Friday, July 29, 2022

Riders vs. Lions: This Could Get Ugly

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Riders are a talented enough team to compete with the best in the CFL of which the Lions clearly are among. But the caveat there is “when healthy”. We have an elite defense and an offense that survives on a good day. Remove Robertson, Marino and Leonard from the D-line and it completely changes that D. They are still very good… but no longer elite. Remove anything resembling a receiver and the structural integrity of Fajardo’s knee and our offense goes from surviving to acting like a weight belt and pulling this team down. Throw in playing on 4 days rest and the prospects of a much-needed bye week on the horizon and let’s just say I don’t see this going well... except for maybe the booze vendors.

First let me address the QB situation. My love of Cody Fajardo has been well documented. Dude is a tough SOB and gives his all every time he’s on the field. Legitimately he is our best chance to win under centre. That said, this is one of those times when we need to save him from himself. It’s in both his and the team’s best interest to rest him this week (even though I know the team had no intention of doing that). With the bye week next week, a game off gives him 3 full weeks of rest. We need Cody healthy for playoffs. With this “barely limping through each week” thing we are currently doing I can guarantee he will not still be playing come November (or if he is he will be such a shadow of himself that he will make Tino Sunseri look like an offensive juggernaut by comparison). Maybe if we had a good O-line (we don’t), maybe if this was a must win game (it’s not). But I think the risk in playing him in this game far outweighs the reward of a much healthier Fajardo for a very tough August/September run. But he’s starting anyway so let’s get to the game.

With their only loss coming against the undefeated and 2 two defending champs, its pretty clear that BC is a very good team. They are led by a hotshot young QB in Nathan Rourke who is taking the league by storm early in the season. Now we all know that hype is based on science and never wrong, right? Or do we need to take a closer look under the hood of the Lions’ first 5 games to see if they really are the juggernaut they are portrayed to be?

Let me preface this next section by saying, that I still think BC is a very good football team and will be in the mix for the lead in the West… but I think the hype has been overinflated and each week we are seeing more and more weaknesses start to appear. You want some evidence?

·        Of their 4 wins, only 1 has come against a team with a winning record. That being Toronto and given that Toronto barely beat a team with no D-line and a practice roster offense, forgive me for saying that the Argos aren’t very good. Their other 3 wins came against teams with a combined 3-16 record.

·        After a blazing start we are seeing Rourke regress to the mean a bit each week. In his first 2 games (again against bad opponents) he was completing over 85% of his passes and threw 7 TDs to 0 INTs. In the next 3 games his completion percentage dropped under 75% and he threw 2 picks in each of those games.

·        Their points scored have gone down each week from 59 in Week 1 to 17 last week. Defensively, in the first 2 games they averaged 9 points allowed. That ballooned to 29 points over the last 3 games

All that to say that while they are a good team, I don’t think they are unbeatable. As teams get more and more film on this offense, their production is slowing down. (Remember the first 3 drives of 2021 when we looked to have an unstoppable Maas offense? How did things go from there?).

Defensively we face an offense loaded with weapons. Despite my previous criticisms of Rourke he is very good and what you are seeing is the ups and downs of what is essentially a rookie starter. He is protected by a very good O-line. They have allowed just 4 sacks on the season, which the Riders would consider a good half of football. (Mike Reilly is rolling over in his grave with jealously). BC has the #1 rushing attack (did not see that coming). And they have very good receivers. With Burnham out, Rhymes has stepped up and established himself as their #1. He’s playing good football (tied for most 30+ yard catches and most receiving TD in just 5 games). Whitehead is inconsistent but still has the speed to make you pay on any given play. Hatcher and Cottoy are no slouches as the 3rd and 4th options.  Crazy stat about the Lions: one third of all their drives end in a TD… the next best is 19%.

