Monday, October 3, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: We’re Not Very Good

Riders 13 – Bombers 31

If you were surprised by Friday’s outcome, I don’t know what to tell you. Nothing that we have seen from this team over the past 2 months has shown anything but a team on the decline. Between injuries and illnesses we have certainly had our share of legitimate excuses. But here’s the thing… Moore and Evans came back from injury, we didn’t get better. Clark and Ferland came back from injury, we didn’t get better. We got to play Winnipeg without the fear of pooping our pants, we didn’t get better. In fact, we seem to be getting worse.

The defense was once the force that powered this team. Now it appears they are worn out from the strain of carrying the rest of the team all season because they are declining. No big plays when we needed them. No sacks, no turnovers, poor tackling, consistently allowing over 25 points a game. The telling sign for me was when somehow our defensive scheme called for Larry Dean to cover Nik Demski (the Nik Demski who has been single-handedly killing us this year, the Nik Demksi I specially warned that we need to limit) deep downfield. That’s bad defensive scheming. And it’s a sign to me that even the one area that does not suck is starting to give up. Through 3 quarters the D did a good job overall but good is not enough for a unit that used to be dominant. Edem looks to have lost a step (or is more banged up than he is letting on). AC Leonard is sure not making a lot of plays for what we are paying him.

Offense produced one solitary TD and 13 points overall. Unless our application to transfer to the east division is approved, that kind of production just won’t cut it. I have been (and continue to be) a Fajardo fan but he’s terrible this year. I still think he can be a good QB but it won’t be here and it won’t be with this OC. Fajardo was awful. Bobbled a snap. Threw more than one pass to an open receiver into the dirt. Feet moving like he’s auditioning for Riverdance. Seriously, get that man some ankle weights to try and counteract his happy feet. Its not like we are putting him in a position to be successful though. The interception will go on Fajardo but it was Tevin Jones’ fault. Do I believe he could have lost the ball in the lights? Sure (and it was a dumb second and 5 play anyway). But even kids are taught by their coaches to play to the whistle. Despite no whistle, Jones gave up and was gingerly strolling back to the huddle while the play was still going on. That is not someone with his head in the game. 

Some competent play calling would help… but we all know that ain’t happening here. In my pre-game write up I stated “I type this Maas is planning an offense based on deep shots”. Sure enough we are out there chucking it deep despite it definitely not being something we are good at and facing the bend but don’t break Hall D. Why? That 3rd down run to LaFrance that got stuffed was the definition of overthinking things. We needed a damn yard, fall forward. Pretty basic play. Yet instead we run some complicated thing were lineman are pulling.  Not only did it not fool anyone (because it was pretty obvious where it was going) it resulted in defenders coming through a huge unblocked hole to stuff the run. And of course with Maas in charge you know we were settling for that FG in the 4th. Ask any person who has even loosely followed the CFL this season what the odds of the Riders’ O getting back into the redzone. We needed a major there, wussed out and 2 plays later the game was over. Every single aspect of the O is a mess.

At this point I’m honestly torn. Obviously I want us to win a game and get into the playoffs. We might even win the East-semi before getting annihilated in the east final (heavy emphasis on might). But I’m honestly torn between wanting that and wanting to us to flame out completely and miss the playoffs as that may force the team to make the changes needed rather than foolishly thinking they are “close” with this group.

 

Other random thoughts:

-        At least Alford provides brief moments of joy

-        Demski was definitely offside on that one TD

-        I would like to request Nick Marshall resume short yardage duties

-        Dickenson should have been kicked in the crotch for that late challenge. I know he was right but why on earth would you want to drag that crappy game out any longer?

-        If the Riders wants to make big bucks this Grey Cup week, it would hold an official “Airing of the Grievances” event for the fans. Just let me get drunk and yell at O’Day for an hour. I would pay very good money.


Friday, September 30, 2022

Riders vs. Bombers: Back At It

Fresh off a bye week, the 6-8 Riders are in Winnipeg (as if our losing record isn’t punishment enough) to face the 12-2 Bombers. If this were a TV show, we would do one of those “Previously on” montages right now… only in this case it would just be Cody getting sacked and me swearing over and over again. In case you forgot over the bye week, things aren’t good in Riderville. And somehow not only did things not improve over the bye week, they got worse. No I’m not talking about Jake Dolegala. Our 3rd string QB was an idiot and got rightfully punished. About the only thing noteworthy about that is that the Riders managed to somehow be proactive in addressing the issue instead of doing their usual “wait until you are pressured into responding and then do it poorly” routine. No, I’m talking about Frankie Hickson, one of the few bright spots on the team, likely being lost for the season.

Two weeks ago the Bombers got whooped by Hamilton so they aren’t invincible. I still don’t understand how that happened but it shows that anything is possible. So how do the Riders go about pulling off an equally improbable win? Well the best options are illegal and highly unethical and my lawyers advised me not to encourage anything of the sort so let’s focus on the more traditional approach.

It needs to start with the defense. They are unquestionably the strength of this team and any chance of success needs to be led by them. They are coming off 2 of their worst performances of the season and need a rebound. The ongoing absence of Lanier is a major blow to our pass rush. Robertson and Leonard are good but add Lanier in the middle and that’s when we have dominated. Though after watching Thursday Night Football I do have to say I prefer the teams’ cautious approach to returning Lanier from his head injury as opposed to the Dolphins’ approach of YOLO.

D needs to play physical. As much as they will not admit it or do it consciously, the Bombers are in full coast mode. They are going to host the West Final and everyone knows it. So their goal is be healthy for that game. We need to show we are the hungrier team (might even be worth skipping the pre-game meal… or at least picking a different place than the last trip to Winnipeg). Stuff the run and pressure Collaros. That’s our only chance. I know he has been nicked up and has also been creating space for other lineman to get sacks but AC Leonard has yet to really dominate a game since we paid him big money. If there was ever a time for him to step up, this is it. Nik Demksi has been singlehandedly killing us this season so another key will be limiting him. I know it was with the benefit of Labour Day home crowd energy but we held the Bombers to 20 points less than a month ago. We have it in us.

Offensively there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we get back Vaughn, Ferland and most importantly Dan Clark along the OL, legitimately our best 3 OL. The bad news is that the bar for our “best” OL is pretty low and while this certainly improves our OL, its does not suddenly make it good. My only hope is that Clark brings some much needed grit and leadership back to the offense. I would say we should run the ball but a) we have no RBs left and b) Jason Maas doesn’t do that anyway. I still think we should run the ball. LaFrance is nowhere near as dynamic as Hickson or Morrow but he’s serviceable. Again, the Bombers are in coast mode, a physical run game is a chance to level the playing field. I just think it would be the cruelest twist of irony that after months of calling for more runs, Jason Maas finally gives 30 touches to the RB the week after all our good RBs are hurt. LaFrance or not, we need to run regardless. We are not good enough to go one dimensional on O (though in fairness 1 dimensional would be an improvement over the no dimensional we have grown accustomed to). Cody needs to up his game. His reads and throws need to be quicker. He needs to move better in the pocket to help his OL. He needs to not just assume that spin left is a CFL cheat code. When he’s on, he’s a solid QB. He can feed it to Shaq and Moore and Lenius and lead drives. The problem is he’s on so sporadically. Yes his O-line sucks and yes his OC is questionable but at some point we need our QB to lead the team and make some plays. We also need Maas to step up. Last game he seemed dumbfounded by the Chris Jones drop 9 defense (I mean, who saw that coming?). This week I hope to hell he has prepared for the bend but don’t break Hall D. It’s only been around since before Maas was a QB. Patience will be the key. Getting greedy will cost us. We need slow methodical drives and take what he gives us. I completely understand that as I type this Maas is planning an offense based on deep shots, most of them coming in short yardage situations.

