Monday, November 29, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: First Playoff Win At New Mosaic

Riders 33 – Stamps 30 (OT)

If you had told me before the game that Fajardo would throw 4 picks and our only change a victory was if the most accurate kicker in the regular season missed 3 FGs in the game, I would have bet my first born child against the Riders. Certainly dodged a bullet on that one (don't tell my wife).

What did you honestly expect? That was the most on-brand way for the Riders to win. It was very consistent with what they showed in the regular season. Much like a discount hooker, they are almost ugly enough to induce vomiting but will get the job done in the end even if you don’t feel great about it afterwards.

Had we lost, that would have 100% been on Cody. Normally I’m very big on winning and losing as a team but man he sure tried to lose that game by himself. Picked a hell of time to play like dog crap. He just wasn’t making good reads. Clearly he committed to a play pre-snap and didn’t bother looking somewhere else when his primary read was not even close to open. The only exception was the INT on the long pass to Shaq, where Shaq was open but Cody threw it late and floated it. Fortunately Cody can run because that was about the only good thing he did in that game. Also, fortunately he managed to not suck for one TD drive late, mostly because he finally decided to feed Duke the ball. Why it took until the 4th to figure that plan out is beyond me. The few times Cody managed not to suck his receivers hung him out to dry. Shaefer-Baker should have had that TD, it was a well thrown ball. I did like how we actually stayed committed to Powell. Probably helped that passing the ball proved so problematic. O-line was a solid mediocre and by our standards that’s a massive step up.

Defensively was a mixed bag. I was pleasantly surprised with Marshall. He came out fired up and tried stirring stuff up at midfield pre-game and went on to play a very good game. He was dialed in. Gainey balled out and made Bo Levi his bitch. That second INT you could tell from the second it left Bo’s hands that it was going to be a pick. D-line was not as impactful as we have grown accustomed to but made some key plays late. Can’t say I expected our D to give up 30… though some of that is on the O for the repeated turnovers. Consider that off 4 INTs we allowed just 10 points off turnovers. Add 4 turnovers to that and the D actually played better than the stat line would say.

Special teams won us this game. I’ve been hyping Morrow all year and he finally delivered when it mattered most. One massive TD that counted. One that didn’t (the penalty was pretty minor but a penalty nonetheless). And while a so-called all-star kicker did his best to ensure a victory for the other team, our self proclaimed best kicker in the league actually lived up to his hype. I mean I could have done without the doink as that gave us all some PTSD. But he was clutch when we needed it. Also I definitely had PTSD when I saw flags on the game winning kick. Absolutely refused to get my hopes up until hearing the call. Special teams was the difference in this one. Ours was good, there’s was not.

There were times when I could have kissed our coaching staff. Starting the second half with the onside kick and then driving for a TD was massive. There were also times where they deserved to be kicked in the crotch. Look our offense was garbage and Morrow was good, everyone at the stadium could see it. But of the 5 times that Paredes actually hit an FG we only made them kickoff twice. Opting to leave the playmaker Morrow on the sidelines, in favour of more interceptions. Bad coaching calls. Also, I doubt it would have made a difference but at the end of the 4th we (once again) refused to take a timeout before the Paredes kick and left ourselves with just 37 seconds instead of 50+. When all we needed was an FG, you think you’d want a few more seconds. Did Dickenson join some strange religion where timeouts as considered a sin?

But all my criticisms account for nothing, because in spite of all that we did what we’ve done all year. Found a way to win. Believe I’m elated with the playoff win regardless of how much sucking we did in the process. I’m also elated to say that Calgary and Bo Levi managed to lose to a team that threw 4 INTs. Now that’s embarrassing. Also embarrassing is getting kicked out of a playoff game at halftime because you think punching a guy with a helmet is a good idea. That gave us momentum heading into half that we carried over in the 3rd quarter.

Not even going to start worrying about next week. Just enjoying the win. We are one win away from the Grey Cup… what more could you want? I distinctly remember the feeling leaving the stadium after the '18 and '19 playoff games. So regardless of how we got there, I'm damn sure going to enjoy this feeling while it lasts.

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.