Normally I’d say that the key is getting pressure up front but until Leonard, Marino and Robertson get back I think we are reduced to hoping they can survive. The way our defense is playing I expect Rourke’s 2 picks per game streak to continue. But also given that we allow the 2nd most passes of 30+ yards, I expect some long TDs to balance that out. Our offense is not good enough to win this on their own so as with every week we will need to rely on our defense to keep it close and force turnovers. I can tell you that BC won’t make that as easy as Toronto did.

Offensively Fajardo is leading the charge. Despite my reservations about the long-term logic of playing, he gives us a better chance of winning than Dolegala does in this game. Getting some actual receivers back like Duke and to a far lesser extent McInnis will help. The BC D is actually a decent match-up for us. They are #1 against the pass but #5 against the run. I like our chances of victory a lot more with Morrow pounding it rather than trusting our passing attack when facing the likes of Peters, Purifoy, Lee and Sayles. We need to find a way to get Schaefer-Baker the ball early and often in this one. Even if its on that designed run we saw earlier in the season. I still would like to see us run more crossers and timing outs. Without Shaq we seem to suck when chucking it deep but we also can’t just throw sideways. Some 8-15 yard completions are a more reasonable goal. Can’t forget the impact of a re-jigged OL. Vaughn steps back in for Lauderdale so that should be an upgrade. While I like Ferland, it will be his first start at centre in a meaningful game (remember the last time we started a new centre on a short week?). Morrow needs to hit 100 for us to have a chance.

If special teams could chip in with a big return again that would really help. Also if the decent kick covers from last week could continue that would be great.

The Riders are good enough to beat the Lions when healthy. Our identity is elite defense and adequate offense. We can win with that. But while our defense is still very good, without 3 starters on the D-line we are not elite. And with a gimpy Fajardo and a rejigged OL, I’m not sure adequate offense is realistic either.

I think this game will be a lot closer than many expect. This will be one of those games where the Riders give you just enough hope to draw you in and then break your heart. Better days are coming in Riderville but this won’t be one of them.

BC by 10


Monday, July 25, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The End We Expected

Riders 21 – Argos 31

So Sunday morning after that debacle of a Touchdown Atlantic Game I left on my annual fishing trip for 5 days. Seemed like a well timed break from life. I returned to cell coverage Saturday to find that Duke had been suspended (not shocked), the game has been postponed because we were decimated by a Covid outbreak (damn dirty Maritimers) and a game day roster that would make a preseason game roster look good by comparison. 

So, I went into this game with zero expectation. Our defense is down 3 of 4 starting D-linemen and a starting corner. Our offense featured a rookie QB, throwing to rookie receivers behind a a starting but sucky O-line. But like they so often do, the Riders suck you in and give you just enough hope to break your heart.

Defensive deserves huge props for that game. Tasked with carrying an offense that wasn’t producing anything and down 4 starters, they did their best to hold us in that game. 3 sacks and 5 massive turnovers including an early goal line stand that set the tone. The Argos had a solid game plan of run Harris at a depleted D-line all day and it worked but we still held on. Lokombo had a rough day and there were some other miscues in pass coverage. But the defense gave us a chance to win.

I feel its so wrong that the world was denied that Charleston Hughes TD (even if by letter of the rules the call may have been legit). After a couple really crappy weeks it was a moment of pure happiness. The team was pumped for Hughes, the stadium was electric. Sad to have that ripped away. And that’s about the time the game started slipping away from us.

Special Teams stepped up big other than one big return. Vedvik was punting really well. Coverage was pretty solid. Plus the Argos were such good sports that they tacked on a penalty to damn near every return as an added bonus. Mario Alford made the Argos pay for an extremely stupid FG attempt. I’ll cut him some slack on that last fumble. I guarantee Dickenson told him to do whatever he could to take it the house because it was our only chance of winning. Blocking is still not great but Alford’s speed is making us still dangerous.