Winnipeg has few weaknesses but kick coverage has certainly not been a strength. They are bottom half of the league in return yards allowed and have allowed the 3rd most big plays (very uncharacteristic of O’Shea). Going to need some help from Alford to stay in this one.

I think this game will be closer than many expect. Banjo Bowl was an aberration. We proved on Labour Day we can play Winnipeg close. Most have written the Riders off (myself included) but I think this is a game where they show some pride and hang with the big dogs.

However, I know this team well enough to know that they will build up just enough hope in us to crush it epically in the end. Just don’t see us winning this one.

Bombers by a Leggio FG after a late Cody INT.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Leadership

The Riders will return to the practice field this week after a bye week. Ahead lays a difficult set of 4 games in 5 weeks to end the regular season. In Winnipeg, in Hamilton, bye, Calgary, at Calgary. The crossover is still very much in play. Staying in the west is quickly trending towards a pipe dream. Hell, with the level of play we’ve come to expect over the past 2 months, the very real possibility of missing the postseason entirely for the first time since 2016 is not really a surprise to anyone.

With a merciful reprieve from having a the results of a Rider game to curse about, I spent the bye week thinking about where the team is at and what the issues seem to be.

I kept coming back to one word: Leadership.

I’m not talking about the GM and the coaches and the formal leadership (don’t get me wrong, there are issues there but that’s not what’s been bugging me). I’m talking about the guys in the locker room, the informal leaders. I struggled putting my finger on the issue but then it became crystal clear the moment I asked this question: Who are the leaders on this team? I honestly don’t know the answer.

I think back to previous teams and you could point to guy like Durant, Dressler, Makowsky, LaBatte, Eddie Davis, Hunt, Schultz, Elimimian and you knew they were recognized leaders. Then I look at this team and honestly I can’t tell you who the leaders are. In theory it should be Fajardo but I don’t get the sense he runs that locker room. I don’t think he’s hated but I don’t think he’s one of those guys that when he speaks everyone listens… especially the defensive guys (who may honestly resent anything associated with the offense at this point). So if not him then who? The only natural leader would be Clark and he’s not on the field. So maybe Evans and Moore?? Honestly, tell me who the offensive leader is? 

Even the defense (who seems to have it more together as a unit), who’s the guy? The only guys who seems universally respected is Hughes. Anytime he makes an impact play the whole team just to seems to raise the energy level. He has the respect of the group. The LB group (Dean, Moncrief, Sankey) I think would be core the leadership but are they the kind of leaders that the whole team listens to? Or are they only leaders within the defense.

The only other leader I see on the team is Lauther. And while I have the utmost respect for Lauther and I believe the team does too, if we are relying on a kicker to be a leader on a struggling team then we’re in trouble.

So across the team I came up with no one of offense, a couple guys on D and a kicker. That's not a glowing endorsement of the leadership capacity on this team. 

We are who we are at this point. There are no reinforcements coming. There are no coaching changes coming. The ability to salvage some shred of hope out of what left of this season lies more with what the leaders in the locker room step up and do than it does with anything Dickenson can do. 

Who will be our Shane Falco? Our Bobby Boucher? Our Mox?

Monday, September 19, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The End

Riders 24 – Elks 26

The season officially ended on Friday. Sure we have 4 more games, sure we might win again, sure we might sneak into the playoffs. But the fact remains that Friday’s loss signifies that the season is over and the remaining 2 months will be nothing more than going through the motions. (Spoiler alert this post will be a lot more angry and depressing than normal… but I think you’ll forgive me under the circumstances).

What we saw Friday was complete systematic failure. Every aspect of the team bears responsibility for that utter garbage that fans we forced to endure.

It starts with the GM. O’Day has done a lot of great things. We are recruiting good talent (Milligan, Clark, Robertson, Hickson, Jones). We have a rock solid defense… or at least we did (more on that later). We have a roster than can compete with anyone… except at the O-line. O’Day knew coming into the season that was our biggest weakness. Free agency came and he made one solitary move… he signed a tackle from the only O-line that was worse than ours in 2021. The draft came and he used our first pick on a receiver who, while talented, will not impact this season in a meaningful way. He did use our second pick on an OL… who returned to school. O’Day stubbornly refused to address our biggest weakness and its costing us dearly.

It then goes to Dickenson. My opinion of him is certainly changing. I used to think he was an excellent coach. Now its starting to look more and more like he is a decent coach that can lead a strong team but can’t coach through adversity. He inherited a very good team from Chris Jones and we’ve gotten worse in each successive season:

2019 - 13-5 (8-1 at home)

2021 - 9-5 (5-2 at home)

2022 - 6-8 (4-3 at home)

I like Dickenson but I’m no longer convinced he’s untouchable. We just lost to a 3 win team that took 158 yards in penalties, at home. Let than sink in.

It then goes to the Coordinators. Jason Maas is like a weather man. They both occupy positions where it seems to be perfectly acceptable to not get things right week in, week out. Our offense under his leadership has been about as potent as a non-alcoholic beer. 7th ranked O in 2021. 6th so far this season. I know he’s saddle with a peewee level O line but he does himself no favours with how he calls the game. He was thoroughly out-coached by Jones. If you have spent more than 5 minutes studying Jones you know to expect the 3 man rush drop 9. We appeared not to game plan for it. We had no ability to get the run going. To their credit Edmonton played solid run stop but instead of finding different ways to get Hickson going (option, pitches, screens) we just kept blindly running him up the middle. Play calling was horrid. Our best offensive play (the Shaq TD) was an idiotic call. I don’t care how it turned out, it was a bad call. As they broke huddle I joked that we would throw… then they did. If you listen closely on the replay you’ll hear my voice yell out from the second “What are you doing!?!?!?!” as the ball was thrown. Then on another 3rd and 1 we set up in shotgun and give the running back the ball 6 yards back… against a D we haven’t be able to run on. Genius! The purpose of Maas’ job is field an offense that scores. In 2 years he has consistently proven he can’t. We faced a team playing Duron Carter at CB and could not find a way to take advantage. 

I love Jason Shivers and will say nothing but great things about what he has done as DC but the fact remains his defense shit the bed at the worst possible time. The performance on Friday was worse in my opinion than the Banjo Bowl beat down. No pressure, no contain, no tackling, bad coverage. It was a bad night. Defense is very different without Lanier and Marino in the middle. I think we can survive with one out but not both.

It then goes to the OL. I realize that we were without our 3 best OL (Ferland, Clark and Vaughn)… but even when those guys were in, the line was garbage. Coming into this game the Elks had the least sacks in the CFL. They have just 28 total sacks but 15 of those have come against us. There are 5 guys on the offensive line and we consistently get beat by 3 man pressure. Teams could rush 1 and I’m convinced our line couldn’t block it. Its embarrassing. The most effective blocker I have seen for the Riders was that ref that got in the way on a rollout. 

