Friday, November 26, 2021

Riders vs. Stampeders: West Semi 2021

I know this season has seemed like a drag. We won a lot of ugly games. It wasn’t always the most exciting football. But the end result is a home playoff game on Sunday. I think we should a minute to appreciate that. This will be our 3rd straight season with a home playoff game. We have literally gone decades without home playoff games in the not so distant past. Now it has become something that is a regular expectation. Don’t take the current winning culture for granted. Its not a guarantee and it can easily slip away.

While this is fortunately not the first playoff game at new Mosaic, one thing we have yet to experience in our new digs is a playoff win. In the regular season, we certainly enjoy homefield advantage with a .706 winning percentage. In the post season, we are currently 0 for in that department. Sunday seems like as good a day as any to change that.

The 3 regular season meetings were decided by a total of 6 points, so that would tell you that these are 2 evenly matched teams and we can expect the 4th match-up to be another nail biter. Have mercy on our hearts. 

A few key differences to note from the first match-ups. In our 2 loses we fielded Campbell and Brown in the secondary. In the win we fielded Webb and Clark, who each got a pick. Fortunately it’ll be Webb and Clark this time again. While both have shown their inexperience at times, they have proven way less of a liability than their predecessors. We will also have Dan Marino who did not play in any of the previous meetings. But the changes aren’t all lopsided in our favour. Since we last met the Stamps have added Tre Roberson and Reggie Begelton. That’s a pretty big injection of talent down the stretch.

Defensively there are 2 things we need to do. Don’t get beat deep early and contain Kadeem Carey. In the 2 loses we spotted the Stamps 14 and 10 points respectively in the first quarter before smartening up and playing defense. In the win, we gave up just a FG in the first quarter. In the loses, we let Kadeem Carey gain 89 and 178 yards. In the win, we held him to 67. Two other things I really key in on in this matchup are D-line and turnovers. We have a damn good D-line and they are fully heathy. Calgary has a very solid OL but this stat jumped out at me. Calgary allowed just 20 sacks all season (2nd best) but 10 of those came over the 3 games we played. Winning in the trenches is key and we all know we ain’t winning on the other side of the trenches so our D-line (led by AC and Micah) need to be disruptive. Turnovers is another thing we are good at. We forced the second most this season. Here’s a stat I love, Bo Levi Mitchell tied for the league lead in interceptions putting on par with Taylor Cornelius in that department. Also remember that Bo missed 3 games.  Now obviously in a playoff game Mitchell can’t be taken lightly, especially when he has Jorden and Begelton to throw to. But if the D-line can be disruptive I see chances for turnovers and we need to seize those. We all know of offense can’t be counted on for more than 20 points so the pressure will be on the D to keep the score low.

I have confidence in our defense… the same cannot be said for our offense. I’m just hoping that can do the bare minimum to scrape out a win. Calgary has a very good defense (allowed over 20 points just once in the past 7 games) and let’s face it, we struggle even against the mediocre defenses. This one is really all about Fajardo, can he make his reads, can he protect the ball, can he will us to first downs?  Lots of talk about Fajardo going full 2013 Durant and winning this game with his legs. To a certain extent that will be a factor. Cody isn’t great at sliding at the best of times, so you know in a playoff game he’s fighting for every inch. But here’s the thing… Calgary is not stupid. They will probably plan for this. They certainly aren’t going to scheme away our deep passes. So I would expect the Stamps to take away everything short and force us to throw. As much as Cody is our leader and wants to win this game, I think we need to take some pressure off him by given Powell a heavy workload. Cody’s fighting spirit is good but I see it leading to him forcing things if we put everything on him. Also, I’ve a stated more times than I can count, the less time our OL spends in pass protection, the better.

Obviously Duke will be the focus point. Both for us and for Calgary. He’s our best weapon at this point and he needs to see the ball. But this really strikes me a game primed for Evans to have a breakout. He’s been ok since returning from injury but not 2019 dominant. With Duke drawing extra attention this could be his breakout game. I also don’t want us to forget about Schaefer-Baker. Good things happen whenever he gets the ball. You have 3 big bodied reliable receivers… use them. Seams, crossers, quick outs that’s where we will find success. I also think we need to pull out all the stops. Let LaFrance or Morrow get some touches. Bring back that dump off to Dupuis. The more we keep Calgary guessing, the easier life will be for Fajardo. I mean pretty much any play other than a swing pass is likely to surprise them. 

I still have very little confidence in our O but if you want a stat to help you feel better… we average 24.6 points at home vs. 16.9 on the road.

I honestly don’t know what to expect in this one. On one hand our playoff record at new Mosaic sucks and Calgary is a good team who knows how to win in the playoffs. On the other hand we managed to extract 9 wins from a hapless offense and a defense with constantly changing players. We seem to be uniquely built for playoff football. Also, given that you know the game will be close, its nice to have a guy like Fajardo who seems to have a knack for pulling a drive out of nowhere when you absolutely need it. Maybe just look for sideline passes when we get to the redzone this time… you know, for reasons I’d rather not state out loud.

I see no more fitting way then for the following ending to lead to our first playoff victory at new Mosaic: Lauther FG with 1:30 left on the clock to go up 9. Calgary ties it with 60 seconds left on a long TD over Marshall. Leading to an onside kick recovered by Duke.

Riders by 2.

Let’s make it friggin’ loud in there!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: It Was What It Was

Riders 3 – Ti-Cats 24

Well if you were surprised by that game I don’t know what to tell you. That was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. I actually thought it would be worse but Montreal’s epic choke job to the RedBlacks took the Hamilton care factor way down. Still it was mostly their starters against mostly not ours. Our starters struggle to find the endzone, what did you think our back-ups would do?

Harker looked very much like a back-up QB. Could he play if you needed him to? Yeah. Is he ready to be a starter? Only if Jamie Elizondo is coaching the team. In fairness to him the O-line was even worse than normal (didn’t think that was possible). On the first pay of the game Jefferson completely whiffed on his block and if Harker didn’t neatly sidestep the rush his night could have been over before it started. What was more concerning than our completely inability to pass block was the fact that the run blocking was not good either. If a lineman can’t run block or pass block, why are they employed? Jamal Morrow did the best with what he was given… which was zero room most of the time. About the only guy to really seize the opportunity offensively was Mitch Picton. Who was only 1 of 2 Riders to notch more receptions than the Hamilton Ti-Cats off Rider QBs. Fine didn't look awful (that' the closest thing I have to a compliment after that game). 

Defensively there was at least something to talk about. D-line notched another 4 sacks. AC Leonard was likely only playing because he has an incentive in his contract for a bonus if he leads the league in sacks. He got the one he needed and then I guarantee told Woodard that if he dared to get a sack that he was walking home. I swear I have seen Keion Adams make exactly 2 plays this season and they have both been the exact same play. Dude has a knack for taken the runner down off the edge. I love Marino and the toughness he brings to DT but he’s gotta learn to walk the line a bit better and not take penalties. Speaking of penalties, after a really bad start Mak Henry had been doing really well in that department… until he needlessly dropped the QB after the whistle. One guy who played great was Bouka. I mean on his second INT he jumped way too early and basically made the catch on the ground but this team hates styles points so who cares. He will be a welcome depth addition to the secondary for the stretch.

That’s the extent I’m going to analyze this. No one new really jumped off the page (I guess Miligan did have a sack but he also had some bad beats too). The point of the game was to rest our starters and not add new injuries and we did. So mission accomplished. If you had asked me after Cofield and Labatte opted out and half the defense snapped their achilles, if I would be happy with 9-4 and second place, I would have said hell yeah. We won ugly a lot but we won a lot. And if nothing else those ugly wins tell me that we are ready for playoff football because we know how to grind out close games.

