Monday, June 27, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Le Coup De Pied Au Derriere

Riders 13 – Als 37

Well what can you say about that game that hasn’t already been said about unclogging a toilet. It was unpleasant, stunk and we hope to never have to endure that again anytime soon. The game was essentially over on the opening kickoff the remaining 59 minutes and 48 seconds were really just rubbing our nose in it.

Not that people on the prairies are prone to overreaction but I do feel compelled to remind you that as much as that game sucked (as in suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked) the team had to play a road game on 5 days rest. What you saw in that game is not indicative of what you would have seen on a full week’s rest. I’m not saying that’s an excuse for not showing up in any way to a game, I’m just saying its not doom and gloom and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how they bounce back next game after 9 days rest and the comforts of home.

It was so considerate of the other 4 members of our O-line to play like such utter garbage that no one would even notice whether Bandy struggled. Great show of solidarity to take pressure off the kid. I mean I’m sure Fajardo wasn’t a fan of that plan but screw that guy hey? That may have been the worst game I’ve ever seen Ferland play. He looked lost at times. And more and more I’m wondering what is up with Evan Johnson? I was pumped when we signed him because I thought we were getting a stud guard. I have yet to see him be anymore than adequate in 2 seasons here and adequate would have been an exponential improvement over his performance Thursday. Na’ty Rodgers remains firmly entrenched atop my hated list. Not only is he not good at his job, he also added another major penalty to the 4 penalties he took last week. Vaughn has not been great either but Rodgers is terrible. Makes me long for the days of Brett Boyko, or Charles Thomas or a cardboard cutout of Gene Makowsky. I can only assume that the only reason Jamal Campbell is not playing is because he’s our lone remaining Canadian OL and he needs to be our depth. Otherwise why is he not playing... no way he's worse than Rodgers. Yes folks we’ve been reduced to feeling impacts of Josiah St John not being available and looking fondly on the slightly less awful tackles we had least season. This is low. 

So I have my criticisms about the play calling of Maas and Cody has his issues but there is a pretty limited playbook for zero blocking and few QBs that can be effective when the O-line plays like they hate him and want to see him suffer. Now our extended foray into terrible OL play has got me to wondering about the competence of Stephen Sorrels. I mean its his entire job to coach our O-line. In pretty much any other occupation sucking at the core purpose of your job would put your employment in jeopardy. I will also take this opportunity to note that for a team very reliant on wide receiver screens, we aren’t very good at blocking on said screens. Partly a product of being predictable and defenders beating the blocks because its so obvious what we are running but I really noticed in that game the contrast between Montreal who were effective at blocking on those plays and us that we not very good. Either coach them up to do it better or quick calling plays we suck at.

Super awful to lose Shaq again. He was looking in 2019 form and now will be gone for a while. Gotta feel for the guy. I hope he learns from last year and doesn’t rush back before he’s actually fully healed.

Defensively we did only allow 1 TD and was because Lokombo shaded inside when he should have shaded outside (rookie mistake). We allowed way too many yards and FGs but when the special teams and offense are actively working against you, 23 points is not a terrible outing. 6 penalties is still too much but I won’t harp too much on the D. I will note that Pete Robertson is quickly becoming a very good player. 

For a team coached by a career special teams coach, I’m pretty disappointed about how our special teams have been. Aside from Lauther, not much has been going well. Vedvik is kicking like a guy intent on making Jon Ryan look not so bad by comparison. Blocking for our returns has been so-so and clearly our coverage teams need some work.

All in all it was a crappy night of football. Burn the tape, rest up and come out this weekend and prove it was an anomaly and not indicative of what were in store for in the rest of the season.  

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Riders vs. Alouettes: Thursday Test

After a rough game in Edmonton on Saturday, the Dan-Clarkless Riders have a quick turnaround as they are back at it just 5 days later in Montreal. Normally I’d worry about the notorious Montreal nightlife being a factor on our team’s performance but with such a quick turnaround and us being there on a Wednesday night I sense it won’t be as big a factor as in past years… I mean we are talking about a group of 20 year olds so I can’t completely rule out a weekday trip to the “urban ballet” but it’s just less likely.

Under normal conditions I would be fairly confident about this match-up. Ugly as it may be at times we consistently find ways to win. Conversely, Montreal is wildly inconsistent and finds ways to lose games. I mean they couldn’t beat a not great looking Argo team because they missed a 21 yard FG. When they are good the Alouettes can hang with most teams but they keep proving over and over that they are consistently inconsistent. The problem is, that this game will not be played under normal conditions. While Montreal will be playing on a full week’s rest, we will be playing on 4 days rest with only one practice… oh and just happen to be forced into playing a centre playing in his first ever start to anchor an already struggling OL. 