It then goes to the QB. If you looked only at Cody’s stats you’d think he played well 74% completion, 2 TDs, no INTs, 230 yards. But that masks a brutal performance. I know our line is crap but to be fair to them, at least half of the sacks were 100% Cody’s fault for not knowing how to move in the pocket. He never steps up. He only steps back or tries to loop left. I know it’s a vicious cycle… he’s crappy because we let him get hit so much and he gets hit so much because he's crappy. We did this to him but he’s not playing at a pro-level. On the drive that ended in the Lenius TD, when it was first and goal from the 7, I turned to my buddy in the stands and said “I guarantee the play call is Cody rolls out left and tries to run to the far pylon." Now remember that I am just a jackass in the stands. Chris Jones (who works at football 29 hours a day) also predicted that and you could see extra defenders on that side of the field. Sure enough, he almost gets sacks, rolls left… only to realize that there was nothing but a wall of defenders. He’s so broken mentally (again it’s the team’s fault for offering him zero protection for 2 years) that he is reverting to his most basic football instincts: spin left. I feel for the guy but he’s not helping us at this point.

And there you have it… failure at all level: the story of the 2022 Riders. It was on full display on Friday. No easy fix, and likely no fix coming even come December. In a year where we host the Grey Cup, the Riders have delivered the most depressing season I can remember.

Other random thoughts:

-        What was up with Mike Edem? I have never seen him play that bad ever. He over-pursued and missed every tackle.

-        I knew about the time that Lauther doinked that it wasn’t going to be our night. He also picked a bad time to suck. His 2 missed FGs could have salvaged that game for us... even though we did not deserve to win.

-        Another omen was late in the game when they did the usual thing where there have fans pass a giant Rider flag around the lower bowl. The flag was backwards and one side was half folded back on itself. Pretty much summed up the night.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Riders vs. Elks: No Excuse

I don’t care if we have Covid, or the entire team can’t keep from crapping their pants, or we’re all hurt. Friday is a must win game. No excuse. We have won exactly 2 of our last 8 games (it’s been just a great 2 months). But as bad as it has been, we can still make the playoffs and if we somehow manage to get healthy for November, anything can happen.

So a home game against the worst team in the CFL is exactly the kick start this struggling team needs heading into a bye week. Now, you may be saying “Prophet, Edmonton is bad, but with the dreadful condition of the East division are their really the worst?”. I would argue yes. By pretty much any meaningful category they are the worst. Their offense has the least yards and least points. Their defense has allowed the most yards and points. They have allowed 52 TDs (that is as much as BC and Calgary combined) Even their return game has the least yards. They are not good.

I do laugh at people who are thinking Chris Jones should get fired. Do you not remember 2016? Year 1 of Chris Jones is burn it all to the ground and spend a season in an almost comical experiment to see who actually fits his plans. In year 2 of his tenure in Sask, he took us from 5-13 to 10-8 and one play away from the Grey Cup. Edmonton will be just fine… next year. As for this year, I still look at that roster and see such a void of talent that it looks like an extra-large practice roster. Maybe he just combined the pre-practice and practice roster into one?

Defensively, it will once again be Taylor Cornelius… who just signed a 2 year extension that he will not likely see the end of year 1 of that deal before being cut. Has Cornelius improved since his craptastic first season? Yes. But his improvement has him at 58% completion. So yeah, his “improvement” is really just being less awful. Tre Ford is looking to dress for the first time in months and knowing McAdoo like I do, that means that Ford will make a random appearance in the game at some point. We won’t have to contend with Kenny Lawler which is a good thing. In 2 games he accounted for 35% of Edmonton’s offense against us. Edmonton appears to have 2 promising young prospects in RB Kevin Brown and WR Dillon Mitchell. We are one of the best run stopping units in the CFL so if we stick to that, the run game should remain a non-factor. Almost half of Cornelius’ TD have come on long passes so we need to limit the big play. This Edmonton O is not good enough to string together long drives against this D. Also, while we are hardly in a position to criticize O-line play, Edmonton does not have a very good one and recently traded away on of their best lineman. D-line should be aggressive and disruptive in this one.

Offensively we get to go from back-to-back games against the best D in the league, to a game against the worst. I know I sound like a broken record (I should maybe update that expression for the younger reader)… I sound like a discman that skips (that’s as up to date as my references will get). Anywho, I will give you 2 stats that should dictate the entirety of our offensive plan. The Elks allow a league worst 5.3 yards per rush. Frankie Hickson gets a league high 6.9 yards per carry. Its so simple that even a Bomber fan could figure it out… run the ball!! Edmonton is essentially coasting through the rest of the season. They are not going put the effort into a grind out type of game. Hit them hard and by the second half those gains will get longer and longer. New daddy Fajardo will need to do his part by not turning the ball over. Edmonton has a league low 21 sacks though that is a deceiving stat because the Elks have 14 sacks in 11 games against the rest of the league and 7 in 2 games against us. We can make any d-line look ferocious. Lean on Shaq and Baker and Moore when we need to pass. Most important for the offense will be to start strong and put the Elks in a position of chasing and then not disappear in the second as we have a strong tendency to do. D will do their part to keep the score low, so we don’t need much from the offense… but we do need something.

I expect special teams to have an impact in this one. In case you haven’t noticed, Alford is kinda good. Edmonton has allowed the most punt return yards and allowed a league high 10 big plays on special teams. He will have a big one on Friday, only question is whether he gets all the way to the endzone.

The Elks are 0-9 against the West having lost by an average of 17-39. They have never held a west team under 24 points and they have played our god-awful offense twice. We have lost 4 straight home games and can’t afford to waste this opportunity.

In true Rider fashion they will somehow make it harder than it needs to be, but as much as its hard to trust the Riders with much this year I trust them not to screw this one up.

Riders by 14

Monday, September 12, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: A Crappy Outcome

Riders 20 – Bombers 54

Look, we were probably not going to win even if we were healthy. Add in a nasty stomach flu ripping through the team and that game was going to be about as pretty as those bathroom stalls in the visitor locker room must have been. We didn’t lose because of the flu… but the lopsided nature of the score can probably be blamed at least in large part on the sickness. I mean we had to start a DB who only arrived at the stadium because our team president was forced to be a glorified soccer mom and drive him to the stadium the day of the game.

So I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time analyzing this one. The best team in the CFL was healthy and beat the crap out of (or at least whatever was left in them) a .500 team that was anything but healthy. Burn the tape, cover everything in bleach and move on.

I will talk about a few notable things though…

Frankie Hickson averaged 7.1 yards per carry behind a line that had to get IVs to even be healthy enough to stand upright and be away from a bathroom for more than a few minutes. Stud is starting to seem like an understatement. The run game is the only thing that is remotely consistent in a positive way (at least when we acknowledge it exists). Run, run and when you think we’ve run too much, run again for good measure.

Mario Alford is another stud. You have to go back to the days of Corey Holmes to find a kick returner this dynamic in green and white. Down the stretch we are going to need a lot of help if we want to find the win column and he’s a guy that can offer that.

I will preface this by saying that reffing is not why we lost and I really hate to even go down this rabbit hole as I normally will defend the refs and not buy into any conspiracy theories (Fact: the refs hate all our teams equally… well except Tom Valesi). But for the second week in a row I watched numerous Winnipeg infractions go uncalled. There were 2 distinct holds on that Bailey TD that somehow escaped the refs view. That PI call on Moore was about the first marginal call in a while that I have seen go our way. And why is it that the command centre can only fix errors when they benefit our opponents? Over the course of this season we’ve had to challenge no yards, we had blatant holds missed, nothing. But Winnipeg gets a penalty for a hit on Fajardo and suddenly they wake up and start doing stuff. For the record I think they were right in that case. While the defender tried really hard to commit a penalty on Fajardo he missed. I will say though that if Marino had done that, there would have been an uproar across the league. I’m not asking for perfect reffing. It would just be nice if it was a consistent bar.