I would love to come on here and rip our offense (and very much could). But let’s be honest here… our regular offense is not that great. Take away any semblance of a starting caliber receiver (Baker being the lone exception) and add a rookie QB and anyone who was expecting fireworks is probably currently on something that would make it illegal for them to operate equipment. Dolegala had his ups and down. I mean the ups were mostly up in the air passes and the downs mostly 3rd but he made a few good plays. Clearly Tevin Jones is his guy. Also very clearly that other than Jones and Emilus (i.e. guys he throws to on second team reps) he saw no one. It’s a complete failure that we failed to get Baker the ball. I saw him run the same wheel route on at least 3 plays and it was open but Dolegala didn’t look there. When your QB is not looking for your best/only receiver… its an issue. When your QB is consistently throwing to Jones despite 2 and 3 defenders being in coverage, it’s a problem. My point is not to write off Dolegala he got put in a ridiculously tough situation, showed poise and made some plays. But he clearly has a lot to work on before pushing for a starting job.

We should not have won that game pure and simple. It’s a testament to how crappy a team the Argos are that they managed to almost lose such a gimme game. Sadly, I don’t see this getting better soon with a good BC team coming to town on a short week for us.

Other random thoughts:

-        I know this makes me petty and I don’t care but Andrew Harris refuses to do up his chinstrap and lost his helmet on play after play… at some point can something not be done about that?

-        I didn’t like the decision of going for 2 on converts twice. I’m normally a pro two point attempt guy but when your offense is struggling and it’s a close game take all the gimme points you can.

-        I noticed Justin Rice on special teams in a positive way a couple times.

-        I don’t like harping on refs but it so long for them to sort out that Hughes non-TD that 5 more of our players got Covid and completed their quarantine period. Make a call, be definitive and keep the game moving. Also it was ludicrous that we had to challenge that no yards when the Argo was almost touching Alford. What were you watching when you missed that call?

Monday, July 18, 2022

Gone Fishing

 By the time you read this I will be out of cell range on my annual fishing trip. Seems like a good time to be gone and enjoy the silence. 

See you next week.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Riders vs. Argos: Touchdown Atlantic

Saturday the Riders are on the East coast for a showdown with the 1-3 Argonauts in Touchdown Atlantic. It marks the first time that the Riders have been part of Touchdown Atlantic. The match-up highlights the vast differences between the East and West divisions. The Riders have a 4-1 record yet sit 3rd in the west. Toronto has 1 win and sits 1st in the East by virtue of losing the least amount of games so far.

Let’s face it, this will essentially be a home game. Rider fans will travel. Argo fans won’t even travel to their own stadium. There will be more Brett Lauther fans there then Argo fans. So unless Nova Scotia has a large Samoan population that I’m not aware of, expect it to be a largely pro-Riders crowd (too soon?).

There has not been a lot going right for Argos in 2022. Their only win came in their opening game because Montreal’s kicker couldn’t manage to connect on a 20 yard kick. They got thoroughly embarrassed by the Lions. And what was likely their best game of the season ended in a loss because their kicker missed a game tying convert (though let’s face it, they would have lost in overtime anyway). About the only thing they are leading the league in is temper tantrums by over the hill receivers who are underperforming.

I remain confused by the Argos’ continue belief in Bethel-Thompson. He’s just not very good. I mean he can put up ok stats but just watching him you have zero confidence in his ability to win a game. People will point to his 7-2 record as a starting QB last season (a real Michael Bishop-esque argument) but come the East Final he produced 0 TDs. The Argos have exactly 3 TDs on the season. For comparison, we have loudly lamented the lack of firepower from our offense. Well Fajardo is producing TDs on 16% of his drives. Bethel-Thompson is at 8%. They are allowing an average of 3 sacks per game. They have turned the ball over 11 times… in 3 games! Their most productive receiver is not Daniels or Banks or even Ambles… is Kurleigh Gittens. Andrew Harris is about the only good thing they have going for them at this point. They get to face a defense that is allowing the least offensive points, the least rush yards and leads the league in takeaways, sacks and two and outs forced. This match-up doesn’t exactly scream offensive revival possibility. At some point Banks is going to break out for a solitary game, can’t let that happen in this one.