As will likely be an ongoing theme this year, I’ll start with the defense because that’s what currently drives this team. All offseason I heard people predicting the Riders would have a better defense than 2021. I scoffed at that idea. I knew we would have a very good defense but to lose Micah, Woodard, Gainey and Purifoy and only really shore up the LBs seemed like a stretch to say we would improve. In another recurring theme, what the hell do I know? Through 2 games we have 5 more sacks than 2021, 2 more turnovers and have allowed 4 less TDs. Small sample size but there may be some truth to the notion we are better. Secondary is still a question mark a bit but with how well the front 7 and Edem are playing we seem to be able to compensate for that.

With Vernon Adams sick/benched, we will face Trevor Harris. Harris is a “safer” option than Adams. His highs aren’t as high, but his lows are not nearly as low. Though for context, while Harris is more accurate than VA (60% vs. 55%) he’s still so far the least accurate starter on the season. Lots is being made of Antwi as Stanback’s replacement at RB but if you remove that one 70 yard romp, Antwi has a pedestrian 14 carries for 57 yards (4.1 per carry). Geno Lewis is the guy we need to worry about… particularly since Jake Wieneke will not play. Lewis is arguably one of the top WRs in the league (though he doesn’t always get the same fanfare as other big names). Given what Lawler (who plays on a much worse team) did on Saturday, there’s some concern in facing Lewis. Normally you take away the run as a priority on this one but I almost wonder if Shivers goers the opposite route. Antwi doesn’t scare me as a runner, Harris is a checkdown machine and Lewis is the only Alouette receiver who scares me with Weineke out. Montreal OL is nothing special (they have allowed the most sacks of any team not to play us yet) so I can see Shivers trusting his front 4 and leaving his LBs and DBs to concentrate on Lewis and taking away the patented Trevor Harris short pass. (Side note: For all his love of hitches and swing, I’m surprised Jason Maas didn’t petition us to have Harris as his centre piece). Double Lewis, play smart on the short routes and let the D-line continue to do their thing.

 Offensively as much as all eyes are on Bandy, my eyes are on that unit as a whole. If our tackles remain incapable of blocking 1 on 1 then who good Bandy does or not matters a whole lot less. One would expect the Als to throw stunts and delayed blitzes to try and take advantage of the rookie centre. It’s a pretty good front 4 in Montreal. Sewell and Moore give a strong push up the middle and Usher and Ellis are pretty descent off the edge. Given that as recently as Saturday we failed to block 3 man pressure from an Elk D-lineman who was cut based on his performance, I’m very concerned. Fortunately we have a pretty obvious way to help out that line in #25. Running won’t be as easy as it was against the Elks but everything I’ve seen from Morrow says good things will happen if we feed him the ball. He already has 5 carries of over 10 years. Over 2 games Montreal has the 7th ranked run D so they can be run on. Fajardo is nicked up a sporting a knee brace so his mobility may not be able to be as big a factor. I mean, he’s still going to run but his Houdini abilities may be lessened. Lean heavy on Morrow/Hickson. Have fullbacks and extra O-linemen help out in protection. Most importantly get the ball out quick… and I don’t mean throw it sideways. Some slants, ins, outs to get the ball out quick and get out receivers moving in the right direction. Montreal has a pretty good D but they will be missing two top guys in Ackie and Reid and that makes their LBs and Secondary suddenly a lot less dangerous. Having Duke back will be nice. We shown we can survive with just Shaq and Baker but adding Duke back should really open things up as he will draw some attention away from those 2. Cody has done a good job protecting the ball. He is the only QB to go 2 games without throwing a pick (I apologize profusely in advance for jinxing him). That will need to continue. Montreal does not allow a ton of pass yards so not forcing it will be key. On the positive side we already have 4 passing plays of over 30 yards. Last year it took until Week 8 to hit that mark. It’s still stunning to me that that is not a typo… Week 8.

Special teams could also play a factor in this. Our kicker is pretty damn good. Their couldn’t knock it in from 21 to win. They have a good punter. Vedvik has been pretty mediocre so far. Placement has been pretty good but distance is nothing too impressive. One area that has been lacking for us is kickoff return. We are dead last in average returns. If Morrow is going to continue to be a key offensive piece then we need someone else to step up as a returner. Not ready to write off Emilus after one mistake. Either way it would be nice to find someone who can make a difference there. Or rush Hickson more to save Morrow a bit to be able to return.

By now you are used to ugly Rider games. Well buckle up because a road game on a short week has ugly written all over it. I anticipate my cursing to be at or above Elks game level. I expect another game where we outplay them but are unable to capitalize and let them stick around. I expect at some point we’ll fall behind and need to make a small comeback. This is going to be about as pretty as a tub of O-lineman laundry after a summer afternoon game.

