Monday, October 28, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Climbing To The Top

Riders 27 – Eskimos 24

Well holy crap! Everything somehow fell into place and we emerged from the weekend in sole possession of first place and control over our own destiny. I’m not sure which is more shocking, that the Riders managed to win that game after a dreadful start or that the Bombers managed to do something useful? However the hell it all came together, the end result could not be better for the Riders. Sure it took a gritty, stress-filled, last minute comeback but the important thing is we won.

I’m not one to toot my own horn… and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that’s a lie. Toot toot time! I’d like to point out a few things I wrote in this space in the week leading up to Saturday's game…

Oct 25 - Based on how this season has gone I’m already mentally preparing myself for a game that we make way more difficult than it needs to be. It will take another late game sprinkle of Jesus comeback

Oct 21 - Moore has caught all of his targets in consecutive games and made some key catches including a TD in this game. Not saying we should give up on Shaq but I think we could maybe benefit from giving a bit “Moore” love to the hot hand of Swerve

Oct 24 – If Edmonton gets the lead they will attempt to end the game early by faking a power failure.

Okay maybe that last one is made up but damn if I didn’t nail those first 2. Will someone please tell my wife that instances of me being right are not as rare as she would have you believe?!?

Our offense reminds me of trying to download a great song on Napster on a dial-up modem. Now, I’m going to pause here and acknowledge that I probably lost a chunk of my readers who are too old to know what Napster is and another chunk that is too young to get the concept of dial-up. Congrats to those of you in the sweet spot in the middle who fully get that reference. Anyway, picture watching the progress bar as you are downloading a great song… it takes forever to do anything and seemingly is completely inactive at times but eventually completes and you get to rock out. That’s our offense. Spent most of the first half loading and then suddenly with 3 minutes left in the first half, just when you’ve given up on them, it’s go time. I’ll again re-iterate that if they could be even remotely useful prior to 3 minutes left in the half it would make it a lot easier to win games. That said, if there’s one guy you trust to deliver in a pinch, its Fajardo. He did it against Hamilton, he did it on Labour Day, he did it against Montreal, he did it again on Saturday. That drive from his own 6 with the game on the line is exactly why he just got paid. He’s a leader plain and simple. Gotta make special mention of Kyran Moore who carried the offense even when we had nothing else going on. Had we not completed that second half comeback this pace would have been filled with how dumb I thought our offensive play calling was in the first half and how we stubbornly refused to adjust to the pressure up the middle they were killing us with. At some point we will need to figure out why the first quarter is our kryptonite, but for now let’s appreciate the amazing comeback our O delivered when we needed it.

Defense I thought played a good game all things considered. If you exclude the TD they allowed when Cody gifted the Esks the ball on our own 2 yard line, they only allowed 17 points and allowed just 10 points over the final 45 minutes of the game. They added 2 more key turnovers. They allowed yards but that’s to be expected with the quick release game of Harris. Our D-line was essentially invisible but the quick release was a factor in that. The thing is I’ve found this year that with Shivers you need to look at the performance overall. Sure a lot of things you don’t like play to play but consistently when the game ends you look back and go, “well they did their job”. They are kinda like me that way, not much to look at most of the time but pretty good at what they do. It will be important to win next week as you can tell that a lot of guys on D are banged up and gutting it out. A week to rest will be hugely beneficial.

As much as hate our slow starts, they have proven time and time again that this team has the heart to find ways to win even when they aren’t playing their best. That intangible more than any individual skill will make a difference come playoff time.

Home playoff game is clinched. First place is just a win away. For a team that started the season with a concussed starting QB and a 1-3 record, that’s not too shabby. Get pumped Saturday’s game against the Esks is massive!!!