Key match-up will be our run D vs. Harris. Over the course of the season I don’t think he can keep it up, but early in the season he looks to be running strong. Maybe that was just the emotion of playing the team that dumped him, maybe it was just someone else putting something in his supplement that he totally wasn’t aware of. But for now consider Harris dangerous. I expect him to have a decent day rushing. You can’t just take away half your D-line starters and not have an impact. I still like our front 4. Lanier, Leonard and Hughes can carry the load. Adams and Dabire are adequate players. But what really gives me confidence is our LBs. Harris will get his yards, probably more than we normally allow but we should be able to keep him in check overall. Henderson being out is a loss but we did ok with Lkombo at corner and Clark at half early in the season. 

Need to limit the big plays on offense. I’ll remind you again that this is a team with 3 TDs and 11 turnovers… if we force them to put together long drives, the odds favour mistakes over points scored.

Offensively, it will be strength against strength and weakness against weakness. The Argos’ major weakness defensively is pass D. They are the second worst pass defense, allowing teams to complete 76% of their passes.  We are very good at running. Their run D is not bad and that’s because their front 7 includes Ja’Gared Davis (big concern with our tackles trying to block him), Wynton McManis (their best defender right now) and Henoc Muamba (still an impact player after all these years). But we can’t outthink ourselves on this. We run the ball well, so continue running the ball. Morrow already has 14 runs of over 10 yards and we’ve seen what Hickson can do with a little space. But we will need to pass in this one and based on how well the Argos defend the pass the yards are there for the taking. Schaefer-Baker is the guy we need involved early and often and I think with a secondary this vulnerable a guy as talented as Duke could have a massive game if Cody has any time at all to work. The Argos have 3 total TDs this season… let’s just say I like our defense’s chance of keeping them under 20 (something they have done in all but 1 game). That means our offense just needs 21 points. 2 TDs and a few FGs. I expect very little of them but that seems achievable. Just keep protecting the football and we will be fine.

That just leaves special teams with my weekly “if you aren’t going to help us, at least don’t hurt us” plea. Toronto is the only team worse than us at punt returns, something I’m sure our crappy cover teams will rectify. I expect Mario Alford to start returning some kicks for us. He’s a great returner but so is Morrow so the issue is more a lack of blocking than the talent of the returner.

I’m torn between 2 competing thoughts on this game. On one hand, the Riders are objectively a better team than the Argos. Even with our shortcomings we should be able to win. On the other hand, we are beat up, just lost 2 studs on our dominant D-line, have faced a ton of distractions all week, are traveling across the country and playing a team coming off a bye. Legitimate chance we come out flat in this and get beat by a rested team.

Where I settled was that while the circumstances certainly level the playing field and will make this game a lot closer than it otherwise would be, we keep finding ways to win and this is a winnable game. I expect us to struggle, I expect us to need to fight and claw, I expect curse words to echo in my house throughout the game. But in the end…

Brett Lauther plays the hometown hero by kicking a game winning FG of 50+

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Wednesday Morning Sentimonies: Better Late Than Never

Riders 28 – RedBlacks 13

Just got back from camping… did I miss anything notable?

Just kidding, I came in for the game and all things considered was pretty happy to spend the last few days out camping and somewhat avoiding all this Marino stuff.

I’ll just say this. It was a dirty hit. He’s got a well deserved reputation as someone who crosses the line with his aggressive play (that’s been his MO since he arrived here, great player when he’s not taking major penalties). The suspension fits for me, though he could easily appeal and get it down to 2-3 (I feel both the team and PA may encourage him not to for optics purpose). I will say this though, there is not a team in this league that would cut a DT that good over this incident, easy to be high and mighty when its someone else but winning is all that matters in football so its not like we are the only team willing to overlook some indiscretions (just cause its an ugly truth doesn't mean its not the truth). Hopefully we can move on and put this behind us… though part of me would love to have seen how this scenario would have played out in the Chris Jones era. I mean Dickenson is a pretty good guy and has not handled this the greatest. 