But here’s the thing, ask yourself honestly: In what will likely be an ugly closely contested game, who ae you betting on to deliver that one score when its needed? Fajardo/Lauther or Harris/Cote?

Riders by a Lauther FG of at least 50.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Stumbling to Victory

Riders 26 – Elks 16

Been a while since I felt this mad after a win. I have to keep reminding myself that we did win and we are 2-0, which is a good thing. But the list concerns stemming from Saturday’s game is almost as long as the list of Riders’ who took misconduct penalties.

Since we did win let’s start with the positives. It’s not a long list but there was some.

It’s pretty obvious that the defense remains the strength of this team. They are keeping us in games and buying us the requisite half game it takes until our offense proves useful. Larry Dean is playing like a man possessed. Both games this season he has been flying all over the field and making plays. Taking a chance on him post-Achilles injury (on a very reasonable contract) may prove to be one of O’Day’s best offseason moves. Man what a difference it makes with Mike Edem on the field. He’s another guy who is making plays all over the field. Second year pass rushers Robertson and Lanier have taken a step forward and are becoming key contributors. Marino as well… at least when he’s not taking stupid penalties. I was commenting on how disciplined he had been this season mere moments before he stood over a guy and taunted right in front of a ref. Also, props to Jayden Dalke. Got called to fill in after Moncrief’s stupidity and held his own not bad for a rookie.

Offensively it was the Morrow show. Haven’t seen a Rider RB dominate in a game like that since Sheets. Consistently got 5 yards even when there wasn’t much to work with. The other nice thing is we don’t lose anything when Hickson spells him off. Some of the cuts Hickson makes completely wowed me. Both RBs averaged over 6 yards per touch. This is important because (as I will angrily detail shortly) our O-line remains a liability so any semblance of a run game will help. Gotta give props to Mitch Picton. He filled in for Duke and while he’s obviously no Duke, he did his job and contributed when needed. Speaking of doing your job, Jakob Prall is the 5th look at best on most plays but those couple times a game his number gets called he makes the catch. Do also want to give some props to Fajardo. On most plays his O-line gave him about as much protection as an imaginary condom but he didn’t turn the ball over and held in there and came up with some big time throws when we needed them. He had his share of mistakes but I think we do need to appreciate that no matter how ugly it is, Fajardo always gives you a chance to win. Seems he can still hit the deep ball… you know when he has decent receivers and even a half second of pass blocking. Also, reminder that Shaq Evans is kinda good when healthy.

Now for the not so good. We were fortunate to be playing a team as a bad as the Elks because with the laundry lists of things we did wrong in that game there was no other team we were beating… well at least no other West team.

Our offense appears to be in a contest to see what the absolute minimum is they can do and still win. Two big problems that plagued us last season reared their ugly head: questionable play calling and embarrassing O-line play.

Jason Maas is a frustrating coach. You watch him draw up some great plays like the Schaefer-Baker run and think yes, this is why you are hyped as an offensive mind. Then you watch him stubbornly refuse to run in the third quarter despite Morrow dominating and the pass game struggling (which is putting it mildly). Morrow touched the ball once in the third quarter… in a shocking coincidence that quarter featured 22 net yards for the offense. What plays were so important that you don’t bother giving your best player a touch? The exact same 7 yard hook route to Picton both on first and 10 and second and 10. Genius! Edmonton had -1 yard in the first quarter and 39 total yards with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter. The D did their damn job but once again the O could not hold their end of the bargain. When that is consistently an issue it’s on the coaches.

To be fair to Maas, its tough to draw up any effective plays when your O-line is so comically inept that they can’t handle 3 man pressure. Dropping 9 and rushing 3 is classic Chris Jones, you sacrifice pressure for suffocating coverage… except against us he didn’t sacrifice pressure. Hate to kick a guy while he’s down but Dan Clark looked terrible in that game got destroyed on more than one bull rush.  Na’ty Rogers takes the award for worst performance of the night. Repeatedly managed to not even slow down the pass rush. Took multiple holding calls, one of which was on the aforementioned 3 man rush. Then tops it offs by taking a taunting penalty late in the game for grabbing his crotch and then doing it again after clearly being warned to stop. You have no business taunting when your play is that bad. Cody is lucky to still be walking after that performance by the line and won’t be walking for much longer if it doesn’t improve. Edmonton doesn’t even have a good D-line and was missing their best player. After watching Saturday's game I have no clue how this line managed to look decent against Hamilton. 