Been a while since we’ve faced Calgary in the playoff and damn if it won’t feel good to have the chance to shut them up one more time.

Side note: that should 100% have been a Marshall on that TD. They called it a screen pass which is why we couldn’t challenge but the pass was clearly beyond the line of scrimmage.   

Friday, November 19, 2021

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Regular Season Finale

I’m not going to lie to you, the only way this game against the Ti-Cats is remotely interesting is if the Alouettes somehow manage to lose to the hapless RedBlacks on Friday and the Ti-Cats have 2nd place clinched before kickoff. Otherwise we will witness what happens when a team that is playing their starters and trying to win plays a team resting anyone that matters… and who played some pretty ugly ball when they were actually trying. This is essentially a pre-season game for the Riders. We will get to see what some of our back-ups can do.

Let me first address the people who are questioning the decision to rest people, Fajardo in particular. The argument of course is that our offense is terrible and we need all the reps we can get to work it out. Now take a minute and ask yourself honestly, how much progress will our offense realistically make in a half a football they don’t care about? Now ask yourself how much our slim odds of victory go down if Fajardo takes a needless hit and is either out or ailing for the playoff game? The right move is to rest people. We are what we are after 13 games. One more half won't change the world. 

We know that Fajardo, Clark, Duke and Micah won’t play. Odds are Purifoy, Teitz, Boyko and Powell are out or extremely limited. I’m good with all of that. Fajardo, Micah and Purifoy in particular are our keys to victory so making sure they are heathy for the game that matters is a must. Normally with possibly two starting OL out, you’d worry about serving up an inexperienced QB to the wolves. But our starters aren’t very good so its not like it will be much of a downgrade.

Rather than my normal game breakdown, I’ll approach this like a preseason game and say what I’m looking for. Obviously QB is a great place to start. Really curious to see how Harker fares. I mean don’t expect much as he’s playing with our B team against a playoff caliber opponent but I want to see how he does (decision making, reads, accuracy) with an extended audition. He’s getting to the point were we need to decide if he will keep developing or has peaked. Also genuinely want to see what Paxton Lynch can do. I generally discount any high profile NFL QB as they rarely pan out but to his credit Lynch has patiently bided his time as a back-up. He may suck he might not, but at least we’ll know for sure. I’d love him to be good, but I also could not stand the immediate calls for him to start over Cody that will predictably come if he throws a solitary nice deep ball.

Really happy to see Morrow get the start at RB. A year on the practice roster in 2019. Started the year behind the clearly inferior Murphy. Got benched for the clearly inferior Davis. Dude just keeps putting in work, making plays and earning his spot. Powell can’t have many more years left, maybe Morrow can establish himself as more than a returner. Also genuinely curious to see how our OL does. The assumption is that given how bad our line is, that our back-ups must be awful if we won’t even play them. But maybe St John or Jefferson step up and look not embarrassing. Not holding my breath… like I assume Harker will do when he sees how much time he has to pass.

The thing to watch will be our D-line. Even with Micah resting we still have guys like Marino, Robertson, Woodard and Lanier who we know can make plays (though it will be a bit tougher without the beast that is Micah drawing the most attention). Hamilton does not have a very good O-line (remember the first time we played them?) so there may be plays made there. Looking like Herman-Pinckney and Alvin Jones at LB so run D and short zones could be a bit sketchy. Nick Marshall takes plays off in games that matter so I expect him to give up 2 TDs in this game.

This game could go one of 2 ways and it all depends on Masoli. He’s so inconsistent. Some times he looks like an MOP and sometimes he looks like a POS.  Ti-Cats actually have less offensive point than us (granted they were reduced to starting David Watford a couple times) and are 3rd worst in yards. In a year where they started with Banks, Posey and Addison as their receivers, I’m sure everyone expected Tim White to finish the year with the most receiving yards on the team. If Masoli is on, they crush us. But if he struggles and our D-line can get to him, I could see this playing out like our Edmonton games, way closer than they should be but the good team winning in the end.

I’ll be honest, as much as I love good football that matters, I’m kinda looking forward to a stress free Saturday where all we care about is maybe seeing a rookie or two shine. Riders rest their starters. I rest my heart.

Ti-Cats by 10


Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Good News Monday

Riders 29 – Elks 24

I’m going to start on a point that Rob Vanstone touched on in a recent article… that being to actually appreciate the fact that we have secured a home playoff game. We have been very spoiled in recent years when it comes to home playoff games. We’ve just come to expect them. So much so that we are now complaining about the team not looking good enough when clinching them. Go back and explain to someone who lived through the 90s and early 2000s how you are unhappy that Riders didn’t look good enough despite clinching a home playoff game. They would look at you like you are the dumbest person alive. They would have killed to see one home playoff game, let alone multiple in back to back years. They wouldn’t have cared if we got said playoff games thanks to a last second rouge that improbably bounced in off the returner’s left testicle. I’ll be the first to admit that the Riders look like garbage in most of their wins. But I much prefer the winning records and home playoff games of this era to the continual 3rd and 4th place finishes that “highlighted” the years 1999-2006. I’ll save my anger for when we actually lose.

In some ways the game went exactly as expected minus not needing a Duke Williams on-side kick recovery. Ugly game: check. Closer than we’d all like: check. But in other ways it was a very different game. Defense had an off game. Not bad per say but just not the rock solid we’ve come to expect. They haven’t allowed this many points in over a month. The D-line looked rather so-so most of the night. They weren’t able to generate a turnover under Dearborn sealed it late. Offense, still looked trash most of the night but still managed to explode for 3 TDs. 3!!! That’s damn near a month worth of production at our normal pace. Special teams also chimed in both in a good a bad way. So we followed a similar template but found a slightly different way to win.

The story of the game was Duke Williams. He was dominant. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Rider receiver consistently own the defense play after play. He put up 146 and a TD and the crazy thing is he should have easily doubled that if we fed him the ball. At least 4 times I saw him beat his DB clean off the line and not get the ball. One in particular bugged me. I’m a just a dude in the stands who hasn’t played beyond recreational flag but even I recognized that we had Duke one on one to the short side with no safety help over top. Duke embarrassed the DB at the line and would have been wide open for an easy long TD… but Cody didn’t even look to that side of the field!!! A couple of times, pressure forced him to look away from an open Duke but that time was all on him. You need to at least look when you see that coverage. He threw another bad pick and should have had an even worse one but got bailed out on penalty. But then again he did produce 3 TDs to 3 different receivers and completed 70% of the passes so he did his job. So it was the good and the bad. It just seems our offense seems to do absolutely zero most of the time. We finally threw a crosser to Baker and need to that more. Our offense needs to run through Duke, Shaq and Baker. Nothing good seems to happen when we try and get Louis involved.

Defensively as I said, they had an off night. I don’t like the pattern that is emerging. We struggled to stop Kadeem Carey and now in back to back weeks struggled with Fletcher. Run D will be kinda important given our playoff schedule. I like Damon Webb. Nick Marshall won’t be re-signed this offseason and as much as I’ll remember the good plays he’s made over the years, I won’t miss him. He gave up another TD on Saturday. I’m not sure AC Leonard is getting enough hype for his play. He is tied for the league lead in sacks, despite missing 3 games due to suspension. He has 10 sacks in 10 games. 10 in a full 18 games is a good season.

Special teams was a wild ride. After calling for weeks for Morrow to be back in the starting line-up, he immediately fumbles. But just as quickly totally redeemed himself with a massive 82 yard return to snuffed out momentum that Edmonton had gained with a TD. It’s clear he doesn’t not have the top end speed to make house calls. But he consistently produces positive returns and just seems to see his return lanes and attack north south. I’ll take than any day over a guy like Davis who had speed but no idea how to actually use it effectively.