OK can we talk about actual football? Because, aside from 1 play I thought the Riders turned in a hell of a performance.

Game started per the usual pattern, D does awesome and forces a turnover. O goes run, sack kick on back to back drives. Yup, seen this movie before. But wait, we recovered and scored an actual first half TD!...  and then another! Game was over once Hickson hit daylight. The was our D was smothering Ottawa they weren’t coming back from that. Riders are tough to beat when their offense sleeps through the first half, give up 22 first half points to them and good luck.

By gawd that defense! In the first half they allowed under 65 yards and 2 FGs… and one of those FGs was a direct result of a 38 yard punt by Vedvik (the D allowed them to move just 5 more yards on that drive). Run game was not a factor. Darvin Adams had zero catches. I maintain that even when healthy, the RedBalcks are still a very mediocre offense but still. I want to make a special note of 2 players for very different reasons. Rolan Milligan is a force. All over the field, great coverage and one of the surest tackling DBs that I have seen in a while. He made the stop on that first turnover on downs. If he can ever figure out how to play deep zone (something that I’m sure will improve with experience) he could be a perennial all-star. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Amari Henderson. Were it not for seeing him on the roster, you’d barely know he’s played… and that is a very good thing. Normally offenses would target a guy getting his first CFL starts mid-season but Henderson is playing so well that he’s damn near invisible most of the time. Lokombo missing a game may end up being the best thing to happen to that secondary (and it’s not even that he’s a bad player). This current group of 5 just seems to work together well.  Also in fairness I need to mention that this is the best I have seen Nick Marshall play in a couple years. He’s not taking stupid penalties (in a year where everyone else seems to be), he’s limiting the bad plays, he’s making plays. He’s working his way off my hatred list (watch me jinx it by saying nice things about him).

Offense had a pretty good game by their standards minus the abysmal first couple series. When we do 3 things, we win: don’t turn the ball over, run and get Schaefer-Baker the ball. That’s it, that’s the offense, everything else is just a bonus. How about that run game?!? I haven’t seen an RB just dominate out there like Morrow since Sheets. You just assume he’s going to get the corner and manages to turn absolutely nothing into 6-7 yards gains routinely. Add in the outright speed of Hickson and its dangerous as hell. It also allows us to limit how much we expect our O-line to pass block, because simply put, they can’t (they allowed 5 sacks to a very mediocre Ottawa D-line, Willie Jefferson might hit double digits on Labour day). The play action a strong run game creates is giving Fajardo just enough time to get some kind of passing game going. Duke had a rough start. He dropped a gimme pass and was almost murdered on another pass. But he stepped up and made some needed big plays. I really wish him and Fajardo could get on the same wavelength. You could see the chemistry with Shaq a mile away but with Duke they always seems to be just off. If we can get 70 and TD from being off, imagine what could happen if they ever got in sync?

Good lord are our special teams awful! Vedvik hits about 1 great punt for every 2 bad ones. Our returners get no blocking and thus have smaller returns than my retirement funds currently do. And every kickoff ends up the same: 6 guys miss a tackle, Lauther ends up writhing up pain on the turf after being forced to step up and help slow down the returner who we eventually haul from behind after a sizeable return. Lauther honestly probably secretly wishes we would go back to not scoring TDs. Kicking a million FGs is better for his financial and physical well being.

The Riders are 4-1 to start the season… which is pretty darn good. I hope Robertson’s injury isn’t as bad as it looked because this defense is downright dominating at this point. O is showing flashes. Special teams is a liability we need to shore up.