Discipline was atrocious. I really want to know what got Moncrief so hot. I have never seen him like that but he just lost it and cost the team because he couldn’t calm the hell down. Look, I know Bradburry being the ref will automatically increase the penalty yardage (such as the phantom call on McInnis and the ludicrous call on Lawler) but we deserved the bulk of the 134 penalty yards that came our way. Simple things like shutting your damn mouth and not punching players after the play could have saved us a ton of yards. Gotta clean that up.

I need to apologize to Nick Marshall. I’m so rarely wrong that I tend not to apologize just on principle. But I ripped him after game 1 and it was later correctly pointed out to me though that the fault on the long TD last week was on Milligan. And boy oh boy did he continue to make mistakes against the Elks. He’s got the skill, as evidenced by that picture perfect coverage on Lawler that rightly help up to challenge but he’s making a lot of assignment mistakes. That's what you are going to get when you go from vet HBs like Gainey and Purifoy to new guys. Hopefully this is something that will improve as he gains experience.

We barely… barely beat one of the worst teams in the league. While I do like that this team has the grit to stick in there and pull out these ugly wins, this is not a sustainable formula for success.

As a life-long Dan Clark critic (a fact that I’m sure risks my status as a Saskatchewan resident being revoked), I never thought I’d see the day where him going down would be such a huge concern. Dude is tough as they come so you knew when he didn’t get up and limp off that is was bad. Losing his veteran presence in the middle of an already struggling line is scary. Even if he’s not a dominant blocker, we will miss his ability to call out the blitzes. He’s the heart of that line and testing the depth a line that already scares me  so much that… well it makes do things like google if they make stronger whiskey.

A short week and road trip to Montreal will tell us a lot about this team and their ability handle adversity.


Side note: I realize that reffing is a touch job and I will almost always give the benefit of the doubt to the refs… but Bradbury consistently creates the kind of games that make the CFL less enjoyable to watch. I know he personally does not call every single flag in the game but like clockwork the games he’s the head ref tend to be the most penalty-filled and slowest paced games. A league serious about improving their on-field product needs to do something about it at some point.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Riders vs. Elks: Jones Returns

A lot of hype is being made of Chris Jones returning to Saskatchewan… and I don’t get it. I have no ill will towards Jones. He inherited a god awful football team and turned us into consistent contenders. Sure he broke a few rules and sure he didn’t give a crap whether people liked him (which never sits will in Riderville) but he did his job and won a lot of games. We also can’t be mad that he left because a) he has literally done it in everyplace he’s even been (screw those high school kids) and b) he arrived here because we convinced him to bolt from Edmonton.

Much like when he arrived here in 2016, he has inherited a roster devoid of talent. The hilarious thing to me is that he just copied and pasted his rebuild plan from Saskatchewan and hopes that 6 years later it still works. Gainey, Henry, Elam, Holley, Arceneaux, Mrabure, general disregard for any QB on the roster, Duron at CB… it’s like déjà vu. It has me convinced we are a week or 2 away from uncovering a pre-practice squad and Edmonton attempting to sign Greg Hardy.

The key in this one will be not getting cocky. Look, I get it, Edmonton’s first game was so sad it almost made you feel bad for laughing at it. But I never read too much into the first game of the season. I still think Edmonton is a bad team… but maybe not that bad. And sure we ended up handily beating a stronger opponent but we only put in about half a game worth of effort on O so now is not the time for overconfidence. 

Let’s start on defense. Each week my love for Coach Shivers grows… we are only a few weeks away from things becoming creepy. I actually think Edmonton might have a better OL than Hamilton. That said, I don’t think they are great and the bar to be better than Hamilton is low. I do expect another strong game from our DL. If BC’s line can get 4 sacks then we can get more. Derel Walker is out (and I honestly can’t remember the last time he was actually good) so Lawler is really the only receiver we need to worry about. I would like to think that we can handle the aged ghosts of Riders receivers past (Manny, Holley). Can’t let the run game with Wilder be a factor but I think our LBs combined with McAdoo’s general aversion to good offense will handle that issue. Its McAdoo so expect any QB on the roster to randomly get in a for a play (which was always super effective when he did it here). I expect another strong performance from the D heavy on sacks and turnovers.

Offensively we need more second half goodness and less first half “best sleep aid there is”. Duke is 50/50. He could likely play since he’s tough as nails but early in the season it may be wise to be cautious. Shaq and Baker can carry the load with spot help from Prall and McInnis. Would love to see a stronger run game. Outside of Ceresna, the Elks don’t have near the talent on the D-line that Hamilton D. Our line held their own against a good D-line. This game will be a great chance for them to step up a prove that be more than adequate. I look at that Elks roster and honestly outside of Ceresna, Gainey may legitimately be their next best defender. I love and respect the hell out of Gainey but at this point if he’s the best anything other than defender who attended Appalachian State then it’s not good. Jones will eventually get that D up to his standards but he just doesn’t have the talent yet. If Cody is just smart with the ball and limits mistakes then we should easily put up more points than whatever our D will allow. In all honesty the only points I expect our D to surrender are Marshall biting on another short route and allowing an easy TD.