So yeah, it was ugly. But the Riders needed a win and they got the job done. They secured a home playoff game and now get to rest some key players for a meaningless road game next week. Giving guys like Fajardo, Micah, Duke etc… some rest will be so beneficial come 2 weeks against Calgary. That's mission accomplished. 

So style points my ass. We won. Let’s not waste a win worrying about things that aren’t happening for 2 weeks. Again the fans from the 90s would not be able to fathom being angry after a win. Some years they couldn’t even fathom what a win would feel like.

Other random thoughts:

·        Curious what the damage was to Duke’s knee. I thought he was done but he managed to finish the game. Still a bit worried about how hurt he will be once the adrenaline wears off. Hopefully we dodged a bullet.

·        Highlight of the game was the fully clothed “Streaker” who ran onto the field only to find that nobody cared. He got to the other endzone was expecting security to swarm him but they never came. They never even moved. Finally he just casually walked up the stairs and into the stands. It was quite the spectacle.

I don’t care that the ref cussed. Do you know how many times a game I cuss? Do you know how many times I cuss in games I played in? Do you know how many times I silently cursed while reffing games even at kids’ level? Grown man swears… colour me shocked. I find it funny that the mics caught it but that’s about it

Friday, November 12, 2021

Riders vs. Elks: Home Playoff Game On The Line

The math is so simple even Ryan Dinwiddie couldn’t screw it up (well maybe he could). Should the Riders win at home against the worst team in the CFL they clinch a home playoff game. That alone is great incentive. But the added bonus is that if they win this week then the road game against Hamilton next week is meaningless and we can rest some key starters ahead of the playoffs. I don’t even care how ugly a win it is (and let’s be honest, it’ll probably be pretty ugly) this is one of those “just win baby” scenarios.

Now there has been a lot of talk about how screwed we are come playoff time, and I’m not saying your wrong. But there will be plenty of time to worry about playoffs come playoffs. Besides, the ’89 Riders were not a better team than the Esks. The ’07 Riders were not a better team than the Lions so you never know. For the record, I’m not saying this team reminds me of ’89 or ’07. I’m just saying anything can happen come playoffs.

The second game of a back to back set is normally all about adjustments. But let’s be real, its not like the Elks will suddenly make adjustments to be good. And its not like our offense will suddenly adjust its way to being good either. So basically it will once again boil down to whether our defense can keep the score low enough for the solitary touchdown plus a few token FGs our offense will produce to be enough to get us to the onside kick where Duke Williams will save us.

I’m only kinda joking about that…

Defensively we once again get Taylor Cornelius (though I expect Arbuckle to show up in the 4th, probably in time to lead a late game comeback). D-line needs to set the tone upfront. This is the first of 3 meaningless games in 6 days for the Elks. Pride has its limits and a dominant performance by the D-line will test those limits pretty quickly. We need to shut down Fletcher this time around. We have film so we should be able to make adjustments. Would also help if our secondary doesn’t take the fourth quarter off (cough… Marshall… cough). No reason not to expect our defense to keep rolling.

Offense… I like them individually as people but let’s be honest: they suck. 20 points or less in 3 straight games. 3rd worst in scoring. 2nd worst in net yards. Less passing yards than any team not named Ottawa. They have been doing just enough to win the last 3 games and I appreciate their grittiness, but good they are not. Cody admitted to forcing it last game so hopefully with the benefit of game film he will be more willing to take what’s there. I repeat my plea for us to run. Edmonton has a bad run D and playing meaningless football on the road, they will wilt if we play a physical running game. Also I’d prefer to have our O-line do as little pass blocking as possible (based on how often Cody faces pressure, doing as little pass blocking as possible appears to be their preference). Run and stay committed to it. They may keep Powell’s gain small initially but they will get bigger as the game goes one.

Some bonus special teams stats for you to consider:

-        Rashard Davis – 8.4 yds per punt return. Jamal Morrow – 11.5 yds per punt return. What am I missing?!?

-        Jon Ryan – 37.2 avg net punting (5th among starting punters). Vedvik 42 avg net punting (would be first among starters). Admittedly a bit skewed by that 75er but still…

 We barely squeaked out a win in Edmonton. Despite what I expect to be a small crowd (even though the weather for November will be outstanding), I still think, being back home gives us a boost. The game will still be ugly as all sin but the win will be slightly more convincing.

Riders by a Powell TD (trying to wish the run game into existence) and going to be as bold as to call we score not 1 but 2 TDs.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Job Done

Riders 19 – Elks 17

Never apologize for winning.

You would scarcely know the Riders won on Friday by what has been said and written since. Look, I would have preferred a more convincing win just as much as anyone but they needed to win and they did. That should be good news given that we are 1 game away from clinching a home playoff game. I will have many criticisms in the coming paragraphs since that was an ugly performance. But ugly wins count the same as pretty wins. There were concerns over how the Riders would fare in the road heavy stretch to end the season… well, we just won our third straight road game and we are guaranteed to finish with a winning record on the road. Are we instilling confidence for the playoffs? Lord no! but we will have plenty of time to worry about that come playoff time.

We seem to have found our winning formula. Defense sucks early but locks it down. Offense sucks generally but finds the endzone at some point. Duke Williams recovers the onside kick in a fourth quarter that is way closer than it needs to be and voila… W.

If you exclude the fourth quarter the defense once again looked great. I mean, Taylor Cornelius has all the talent of Tino Sunseri so it was not a hugely difficult task but still they shut it down. D-line made their presence felt. We really had trouble with Fletcher for some reason. It was a very mixed bag for the secondary. In the first half I was actually commenting about how we were getting good play out of Marshall. Then he went and played coverage so lazy on that one TD that he might as well have laid down on the field and had a nap. Do your job! I could have done without the late game collapse but I mean the D did only give up 17 points so I feel they held up their end of the bargain in this one. At this point we are going to go as far as they can take us.

Offense… well the word of the day was “force” as in man oh man did we ever try and force a bunch of passes that just weren’t there. Like the first one. I get wanting to make an impact early but you have to see the WIDE OPEN guy underneath and take what they give you. Bad read, bad throw. And that just began the theme of trying to force what wasn’t there. I thought the whole Maas offense was based on taking what was there? What happened to that? O-line is still terrible. Elks clearly game planned to take away the run. We did try and run 16 times. I would have run more but it’s not like we didn’t try. It was nice that we remembered Schaefer-Baker is good. He a big physical receiver that would should definitely use more. We finally hit a 50/50 ball to Duke that was legit a 50/50. I was not a fan of our offensive game plan but then I’m not sure the last time I was. 1 TD a game won’t cut it come playoffs but it got the job done Friday. 

Was it ugly? Yes. Did we play down to the level of a really bad team? Yup. But did we find a way to get the win? Yes. Just look at the gong show that is Elizondo and remember that we could be doing much worse. Highlight of the game for me was the ref pointing out his stupidity in not being able to change his mind on the 2 point covert. 

Other random thought:

-        Gary Johson is good on special teams

-        I still don’t like him, but minus the fumble (Rector? Damn near killed ‘er!) that was Davis’ least crappy day returning. He at least looked mildly competent.

-        Vedvik is good

Friday, November 5, 2021

Riders vs. Elks: Opportunity Knocks

For the first time in franchise history, the Riders will play the Elks on Friday night. I’m fairly certain most expected a late game match-up between the two western rivals to have a bit more hype to it. I mean it is a meaningful game… but only for one team participating in it. And when it comes to the Elks’ recent performance “participating” may be an overstatement.