Problem is I am getting some serious 2008 vibes from the season. For those who don’t remember that year, we started 6-0 but lost at least 2 players per game to broken fibula. As good as that team was, eventually the injuries became too much to overcome. We are already down Evans and Clark. Picton and Robertson went down this game. Not sure how long Lafrance, Harty and Tuck. Cody Fajardo is a tough guy who tends to downplay his injury status but even he says his knee is in rough shape. At some point unless we reverse this injury tread it will catch up with us.

For now though, enjoy the win.

Other random thoughts:

·        Having Fajardo go in with under 3 minutes was stupid. Having him run short yardage during that time was moronic. And having him roll out on a full bootleg and take a needless tackle in garbage time is so stupid even the thesaurus didn’t have a word that adequately captured it. 

·        In regards to the crowd cheering for Marino, I will say that from my angle it looked like Marino was pushed into Masoli. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the replay and saw the play for what it was. Most of those cheering probably just didn’t fully know what happened (obviously some people did see it and are just dicks but I’d like to think they are the minority).

·        Your weekly reminder that Larry Dean is a beast.

·        If the O-lineman who cheap shotted Robertson doesn’t get at least a game suspension then don’t try and tell me the CFL cares about player safety and not just public relations. 

·        Schaefer-Baker does not look that physically imposing but I swear I have never seen just one defender be able to bring him down.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Riders vs. RedBlacks: Walking Wounded

Friday Ottawa is in town looking for their first win of the year. I do need to put a slight caveat on their 0-3 record though as they have played Winnipeg twice and BC (the 2 top teams in the league so far) and lost by a total of 12 combined points. The RedBlacks are no longer pushovers, they are a competitive team.

Under normal circumstances I would feel pretty confident about a home game against the RedBlacks. However, we are a very beat up team. I have to think that if Rod Black was still commentating he would use the line “it’s the RedBlacks vs. the Black and Blue”. As of writing this it looks like Lafrance, Tuck, and Harty are out. Duke, Marshall, Vaughn and Lauther are question marks and I’m pretty sure Fajardo is being held together with rubber bands, carpenters glue and horse grade pain killers. Fortunately the RedBlacks are in a similar spot. Already ruled out for them are Money Hunter (their best defender so far this season), Frankie Griffin and Patrick Levels (both start outside LBs) and Ucambre Williams (their starting left tackle). Early in the season, the trainers on both teams are earning their meagre salaries.

In what will come as no surprise to anyone, it will be on our defense to carry us. They are both the healthiest and most talented part of our team. The RedBlacks did improve their O-line over the offseason but even a good O-line would be concerned playing our front 4, let alone one missing their starting LT. We should be disruptive upfront once again. No doubt they will try and get the run game going with Powell but given that we are averaging less than 55 rush yards against per game allowed and Ottawa has the #6 run game in the league, I think our front 7 will easily keep it contained. That places things on the shoulders of Jeremiah Masoli. That is a high risk, high reward scenario. When he’s good, he’s among the best QBs in the league. But he’s not good with any degree of consistency and his bad is almost Michael Bishop bad. On one hand Ottawa leads the league with 8 passes over 30 yards (they have played just 3 games) but have managed to turn that into exactly 1 passing TD. Masoli burst into the season with 380 passing yards, in game 2 it dropped to 331, last game it was 168. Jaelin Acklin has been there top threat but if you watched the last game you saw Darvin Adams make a number of sick catches so you need to watch him too. I think Masoli’s preference for pushing the ball deep plays into our defense. Deep passes leave our D-line more time to be disruptive, good luck with that. Also we have opportunistic guys like Marshall and Moncrief who will take advantage of any off target passes. I expect another strong game from the D and another low scoring affair.