Other random thoughts:
-        I still can’t get over the call to throw a 50/50 ball to Christion Jones when you look at all the other talented receivers they could have chosen to do that with. Maas would have been better off to stick with the tried and true FG.
-        I can’t believe that we out penaltied a Jason Maas team. We added 10 more penalties (mostly on special teams). This needs to stop.
-        I’m just glad that after spending the week forced to cheer for the Bombers, we didn’t waste the opportunity. If I had cheered for the Bombers for nothing I would have been pissed.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Riders vs. Eskimos: Just Win Baby

Saturday the Riders are in Edmonton to face the 8-8 Eskimos. The Riders will be looking to lock down a home playoff game and keep their hopes of first place alive (though they are admittedly slim as they rely on the Bombers being useful). The Eskimos have really nothing to play for as they are already locked in as the crossover team. Trevor Harris returns so they will be looking to get their offense clicking again but other than pride they really aren’t playing for much. Weird schedule this year as this will mark the first meeting of the year of these 2 teams. I think the CFL had a bit more dramatics in mind for this season ending head-to-head. Way to screw that up Edmonton!

Despite having nothing to play for, I expect the Esks to put up a strong fight. They actually have a pretty solid defense and with getting a healthy Harris back they have enough offensive weapons to be dangerous. Last week we played down to the level of the inferior Lions and slept through half that game. Edmonton is a better team and will make us pay if we try doing that again. We have a chance to finish in 1st place and be one win away from the Grey Cup (something we haven’t done since 2010) … it would be nice if we showed up with intensity matching the size of the opportunity.

Our offense will need to actually show up at kickoff as opposed to having a leisurely nap and then deciding to start trying part way through the game as they have been. In our last 3 road games we have scored a total of 9 first quarter points… compare that to a total of 32 second quarter points. We have the ability to score we just choose to make life difficult on ourselves by not flexing that ability until later in the game. It would be nice to start correcting that now so we are good to go for the playoffs.

The primary challenge you face in the Eskimos is an aggressive pass rush. Lots of blitzes, lots of pressure, lots of guys who can get after the QB (they have 4 players with 5+ sacks). O-line will need to have a strong game. We also (and I know I say this every week) need to run. The Esks are #1 against the pass but #5 against the run. If you just drop back and try to beat them through the air, you play into their strength as pass rushers. Use Powell to slow down that rush. Also, given the aggressive front there should be holes for Fajardo to exploit with his legs. The other way to slow things down is slow, patient drives to wear down the d-line. If the deep shots are there don’t be afraid to take them but more important to take what they give you and string together long drives. If you keep pounding at them and make them work, a team with nothing to play for with eventually check out. You can’t fake caring. I love that Arceneaux is back for this game. Facing a blitz heavy team, having vet receivers who can read the blitz and adjust their routes to help their QB are import. Look for a lot of Manny, Roosevelt and Watson.

The Eskimo offense features a ton of talent with guys like Harris, Ellingson, Daniels and even Collins. The problem is that their offense is built around a core philosophy of complete avoidance of the endzone and reliance on FGs. Bold strategy Cotton. The Esks have 32 TDs (second least) and 46 FGs. By comparison the Riders have 46 TDs and 35 FGs (And we complain that we settle for too many FGs). The Esks are 47% in the redzone second only to the RedBlacks. The Esks allow the least sacks, due in large part to Harris’ quick release. So it will be tough to get pressure on him but we need to try. He’s just back from injury and wanting to make sure he’s good to go for playoffs so he’ll be trying to avoid any contact. We need to takeaway those quick releases and force him to hold the ball longer to give our D-line (bolstered by the return of Micah) a chance to get there. With Gable out Shaq Cooper will be the RB and I actually think he offers the Esks more explosive ability out of the backfield. Gotta keep him in check. What I really want to see is us set the tone physically. The Esks are playing for pride. If we hit them hard and hit them often they will eventually wear down and check out.