While it was hardly worth celebrating, nice to see Charleston Hughes get another sack and take over 5th all-time in CFL history. He’s only 4 more away from tying Jurasin for 3rd all-time. Not sure how much more he has left but after an utter disappointment in Toronto last year, its nice to see him have some success.

That’s it. Nothing else in that game is worth discussing. Hopefully when we go back to Winnipeg in 3 weeks time, we are healthy and can see how we actually stack up. Between the Covid outbreak ahead of the Toronto game and now this, we have had shit luck this season… literally.   

Friday, September 9, 2022

Riders vs. Bombers: Banjo Bowl 2022

Saturday the Riders are forced to travel to Winnipeg (something that could be considered corporal punishment) for a rematch with the Bombers. The Riders will be looking to rebound after narrowly snatching defeat from the claws of victory. The Bombers will be looking to extend what seems to be an endless campaign to ensure we feel nothing but misery. What did we ever do to deserve this?… I mean aside from 29 straight years of mockery for lack of Grey Cups.

The Banjo Bowl has not historically been kind to the Riders. They have lost 5 of the last 6. Ironically, Zach Collaros was the last Rider QB lead the green and white to victory. And its not just that we lose, we tend to get pummelled. The average margin of defeat over the last 5 losses is 18.2 and only once were we within one score. If you are feeling confident about this game I can only assume that you have hallucinogen intake that would put Ricky Williams to shame.

This one is going to be tough. Despite giving a pretty damn good effort against a pretty damn good team we fell short last week. So we not only need to pick ourselves back up mentally and try again, we need to do it without the crowd being behind us this time. Our line was not exactly great but held it together but that was with the benefit of relative silence on offense. Expect a thunderous roar to emanate from the toothless mouths of the Bomber faithful. That certainly won’t help things.

But since you probably didn’t come here to read pages of doom and gloom, here’s what we need to do if we hope to steal one on Loser-peg.

Run! We proved on Labour Day that the Bombers can be run on. Hickson averaged 5.7 yards per carry (and added 6.7 yards per touch in the passing game). If we think we can pass our way to victory with our O-line, trying to stop that D-line, with that crowd noise, then we may be a product of the Manitoba education system. Feed Hickson. Dude is a stud and our line needs all the help it can get. The Fajardo-Shaq connection will be key when we do pass. Going to need another big game from Shaq. Also need to keep finding ways to get Schaefer-Baker the ball. We are undefeated in games where he scores a TD and are 6-2 and when he gets over 40 yards. Get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. We also can’t turn the ball over. We hung in last week until we turned the ball over. We simply aren’t good enough right now to overcome mistakes. Lastly, we need to find a way to score in the second half. I know this is a foreign concept to this offense, but maybe try making some adjustments at half time and not just napping.

Defensively, its certainly not fair to ask them to do more after holding the best QB in the league to 20 points. But we probably need them to do more. More pressure. More turnovers. Less big passing plays (I realize there were only 3 last game which in any other circumstance would be outstanding). You can bet Winnipeg will be looking to get Oliveira going after we held him to just 38 yards last game. We can’t let that happen. Demski has been the spark in that offense since returning from injury so limiting him needs to be a priority.

As great as our defense is and has been, I expect the Winnipeg O to be a bit better at home. Not a lot but 28 points seems more likely. I also don’t expect our offense to suddenly improve in one of the hardest places to play. So that means any chance of victory hinges on a defensive or special teams score. Not sure I like the odds of a special teams one against O’Shea but its possible. We also need to start strong. If we get down early that crowd will be on us like a mildly attractive cousin at a Manitoba family reunion and we are not built for a come from behind victory.

This is another game where we could in theory win. I do think we have the talent to hang with any team in the CFL (as last week showed). But realistically I expect us to continue the annual tradition of getting mercilessly crushed in the Banjo Bowl.

Bombers by 16… at least we get the Elks next.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Monday Afternoon Sentimonies: Labour Day Let Down

Riders 18 – Bombers 20

Being a Rider fan is just endless rollercoaster of building you up with hope only to shatter it… often in the most heart wrenching ways possible. I think the fact that we willingly subject ourselves to this something psychologists will one day write about. Look, I could take losing because we had a bad game. I could take losing because Winnipeg was a better team. I could take losing because of an amazing play. Still wouldn’t like it but all of those would be easier to take than losing due to stupidity.

Because let’s face it that’s why we lost. We didn’t play perfect but went toe to toe with the best team in the CFL and had a chance to win. We just couldn’t get out of our own way. We stupidly challenged something we had zero chance at winning. We took 2 time counts in a 4 minute span in our own stadium. One of them was on the first play of the drive. We had a guy who wasn’t even dressed push us out of Winnipeg territory with a penalty. But those were just the appetizer.

With 2 minutes left and down 2 points, Frankie Hickson ran 12 yards to set us up with a first down at the Winnipeg 26. At that point your goals are clear: score and leave as little time left on the clock. So the logical call is hand the ball off to your best playmaker on 1st down. Even if it’s a minimal gain the clock keeps moving and you are already in FG range. Plus Hickson was averaging 5.7 per carry. But did we do the logical thing? No. We got cute and tried to over think things. We called a pass play that had no business being called. Fajardo was inches from being strip sacked and instead throws an ill advised and errant pass. And just like that any chance at Labour Day celebrations were crushed. Sure, even if we kick the FG Winnipeg probably gets the ball back with 1 minute left and only needing 1 point. But given that our D locked them down and allowed just 3 point all second half, I like their odds of standing strong with the game on the line. How do you not run on first down?!?

There were some positives. Hickson had another strong showing. Anyone who doubts that Fajardo and Evans are spirit animals is just blind at this point. Shaq has a connection with Fajardo and he trust him like no other receiver. It leads to good things. Cody’s completion % was up and he was slinging with more confidence than I have seen in a while. Shaq is his guy. St John was not the trainwreck I expected him to be and the line overall did not awful (which is a glowing endorsement based on their play to date). In watching Evan Johnson I do need to concede that he is a very good run blocker. But it also reinforced what an absolute liability he is in pass protection.

But here’s the issue with our offense. Well I should be more specific. There are a ton of issues but here’s the one I’m going to focus on: points scored in the second half? A measly punt single. That’s it. It marks the 5th time in the last 8 games where we have had less than 7 second half points. It’s like Jason Maas has a game plan that works for a quarter and a half and then teams adjust and he just gives up and says oh well better luck next time.  Like is he aware that half time adjustments are allowed? We can talk about Cody’s struggles and the line but this is an ongoing pervasive issue… it’s a coaching issue. You are paid to field an offense that scores and week in and week out you fail.

It must be insanely demoralizing for Coach Shivers and all those defensive players. Week after week they ball out. Week after week they make halftime adjustments that give us a chance to win. Sunday marked the 4th game in a row where they allowed 7 point or less in the second half. They held the best team in the league to 20 points… something that had only been done once in the past 2 months. They allowed a solitary FG in the final 30 minutes of the game. Collaros has been completing 70% of his passes on the season. They held him to 62%. That is an elite defensive unit and they have to sit on the sidelines and watch such a poor excuse for an offense that you swear we ordered it off Wish.