The Riders have a prime opportunity sitting in front of them. In terms of the last 3 games, things could not have lined up better. We have Edmonton twice and close on the road against Hamilton. If we beat the worst team in the CFL (I’m ranking them below Ottawa because they somehow managed to lose to them twice) two times, we clinch a home playoff game and can rest our key starters against Hamilton.  Its very doable. Except having been a Rider fan for as long as I have, I know they rarely do things the easy way so I have this lingering dread that we are somehow going to screw this up and end up needing a win in Hamilton on the final week.

I could probably write a novel about how awful the Elks have been this season. For the purposes of this post I’ll try and keep it concise and stick to the most pertinent onfield reasons they suck. But you also can’t ignore all the off field stuff from all the garbage surrounding Brock Sunderland to this ongoing feeling that Jaime Elizondo is not cut out for head coaching. There is too much talent on that roster to be this bad. They are actually the opposite of Ottawa who has a good coach but a roster so devoid of talent that they might as well just have employed an intern who flipped a coin to decide on roster moves. Edmonton has done worse in every consecutive season since Sunderland took over in 2017. If he stays just 2 more years he projects to find a way to lose 24 games in 2023. I’ll remind you that both Sunderland and Elizondo were at one point on the list of people the Riders were interested in for GM and Head coaching vacancies. May have dodged a couple bullets there.

I’m trying to be more positive so let’s start with our defense since it’s the only thing I tend to be able to say positive things about. I could give you litany of stats to show how awful the Elks’ are but I’ve narrowed it down to 3 key ones. They are 2nd last in points scored, 6th in sacks allowed and a massive -17 in the turnover ratio. Taylor Cornelius once again gets the start. Man I wish I could find someone to love me and overlook all my many glaring faults like Elizondo does for Cornelius. He has shown nothing and they keep staunchly putting their support behind him. He’s not particularly accurate, he doesn’t run and there are only 3 QBs in the league worse then him at the deep ball: Fajardo, Dominque Davis and… Arbuckle ironically. So if you overlook all that, I guess he’s an ok QB. For me the one stat that tells the story of the Elks O more than anything is that Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson have a combined 1 TD on the year, tying them with guys like Mitch Picton. Walker in particular seems completely checked out. He couldn’t catch VD at a low end brothel right now. It’s actually a shame that both he and Ellingson won’t play because I think his replacement may actually try. Wilder seemed to have been about the only guy who seems to be trying and he’s not playing either this week (due to an injury he apparently suffered trying to execute a double leg take down on Simoni Lawrence last week). Defense just needs to stick to what’s working. Edmonton O-line is not great, particularly on the edges. Both of their tackles are rookies and Nielsen (a global player) is making his first start of the year. Make like miserable for Cornelius and he’ll make mistakes. We can’t take them too lightly as guys like Armanti Edwards, Tevaugh Smith and even Shai Ross have the talent to do damage but if we play physical up front and tackle hard I can’t see them producing much points as long as Cornelius is the one throwing.

Offensively I have one piece of advice: “Hit em in the mouth, hit em in the mouth, hit em in the mouth”. This is a team with nothing to play for and with 4 games coming up in the next 14 days. Sure some of the young guys will be trying but the vast majority of them are in “collect a cheque and don’t get hurt mode”. I would pound it at them with Powell and LaFrance (I would add in Morrow but for whatever reason that seems to no longer be a thing). Make them play a super physical game and they will fold. As luck would have it they are also the worst run defense in the league so it should be a pretty fruitful strategy. If we have less than 20 runs in that game, we have screwed up. Maybe the gains will be small early but by the second half of the game they will get bigger and bigger as Elks wear down and check out. Coming in to the year the Elks looked to have a solid D with the only clear weakness being the linebackers. Well they sit second last in sacks (with a D-line featuring Boateng, Betts, Moore and Ceresna… I don’t understand how that is possible). They have forced a league low 7 turnovers. And they allow more points than anyone not named Ottawa, 28 points per game which is a hell of a dubious accomplishment in a year where scoring is universally down.

I know our offense is not big on starting fast (or starting in general for that matter) but an early score is needed in this one. Punch them in the gut early (not literally, I feel the need to clarify that given our tendency for dumb penalties) and get out to a lead and it will take whatever little life is left in them out of the equation. The longer we let them stick close in this one, the more their confidence and effort level will build. Run a lot and don’t turn the ball over. No need to force bad passes in this one. Take what’s there and make life miserable for the D.

I would say that special teams could play a factor since the Elks allow the most punt return yards but from what I’ve seen of Davis on returns I’m not holding any hope there. At least Edmonton has next to no return game themselves.

I would love to be super confident about this but I think back to just before the first Calgary game and how well we seized that opportunity. Now clearly Edmonton is a much worse team than Calgary. Let me remind you again that the only reason Ottawa has any wins this season is because they got to play the Elks twice. They are the only team without a home win… and at their current trend will soon be the only team without a home fan in the stands. We are the better team and need to go out and prove it.

Riders by 14

Monday, November 1, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: La Victoire Laid

Riders 19 – Als 14

I feel like I could just save myself a lot of time and copy and paste my sentimonies from the previous week and just add in a Choose Your Own Adventure about whether we hang on barely or blow it in the 4th. I mean the month of October was essentially this: defense starts slow but finishes strong and does everything in their power to give us a chance to win; offensive line can’t block; offense does next to nothing but musters a few measly points on the 2-3 competent drives they string together; the game ends up being closer than it should in the 4th. That’s it… that’s the write up every single week.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we squeaked out another road victory. I think we’d all prefer style points but we’ll keep taking them ugly if they keep ending in wins.

Let’s start with the defense who were the only reason we won that game. Jason Shivers does not get enough credit for the job he is doing. Remember that this is a defense that is missing multiple starters, has had numerous different combinations in the secondary and started the year down 2 bona fide starters in Dean and Bishop. And none of it seems to bother them. The D has allowed over 25 just twice, has the number 1 run D, has an impact pass rush and gets turnovers. This one was lead by the D-line who were relentless. In addition to their 5 sacks, we just missed about 4 more. I think we need to pause and appreciate the job our scouting did when it comes to bringing in talent. We are a franchise that sucks as recruiting pass rushers (name one other than John Chick in the past 15 years). We tend to have to sign them in free agency. But this year alone we brought in Woodard (league leading 9 sacks), Robertson (4 sacks) and Lanier (who was a force on Saturday). Oh and we will soon get back Marino. That’s more D-line talent than we have recruited in the past decade. Lewis and Weineke were held in check. Once we got past the first quarter, we did a good job on Stanback. The game was won by Purifoy. Montreal was driving and his INT was a minimum 10 point swing and completely snuffed out the last glimmer of hope from Matt Schiltz (who it turns out does indeed still suck).

As good as the defense was, the offense balanced things off with being equally as awful. I don’t recall an O-line this bad in my time as a Rider fan. There have been players who sucked (I could list many) but never has the whole line been this much of a liability. Lauderdale had particularly embarrassing day. It would sure be nice if those scouts who found all those DL could turn their attention to the O-line. We can gripe about Maas and Fajardo (and they deserve some criticism) but without an O-line that can block somebody (I would honestly settle for less than 3 people getting through per play) it’s hard to fault them too much.

Every aspect of the offense takes its turn struggling. The first play Maas nailed the play call, Fajardo threw a perfect pass and Moore dropped it. On one play Fajardo forced it to Duke rather than taking an easy wide open completion to Lenius in the flat for a first. On another he missed a wide open Shaq. Those are on Fajardo, not Maas. What is on Maas is not calling plays to at least try and hide his craptastic O-line. Those crossers to Shaq work, why do we run them so infrequently? why don’t we try it to Schaefer-Baker? Why don’t we use more timing outs? Why does Cody rollout so infrequently? Those would all help take pressure off the OL. The defense keeps gifting us turnovers but we keep we having zero ability to find the endzone. Generally you want to have faith that your offense could score a TD if you absolutely needed them to. Currently the best I could say if I have faith that they might move the ball to the fringe of Lauther range and hope for the best… and that’s on a good day. Sadly I think what you see if what you get. O-line won’t suddenly get better so the offense is what is it. This is like Chris Jones era football where the D will need to carry us and anything the O can muster is a bonus.