This game will feature the two most penalized teams in the CFL. For the love of god Al Bradbury better not be assigned to this game or it make take 5 hours to complete. We need to be disciplined and not retaliate when the Esks do stupid things. Let them hurt themselves. Let their coach hurt the Gatorade jug. Stay cool. Be smart. Be physical. That said I'm already calling that Marshall takes his usual 15 yarder and AC Leonard gores offside at least twice. It's gonna happen.

This is not gimme game. If we walk in there and half ass it, we could lose. But here’s a dose of reality for you. The Esks may be a .500 team but 7 of their 8 wins have come against the 3 teams who are eliminated from the playoffs. Their only other victory was week 1 over the Als… who were still starting Antonio Pipkin at that point. Remember how awful he was? Point being, the Esks are better than the bad teams but not on par with the good ones. So that leaves a good team playing for first place versus a not good team playing for pride. We should win. Based on how this season has gone I’m already mentally preparing myself for a game that we make way more difficult than it needs to be. It will take another late game sprinkle of Jesus comeback but in the end…

Riders by a Roosevelt TD

Monday, October 21, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Job Done

Riders 27 – Lions 19

It certainly couldn’t be described as a job well done, or even decently done but it was a job done by the Riders on Friday night and that’s what’s important. They needed a win to keep their hopes of first place alive and that exactly what they got. It was closer than it should have been and I’ll admit to uttering a least a couple curse words during that awful opening half. But in a results-based business they got results. If you have been a Rider fan for any length of time you have developed a healthy tolerance for ugly wins.

The defense did their job. Through 3 quarters they allowed just 9 points and 3 of those came as a result of Shaq Evans fumbling in FG range. They force turnovers. They notched 6 sacks. About the only thing you can fault them for not being able to contain the super-human catching abilities of Bryan Burnham. Short of shanking him I’m not sure what more you can do to stop him… and even them he’d probably still make the catch with the shiv still hanging out. Penalties are trending down but there were still too many of them for my liking. Better teams will make us pay for those kind of mistakes. Judge made his impact felt in his return and you get the sense that Elimimian is starting to peak at the right time of the year. Another week another solid game by Chad Geter. Still wondering what led to the decision to release him at the start of the year.

Offense was unfortunately a familiar song and dance. We started slow yet again, essentially sleeping through all but the final 2 minutes of the first half. Not sure if we need some caffeine in Fajardo’s Gatorade or what but we get off to consistently slow starts. In our last 6 games we are averaging 3 first quarter points. That won’t cut it come November. I also thought our offensive play calling was suspect. While the pass game was sputtering to start, William Powell was not. Three of his first 4 runs went for 10+ yards. So naturally we gave him the ball just 6 times in the first half and opted to continue to lean on a struggling pass game.  Hell Powell even managed to get a first down on a Cody Fajardo run when Cody fumbled and he saved the day. Fortunately we figured things out in the third quarter and got rolling. Roosevelt continues to be our most valuable WR. In know he doesn’t have the most yards or TDs but he is what makes our pass game go. Evans and Moore are WRs trending in opposite directions. Evans has had a rough couple games  while Moore has caught all of his targets in consecutive games and made some key catches including a TD in this game. Not saying we should give up on Shaq but I think we could maybe benefit from giving a bit “Moore” love to the hot hand of Swerve (I know that pun was awful, I do not apologize). We need to get better at finishing drives. 4 FGs is too many. Again, when we play teams that actually made the playoffs a lack of finish like that can hurt us.

The game really seemed to me to be a case of playing down to our competition. The game wasn’t ever really in doubt but was way closer than it ever should have been had we played up to our usual level. You can see the times in the game where we tried (i.e. end of the 2nd, whole 3rd) and when we were in coast mode (1st and latter portions of the 4th). We need to be better but it’s not time to panic. We got the win we needed. 