Since the 80s we only lost back to back Labour Days once and that was during the Nealon Greene years. Even the crappy teams of the 80s and 90s managed to win Labour Day with some regularity.

This was our chance and we blew it. Stock up on your intoxicant of choice we I have a feeling Winnipeg is absolutely going to embarrass us in the Banjo Bowl.

Other random thoughts:

-        Our D-line gets held a lot more than the refs seem to think.

-        I’ve seen the video of the latest Marino “infraction”. Its much ado about nothing. Is he a dirty player? Yeah. Is the microscope he’s under completely his own doing? Yes. But that one seems like grasping at straws. Willing to bet a lot of other players have done the exact same thing. Save your torches for when he actually does something that crosses the line.

-        That little sidestep Leggio did to avoid a surefire blocked punt was pretty impressive poise.

-        As much as I hated how the game ended and hate all things Winnipeg, we had a Bomber fan in our section and he was a great dude. Lots of good natured back and back chirping that made the game fun.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Riders vs. Bombers: Labour Day Classic 2022

It’s time for the nation’s most ironically named holiday and the classic rivalry football games that go with it. We get the Bombers. 14 of the previous 16 Labour Day’s have gone to the good guys. Unfortunately the most recent one in 2021 was a depressing crapfest that we’d all rather not talk about. 

I know Bomber fans are cocky of late. Back to back championships and seemingly no viable contender to stop them from a third now that Rourke is hurt will do that. We can of course expect the standard “4 cups in 100+ years” insult to come from them this weekend. Which I always find an odd insult. I mean sure the 20s through 50s were rough but I’m not exactly insulted about that. If we look more recently, a more accurate jab would be “only 3 cups since 1989”. I mean what kind of an embarrassment of a franchise does it take to suck like that? So if bragging about stuff that happened 90 years ago makes you feel good, then I guess go for it.

On to the game. Look, we all know we are in tough in this one and were it not for the fact that it was Labour Day we would be betting the farm against our own team. We will need some Labour Day magic to win. But if we channel the ghosts of Rocky Butler, Michael Bishop, Kevin Glenn and Brett Smith we can maybe drum up enough of that Labour Day magic to squeak one out.

This is a damn good Bombers team. 3rd in points for, 1st in points allowed (just 16 TDs all season), least giveaways with 15 (or as Dane Evans calls is, a good half), least penalized, the list goes on. About the only thing we can say we do better is not choke epically to Montreal on home turf. So how do we go about beating the blue and gold behemoth and getting back to the tradition of celebrating a win on Labour Day?

Its starts on defense. They face a tough test. Best OL in the league. Now that Rourke is out, the unquestioned best QB in the league. It still saddens me that after enduring insanely bad health luck here, Collaros is enjoying the healthiest days of his life with our fiercest enemy. Can you imagine how different history would be if we had healthy Collaros? I’m talking in like 2018 and 2019. Collaros playing on this team now would of course be dead or at least wishing he was but not longer able to communicate that verbally. While I don’t advocate murder, our chances of winning do hinge on getting some good solid, legal, hits on him. I don't think anyone would oppose recreating the infamous Butler on Pierce hit. Give him time and he will carve you up. Also need to work on keeping him in the pocket. He has all the escapability of a greased up Scotsman and seems to make plays anytime he gets on the edge. Keep him contained and pressure the crap out of him. We also need to limit to big plays. Collaros has the most pass attempts over 20 yards. DBs need to stay sound in coverage (looking at you Marshall). As good as that OL is, I don’t think they are superhuman anymore. In 2021, they allowed 16 sacks in 14 games. Through 11 games they have already allowed 21. Still good but with a D-line as ferocious as ours, not unbeatable.

Offense has one chance. Run. Winnipeg has few flaws but run D is one of those areas where they at least appear human: 3rd most 1st downs rushing allowed. Hickson is averaging 7.3 yards per carry... and only has 2 carries over 20 yards. Even if you exclude his long TD run early in the season, he’s still averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Look, you can run the ball or hope that our O-line can block Willie Jefferson. (I’ll pause here to let you laugh at that suggestion… or cry, your choice). Don’t let their measly 22 sacks fool you, that D-line can still create pressure. Plus our O-line could make 4 stationary garden gnomes look like all-star pass rushers. Evan Johnson sucks. I realize that seems like a random statement but it needs to be said. Run… for the love of all that is good just run. 20 carries minimum. Passing game does look to get a boost from the return of Shaq and Lenius. While I have minimal faith our passing attack, I will say that if you go back over his time as a starter, there are only 2 players I have seen Cody consistently trust and be in synch with Evans and Lenuis. Maybe they are the boost he needs in confidence. Add in Schaefer-Baker (please Maas/Cody remember that only good things happen when we feed him the ball), Moore (who will have worked some rust off by now) and Picton (an underappreciated contributor on our O) and Cody has weapons… provided he can throw before being permanently affixed to the turf.

Key will be getting yards on first down. For all its strengths, the Bombers allow the most yards on 1st down. We need to capitalize there. The alternative is wasting first down and getting in second and long situation (obvious passing down + Rider OL + Jefferson/Jeffcoat = sadness). Also for all their strengths, they have allowed as many big play receptions as us (which is odd for the Hall bend but don’t break philosophy). Let’s not go thinking we can suddenly become an airshow but deep shots will be there if we press. Another important thing will be finishing. Sad stat for you in 3 of our last 4 games and 5 of our last 7 we have failed to register a 4th quarter point. Since I think we can safely assume we will not be amassing a massive halftime lead and coasting through the back half of the game, we should probably look to change that.

Special teams will probably need to be a difference maker here. Sounds like Alford is good to go and it would be nice to see him add to the list of big kick returns on Labour Day. Also, our kicker is clutch. He delivered our last Labour Day win. The Bombers kicker has missed 4 converts. He has also missed 3 kicks under 40 yards. Every other kicker in the west division combined has 3 such misses… the aforementioned Lauther has 0. Cruel as it may seem, I want the crowd to be on this kid all game and make him crumble.

Winnipeg is beatable. Despite a dominating record all but one of their games have been within 2 scores and 5 of them have been within one score (that includes games against the powerhouses known as Toronto and Ottawa back to back). Are they very good? Yes. Are the invincible? Lord no. The flip side is… are we very good? Not so much. Can we win? Yes.

Going to take a rock solid defensive performance (with at least 2 turnovers and 3 sacks), a big play on special teams, another long pass that tips off a defenders waiting hands into ours and a whole lot of Labour Day magic. Remember 2011 when we were 1-9 and they were 9-1… we somehow won that. Anything can happen on Labour Day.

If logic is your thing, or placing bets you expect to win, the correct call is on a Bombers win. But call me a sucker for disappointment and heartbreak but dammit if I’m not throwing logic to the wind and going all in on blind labour day faith.

Riders by a Cody Fajardo rushing TD on the final drive of the game. Let's make it loud!

I’ll end today with an acrostic poem in honour of our visiting rivals

 

W is for winning, those championships they be stacking

I is for intelligence which their residents are lacking

N is for Neufeld, who they sometimes call Patty

The other N is for their Nephew, who is often also their daddy

I is for IG field which is where they play

P is for their pearly whites, which like the stadium are in decay

E is for Education, which is something they can’t spell

G is for Got… as in they Got no chance in hell.