That was a pretty sad and depressing paragraph considering we won. The one good thing is that this team has won so many ugly, gritty games that they are built for the playoffs… just as long as we don’t have to play Winnipeg and get 3 chances to beat Calgary. We are undefeatable otherwise based on how the season has gone. The win is the important thing, as is clinching the playoffs. We are now 2 wins away from clinching a home playoff game. Ugly or not, I’ll take that outcome.

Other random thoughts:

-        The Rashard Davis experiment has failed miserably. Please but Morrow back on returns. He was a least good.

-        Gary Johson is my new favourite player.

-        Did not look good for Swerve. Expecting him to be out a while which sucks.

-        I’d harp more on our clock management but given the gong show that Ryan Dinwiddie did just before our game… I’ll just say that things could be worse apparently.

-        Mak Henry has quietly been very good up the middle this year.

-        Vedvik to alright in his punting debut. Clearly the cover teams haven’t yet adjusted to the difference between his and Ryan’s kicks yet though.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Riders vs. Alouettes: Heading East

Saturday the Riders are in Montreal to take on the Alouettes. The Riders are 3-5 in their last 8 trips to La Belle Provence. I’m hoping Covid restrictions will deter the “temptations of the night” that may have played a factor in our struggles there.

At first glance these teams would appear even matched as they both have a 6-4 record. But let me point out that 4 of Montreal’s wins came against Edmonton and Ottawa (3 times). So while the Riders boast a 6-0 record against teams not named Bombers or Stampeders. The Als boast a 2-4 record against teams that aren’t dumpster fires. I’m not saying we can take the Als lightly. I’m just giving you some context because the numbers overinflate how good they are in my opinion. Montreal gets to play Ottawa 4 times this year. If you can’t lead the lowly east division with 4 out of 14 games against the RedBlacks then your fans should get to pelt you with tomatoes while serenading you with boos.

Defensively the game will pit the Riders’ #1 Run D versus the Als’ #1 rushing attack. Stanback is a beast. In the 8 games he’s played he’s got under 80 yards just twice. Priority #1 is slowing him down. Yeah Montreal has a passing attack (which I’ll get to in a second) but if we let Stanback run all over us then we are in trouble. Limit him and we have a chance. The Als have a decent O-line but we handled Calgary’s pretty good and they are better than the Als. So limit the run game and it comes down to Matt Schiltz under pressure beating us. Were it not for the last game I would have openly mocked the prospect of Schiltz as a starter (as I did when we faced him in 2019). But he looked pretty good against the Argos. Not an all-star (completed 67% of his passes for just over 200 yards) but competent. He has the #1 and 3 receivers in the CFL in Lewis and Weineke (who also leads the CFL with 8 TDs) so we can’t discount them. What we need to do is take away the deep shot (something we have admittedly struggled at). Schiltz is a decent long ball thrower. But if you can take that away, he is the worst QB in the CFL on completion % for passes 10-19 yards… like worse then anything Ottawa has fielded. If he has the run and the deep ball he can do damage. Make him string lengthy drives together using his arm that’s advantage us. Montreal does lead the league in offensive points and net yards, and us much as it seems wrong to write, I think they are a more explosive offense then we faced in Calgary. But again to be bring context the numbers, the Als have only topped 30 points once when playing a not last place team.

Offensively we can’t rest on the laurels of last game. Sure it felt good to find the endzone twice but 20 points is hardly output worth being proud of, particularly when facing a team that can actually put points up. It would be nice if the o-line wasn’t a complete embarrassment. The Als lead the CFL in sacks, though I feel that’s a misleading stat because 17 of their 38 sacks came against Ottawa. If we apply my rule that stats against Ottawa count half then they really are only #3. Still they can get after the Qb… and we can certainly let them. Ackie likes to blitz a lot from the LB spot. We gotta run the ball. Powell had 2 first half carries last week and that’s ridiculous. This will be game 2 for Shaq so look for him to play a bigger role. I think Duke will be a 2-3 catch a game guy but they will be important catches. Still need Lenius and Moore to utilize the space that Shaq and Duke give them. Montreal has some decent talent on D. The place to attack them is the middle. Their MLB and Safety stand out on the depth chart as not being the most experienced or renowned. Run the ball, move Cody around to help the OL and most importantly score. We tend to have a down week after scoring multiple TDs and we can’t do that this week and expect to win.

Special teams could factor in this game. On the positive side, Montreal allows the 3rd most punt return yards, and 2nd most kick return yards. After playing a smothering Calgary’s cover teams, this may be our best chance to break a big one. On the other side we will have a new punter in Kaare Vedvik (side note: Roy Shivers would have killed for a punter like Vedvik… for obvious reasons). Ryan’s absence also means a new holder on FGs. Hopefully that doesn’t impact things.

Riders by a lightning strike. Is it too soon to make that joke?

Seriously, this is going be a tough game in a place we tend to struggle. I really want to laugh off Matt Schiltz but this is just the kind of game we would make him look like a star. Since it seems to be working for us, let’s stick with the really ugly, rage inducing, roundabout, last second path to victory.

Riders by a Moore TD.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: We Won!

Riders 20 – Stamps 17

The way that game started out I was pretty sure that history was about to repeat itself a third time. It had all the familiar elements of the first 2 games: defense caught sleeping early, offense that couldn’t do anything. Yup I knew where this was headed. Only this time ended up being different. We didn’t let Carey run all over us. We made plays on both sides of the ball. Hell we found the endzone! Twice! We fought and we came away with a much needed win. My whiskeys of sorrow became celebratory whiskeys.

Shaq and Duke got all the talk both before and after the game but holy hell can we stop for a second and appreciate the performance our defense turned in! The names on our starting depth chart caused concern for even the most optimistic of Rider fans. The only thing thinner than our LB and DB depth is the material in Ned Flanders’ ski suit (feels like I’m wearing nothing at all). So it would have surprised absolutely no one to see them lay an egg, especially with Kamar Jorden back in the line-up. Instead they racked up 4 turnovers, 4 sacks (against the O-line that has allowed less sacks than anyone) and held Calgary to 10 points through 59 minutes of play. Jason Shivers and his players deserve a ton of respect for that performance. I know it makes me petty but seeing Bo Levi throw a pick is still among the most satisfying things in football. Seeing him throw a hat trick of them to the well known defensive forces known as Dearborn, Webb and Clark (and their combined 0 career starts)… well I damn near needed a cigarette after that. Webb made a great play and bailed out Clark who fell down leaving his WR wide open (in theory). Clark just straight baited Bo into his pick. I know its only one game but given that Campbell and Brown haven’t exactly been lighting things up, I am interested in seeing more of those 2 going forward. Hell of a performance by the D… and everyone contributed. I saw Pinckney out there a lot, Herdman saw time, Dearborn, Leonard played a lot of LB. Just really good work by Shivers using a talent depleted roster in the best way he could. We even managed to keep the penalties down (except for that goal line offside that we all saw coming).