The Bombers did us no favours… useless buggers. So we are still sitting in second place. Technically we have not clinched a home playoff game yet. In the unlikely event that both the Riders and Stamps lose out and we finish in a 3-way tie with the Bombers then we could finish 3rd still.  We can ensure it doesn’t come to that with a win next week over the Esks. I won’t say I like the chances of the Bombers actually doing us a favour and winning. They have a hard enough time winning with a mobile Streveler. A gimpy Streveler is certainly not going to improve those odds. They may have to decide between a concussion prone Collaros or non-running Streveler to salvage their slim hopes of a home playoff game. For the love of god let give Collaros a chance to be the hero Rider Nation always hoped he’d. Also for the love of god, Stamps don’t kill him.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Riders vs. BC Lions: Drive For First

Despite the disappointment of last week’s loss, the Riders enter this week with a very real chance at first place. We need to win out and then hope that Winnipeg beats Calgary at least once. As I’m sure anyone in Manitoba can attest to, counting on the Bombers for anything positive this late in the year is a recipe for disappointment but it’s the best chance we’ve got.  For now the Riders can’t worry about other teams. They need to take care of their own business and that starts with a road trip to face the 5-11 Lions.

I get the narrative about how much improved the Lions are in the back half of the season. They’ve won 4 of 5, offensive line is playing better, blah blah blah. And I’m here to tell you its all a bunch of BS. The Lions have not improved. They happened to hit the easiest portion of a schedule imaginable playing Ottawa twice, Toronto and Montreal on the road without their QB. And all the talk of their improved O-line? That 4 game stretch was against 3 of worst pass rushes in the league. Low and behold when they played Edmonton (not even a top end team) they lost and gave up 4 sacks. Here’s the true facts on the Lions. They are 0-8 against the west and in those western games average just 18 points scored to 35 points allowed. And that was with Mike Reilly. They have the second least offensive yards on the season… and that was with Mike Reilly. Are they as bad as Toronto and Ottawa? Lord no. But does that make them a good team? No, it makes they a slightly brighter shade of awful.

If the Riders are serious about finishing first place they should waltz into BC Place and lay a beating on the Lions so bad that PETA ends up protesting. Let me reiterate that the Lions are 0-8 vs. the West… and that was with Mike Reilly… AND that was when they had something to play for. Do you really think that a team led by Danny O’Brien playing for pride will somehow magically manage to cure themselves of the craptastic play that has plagued their 2019 season? Anything less than a convincing win has to be a disappointment.

It really starts with the defense. A stat (courtesy of the CFL Game Notes) I found very interesting was that in our 10 wins we have allowed an average of 16.1 points per game… in our 5 loses 33.8 per game. So its no secret that we perform best when our D is playing at a high level. And man oh man does our D have a juicy match-up this week. Danny O’Brien has a career completion % of 54 and has not thrown a TD since 2014. Add in a shaky O-line and it should add up to a good night on D. I honestly don’t get what people keep seeing in O’Brien. I thought it was pretty obvious in Ottawa that he didn’t have it, but here he is 2 teams later still getting opportunities (and still not looking very good). The run game has improved so we need to make stopping that a priority. I don’t care that he has Bryan Burnham (currently the bet receiver in the CFL) to throw to, Danny O’Brien is not winning this game with his arm. Be physical, dictate the play to them and we should be in for a defensive performance much like last time we travelled to BC… only this time we get to feast on O’Brien not Reilly. I just hope we manage to play so dominant on defence that they end up playing Brandon Bridge. After suffering through him here last year, I feel I’m owed this moment of joy.

Much like we need to set the tone physically on defense, I want to see the same on O. These guys are playing for nothing, do you really think they will be committed to repeatedly stopping us running down their throats? Get the O-line attacking, get Powell running at them and wear them down. As the game wears on what’s left of their care factor will dwindle. Run early run often. That will also open up the pass game. With Aaron Grymes done for the season there will be open receivers. Outside of TJ Lee, nothing in that secondary scares me. I expect a bounce back game for Shaq with a couple crossers and at least one deep one. Basically as long as we don’t turn the ball over, we should be able to do enough to get and maintain a lead.