Offense, well that’s always an adventure. I planning on writing that defense was probably the strength of the Ottawa team but with 3 defensive starters missing they suddenly become a lot less intimidating. Which is good because we need all the help we can get. Other than Laing, their D-line is nothing special. They have 3 sacks in 3 games. I mean our OL will make them look like all-stars, but by objective standards its not that great a front 4. The strength was the LBs and secondary but with 3 of those starting 8 out there will be opportunity for plays. I’m no rocket surgeon but facing a so-so D-line and with 2 of 3 starting LBs out even I can see that this an opportunity prime for running.  Morrow with dashes of Hickson have been our strength and with our receiving depth being tested to the limit we need to lean on them even more. With Evans out, Duke questionable and Moore still in recovery, thank god we have Schaefer-Baker. Good things happen when we get him the ball (no matter how we get it to him). I would guess Ottawa keys on him though (especially if Duke is out) so we will need other receivers (Picton, McInnis, Jones) to step up and make a few plays. We win when we run and don’t turn the ball over. Positive passing plays are a bonus. I expect our offense to act like our defense and do their best to keep the score low. 

What is actually concerning me most about the mounting injuries is the amount of Canadian special teamers out. Our coverage has been a liability at the best of times and now we will be down 3 of our top vets in LaFrance, Tuck and Harty. That doesn’t exactly instill confidence. If we can get through this game without our special teams hurting us that will be good enough (talk about lowered expectations). Bob Dyce is a good ST coordinator and you can bet he'll be looking to take advantage of us in this phase. 

Beat up and facing a hungry team this certainly has potential for a loss. But I just keep looking at our defense and thinking that they will give us a chance to win any game. Ottawa may be improved from last season, but improving from a test mark of 15% to 50% is “improvement” but doesn’t mean you are good yet. We have been finding ways to win, they have been finding ways to lose. On home turf I’m giving us a slight edge. 

Riders by a Picton TD in a fourth quarter comeback.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Le Redemption

Riders 41 – Alouettes 20

Full disclosure, I was not at the game. Family wedding in a different province. I actually watched the first quarter on my phone and then got so disgusted that I turned it off and focused on the wedding… more specifically ensuring my drink cup remained full. But as it turns out everything that followed me turning off the game was pretty good. So you’re welcome, because clearly me watching was the issue early.

My buddy who was there summed the game as follows for me: Lanier and Robertson are studs, Sankey is a freak, we can’t pass block worth shit but can somehow run block and happen to have 2 really good backs. Having seen things with my own eyes, that seems pretty spot on though I would add that Schaefer-Baker is star.

 As expected the D was back to their normal form. They allowed 13 points (through 3 quarters they held the Als to just 6 points!), they forced 5 turnovers, added 6 sacks and scored a touchdown themselves. So yeah, they are kinda good. I still find it insane that in one recruiting year we found Woodard (damn near lead the CFL in sacks last season), Robertson (is on pace to win the sack race this year, and just happens to have 12 sacks in 14 career games), Lanier (4 sacks this season) and Dan Marino (who when he is not taking penalties is a stud DT). That’s more D-line talent then we found in the previous decade and we did it all at once. Amari Henderson fared pretty well for his first career start. Nick Marshall sealed the game and set a Rider record with his fifth career pick six. Never, never, never throw cross body out of desperation (minor football QBs are taught that) and if you are stupid enough to do it, don’t do it against a DB notorious for biting on anything that looks like a potential pick. That little juke Marshall tossed in a the end of the run was sweet. There is an alternate universe where Marshall stays at QB and is simply electric to watch.

Offense was their usual slow starting, ugly selves… but hot damn did they explode after halftime. Turns out when you distill the playbook down to “find ways to get Morrow and Baker the ball” good things happen. That should be the basis of all offensive strategy going forward. Our good American receivers are getting hurt and we still couldn’t pass block an actual empty barrel in a football jersey. So just let Morrow and Hickson handle things and sprinkle in some Schaefer-Baker. Also, clearly Picton (aka the TD machine) can stay involved too. We are quickly losing healthy players and at the rate his body is taking damage Fajardo won’t make it to August but they stuck to our winning formula. Don’t screw up and let the defense win it for us. We didn’t turn the ball over and for once Jason Maas showed the ability to adapt.