About the time that Cody threw that pick I had resigned myself to never seeing a TD again this season. And for the first half I was pretty close in that thought. Maybe the receiver screwed up but that pass had a better chance of being completed to 3 different Stamp defenders than a Rider.  Our O-line still couldn’t figure out how to block a 3 man rush. It was embarrassing. Brett Boyko makes me long for the days of Charles Thomas. I think an actual pylon could provide more protection. But in the second half something clicked. I’d like to think it had something to do with remembering that a handoff to the RB is a legal football play. In the first half, Powell had two carries… two! The second one happened to go for 12 yards but why go back to that? In the second half Powell got 7 carries and low and behold we found the endzone. Go figure. Shaq and Duke did exactly what I expected. Didn’t go off but got a couple key catches and most importantly opened things up for Lenius and Moore (who both scored). You can just tell that Cody trusts Shaq. He was throwing him balls that had a super tight window that he wouldn’t throw to others. Shaq rewarded his trust with catches. Even though it wasn’t completed, I like the call to bomb it to Shaq at the end of the half. We needed a spark and Cody made a good read with Evans one on one. He also placed the ball well. That was a true 50/50 ball. Since I am often critical of our bad calls I should also say that I liked the 3rd down gamble and I actually liked the play call (I thought for sure Cody was going to unsuccessfully run for it). Now its not all rainbows and unicorns. The first half was the same old ineffective crap (like a swing pass for negative yards on 2nd and 11) and 20 points isn’t going to be enough to win every week but we finally saw some life out of a relatively lifeless unit. With the way our D has been playing, that can be just enough for us.

It was a much needed win that put us back in control of our own playoff destiny. Long way to go yet but I’m gonna enjoy this win after how the first 3 weeks of October went.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Riders vs. Stampeders: The Thrilling Conclusion

The third and final edition of Stamp-toberfest goes down Saturday in Cowtown. I spent the bye week reflecting on how much things have changed since this 3 game series kicked off at the start of the month. They were 2-5 and hanging out in the basement with the Elks. Were 5-2 and still had a mathematical chance at first. They were on the verge of missing the playoffs. We were a sure thing. The Stamps were philosophically against running the ball. Bo Levi led the CFL in interceptions… well I guess not everything as changed. We somehow went from a legit chance to bury them by simply winning 2 of 3, to praying we can salvage a solitary win to keep us relevant in the race for second in the West. October has not been a good month. 

But both the team and their prophet are refreshed after a week off and ready to try and get things back on track. I mean I can’t promise that. I fully intend to be as error prone and nonsensical as I ever been, just a more refreshed form of nonsensical. But the team is looking to get back on track and they should have two huge (both figuratively and literally weapons) to help them in that regard in Shaq Evans and Duke Williams.

So let’s start on offense since Duke and Shaq are all the talk. I do agree that these two boost our offense. But I will remind you that over the bye week neither converted to an all-star level offensive tackle, so they are not the miracle cure that some are expecting. The deep ball still requires some amount of protection for Cody to throw. But I do think that their presence will help in 2 key areas. The first is Fajardo’s confidence. Its obvious Shaq is his guy. He trusts him. Its also obvious that he doesn’t trust the others (he even said so before quickly apologizing). At the start of the year Fajardo just seemed to be reacting to plays naturally and not having to think about it. Without trust in his guys he’s second guessing his reads and not throwing some throws that might be there even if they are tight. Duke is a big, but more importantly, a physical receiver. He will fight for a ball and everyone on the field know it, Cody included. The other way it will help (and Commenter Gov touched on this in the comments of the last post), is the ability to win one on one match-ups. The answer to protection issues is leaving more guys into block (FB, RB, extra OL) but that leaves less receivers to get open so they need to win their match-ups. I like our current guys but none of them strike me as someone that can absolutely get open when they need to. Shaq and Duke can.  So you can leave more protection in if you know your receivers will be able to make use of the time it gives your QB. I honestly don’t think either Duke or Shaq go off in game 1. Duke needs to round back into CFL form and Shaq is just back from injury. But if they can 2-3 key catches that may be just enough to win in what has been a very tight series.

I hope in all the hoopla around the new receiving weapons we don’t forget about a guy named Willie Powell. The more workload we give him the easier it makes life on the O-line and Fajardo. I also despise how often we go empty backfield (we might as well just yell out, please come sack Cody at this exact spot as he tries in vain to pass) and how often we do that stupid switch motion where Powell goes out to receiver and Lenius comes in to block. It’s fooling no one. Stop it. We also need to use the attention that Duke and Shaq will draw to our advantage and not forget about guys like Moore and Schaefer-Baker who should have more space out there. I think Jamar Wall is an underrated piece that Calgary D that has been a key part in their resurgence. They went 2-4 during his 6 game absence and are 3-0 since his return. He’s not the only factor but he’s an important one. Honestly I know everyone wants to see us chuck it to Williams on the first offensive snap. If it were me I would run Duke deep and look like we are throwing there and then hit a crosser or an out underneath that. It will be open. In true Maas style the more likely scenario sees us pump the deep shot and check down do the swing route. The swing route is a lot like Sex Panther… 60% of the time it works every time (though 60% is being awful generous). 

Defensively for the love of god can we not spot them a TD to start the game?!? Last 2 times we have and then late in the first smartened up and started playing actual D. Its kinda wild to me how relatively consistent our D has been despite a constant churn of injuries. This week the wheel of injury will see Campbell and Brown sit (jury is out on whether that is a bad thing or not), Leonard is trending out (which would be a huge loss).  Also as of writing this, Bouka is out and Oneyka is not looking promising. Honestly not sure how we will coble together a secondary... so that's concerning. Who we really need back is Edem to solidify the safety spot and get Purifoy back in his normal spot but that’s a ways off yet. Key will be shutting down Kadeem Carey. He killed us last game and at least half his yards came after the initial guy should have made the tackle. Despite his resurgence, Bo is still throwing picks so putting pressure on him to win with his arms will help. Calgary has an extremely good OL so the challenge is big for our DL but we need to see some disruption from them. Ucambre Williams is out with an injury so that does create a potential weakness to be exploited. Kamar Jorden looks to be back for the first time this series… which is not good for us given our struggles to contain receivers with half his talent. I’ve just come to expect with our D that they will turn in a performance that is ugly but ultimately good enough to give us a chance to win. We are like the football equivalent of a girl with a butter face. (Google it if you don’t know the term).

There’s been a lot of negativity around the Riders the last 3 weeks (and I have been a large part of that) but here’s the thing… despite not playing great football on either side of the ball, we lost to Calgary by 6 and 3 points respectively. We have no offense, a defense that takes a quarter to wake up and we are still one TD or one defensive stop away from victory. The Stamps are a team on the rise and Calgary is never an easy place to play. So there is a legit chance we lose a third straight time.

That said, maybe its just my green coloured glasses or a deep seeded desire to have my hopes built up and then crushed (which is mandatory for long-term allegiance to the Riders)… but I have faith in this team to show some grit. Any chance of a home playoff hinges on a win. Hell another loss and the possibility of missing the playoffs creeps into the picture. We have been close despite playing some bad football. The combination of a bye week to refresh minds and bodies and a morale boost from Evans and Williams should be just enough to limp us across the finish line on the third attempt.  

Riders by a Lauther FG… but like picture the ugliest scenario that leads to a win in your mind and it will be an uglier win than that. Beggars can’t be choosers at this point.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: We Suck Again

Riders 19 – Stamps 22

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Defense sleeps through the opening of the game, has trouble tackling but otherwise plays good enough to win. The offense is so useless that you can’t fathom how most of them tie their shoes and it leads to a close game where we ultimately fall short. If it sounds familiar its because the exact thing just happened two weeks in a row. Two weeks ago it looked like we had a chance to bury the Stamps in the standings. Now we let them right back into the mix for second in the West.

Look, in the wake of that dreadful performance lots of criticism is being thrown and Fajardo and Maas. Most of it is warranted. But even the best OC’s and QB’s would struggle to field a competent offense with an O-line this bad. They offered Fajardo all the protection of a condom with holes in it. It wasn’t a matter of whether we let a defender through for most of the night, it was a matter of how many we let through. There were times that Fajardo didn’t have enough time for a 3 step drop and quick pass. Until the line gets better, there will be limits on what Maas and Fajardo can do.