Special teams could also be a factor in this one. BC has the worst punt return average (almost 2 yards less than us, and we aren’t very good). They also allow the second biggest punt returns. Last time we played in BC 2 big special team plays were all they really had. It would be nice to flip the script and have the big plays go in our favour this time.

As long as the Riders show up and put in full effort they will win. Can’t afford to sleepwalk through this one even if the Lions are not very good. As long as we take this game seriously…

Riders by 16 minimum

Monday, October 14, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Opportunity Missed

Riders 28 – Stamps 30

Unlike the previous week which was marked by seizing opportunity, this week was the opposite. The opportunities were there but we couldn’t take advantage. We missed a wide open Shaq Evans for a sure TD. Gainey let an INT fall through his hands. Lauther missed a FG. Thiggy misplayed a kickoff that went for 6 the other way. In a game that ended up being decided by just 2 points, any one of those plays would have made the difference. But couldas and wouldas are about as valuable as RedBlack and Argo playoff tickets. Calgary made more plays than us… there’s a reason they are consistently one of the top teams in the CFL.

Offensively, while Fajardo showed marked improvement from his first encounter with the Stamps he still wasn’t at the top of his game. You could tell the Stamps’ D was frustrating him. They are a D that takes away the deep ball and makes you be patient and methodical in your drives. When Fajardo did just that, things went fine. In the second quarter he led 15 and 8 play drives and an 11 play drive in the 4th that resulted in points. But his INT was a direct result of him getting impatient and forcing a ball downfield that he should not have. It certainly didn’t help that Shaq had his worst game of the season. He looked like vintage 2018 Shaq (and that is not a compliment). In a close game where Powell was averaging over 6 yards per carry it seems stupid to me that we limited him to just 8 touches but McAdoo seems to be bipolar when it comes to running. Either its all he does or it becomes an afterthought… there is no middle ground.

Defensively, Mitchell carved us up like Thanksgiving turkey. We let him complete almost 80% of his passes. In particular he made Ed Gainey his bitch. And given that Mitchell is a whiny bitch (see his half time comments) that makes Gainey a bitch’s bitch… which pretty low.  In addition to allowing a ton of completions, Gainey as had 46 yards in penalties on one drive. Aside from the Marshall pick six there wasn’t a lot to be happy about on D. That said, Bo Levi picks are extra sweet. They are second only to Winnipeg INTs in terms of ones I enjoy. Despite the Stamps missing their starting tackle we had minimal pressure. We ran a lot of 3 man rush which in theory gives you more in pass coverage but you wouldn't have known that from the ease Mitchell had in completing passes. We let a fullback rack up 46 yards rushing. We might as well have been fielding 5 Solomon Means for as useful as the secondary was. Calgary is a very good offense so some struggles are to be expected but this is the caliber of offenses we are going to need to beat come playoffs (it won’t all be Stevelers and back-up QBs).

It’s not all doom and gloom. We went toe to toe with the best team in the west and came within an FG of victory despite not playing our best. But this game certainly highlighted what separates the top teams from the others. Calgary made plays when they were there. We missed a few and that’s all it takes when you are playing top teams. The good news is that first place is still a very real possibility. We need to win our final 3 (against the bottom west teams who all have nothing to play for) and hope Winnipeg wins at least one against the Stamps (look Bombers I know we’ve said some pretty unkind things in the past but I’m willing to take back at least some of those if you just do us this one solid). We still need to go out and earn it but it’s ours for the taking.