 

 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Road Win

Riders 23 – Lions 16

In a shocking turn of events, the Riders’ decision to base their offense around running and Schaefer-Baker led to good things. Who could possibly have predicted that? You know, other than pretty much anyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with Mason Boss. I’ll admit I’m still in a bit of shock over the win. I mean, our rock solid defense against a back-up QB (turns out just being Canadian doesn’t make you Rourke 2.0) should have given us great odds for victory. But based on how the past month or so has gone, you’ll forgive me for having my doubts.

Going to change things up a bit and start on offense. I mean who knows when the next time they will play good enough for me to make note of them. After a couple weeks of god awful performances they stepped. I mean they stepped up in a very Rider way by allowing 7 sacks. But they didn’t turn the ball over. They let their RB lead the way and they actually found a way to get their best receiver the ball. Also, gotta give props to Fajardo. For a guy rightly facing all the criticism in the world, he delivered his best performance in a while. The long bomb to Schaefer on the zero blitz was beauty (when was the last time you saw Cody hit a guy in stride?) but for me the better pass was the TD to Jones. He placed that ball perfectly where only his receiver could make a play on it. It was by no means pretty or perfect but it was nice to see Cody step up and prove he can still put up points. I do kinda worry that we use up about a month worth of production in one game and a big dry spell is coming. But for now I will revel in the happiness of a much needed win.

One more comment on Fajardo. For as good as he played, he consistently did what I call “pre-turtling”. That is, I saw him start to turtle in anticipation of getting hit way earlier than he actually needed to on many. Its plainly obvious that this is a guy who just assumes he’s getting hit. I don’t blame him but we need a more fearless Cody. Our line doesn’t give much time to begin with. Can’t waste any of it by pre-turtling.  

Story for you. In my Game Preview I wrote “Or if a sure fire pick bounces off a BC defenders hands over the rest of the defenders and flukily into the hands out our WR who walks in untouched.Minus the walking in untouched that happened on the first long Baker pass. Also, before the game I was chatting with my buddy and doubled down on that prediction adding that it would also take the DB pulling up lame due to injury like happened in the Winnipeg game the night before. That also happened. Look, there’s a reason they call me the Prophet… just ignore the part where I predicted we’d lose.  

One more note on the offense. It wasn’t just big that we ran a lot (15 touches for Hickson) its that we stayed committed to the run consistently. 10 touches came after half. I honestly thought it was against Maas’ religion to run after half. It was so great to see us close out. We got the ball with 2:33 left and did not give the ball back.

Defense did their job. Its helps when your job involves defending O’Connor who completed 40% of his passes and Pipkin, who I remain adamant is not good (though I won’t lie I was worried as hell that the curse of BC third stringers would rear its ugly head and Pipkin would somehow beat us. Seen that happen way too many times over the years). The run game was a complete non-factor, Butler has 18 yards. We held Bryan Burham to 1 catch. You know who we matched up on him most of the time? The ever-reliable Moncrief. Milligan had a sure-fire pick 6 bounce of him because he was already doing his endzone celebration in his head. Rely got to see the closing speed of Jeremy Clark on display. He made a lot of great plays as the ball arrived. The D didn’t allow a TD until 6 minutes left in the game. We will face better QBs than Pipkin/O’Connor but for this week they did their job and shut down the opponents on the road.

That was a much needed win. Both in terms of the standings, and just general confidence. I know they were missing the best player in the league but just proving we can beat a west team not named Elks on the road, gives a much needed boost of confidence heading into 3 games in the next 4 against the best team in the CFL.

Labour Day is up next and lord knows anything can happen on Labour Day… I mean other than our O-line allowing less than 5 sacks.

Other random thoughts:

-        Nice to see Moore back out there. He clearly had some rust to work off but he’ll be a needed weapon in the coming weeks.

-        Hope the injury to Alford is a minor one. Moore is a good returner but there’s very few game changers like Alford.

-        I get why the Sankey hit was a penalty by the book. But I also don’t know what Sankey could do in that spot. If he doesn’t follow through on his tackle then QB could bounce off him or spin off. He was in no man’s land. I get it, I just don’t like it.

-        Did anyone else get sick of how much the announcers went on about the hit and how it may have hurt O’Connor? He hurt his groin. Basic anatomy would tell you that something else other than a hit to the chest was at play. 

-        Does it bother anyone else that Harty wears one solitary baggy sleeve? If it was 2, fine. If it was one of those tight fitting ones fine. But of what value is one baggy sleeve?

Friday, August 26, 2022

Riders vs. Lions: Third Time’s a Charm

Friday the Riders travel to BC looking to salvage at least one win in the 3 game season series against the Lions. Based on how everything has gone this season, a road games against the Lions would normally be as close to guaranteed loss night as you are going to get. But there is a shred of optimism because of the absence of phenom Nathan Rourke. Let’s be honest, if he was playing our chances of winning would be lower than my chances of winning the lottery (note: I don't buy lotto tickets). But his absence presents an opportunity for the struggling Riders.

I hate to be that guy, but I’m going to throw some cold water on that optimism. Here is a list of things that Rourke’s absence does not impact: the quality of our O-line play, the performance of our QB, the health of what little offensive weapons we have, the quality of BC’s defense. To be blunt, even if O’Connor is a trainwreck, we are a team that managed only 10 points at home and now have to go on the road without Duke and Morrow (I mean based on how Maas uses him, the absence of Morrow may have a negligible effect but still). So for me to feel confident about this game I would need to assume that our defense can hold BC to 8 points or less. Our only 2 road victories have come in Edmonton… and those were not exactly confidence inspiring performances. 

I’m not saying we can’t win. I’m just not all buying into the idea that BC is suddenly a very beatable team. We remain firmly underdogs heading into this game.

Defense won’t have Lanier but does get Hughes back and is otherwise healthy. They need to dominate in this game. Even playing well won’t be enough. It has to start up front. Any thought that a 3 man rush is a useful call should be thrown out the window. Our front 4 need to be aggressive and put pressure on O’Connor. Even the odd blitz would be helpful to ensure we get some hits on him. He still has an all-star cast of WRs at his disposal so even if he’s not Rourke, if we give him time I’m sure he’ll figure something out. We can’t make it easy on him. I would be in favour of a Richie Hall-style bend but don’t break philosophy here. We can’t get lazy in coverage or assume that we can play great zone (we can’t) and allow long bombs to the likes of Whitehead. Make O’Connor work hard to string together long drives. With the playmakers we have, odds are at some point they will force a mistake. I don’t feel confident about much in Riderville these days but one thing I am confident in is Shivers’ ability to throw some unexpected looks at an inexperienced QB. O’Connor is not Rourke but I’m willing to bet he plays a decent game. Now if for some reason Pipkin is forced into action, then my confidence would increase (I’ve honestly never understood what people see in him).

Offensively, please for the love of all that is good do something. Anything. The bar is set so low that even a 5 play drive that results in a punt would be welcome news. Here is a list of things the Riders lead the league in taking penalties, giving up sacks, going 2 and out, smallest gains on first downs and least amount of yards gained through the air. Again, Rourke doesn’t play on defense and they may be getting Bo Lokombo back this week. Expect them to play well at home. But Prophet, you ask, is it hopeless? Pretty much yeah. I mean if our defense consistently gives us the ball in FG range we’d be ok. Or if a sure fire pick bounces off a BC defenders hands over the rest of the defenders and flukily into the hands out our WR who walks in untouched. 