Now I’m not absolving Maas of fault here. He does some really dumb things for a guy with a bad O-line. We routinely ran empty backfield sets. So we gave no illusion of running and had no extra blockers to help. When you know your line is garbage, why would you do that? We also have all this ridiculous pre-snap motion where Powell motions out to WR and Lenius motions to RB. Nobody is fooled by the this so the end result is we put the better blocker out to catch passes and the better pass catcher into block. Why? And somehow with an offense that can’t complete a deep pass we thought the answer to that problem was to target Powell deep? In what world does that seem like a good idea when we have all these big tall receivers on the roster?!? Why do we not run more slants? We have the big bodied guys to do it. It fits within our offensive capabilities and philosophy but we don’t use it. We had receivers dropping passes yet again. I hate to rag on Fajardo with all this crap working against him but he’s still not doing himself any favours. There was a play where Fajardo forced it to Schaefer-Baker on the sidelines. Had he looked just slightly to his right, we would have seen Lenius open on the seam for a massive gain.  Bottom line is our offense is not even close to good enough to win us games. Unless Evans and Williams recently learned to play offensive tackle, they will not be the miracle cure for what ails us.

Defense is really difficult to peg down. They start slow. They struggle to cover and tackle. But game after game they get the job done despite not looking great in the process. They allowed a solitary TD. They got 3 sacks. They even avoided penalties for the most part (except for that time where Bo talked the refs into a ridiculous flag that came out 15 minutes after the play was over). They forced 3 turnovers and you know what our offense managed to do with that? 6 points! I cursed a lot at our D on Saturday but they consistently do enough to give us a good chance to win. Which more than I can say for other phases of our team.

This bye week might be well timed because we are in a mini-tailspin and some time to clear our heads might be helpful. I honestly assumed that we’d easily take 2 of 3 from Calgary and suddenly we are staring down a very good chance of being swept and starting to keenly watch the math on a crossover.

Other random thoughts:

·        Was Campbell legit hurt? Or just really committed to the protecting his pride by claiming injury was the problem?

·        Brett Lauther channeled his inner Jaime Boreham and unloaded on that special teams tackle. He is giving his all these last few weeks.

·        Jon Ryan had a crap day punting.

·        While we are speaking of people I used to notably hate on, Dan Clark also had a crap day.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Riders vs. Stamps: Let’s Try This Again

Saturday, Stamp-toberfest shifts to Regina, as Round 2 takes place at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders will be looking to atone for the defeat last week and hoping the hometown crowd will give them a needed boost.

I could sum up my analysis of this game with 2 points. If the Riders wants to win they need to A) start playing defense before the 3rd drive and B) start playing offense before the 4th quarter. That’s it. That’s the recipe to success. /End blog post. Last week we spotted the Stamps a 14 point lead and scored just 7 points over the first 3 quarters and still had a chance to win, on the road. Our problems are many, but in spite of them we still have chances to win games. Imagine what we could do with a full 60 minutes out of both sides?

The talk of the week has been Fajardo’s post game comments. Look, dude got fired up after a loss. Anyone whose played team sports has had teammates be pissed in the moment and it works itself out over a post game drink. So I’m not too worried about it. At least he cares. I think the key point in his frustrations are less about the receivers and more about not feeling confident chucking it deep when you absolutely need a first down (let’s maybe try plays that do make our QB feel confident).  One final point on this, to be fair, Fajardo also needs to throw up balls that give his receivers an actual 50/50 chance. A lot of the recent passes have been more like 45/45/10 balls with 2 defenders having a better shot at it that the receiver.

Okay onto the game…

Since we are talking offense already, let’s start there. One thing we desperately need to fix is our tendency to start as slow as if we were fielding 12 senior citizens who recently had hip replacements. We average 4.3 first quarter points and if you exclude that Game 1 explosion against BC the number is 2.9 points over the past 7 games. Less than a FG is what we average in the first quarter! Very difficult to win with that. We now have film on how Calgary is going to defend us, use that and come out with an aggressive attack. We need a first quarter TD to swing momentum to us and get the crowd engaged. As bad as his last game was, I’m going back to Lenius. He’s been reliable up until last week and as awesome as Schaefer-Baker is, pinning everything on him is not going to be helpful. We also need to keep getting Moore moving up field. He’s as good at avoiding the first tackle as anyone but the negative yard swing passes aren’t working. He’s a good receiver, use him accordingly. Powell has been delivering so don’t forget about him. But it’s going to start upfront. O-line has not been good enough. Lauderdale is practicing and the line seemed to suck less with him but even if he plays, I don’t think we can suddenly expect our line to suck less. That means helping them out with St John, Dupuis and Awachie in as extra blockers. Also let them run block more (Jefferson is a good run blocker but really struggling in pass protection of late). Moving Fajardo’s launch point with roll outs will help too.

Defensively we need to see two things. Start playing before spotting a 2 TD lead and tackle! Way too many missed tackles last week. A suggestion might be to try using your arms in the tackle attempt rather than assuming your shoulder is enough to get the job done (our DBs are really bad at that). I want to see Micah get another chance to put hits on Bo. I also really want to see Bo throw another pick because the crowd will be all over him. I’m fairly confident in our D. Last game if you exclude the first drive (where they were clearly not prepared) and the second drive (where our offense stupidly gifted Calgary the ball on our side of half) they allowed just 150 yards the rest of the game and that’s with a ton of missed tackles. Obviously Calgary will have some new wrinkles but if our D-line can be disruptive upfront again, then we should be ok.

If Calgary wins, they take the season series and are right back in the battle for second in the west. We win and we go up 3 games on them with 5 remaining. After the bye we have 4 of 5 on the road to finish the season. Can’t afford to waste a home game.

I could do without the last second dramatics… but unfortunately I think that’s something we are going to have to get used to. We don’t believe in style points or doing things the easy way. So, while I see us winning, I don’t see me enjoying the roller-coaster ride that leads to said win. 

Riders by a Fajardo TD super late in the game.  I have a feeling after showing his frustration, he’s going to take the team on his back and will us to victory to the tune of like 75+ yards rushing… I just hope he doesn’t break himself in the process.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Monday Morning Senitmonies: Beaten By A Dead Horse

Riders 17 – Stamps 23

There was a huge sense of deja vu watching the game on Saturday. It played out almost the exact same as the week before. Defense started out struggling but eventually shut it down and did their job. Offense was MIA for the bulk of the game and showed up super late in the game to make for a dramatic finish. But this time around we proved that is not a sustainable plan. We are not a good enough team for the defense to take the first quarter off or the offense to take most of the game off and expect to win. Calgary is not a great team as was without their best 2 receivers and we let them off the hook.

Jason Shivers seems to be really good at in game adjustments and his D consistently adjusts to lock things down. He’s not been doing great at game prep though as 2 games in a row we’ve come out super flat and put us in an early hole. I don’t want to rag too much on the D too much. The allowed 9 points over the final 3 quarters, forced 2 turnovers and had 3 sacks. They gave us a chance to win as they usually do. The sad thing is their performance could have been even better if not for their early game nap, more untimely penalties and way too many missed tackles. So many time we had a body on the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage only to give up 7 yards because we couldn’t secure the tackle. Nick Marshall needs to be benched pure and simple. Look he has one skill: coverage. He can’t tackle in the open field to save his soul, or even attempt to use his arms when tackling. Add to that the fact that he gets beat more than he should and most infuriatingly consistently takes stupid penalties. The definition of 2021 Marshall was on the first drive, he got beat, gave up 32 yards and added an idiotic penalty on top of that. At this point his negatives outweigh the positives and maybe some time on the bench would smarten him up.