Other random thoughts:
-        That was a nasty game full of big angry hits… and an ankle lock that would make Ken Shamrock proud. I really don’t understand Calgary’s strategy of playing overly aggressive with the most flag happy ref in the league in charge.
-        I still don’t understand how we can be so good at kick returns (2 returns of 30+ yards in the game) and so bad at punt returns.  
-        Love the call and execution on the fake FG. I honestly thought we waited too long to snap it and lost the element of surprise but we pulled it off.
-        Our offense was focused on the wrong guys. Williams-Lambert caught 2 of his 7 targets and Evans caught 2 of his 6. Meanwhile Roosevelt was 5 for 5, Watson was 6 for 7 and Moore was 3 for 3. Gotta ride the hot hands.
-        I hope Micah’s injury is nothing longterm
-        Even though it will cost him, I was highly entertained by Ed Gainey’s “Y’all can’t cheat us outta this shit bra!” Thank god TSN warned me that viewer discretion was advised. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Riders vs. Stamps: Western Showdown

July 6th seems eons ago. That was the last time these 2 teams met. You may recall that Nick Arbuckle, in his first start ever, led a dismantling of the Riders (not the first, nor sadly likely the last time an unknown QB will embarrass us). The loss left the Riders with a 1-3 record, tied with BC for last and questioning pretty much everything from personnel, to coaching to whether the failed unveilings of the 13th man banner were to blame. We have lost one game in the 3 months that has passed since then… I repeat one game in three months! Now we are in a battle with Calgary for first place. The early season mass hysteria is a distant memory… though we’re Rider fans so we are ready to break it back out at a moments notice.

For a second week in a row, the opportunity is massive. Win and we have a 2 game lead for first with 3 games remaining (all against the bottom west teams). Though unlike last week, where our opportunity was against a team that couldn’t pass on our own turf, we now must face a team that is really good at passing on the road. Calgary has not lost more than 2 games at home in a season since 2011. They have just 12 total home loses since 2012… the Argos managed that in just 14 weeks. Point being Calgary is a tough place to win. Though we have won our last 2 visits there.

Defense will have an entirely different test than last week. Unlike the Bombers who live on the run and don’t/can’t pass, the Stamps live on the pass and don’t really run. They have the #1 passing attack and the #8 running attack (due in large part to having a new RB every week due to injury). We need to keep them one dimensional. Mitchell can hurt you with his arm but taking away the run will allow our D-line to pin their ears back and pressure him… which is the key to beating him (especially with Derek Dennis out due to injury). Begelton and Rogers and their combined 15 TDs are the big concern. Though keep in mind that the last time we played the Stamps our starting CBs were Blace Brown and Solomon Means. Saying Marshall and McCray are an upgrade is like saying prime rib is an upgrade over expired hotdogs that have fallen on the ground. One thing I’ve noticed about Mitchell this season is that his INTs are up. He has 8 in just 7 games. At that pace he will throw 12 INTs on the season in just 11 game. That’s almost as much as he threw in all 18 games last season. Part of that is likely due to his ever changing cast of receivers. Be aggressive and take advantage of turnovers when the opportunity arises. None of this dropping multiple INT opportunities like last week. Turnovers cost the Stamps against the Als, and while I don’t expect them to turn it over 5 times again, the way our D is playing 1 or 2 should be enough. Judge sits this week in favour of Teitz… that’s a downgrade but at this point far better to rest Judge and make sure he’s good to go for playoffs.

Offensively we get another stiff test in the Stamps. They have the #2 run D. They force more turnovers than anyone. They held the Als to just 1 TD and were it not for a punt return TD may be currently tied with us in the standings. This will be another grind. If we could somehow convince Fajardo that the 4th quarter started a few minutes into the game that would be helpful. We are averaging 3 first quarter points over the last 4 games and another slow start in Calgary will be tough to overcome. Tough to run on the Stamps but we gotta try. Lean on Powell but it might also be time to get Thiggy a bit more involved whether running or short passes. I wouldn’t completely avoid Tre Roberson but he did have 2 picks last time we met so some caution would be advised. I think this is a game where we will need to spread the ball around and lean on guys not named Shaq. Much like last game, if we can protect the ball and at least move the ball enough to give the defense a decent rest then we can endure limited point production. That said when we get our chances, we need to find the endzone and not settle for FGs and punt singles. The Stamps actually have an offense so we need to bring our best.