Ok. More seriously, if the Riders think they are going to cobble together a mildly competent offense it needs to start with Frankie Hickson. We’ve seen what he can do with his speed and a small crease. He averages 6.7 yards per carry highest among any RB in the league. Long drives aren’t our thing. Hell first downs aren’t are thing. So let’s give him a heavy workload and pray he can break a couple long ones. If I could afford a cameo by Morgan Freeman I would have him interject here as the narrator and say “But Jason Maas did not in fact acknowledge the existence of the RB after the first drive”. Receivers are super thin this week. Normally I’d be pumped about the return of Moore. I flat out love the guy. His ability to break tackles will be a boost but he can’t suddenly reinvigorate this offense by himself. It would be helpful to go back and watch tape of Schaefer-Baker in the first 4 games and maybe remember that in an offense desperately short on playmakers, he can be that guy. Cut back to Mr. Freeman “But Jason Maas did not in fact acknowledge the existence of Mr. Baker.” For me that’s the template to production: Hickson, Baker, Moore in that order.

Realistically for us to win, our defense needs to hold BC under 15 points, our offense needs to produce 10 and then we hope that defense our special teams can produce the difference making TD. Rourke’s absence upgrades our chances from “Michael Bishop getting into the hall of fame” to “Garret Marino getting through a game without a fine, suspension or ejection”. It’s a winnable game… I’m just not betting on it.

BC by 14.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Mnday Mrning Sentimnies: What’s Missing?

Riders 10 – Lions 28

(Note: I wrote this all before finding out about the injuries to Morrow and Duke)

In case you just assumed that the title of this post was a series of spelling errors on my part (a fairly reasonable assumption), its actually quite witty. What’s missing from the title? The O is. Get it? Having to explain jokes is a sign that it’s a very good one I hear.

What was not good was that game on Friday. I’m fairly certain I could just blindly copy and paste the same 4 bullet points and they would cover 90% of Rider games played between 2021 and the end of this season:

·        Defense tried their best but couldn’t do it on their own

·        O-line sucked

·        Abandoned the run

·        No semblance of a passing game

That’s it. That’s the Riders week in and week out. I would say our offense is a joke but we certainly aren’t laughing and even opposing team’s laughs are turning to sad pity. There have been very times over the past 2 decades that I can recall an offense this terrible. Tino Sunseri comes to mind. The Greg Marshall/Doug Berry half season perhaps. I may have repressed others. For all of Michael Bishop’s fault (of which there were many) he at least was a threat to score at some point. For all of Brandon Bridge’s sucktitude (of which there was much) I would take that in a heart beat over whatever the hell the have going on now.

I am an ardent Fajardo supporter but he’s useless right now. He’s so visibly broken both physically and more troublingly mentally. Its not his fault. Two years of being offered zero protection and taking more hits then a punching bag at a boxing club have him looking like he has PTSD in the pocket. I don’t blame him but the call to bench him was correct and should probably extend for a while. Honestly never thought Dickenson would do it. Let alone, mid game. I can see a future where Fajardo goes to a different team and revitalizes his career behind a line that can actually block. 

But let’s not go anointing Fine the saviour of Riderville just yet. He produced one touchdown followed by 30 minutes of futility and the proceeded to narrow his vision on the field such that McInnis and Harty were the only receivers visible to him. With due respect to both those players, if they are your go to guys, then the odds of our offensive production picking up are slim. I like Fine in that he’s still too young and stupid to be scared about all the defenders his line doesn’t block so he stands in there. You gotta roll with him for now and see if he can develop but be in his ear to maybe look for some of our actual good receivers.

Remember when I said that Morrow needed 20 touches in this game? Well he average 5.9 yards per run… exactly the reason I wanted him to have a massive workload. But we ran him just 6 times (and added 4 passes). How can you ignore what is clearly the only good thing we have going on offense week in and week out?!? It honestly looks like Maas bet heavy on the under on Morrow’s season long rushing totals.

Let’s call it like it is. Our offense is pure shit. And with an offense this bad there are only maybe 2 games left on our schedule that are winnable.

Defense didn’t dominate but lord they tried and at least looked like professional level football players. They kept us in the game for the better part of the first half. They offered up turnovers. Hell they held BC under 30 points, which is only the 3rd time all season anyone has done that. My only criticism of the D was the stupid 3 man rush we tried early. We didn’t rush 3 even when we barely had 3 healthy d-linemen to dress. So why on earth once we had our stud 4 back did we rush 3? Give Rourke time and he will carve you up. Plus we aren’t that great in zone at the best of times.  

As much as I’m tired of him tearing us apart, it was still a shame to see Rourke get hurt. You always want the best players in the league (of which he clearly is) to be on the field.

Does Rourke’s absence give us a chance next week? Possibly. Certainly helps our D… but unless they can keep the BC O under 10 points, I still don’t have any confidence our O can score enough to win.

We simply are who we are at this point. A very good team in 2 out of 3 phases being pulled to the bottom by a ginormous anchor that is our offense. We can have all the optimism we want about the upcoming returns of Moore, Evans and Picton but unless one of those 3 recently put on 100 pounds and converted to tackles or get promoted to playcaller, it may not be enough to salvage things based on their current state.

Random bonus thoughts:

-        Was surprised to learn that attempted horse collar is a penalty. I’m glad that does not apply to all penalties because if attempted holding was a thing, lord help Na’ty Rogers.

-        When Wesley Lewis has as many targets as Kian-Schaefer Baker that may be a sign that you have issues.

-        Noticed Clark bump into half and Henderson moved out to corner. Wonder is that was a game specific thing or a more permanent one?

-        Hope the injury to Milligan is nothing to serious.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Riders vs. BC Lions: Round 2

Friday night the Lions are back in town for the second of three meetings this season. You may recall (unless you repress bad memories with whiskey as I have been known to do) that just 3 weeks ago were up 17-4 on the Lions is the first matchup only to allow 28 unanswered points and emphatically lose.  The Riders will be looking for a different outcome. This is the first of 4 straight games against the top 2 teams in the league. Somehow emerging with 2 wins would be a big accomplishment. On our home turf is likely our best chance to steal a victory… and let’s be honest, we are going to need to steal one to emerge victorious.

Given that only one team has beaten the Lions (that being the Bombers), I went back and looked at that game to see what the blueprint is to beat them. Turns out there is no great secret… it’s the most basic things in football: limit the run game, force turnovers, run the ball (Bombers had 141 yards) and don’t commit turnovers. It also helps to return the opening kickoff of the game for a TD.

We start as always on defense, because how else do you think we are going to win? Some big, big news this week. Robertson is ready to go, Marino is off suspension and Leonard is making a surprise return. To say adding three DL of this calibre back is a difference maker is an understatement. Last game we got to Rourke early with 1 starter and a collection of rotation guys. BC has allowed just 9 sacks on the season but 2 of those came from our rag tag group. Now that our D-line is fully stocked with starters, we have a chance to make a real impact. It won’t be easy even with our starting D. This is the best offense in the CFL, led by a young hot shot QB who is fearless even when trailing. Slowing him down starts up front. If the D-line can dominate in the trenches it limits the run and makes life difficult for Rourke. By the 2nd half of last game, he had so much time in the pocket they could have cut to commercial break and been back in time for the pass. Our secondary is good but facing Rhymes, Burnham and Whitehead is tough at the best of times, let alone when the QB has all the time in the world. D needs to stand strong. They will also need to force some turnovers. If this turns into a shootout it would be equivalent of trying to beat an opponent who has an actual gun when all you have is one of the crappy dollar store water guns that breaks the first time you try and use it.