We need to show up and play but we are a better team at this point so we should win provided we put in the effort and don’t just coast in there expecting them to hand us the victory.

Riders by 14.

Side note: do you think Jones gets new black shirts everywhere he goes? Or does he just ask them to remove the old logo and iron on the new logo to his existing shirts?

Monday, June 13, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Starting on the Right Foot

Riders 30 – Ti-Cats 13

For the first half of the game I think we were all having déjà vu. Defense was locking it down, offense was so useless you could scarcely understand how they managed to tie their own cleats. But on the second offensive play of the 3rd quarter, things changed. Fajardo connected with Shaq on a picture perfect pass for 41 yards. That seemed to awaken the offense and allay some of the mounting concerns that we were in for another season of the least amount of offense humanly possible.

 As much as the talk of that game is the fact that we remembered that passes of greater than 10 yards against the rules, what we really should be talking about is the defense. Hamilton is not the top offense but they aren’t terrible… and we made them look terrible. 8 sacks, 5 turnovers and were it not for Nick Marshall doing Nick Marshall things, we would have kept them completely out of the endzone completely. Speaking of Marshall that game is the perfect summary of what you get with him. His INT was insanely good coverage and a great play on the ball. Top notch stuff. That TD was lazily biting a short route because he values stats over playing his assignment. His good is so good. His bad is so frustrating. Pete Robertson was a force out there. Mike Edem was all over the field. I’m not sure I saw it correctly but I believe it was Edem who put that O-line on his butt resulting in him getting injured. Man is it nice to Moncrief back! Charbel Dabire had a good game. Maybe hyping him for the past three seasons will finally pay off for me. Our front 7 controlled that game. Secondary held their own. Other than Marshall’s brain fart they allowed nothing over 26 yards. I wonder how long before Jason Shivers starts getting the credit he deserves as one of the top D Coordinators in the league. He fields a consistently good defenses no matter what personnel he has to work with.

I was pleasantly surprised by our OL. We played a damn good front 4 and I barely noticed or had to swear about our line. No sacks and for the most part Cody had time to do what he needed. By no means are they dominant but after last season, I think we will all gladly take “not awful”. Not a lot of running room but I’ll defer judgement there because, again, that Hamilton front 7 is talented. Even when we weren’t moving the ball at all, Cody at least wasn’t making bad decisions. No turnovers and honestly our issues were more with play calling (i.e. 4 yards passes on second and 10) than execution. You can tell Shaq is Cody’s guy. Everything works better when that connection is going. That game showed that even if we can start consistently hitting passes of just 20 yards then our O will work. I just genuinely enjoy watching Schafer-Baker play. With the attention Shaq and Duke will draw he’s going to have plenty of one on one opportunities and has the talent to make opponents pay (as he did on that TD). Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and appoint our offense fixed. They still slept through the first half. They still relied far too much on Lauther. Of the 2 TD’s we scored, one was gifted to them by Moncrief. There is still work to do. But they showed us enough against a good opponent to be hopeful.

Nice to start the season on a positive note. Nice to have something to cheer about in the stands again after a season of mostly just enduring really boring games. Next up is Edmonton and I don’t ever like underestimating an opponent but my god, did you see how awful they were? If that's the level of play he gets, he will break his record of dressing 100 different players here in 2016 because he will cut them all and demand a new team each week.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Home Opener 2022

Saturday the Riders’ 2022 campaign kicks off as the Ti-Cats come to Mosaic. The Riders will be looking to take the first step on the long road to a home Grey Cup. The Ti-Cats will be looking to do something to end the longest Grey Cup drought in the CFL. I used to feel sorry for Hamilton but ever since they allowed Winnipeg to win not 1 but 2 Grey Cups, they are dead to me and I hope their misery lasts another decade. I’m petty like that.

Riders enter the season with lots of questions. Can Fajardo regain his 2019 form? Can the O-line block something… anything? Will Jason Maas expand his playbook beyond the hitch screen? Can our secondary remain strong despite losing Gainey and Purifoy? Can the second year D-linemen step up to will the void left by Micah and Woodard? Will a ref audibly swear at us? Will the “innovative” marketing tactic of giving away fridge magnets entice droves of fans to the stadium?