One interesting thing I found is that only 1 of Calgary’s 5 loses have come against the West. In any other year that would be unheard of. If the game was in Saskatchewan I’d feel pretty good about our chances. But as mentioned, Calgary is a tough place to play. Plus Mitchell is 4-1 since returning as the starter. This is a potential West Final preview (though with any luck the location will be different come November). This is our toughest challenge to date but I think we are up for it. We will go toe to toe with the Stamps and pick off Bo at least once. My gut tells me to go with the Stamps in this one in a close game… but the way Fajardo has been sprinkling Jesus I’m hard pressed to pick against this team right now.

Going to stick with my gut and say Stamps win by 7 in a game where they go up early and we make a too little too late comeback.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Opportunity Seized

Riders 21 – Bombers 6

Coming into Saturday’s game both the Riders and Bombers had a huge opportunity in front of them. Thanks to the Als beating the Stamps, sole possession of first place (in addition to the season series) was on the line. One team seized that opportunity. One team played like they really don’t mind waiting another 29 years for a championship. For as long as I have been a Rider fan they have had a tendency to do things the hard way. It was refreshing to see them seize an opportunity.

Story of the game was the defense. They came to play! They were physical. They were sound tacklers. They forced turnovers. They dominated. I thought they executed a great game plan. Much like I talked about pre-game, they were willing to give up some passes assuming (quite correctly) that Steveler would eventually make mistakes. And boy did he. All 4 of our turnovers came when the Bombers were inside our 35. When it mattered most, we made plays. The most impressive of which was McCray’s crazy int. I really like how we controlled the run game. Streveler’s legs were not a factor. Harris was contained. We forced them to the air and the results should surprise no one. If the defense can keep up that level of play we should be in store for a great November. Only problem is that most of the teams we will play can actually pass. Man is it funny to see Bomber fans take back all the awful things they said about Matt Nichols.

Through 3 quarters I was about to start a petition to never allow Fajardo’s wife to another game. The D was dominating and the O was doing nothing. They weren’t making mistakes but we should have been way father ahead in that game for how much we were outplaying them. Fajardo looked uncharacteristically flustered. Indecisive in the pocket and off target on his throws. I wish we could find a way to summon whatever awakens in Fajardo in the final 5 minutes of game at some point in the first half because his slow starts are getting notorious but he always seems to deliver in the end. It’s kinda like the opposite of my love life where I start fast and often disappoint in the end. I like that we stuck with the run. Powell got double digit carries despite not always having a ton of room. The Bombers have a great D . But if you want a telling stat of how our offense did despite their struggles… neither WiIlie Jefferson nor Adam Bighill recorded a solitary stat. Roosevelt was his normal reliable self. Shaq Evans continues to develop into one of the top WRs in the league. It wasn’t pretty but thanks in large part to not turning the ball over, the O did enough to secure the win. I guess Mrs. Fajardo can come back.

As a sign of just how much we elevated our play as a team when it mattered most, we did great in 2 areas we normally struggle in. First, Dickenson was 2 for 2 on challenges. Normally he is just awful in that regard. Second, Jon Ryan (for as a much as I’ve criticized him) had his best day punting by far. I know 2 of them went for rouges but both were outstanding kicks with just unlucky bounces. It was the first game where he consistently found the numbers when punting. 

The defense set the tone but the whole team elevated their play when needed. For now we sit in sole possession of 1st place. Our magic number to clinch a home playoff game is 2 (combination of Rider wins and Bomber loses). But we have higher ambitions than just second. First place is ours for the taking for the first time since 2010. We will have to face an actual QB next week to get there.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Riders vs. Bombers: Season Series On The Line

Saturday the 9-5 Boo-bombers are in town for a third and final meeting with the Riders. The stakes are higher than Duron Carter on his way to the airport. Don’t like that one? The game is bigger than Jason Maas’ ears. Still not a fan? It has bigger consequences than a Kavis Reed post-game rant. Take your pick. The winner will take the season series and effectively be 2 games ahead of the other with 4 games remaining (3 in Winnipeg's case). If you want a chance at first, it’s pretty much a must win.

