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.