Overall I see two fairly evenly matched teams with the same major question mark that will likely dictate the outcome of the game… O-line. Our issues have been discussed ad nauseum. While the new look line held their own against BC in preseason, this game is for real and they will be facing the likes of Howsare, Laurent, Wynn and Micah. Arguably one of the top D-lines in the league.

Hamilton’s O-line has been discussed much less but one look at it should give pause for some concern. Three starters from the Grey Cup game will not dress. Murray is in the NFL. Ciraco is in Ottawa and Woodmansey is hurt. Their lone offseason OL addition was Alex Fontana… who has not played since 2019. Facing Leonard, Marino, Lanier and Hughes it will be interesting to see how well they protect Evans.

Whichever O-line holds up the best (or at least manages to suck less) wins the game.

Offensively for the Riders, if you want to help your O-line then it starts with running (not stupid hitch screens for 2 yards or a loss). I expect Morrow and Hickson to split carries. Even just giving them a few dump passes (something more likely than running with Maas) will help take pressure of the O-line and slow down a very good pass rush. Rush yards will be hard to come by with a strong front 7. Expect Cody to use his legs a fair bit.

There is honestly not a lot of weak spots on that Ti-Cat defense. Very good secondary. 2 out of 3 LBs are rock solid and the aforementioned D-line. So there will not be much margin for error. If Duke and Shaq want to prove they are legit top end WRs they need to win their battles and secure the ball even on the difficult ones. Cody will need to make good decisions. I know you all want to see us unleash a deep passing attack. While we do need to take shots (even though that long pass to Duke in BC was incomplete we still got PI out of it) I would be happy to see us get some 10-20 yard passes. Crossers to Shaq, Schaefer-Baker anywhere, even getting Emilus involved. You don’t always need to bomb it to have a potent passing attack… just occasionally not throwing a screen or 3 yard pass helps.

Defensively, as mentioned we need our D-line to dominate. I still have concerns about our secondary (at least until they start to gel as a unit). Linebackers will be key in this one. They should be an area of strength and will need them to be that in this one. We can’t let the run become a factor. We want Evans dropping back and that O-line trying to pass block. Outside of Addison I see their receivers as good but not great. Lots of young second year players that can make plays but don’t overly scare you. Key will be making them earn it. Can’t give free plays (I’m looking at you Marshall). Dane Evans is good but not super human. Last year he took 16 sacks on 107 pass attempts. By comparison Masoli took 21 on 271. Look for Shivers to give him a lot of different looks. Guys like Leonard, Moncrief and Edem can easily slip into a different position to mix things up. Shivers will use that versatility.

Expect a low scoring game with pretty good Defenses on either side. The battle in the trenches will determine it. I see a lot of confidence out there in the Riders. I think they are a good team but see the outcome as a lot less certain than many.

Riders never do things the easy way. So look for us to go up early, squander that lead and need a miracle fourth quarter drive to steal the win.

Riders by a Fajardo rushing TD.

Let's get loud in the stands!

Monday, June 6, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Preseason, Pontifications and Predictions

It’s been an eventful few days. Friday we concluded the preseason (extending our improbable preseason winless streak to 7 seasons). Sunday we found out cuts and traded a global punter you’ve probably never heard of for picks in a draft you probably won’t follow. And now its Monday and we are in full prep from the regular season opener on Saturday.

Let’s start with the preseason. I won’t spend much time on it but should at least acknowledge that it occurred. The most important thing is that we were competitive. Fajardo didn’t light the world on fire but he looked poised and made good reads. I mean predictably I have seen more than one person seriously argue that Dolegala should be starting based on preseason but what can you do? I though our starting O-line looked decent. They weren’t great but they gave Fajardo enough time to make throws and kept him from getting killed. Keep in mind that this was against one for the weaker D-lines in the west in a preseason game were you usually play pretty basic D. But its an important first step. I know you all want to see the return of the deep ball and for the most part that didn’t happen… other than that TD toss to Duke that hit the ground (but we still got PI yards out of it). But I was really happy to see us have multiple passing plays over 15 yards. We don’t need to be bombing it deep all day to have a potent passing attack. I also liked how we had very few penalties in the first half (and completely made up for it in the second). There were also very clear signs that we are in midseason form. Marino was in the middle of a fight and Nick Marshall was tackling like a double arm amputee.

None of the cuts were a major surprise. Alvin Jones was about the most surprising name… which should tell you something. A bit surprised by Shaq Cooper but he was clearly #3 behind Hickson and Morrow. Thought he might stick on the PR. The biggest surprise for me was the announcement that 2nd round pick Zach Fry is going back to school. In terms of long-term develop its probably a good thing. But with St John currently injured and outside of Campbell minimal depth, now is not an ideal time to have to wait on a high draft pick. Guess this means Bandy needs to step up.  

