it has been so long since Montreal has had a winning record that my spell check flagged that statement as an error. The last times these two teams squared off the only thing that was more thunderous than the storm that prematurely ended the game was the hits Rider LBs were putting on Antonio Pipkin leading to TDs.

Based on how our season has been going, I kinda assumed that by this point in the week Vernon Adams would have been diagnosed with bubonic plague or Stanback would have been arrested, or the majority of their defensive starters would have abruptly quit football to join the Movementarians. That’s just how things are supposed to go aren’t they? It’s too bad Regina doesn’t have a notorious night life to distract visiting players. Our night life is more the kind to encourage players to stay in their hotel rooms.

This will be a good measuring stick game for this team’s ability to overcome adversity. They just laid and egg and got whooped on the road. Now they are home but facing a strong opponent. Are we really a good team? Are we a team that plays well against bad teams and depleted teams? I guess we will find out.

It needs to start with the offense. For all the hype around how improved they are this they have quietly regressed a great deal over the past 5 games. If you exclude the Ottawa game (because, let’s face it, they are brutal) the offense has produced a TOTAL of 4 offensive TDs in 4 of the past 5 games and only once produced multiple TDs in the same game. Through the first 6 games we had 12 big passing plays. We’ve had only 4 over the past 5 games. To be fair we’ve faced some of the league’s top defenses in that timeframe so some struggles are expected but you can’t win many games scoring a solitary TD (especially when our special teams are a liability and our defense isn’t scoring much). I personally believe our offensive struggles are rooted in our lack of commitment to the run. Through the first 6 games we were running an average of 26 times per game (most in CFL). Over the past 5 that has dropped to 16 times per game. It’s all linked. Run less, defenses key on your pass game, deep ball gets taken away, you produce less. So this needs to be a game where we turn Powell loose and give him a chance to show he can go toe to toe with Stanback. O-line needs to step up and provide better protection, though the simple fact of not facing Willie Jefferson will help in that regard. Winnipeg leads the league in sacks, Montreal is second last with just 15. Montreal allows the second most yards so if we are patient, extended drives will be there. As discussed last time though, they drop everyone to force you to take short gains and rally well to make the tackle. This will be a grind. So commitment to running and smart decisions by Fajardo are needed. That said, we need to at least try to stretch the field. Shaq’s size, Moore’s speed, Arceneaux’s ability to have people forget he exists because he’s targeted so rarely. We gotta take some shots when they are there.

Defense struggled last game and it was in large part because they refused to use their arms when attempts to tackle. You think dropping your shoulder recklessly is going to stop Stanback? Wrap up! If we don’t do that this game, we won’t win. Montreal plays pretty safe O as they have the least giveaways... and also the second least passing yards. Stop Stanback, keep Adams in the pocket, win the game.

Special teams needs to stop sucking as well. The old adage that you have to win 2 out of 3 phases to win the game holds true but we’ve rarely been able to count on our special teams (punting in particular). Jon Ryan got testy with Derek Taylor on twitter for posting stats showing he’s not that great. If only he cared as much about actually being an effective kicker as he did wishing people thought he was a great kicker. It’s entirely possible to respect Ryan’s abilities and all the great thing he has accomplished in his career and admit that he’s not doing good this season despite being able to kick it far. Everyone involved from coaches down to players needs to be better if we want to get back to winning.

Couple bonus stats for you
-        All 4 Rider loses have come in games where we lost the turnover battle. That will be a key in this game
-        Als are 5-3 in games decided in the final 3 minutes… I guess that’s why managing to avoid the last 3 minutes last game was so key 😊

Honestly this game could go either way. I think our D will have a bounce back game. I have no clue what to expect on special teams. That leaves the O needing a solid game. Montreal has a good D so that’s no guarantee. My gut tells me this will be an ugly game with many curse words coming from my mouth. But in the end, give the edge to the home crowd…

Riders by a Lauther FG from 50 yards out.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Banjo Bowl Beat Down

Riders 10 – Bombers 35

The first 2 plays of the Banjo Bowl could not have gone any better for the Riders. Big kick combined with penalty to have the Bombers start on their own 10. Then on the first offensive play, we sacked Streveler for a 7 yard loss. It was about that time that everything went downhill and tennis suddenly became an appealing way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

For the first time since the Calgary game, the Riders came out completely flat. The Bombers did not come out flat at all and completely dominated the game in pretty much all phases. For the Riders, it was pretty much a full on display of how not to football right. We got outworked. We weren’t disciplined. We attempted a form of tackling normally reserved for double amputees. We couldn’t get out playmakers the ball. We couldn’t force a turnover or even stop a drive from lasting long enough to listen to American Pie and Stairway to Heaven in their entirety. It was all kinds of bad.