As for our offense, I got asked after the game whether its Maas or Fajardo that’s the issue and I’ve been thinking on that one for a while. The honest answer is that its both. Actually there’s a third factor… our O-line is not very good (Jefferson has been awful in the last 2). Better protection up front would make both Maas and Fajardo look a lot better. Here’s my case for why its Maas. Really weird play calling decisions. Going for its on 3rd and 2 early was a bad decision. Just punt it and help out your D. But if you are going to go for it on 3rd and 2 from your own end why on earth would you call the one play that we suck more than anything at?! We suck at the deep ball. Take 5 yards and keep the drive going. Yes Moore was open and yes Cody made the right read but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a terrible call. Another thing I hated was that Kyran Moore (our best receiver) was reduced to not running routes beyond the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game. You noticed instantly the boost it gave us when Moore actually started running real routes and picking up yards. Use your playmakers to make plays not stand there waiting to get hit on the world’s most obvious swing passes. I didn’t like the bomb to Louis either. We had time on the clock and the play that is least likely to succeed for us this season is a long bomb (especially when its into double coverage). It just doesn’t make sense that we spend all game on the high percentage plays and then get risky at the exact moment we should not.

As for Fajardo, he’s a tough SOB but I’m guess he’s nicked up way worse than he’s letting on and its affecting his play. He’s also making some bad reads and forcing balls where there is obviously too much coverage. He’s also just plain missing guys. I said I hate the 3rd down gamble to Moore but it was there and Cody missed it. He also managed a time count on the first play of a possession change, that’s rookie mistakes. Also didn’t help him that Brayden Lenius’ head was somewhere in a different timezone. I like Lenius and bad games happen but it was obvious to everyone but Maas and Cody that it was a waste of a play to target him late in the game. The only positives on O were Powell (he got a healthy workload and made the most of it) and Baker. What more can you say about this kid?

Speaking of positives… Brett F’N Lauther!! Dude has shook off an early season slump to be back to automatic on his kicks and those onside kicks were a thing of beauty. His placement was great and he read the kick coverage perfect to identify that the dribble up the middle was open. He also sacrificed his body to ensure he made the play. We got 99 problems but a kicker ain’t one.

The frustrating thing is that despite all the issues I just listed, that was a winnable game. We aren’t a bad team but we are reminding me a lot of the Barrett era Riders of late. Good enough to hang with anyone but too inconsistent for sustained success.

Other random thoughts:

-        I would much prefer he didn’t do it but that hit by Fajardo to prevent an INT was an earthquake! Can you imagine having to be that defender in the film room watching you get decleated by a QB?

-        Not sure what Jamal Morrow was thinking on that missed FG return. Thought about conceding (which he should have) and then just briskly jogged out to offer himself up to the defenders.

-    Still can't believe Rob Black used the term "unmolested". How is that in your vocabulary?

Friday, October 1, 2021

Riders vs. Stampeders: Stamp-toberfest

And thus begins Stamp-tober. Over the next 4 weeks, we will play Calgary 3 consecutive times (2 road games, 1 home game). We have a bye in there, Calgary does not. When the schedule came out I knew this would be an important set of games. I assumed it would go a long way to determining a tight race for spots 1-3 in the West. I was partially right. Its an important set of games, it will go a long way to determining where we fall amongst the tops in the West. But in my wildest dreams I never imagined it would be a do or die series for the Stamps and that we would have a chance to absolutely bury them. Even if we take 2 of 3 that leaves the Stamps 3-7 with 4 remaining games. That kinda of record is qualifies you for consideration for honourary membership in the East Division. Can’t take this series lightly or underestimate the Stamps but the opportunity is huge. The rivalry may not be as heated as during the Burris-era but sticking it to the Stamps still feels great.

The current state of the Stamps is difficult to fathom. Things have never been this bad since Hufnagel came to town (there was plenty of bad pre-Hufnagel). Losing record, 1-3 at home, at risk of missing the playoffs. We are just not used to seeing it… not that I’m complaining. But as lowly as the Stamps are I don’t think they can be taken lightly. Of their 5 loses, 4 of them have been by 6 points or less. They have been competitive in most games just falling on the wrong side of the win column in the end. I expect an equally competitive outing this time around. Dickenson shared a stat yesterday that the Stamps are 14-2 off a bye over the last 10 years. They may be a hurting unit but if we expect them to just lay down for us we have another thing coming.

Their defense is actually pretty good. They allow a ton of yards (2nd most) but not a ton of points (4th least). They only have 12 sacks on the season and 7 of those came in one game against Edmonton (and if you watched the Tuesday game you know that Edmonton related need to come with an asterisk now). Their D-line is playing noticeably better over the last couple games but I don’t think they are that formidable (which is good news because our O-line was also not that formidable last week). I think the strength of that D is the linebackers led by Thurman and Sankey. Thus far the way to beat the Stamps has been through the air. No one allows more passing yards than the Stamps (some of that has to do with the relative mediocrity of their D-line). I want to see a similar plan of attack as last week (just not waiting until late in the game to get it working). We quietly now lead the CFL in rushing attempts and Powell leads RBs in attempts so apparently if I complain enough good things happen. Keep a consistent run game, spread the ball around with accurate passes and mix in some downfield shots to keep the D honest. Obviously something clicked with Louis last game and having him be a reliable option would be a huge boost. O-line needs to suck less and clearly need some more help with TE sets or FBs chipping in with blocking. Fajardo has been sacked the most of any QB. I’m sure he’d be OK with changing that up a bit.

I’m assuming Bo Levi will start and under normal circumstances that would be cause for concern. But man has he been awful this year. Obviously injuries are a major factor. Early on it was his broken leg and more recently it was playing on his leg that magically recovered the instant his back-up started playing half decent. A bye week will likely help him but he’s not 100% and its showing in his play. He’s tied with Fajardo for most INTs in the league with 7. The thing is, Bo threw that in 4 games compared to the 7 Cody has played in. He also has the lowest completion % among QBs who have played in more than 1 game.  He is 33% on passes 10-19 yards (for comparison Cody is 74%). For context, we have been complaining about our short pass game… well the Stamps average less yards per pass.

What they do have is pretty solid protection up front. They have allowed the least sacks. What they don’t have is a run game. Last week we faced the most run averse team in the CFL, this week we face the 2nd most run averse team in the CFL (69.9 y/game). So we know they will be throwing (lead the league in pass attempts). Finally getting Leonard back from his prolonged time out should give a needed boost to our pass rush. We have not had both Micah and AC play in the same game since Week 3. Hopefully AC is fired up to make up for missing time. Be strong up front, keep the run game in check and don’t get beat over top. Outside of Kamar Jorden (who is a flat out stud), Calgary’s WRs are underwhelming, decent but not great. Sounding more and more like Jorden won’t dress do to injury which is a big blow to the Stamps. If we don’t allow to big plays and force them to string together drives I see them stalling and making mistakes (Stamps have the most INTs and second most fumbles).   

I keep waiting for the Jamal Morrow breakout game. It’s coming but I doubt its this one. Stamps have the top kick coverage in the CFL and are the only team not to allow a 30+ yard return.

Stamps are 0-5 in games in which they score 20 or less. They are also winless when allowing 23 or more. So based on that we need our D to hold them under 20, which I think is realistic. And we need our O to score 23 (which has happened every time we didn’t play Winnipeg). I’m less confident about that but in their own very ugly way, I can see them getting there.

We need 2 of 3 but winning the first is super important as it sets the tone for the series. Much better to come home off a win with the pressure on them. Then come home off a loss with the pressure on us. I want to see some killer instinct here. The horse is limping and we all know what you do to a horse with a bad leg.

This will be a tough grind, but as they have been doing, I expect the Riders to find a way to come away with a win here.

Riders by a Powell TD.