So where do we sit heading into the season. I would say pretty good (that’s the kind of strong analysis you only get here). Offensively we have the weapons and half decent O-line. Whether Jason Maas can call a non-screen based game plan to utilize this firepower remains to be seen but I still think people don’t fully appreciate how much our crap O-line impacted both Fajardo and the play calling of Maas. Can’t make chicken soup with chicken crap… or if you do, you really shouldn’t eat it.

Defensively we have a young but promising D-line. Studs at LB and a bit of a question mark in the secondary. The presence of Jason Shivers helps my confidence. Look at how good our D was last season despite a constantly rotating cast of characters. Dude is a solid coach.

So with that I present 20 Wild Prophet Predictions for the 2022 season.

1.     Riders will start with 3 straight wins.

2.     Duke leads the team in receptions and receiving TDs but Evans leads in yards.

3.     Cody magically* rediscovers the deep ball. (*gets just enough protection from the OL to actually do his job without running for his life).

4.     Cody will still frequently find himself running for his life.

5.     Charleston Hughes will start the season with 5 sacks in the first 5 games… and finish with 6.

6.     AC Leonard once again leads the CFL in sacks… still does not end up as an all-star.

7.     Riders win Labour Day and put everything right in the world again.

8.     We don’t get a 1000 yard rusher as Morrow and Hickson split carries.

9.     There will be struggles in the secondary until Micah Tietz heals up and we can start 2 American CBs again.

10.  We involve our fullbacks on offense a lot more than anyone would expect.

11.  Riders will have a losing streak of 4 games this season… during which Rider fans will remain level headed as ever.

12.  Darnell Sankey finishes second in the CFL in tackles.

13.  AJ Allen leads the team in special teams tackles.

14.  Nick Marshall gets benched at some point.

15.  Nicholas Dheilly proves to be surprisingly impactful.

16.  Garett Marino over under on ejections is set at 1.5 and I’m leaning over.

17.  Jeremy Clark leads the team in interceptions.

18.  Riders finish at 10-8, good enough for 2nd in the west.

19.  The Riders will finally beat the Bombers in the playoffs.

20.  The Riders will not win the Grey Cup at home.

Bonus prediction: Some fans will place the blame for #20 on the lack of Jon Ryan and playing time for Jake Dolegala.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Riders vs. Lions: Preseason Game 2

My second game preview in a week. I haven’t put this much effort in since I was in my 20s and had nothing better to do. Don’t get used to the effort level though, once we get through this week its back my normal “just enough to get by self”.

You may recognize a few more names on the roster this time around. Pretty much every starter except Moncrief and Leonard will play. Starters should get the first half. It should also be a pretty good match-up as BC will be playing their starters as well. Its still preseason so the results are about as meaningful as the possibility of relationship that the strippers fake to get more tips… so I hear.

There are really two things that I am keenly interested in… surprisingly neither is the QB. And while I am sure saying this will revoke my Saskatchewan citizenship but neither is the back-up QB. I care about 2 things: O-line and secondary.

O-line is pretty obvious. They were utterly atrocious last season and any hopes of us coming near the Grey Cup game here in November hinges on them being at least moderately useful. This should be an adequate first test. BC’s line is still not very good. They did add Steven Richardson and Woody Barron but neither will be playing. So if our O-line wins the battle of the trenches don’t go planning the parade route. But if they struggle then there is real reason for concern because they will have to face much better D-lines this season.

Secondary is not so much based on worry but just the fact that we lost both starting HBs in Gainey and Purifoy over the offseason. So while I have some faith in the individual players, I want to see how they perform as a group. Clark and Milligan seem to be the lead candidates at HB though Webb played well in the spot last season so I’m sure he fits in somehow. For reasons I don't quite understand, Blace Brown is listed as a starting CB. He was awful last season after a decent showing as a rookie in 2019.  

Beyond that here are some other things to watch: 

-        RB competition still to be settled. Another strong performance could clinch it for Hickson but I really think even if he doesn’t win the starting role, Morrow will see a lot of action (Corey Holmes type role). Cooper likely needs a big game to unseat the top 2. He likely gets kept around as a backup. Pope would need the actual pope to get him 7 simultaneous miracles to climb back up the depth chart.

-        There is a wide open American receiver spot. Moore is out for a while yet and McRoberts is gone (not that anyone really thought he was getting that spot). Aristilde, Prall, Johnson, Jones and Weah have all had flashes. One of them needs to seize the role. Prall is listed with the starters which I find surprising.