Offensively, we failed to establish the line of scrimmage. Fajardo had a bad day and McAdoo did nothing to help him. In a hostile road game, with a struggling pass game you would think that maybe leaning on Powell would be a good idea. We chose the opposite, giving him just 4 touches and not having involved in any way after the 7 minute mark of the second quarter. I get that the Bombers schemed to eliminate the run but at some point you need to try.

Defense had a bad game. Don’t even want to think about how much worse that game could have been if the Bombers had their actual starters playing. We couldn’t tackle, either because we completely whiffed or because we seemed to think that if we hit them with our shoulders the Bomber ball carrier would just give themselves up because they were so impressed at our macho-ness. Micah Johnson must grease his arms before playing because he should have like 6 sacks but managed to let them slip by almost every time. Add in the undisciplined penalties. Also add in the fact that despite getting their asses handed to them all the DBs felt the need to run their mouths non-stop. Had they put in in half as much effort into stopping the Bombers O as they did to yapping the score might not been so lop-sided.

Special teams was once again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Coverage was utter garbage on that TD. Jon Ryan regressed to his normal "kick it far with reckless regard for directing it anywhere but the middle of the field" ways. You want a sign it was a bad game? Charbel Dabire (our 300 pound DT) fielded a kick. Can’t imagine his instructions on kick return are anything but stand in the way while someone more mobile (i.e. literally anyone) comes to get the ball.

A split with the Bombers in this 2 game set is not the end of the world. It was a crap effort. Burn the tape and move on to the next game. It’s just a disappointing effort given how much of an opportunity we had to take advantage of a depleted team and move into first place.

One more closing thought. So, its called the Banjo Bowl because Troy Westwood called Rider fans banjo picking inbreds. So it amuses me to no end to see how many Winnipeg fans come to the came with banjo in hands. You know that makes you the banjo picking inbred right?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2019

Following an epic finish to the Labour Day Classic the players (and fans) have had 6 days to recover and get to do it all over again. This time in the peepee soaked heck hole known as Winnipeg. If you are brave enough to be making the trip, while they are a heated rival you should be ok. I’ve generally found Manitobans to be mostly good folk. I would just recommend that your game day attire doesn’t inadvertently make you look like an attractive farm animal or their cousin, that’s when things can get awkward. I mean awkward by our standards of course… it’s perfectly normal in Manitoba.

The opportunity for the Riders in this game is huge. A win puts them in first place, with the season series against the Bombers in hand. But this won’t be easy. Weird things happen in the Banjo Bowl. I’ve seen the Rider hang 50 on the Bombers. I’ve seen the Bombers pummel the Riders. I’ve seen a parade of craptastic Bomber QBs including Michael Bishop, Steven Jyles, Joey Elliot, Justin Goltz (some of which beat us). I’ve seen Craig Butler commit attempted murder on Buck Pierce. I’ve seen close games, blowouts, games where Matt Nichols singlehandedly tries to give the game away (seriously take a pause here and go watch the highlights of the 2018 Banjo Bowl. It will make you smile). Pretty much anything could happen.

Also, this game could get ugly. There’s already bad blood following the whole Lavar Edwards/Chad Rempel incident. O’Shea was pissed and can’t imagine he’s any less pissed now that Edwards was cleared of wrongdoing and Willie Jefferson was fined for a helmet to helmet hit on Fajardo. So yeah, this could get real chippy. The team that best keeps their composure will have a huge advantage. Someone tell Nick Marshall not to be an idiot… I mean he’ll take his standard 15 yarder but hopefully no more than that.

This will be a game of adjustments. The Riders certainly have some things to shore up. Coaching errors, penalties, poor tackling and some bad decisions by Fajardo. Plus that whole taking a nap on offense for most of the second half and not remembering that Powell is kinda good until the final drive. As for the Bombers, one thing for sure they can shore up is penalties. They took over 100 yards worth on Labour Day which is uncharacteristic given that they typically average a league low 64 per game. Other than that though, I’m not sure. They played a really solid game in all phases except for Streveler… and I can’t see him suddenly learning how to pass. It’s either that or them discovering time travel so they can go back and prevent Andrew Harris from taking steroids… err I mean stop him from inadvertently ingesting a super okay yet unnamed supplement that was mysteriously tainted.

As of writing this both Demski and Whitehead are questionable which would put another serious dint in an already decimated offensive unit. Defensively we need to improve our tackling on Augustine, keep the pressure on Streveler and continue to force turnovers. Offensively we need to run a lot more and cut down on our turnovers. We also need to keep leaning on what’s been working: the Shaq crosser and Roosevelt on second down. This would be the game for Shaq to run a slant and go at some point as you can bet Winnipeg will be cheating up trying to slow that down. Special teams needs to turn in another solid performance like they did on Sunday.