For as good as the Bombers have been this season (provided you exclude east road games where they have massive leads) the one place they have been struggling is on the road. They are 3-4 on the road… and just because it entertains me to no end I’ll list the teams they’ve lost to on the road: Riders, Ticats, Als… and the Argos! (pause for laughter). A lot of that is driven by their defense. While they have been allowing a microscopic 18 points per game at home, that number jumps to 25 on the road.

Defense will have to deal with Andrew Harris this time around. I assume Harris’ search for proof his supplement was indeed tainted is going as well as OJ’s search for the real murderer. Its no secret. Stop the run (be it Harris or Streveler) and you stop that O. Simple but not easy. Also, while I normally love their aggressiveness, this may be the game for the secondary to play off a bit. The book on Streveler is that he can’t throw… and that’s true to an extent but it’s a certain kind of passes he struggles with. Passes 1-9 yards he’s 77%. Passes 10-19 yards it drops to 62%. Passes over 20 yards it goes back up to 77%. That tells me we need our front 7 to be aggressive on short stuff and our secondary to take away the deep ball. Force him to throw those medium passes he struggles with. He may complete a few but I doubt he strings together long drives like that. He’ll throw picks like he did on Labour Day. We can’t show up with that craptastic tackling we displayed in the Banjo Bowl. Need sure tackles every time… just so I’m clear that means using arms to wrap up not just recklessly launching shoulders around. Given that this is the third time playing I expect a trick play of some kind. WR throw, fake dive throw, double reverse, etc… Need to stay disciplined and assignment sound.

Offensively we can’t afford a slow start. That winning Labour Day drive was great but I would honestly be happier if it wasn’t needed. If we can get a lead early and force the no-throw Bombers to chase then we have a huge advantage. If you look at the last couple games it’s the secondary that is collapsing for the Bombers… like embarrassingly so. Hamilton and Montreal didn’t even try running on the Bombers. I do think we need to follow the blueprint to an extent and attack that secondary BUT I would not abandon the run too early. The Bombers allow just 65 yards rushing per game so its tough but Powell showed on Labour Day what he can do when given some faith. Likely the game will be won through the air but gotta consistently at least try to run. Protecting the football is even more key in a game that could be a defensive slugfest. Gotta find that balance between aggression and not being reckless with the deep ball. I would lean heavy on the veterans Roosevelt and Watson (to a lesser extent). Shaq and Moore will likely be the big play guys but Roosevelt and Watson are your surehanded chain movers. I expect Williams-Lambert to take over the “token Manny catch role”… just hope it’s a big one.

When playing Mike O’Shea you need solid special teams on both sides. Coverage has drastically improved so hopefully that continues. At this point of the season, Jon Ryan is what he is and I just hope it doesn’t cost us. Much like my spidey senses are heightened for a trick play on O, one on special teams is also a real possibility. Again, stay assignment sound.

For all the talk about the Riders’ fortuitous schedule (and it has been, lets be honest), its not like the Bombers have much more to brag about. They are 2-4 versus teams that currently have a winning record. So if we’re calling out the Riders for beating up on bottom teams, let’s be consistent and do the same to the Bombers. The Riders are 4-3 vs. teams with a winning record just in case anyone cared.

This is a big, big game and I hope the teams shows up the energy and effort it needs. Home crowd should give a boost (muddle the huddle!). This won’t be easy and sadly I see us falling behind early but we’ll fight back and win… likely in a dramatic fashion that takes years off my life.

Riders by a sprinkle of Jesus.