-        I do want to see how Cody is reading the field as well as if he can rekindle the connection with Duke and a fully healthy Shaq.

-        Defensively Marino and Lanier look to be the guys in the middle of the line so hoping to see a good push from them. Also want to see if Lloyd Christmas can make an impact again.

-        At linebacker I’m honestly most curious about the back-ups. Sankey, Dean and Moncrief will be fine but what do we have behind them. I love Gary Johnson but he’s shockingly not healthy currently (he’s a injury prone as he is talented). Harris and Jones have had their moments. Be nice to see Allen or Bringi become a reliable special teamer/back-up LB.

-        Also kinda want to see what we have in terms of depth at safety. Edem is good but if he goes down then what. Lokombo is the only name that doesn’t scare me and he hasn’t played a pro down yet and seems to be more earmarked for corner.

 We most assuredly will lose since we hate preseason wins more than I hate shotgun on 3rd and short. But that’s fine. As long as we get some quality reps in and escape with no major injuries then its good enough for me.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Thursday Morning Sentimonies: Preseason Thoughts

Riders 16 – Bombers 25

This 2 games in one week stuff is killing me. I mean I could just mail it in and just post once and you would expect it given my usual effort level, but I enjoy talking football so am going to take full advantage of it. But I’ll probably spread a week’s worth of effort out over 4 posts so lower your already low expectations accordingly.

Tuesday’s preseason game got started in the most fitting way I’ve ever seen. The Bombers won the toss and elected to kick. The refs then turned to the Riders for their choice… and they promptly deferred. A polite but firm ref indicated that “you cannot defer”. Preseason indeed,

Hat tip to the Riders sound guy for playing the Kurt Angle theme song when the Bombers came out. If you are not a wrestling fan google it. I sincerely hope this catches on because it could be awesome. 

When its backups vs. backups its hard to get a good read on who did or not do well. Our D-line got good pressure early but it’s amazing how much better you look when its not Winnipeg’s all-star O-line blocking.

Here’s a smattering of my random thoughts on the game:

 -        Gotta be happy with the RB battle… unless your name is Pope (in which case your name is trending to appearing on a plane ticket and not a roster). Morrow showed his usual flashes. Newcomer Hickson had a few great runs. Even Cooper had a good return. No clear cut winner yet.

-        Paul McRoberts did not help his quest to end his practice roster exile. Sure the pass was high but you want to prove you belong with the starters you gotta make the hard ones.

-        Tevin Jones also did not help himself. He ended up making 4 receptions but his one mistake was a biggy and competition is tight.

-        Aristilde looks too much like Naaman Roosevelt to wear #82. You’d swear he’s a clone.

-        Emilus looked good. Jonathan Johnson caught some attention with his big return. Also turns out that Schaefer-Baker guy is still pretty good.

-        Not sure there was a clear winner between Dolegala and Fine. Both struggled early and put nice drives together late. Probably slight edge Fine in my books at this point.

-        There was a clear loser and it was Troy Williams. Not only did he fail to throw a dry ball once. His 1 yard plunge skills make Brandon Bridge look like an all-star by comparison.

-        Defense was really good at getting pressure (though again against a back-up line) but terrible at playing contain.

-        Guys I noticed in a positive sense defensively: obviously Lanier and Robertson stood out but they are essentially starters so that’s expected. I liked Kenney, Alvin Jones and even AJ Allen had some moments. Draft pick Tommy Bringi had 2 special teams tackles which was nice to see. And I think we all hope Christmas makes the team and promptly changes his first name to Lloyd.

-        Secondary had its issues… one of those issues was that Winnipeg made every damn catch. Kudos to them because there were some very difficult catches that they made.

-        Noticed Nurse not in a good way a couple times. Reavis had an up and down game.

-        Nicolas Dheilly looks like a receiver.

-        Vedvik looked damn good punting.

-        Lauther’s job is very safe if Nell is our alternative option.

-        One of the most impressive things for me was that we had 1 penalty in the first half. That’s great in a real game, that’s extremely impressive in a preseason game. Sure things went to hell in the second half a bit but things tend to do that late in preseason games.

Going to do something stupid and predict our 10 cuts… its stupid because the real list will likely be out by the time you read this and show how off I am.

Offensively: Pope, T Jones, Prall, Ubosi, Lewis (not that he did anything wrong but with Emilus, Baker, Picton, McInnis and Harty around he’s not cracking the roster and if you are developing someone I’m much more intrigued by what Boersma showed) and Richardson

Defensively: Coe (can’t make the club from the tub), Cole, Henderson and Taylor

What is more likely to happen is we juggle the roster with injuries and whatnot and only cut 6-7.

That’s it for now. Back at it tomorrow.