On paper this is another game the Riders should win. Winnipeg has a great defense but not much left on offense (I feel Rider fans can empathize with this as we've seen it a few times here). That said, the raucous (and slovenly, and inbred, and 3rd grade educated) crowd in Winnipeg will make things tough. It will not be so easy for Fajardo and crew to operate this time around. The first quarter will be key. If we can weather the early onslaught and get a  lead it will take the crowd out of it. If we have an early screw up (turnover, big return) and give them momentum it will get infinitely harder to claw back. Winnipeg has yet to lose at home.

This will be hard but when I look at what Winnipeg has been reduced to offensively I just have to think the Riders will find a way again.

Riders by a Fajardo rushing TD.

Note to anyone attending the game. Be very vigilant in watching your drinks. I have it on good authority that there are people in Winnipeg who will slip illegal steroids into the drinks of perfectly innocent people without their knowledge.

Seriously though.. go back and watch those 2018 Banjo Bowl highlights.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Labour Day Makes It 6

Riders 19 – Bombers 17

Well it was certainly a lot more stressful on the old heart than I would have preferred but in the end the Riders did what they do on Labour Day… win. How in the hell do old people not die at these games? I’m in decent shape and my heart can barely take it. This year’s edition of the Labour Day Classic had quite the dramatic finish. As that final drive progressed, my thoughts progressed as follows:
-        Dammit, Dickenson is going to lose on Labour Day. I really wanted to like him
-        Well I guess we are punting for overtime.
-        Oh thank god Brett Lauther has a massive range
-        Holy hell we are going to win!!
It’s about at that point that my memory of the rest of the day gets mysteriously foggy.

It was a game where we outplayed the Bombers in the first half but weren’t able to take advantage in terms of scoring. We then just stuck in there and survived the second half in time pull yet another sprinkle of Jesus out of our bag of tricks. 

The defense did their job and were really what carried us on Sunday. The had 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, held them under 20 points and really only allowed 2 big plays all game. Derrick Moncrief started the game like a man possessed. First play he snuffed out for a tackle for no gain. He then followed up with an interception the next play and added a punishing sack before the quarter was done (It wasn’t quite Craig Butler killer Buck Pierce but it was still pretty awesome). They did a good job of making Streveler uncomfortable in the pocket. So uncomfortable that at one point he just decided to throw a pass directly to Purifoy (nice read by him on that play). I really think Winnipeg wanted to lean heavy on Demski but we seemed to take that away from them. Some tackling to clean up in the run game but overall a great day.

Offense was a mixed bag. They started alright, though they didn’t get near enough point for the field position they were constantly starting with. Then they just decided to take an extra long halftime and do absolutely nothing until the final drive. Obviously Winnipeg has a great defense so some struggles were to be expected. But Fajardo made some bad decisions in that game (something he has done very rarely this season). The second INT probably should not have been thrown and was poorly placed. The first INT was just a really dumb throw. He had no business making it. To his credit, he learned from it because the exact same play came up again a bit later and he made a better decision. Winnipeg keyed into the fact that Fajardo’s tendency is to spin and roll out left and it cost us a few sacks. But struggles aside, just like in the Hamilton game, when it mattered most he shook it off and delivered. I love that he leans heavy on Roosevelt. I like how we keep milking that Shaq crosser. I didn’t like how little we ran but we made up for that in the end. I also like how we largely kept Willie Jefferson from being a game changer.

Special teams had a good day. Kick coverage was solid. Returns were decent. Even Jon Ryan decided to not suck and for the first time, he consistently hit the numbers when punting. I would of course prefer he progress to outside the numbers but this marks phenomenal progress from previous games.

Coaching made some early mistakes that we are lucky didn’t cost us. If you are going to challenge something 3 minutes into a game you better be damn sure you can win. One look at the replay on the jumbotron and 30,000 people could have told you not to challenge. It was a bad decision. As was whatever sequence of events led to us needing to take our second time out on a play where Winnipeg was conceding a safety.

The important thing though is we found a way to win. You just get the sense that this team believes in themselves and that can take a team a long way. We now sit in sole possession of second place. No time to rest on our laurels though. We have a chance to takeover first place next week but the difficulty and intensity will ramp up as we have to do it in their park.

Other random thoughts:
-        There was a series of events where Winnipeg lined up for a FG and ended up running the QB sneak for the first down (a good call). Thanks to an intentional grounding call and a tackle for a loss they ended up punting 3 plays later. Probably should just have taken the points.
-        Lavar Edwards is probably getting fined for his hit on the long snapper. I honestly don’t know how the refs didn’t call that in the game.
-        Who at the army did we piss off to get blacklisted from fly bys?