Offensively the big news is that our pleas have been answered and Na’ty Rogers is no longer being paid to take penalties and fail miserably at his job. While we are all happy about that, let’s not kid ourselves. Our line didn’t suddenly become good. We just replaced a guy who definitely sucks, with a guy who may not suck as much. He can’t be worse but until we seen any evidence to contrary, our line remains a massive liability.

If you want something that gives some faint hope I find this stat interesting: at home the BC defense averages 17 points allowed per game. On the road that number balloons to 29. Hell, we put up 17 and we aren’t that good and didn’t bother playing for the final 41 minutes of the game. The BC defense is good but beatable. The only way we are doing that is if Jamal Morrow touches the ball 20 times… and while I should not have to add this caveat, knowing our OC I do, that includes multiple touches in the second half of the game. In back to back games, Morrow has started strong and then we just abandoned him in the latter parts of the game. Morrow has run for 10+ yards on close to 20% of all his runs. So ask yourself, which is a more likely source of a first down? Giving the ball to Morrow? Or relying on the O-line to block long enough, Cody to make the right read and throwing an accurate pass that the receiver does not drop?

It will help that Cody is actually somewhat mobile in this game, as opposed to the first meeting where he displayed all the running ability of senior citizen. But I’m hoping he watched film of last game. As crappy as his line is, there were times where he could have stepped up in the pocket or gone a different direction and made life easier on his blockers. I don’t blame him for not trusting any of them but he needs to do what he can not to make things worse for this struggling unit. We will need Duke to turn in another stud game and we need to keep Schaefer-Baker involved (even if its just designed runs). Most importantly we need sustained drives in the 3rd quarter. That means no turnovers and at least a couple first downs. If we can’t help the defense out by scoring TDs then we could at least give them more than a 30 second breather before punting it away (talk about low expectations).

There was lots of talk going into the Calgary game about the return game being BC’s one glaring weakness. It almost cost them in that game. We just so happen to have a returner who has scored a TD in 26% of regular season games he played. If we are going to steal a victory hear we need a big play on special teams.

For me, here is the telling stat of our season: in 5 wins we are averaging over 10 points scored and only 4.6 points allowed in the 4th quarter. In 4 loses that flips and we are scoring 4.3 points and allowing 11. We need to finish. With all our studs back on defense, I think they are well positioned to put in a full 60 mins. As for the offense… if they can give us a smattering of effort split over 4 quarters, then we have a chance.

Could we win this game? Definitely. When we have all our starters (which we do) this is an elite defense capable of grinding out a win against any opponent. But possibility is not probability. Last week BC overcame a 17 point deficit on the road against a very good team. Last week we had a less than convincing win against a very bad team. Expect a more competitive game than many are expecting but in the end…

BC by a Rhymes TD.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Getting By

Riders 34 – Elks 23

Being a Rider fan is weird. I mean we won and we scored the most points we had all season, but I doubt many feel great about it or went to bed super happy. The best way I can describe the emotion is that its less happy we won and more relieved that we somehow managed not to lose. And believe me, we tried to lose that game. We were just lucky that Edmonton was far more committed to losing and far more experienced at it. We are at a point in the season where we can’t be picky about how we win. We needed that win and we got the job done.

Defensively it was the tale of two halves. We looked uncharacteristically bad on D in the first half. We could not stop the run. RBs were consistently getting big gains and Cornelius was killing us. But man o man did Shivers put in work at half time. Because they came out on fire and dominated up front in the second half. In the first half we gave up 256 yards and 17 points. In the second half it was just 109 and 2 FGs (and one of the FGs was Fajardo’s fault for throwing a terrible pick). Sankey was visibly on another level in the second half. Lanier snagged a share of the lead in sacks. Slow start but the D once again flexed their muscle and willed us to victory.

Offense was also on another level in the second half. Unfortunately that level was the basement of an outhouse. It was the second consecutive game where the offense just didn’t show up in the second half. Here is every second half drive we had:

·        2 plays, -4 yards, punt

·        2 plays, 6 yards, punt (1 penalty)

·        2 plays 10 yards, punt (1 penalty)

·        1 play, 0 yards, INT

·        4 plays, 97 yards, TD (43 yards came off Edmonton penalties)

·        4 plays 21 yards TD (purely because the defense got a pick and Edmonton got a borderline pyramiding penalty)

·        2 plays, 2 yards, punt

For a while I was convinced that our only chance of victory was a mid-game trade for John Ryan and punt single our way to victory. 

There were a few positives. Duke is back. He made some big time catches and realistically should have had one more long TD if Cody could throw. We also found a way to get Baker back involved. Those designed runs work and while he only had 2 catches one of them was a big time catch at a big time moment. Unfortunately that was about it in terms what did not suck on offense.

The ongoing theme remains the same: you can’t pinpoint the issue with our offense because we have so many issues that therapy should be mandated. Its starts with coaching. Yes our O-line is devoid of talent. And yes Cody missed throws. And yes receivers dropped balls. But this is not a one off. Our offense is consistently awful and the coaching staff seems to have no answers going on 2 years. Like we actully pay someone to coach our OL. Seems like that may be a wasted expense at this point. Yet again we abandoned Morrow after a hot start. Yes, Edmonton did adjust to focus on taking the run away but a good coach would find a way to keep your best offensive weapon involved. Maas just appears to be like “well, they took away the run so lets just never go back to that”.   

O-line is to the point where I need to get thesaurus' in 4 other languages in order to not run out of new ways to describe their awfulness. The Elks have just 14 sacks in 9 games. 7 of them have come in 2 games against us. At this point by not at least trying to play Campbell at tackle you are saying that you assume he will commit a felony crime if we do. Clearly penalties are ok. Clearly a complete inability to slow down oncoming pass rushers is OK. So the only logical reason left not to sit Rogers is that there is a risk of his replacement committing a crime that the organization would be partially liable for. 

I’ve made mention in bits an pieces about Fajardo’s performance. It was nice to see Fajardo actually be able to move. Though it would seem that while rehabbing his leg he let his arm atrophy. That INT was underthrown by 15 yards. He had Duke on a long TD but he threw a low straight pass rather than arcing it at it ended up being knocked down. He overthrew a wide open Jones on the convert. 130 yards and 55% completion is not good enough regardless of whether or not your O-line clearly hates you.

You need 2 phases to be working for you to win so fortunately our special teams stepped up. Cover teams were rock solid. So nice to have Gary Johnson back out there (or Gary Johson as he friends call him). He is a stud whose only flaw is constantly being injured. Vedvik kicked well. He actually punted farther and had more singles than John Ryan… by Rider logic I assume that makes him the greatest punter of all time. (Though for the record on that one single, he punted perfectly and just got an unreal bad bounce). Most importantly Mario Alford stepped up and stole momentum back from the Elks right after a go ahead TD with a massive return TD. Alford now has 5 career kick return TDs in 19 games. That’s a pretty good ratio.

Struggling to beat the worst team in the West hardly gives confidence for the upcoming stint of back to backs with both the best teams in the West. But hey, a win is a win and reinforcements are coming next week (i.e Robertson, Marino). So who knows, anything can happen in the wacky CFL. For now enjoy winning for once. It’s been a while.