Special teams remains just god awful (you know other than Lauther casually nailing 57 yarders) but fortunately the D carried us and the O decided to chip in eventually. Gotta fix that. Though, maybe, just maybe, Dickenson/O’Day are playing 3-D Chess. Hear me out. We spend 2 weeks playing just craptastic coverage and make Chandler Worthy look superhuman. Then we convince the Als to unload a no-longer needed Mario Alford for next to nothing and to bam suddenly play good on teams again. I mean that’s what happened right? Its not just that our cover team suck? Right? Right? A man can dream. 

In all seriousness Alford is a damn nice acquisition. His biggest flaw is health. He has trouble staying on the field. But when he is on the field, he’s electric. Over the past 3 seasons he played 8 games for the Als… and returned 3 punts for TDs. He has scored a TD on 10% of his career punt returns. Small sample size but for a 6th round pick the upside is massive. We need a competent returner to spell Morrow (who clearly needs to carry the load offensively for us).

The injuries and the bumps and bruises are piling up. I don’t know how long this is sustainable but we have a good enough defense to give any team in this league a challenge. Much like last season, if the offense happens to chip in we suddenly become very dangerous.

We have 3 more home games this month (which is questionable scheduling when people are struggling to afford 1 game per month let alone 4 but I digress). If we can limp through this with a decent record we could be dangerous down the stretch as our long term injuries heal up.

For now, just happy to be celebrating a win.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Riders vs. Alouettes: Let’s Try This Again

Saturday the 2-1 Riders look to avenge a thorough ass kicking when the 1-2 Alouettes come to town. The Riders will be looking to show that last week was just a one off. The Alouettes will be looking to do the exact opposite. Harlequin is playing halftime so you just know that will attract all the demographics that the team needs to grow the fan base and not just further target the old white man demographic.

We should find out pretty quickly how much of last week’s “performance” can be attributed to a road game on a short week and how much of it can be attributed to larger issues. I tend to be an optimist in this instance and think that some much needed rest will fix much of the utter crap we saw last week. Most… but certainly not all.

Defense is where I have some faith. Despite the offense and special teams actively working against them they allowed 1 long TD on a busted play and other than that just 5 FGs. Give them some rest and they should be fine. Als will get Wieneke back this week so we will not be able to focus our effort solely on Lewis this time around. Als didn’t run on us in a short week so I don’t see that changing this time around. Harris did carve through us with 72% accuracy… and in true Trevor Harris fashion managed to turn that into just 1 TD and many FGs. Need to turn up the pressure early on Harris and do what we can to limit Geno Lewis. On a short week the D allowed just 23 points, no reason not to expect that to dip below 20.

Now under normal circumstances a defense allowing under 20 would give you insanely good odds of winning. Well this is the Riders and we never do things the easy way. More than one practice will help some of the coordination of the O-line… but Bandy was the least of our issues at OL last game. Short week doesn’t account for the suck factor, that’s what is referred to as a pre-existing condition.  I would hope that at a minimum the interior of the line stabilizes a bit. Na’Ty Rodgers remains an absolute liability at tackle and Vaughn is not yet playing where he was in 2019. I would honestly settle just for the line not letting Sewell saunter through at will without even slowing him down. The way the game went last week certainly dictated very little running. Assuming we can make it through the opening kickoff without giving the Als an insurmountable lead we need to lean heavy on the run. Even if its not getting a ton of yards early we need to stay committed. Second and 7 is better than second and praying Fajardo isn’t dead.

I’m somewhat concerned about our passing attack (a shocking statement I know). I’ve talked a lot about how you can tell Shaq is Cody’s guy. A large part of the resurgence of our deep passing game has been to Shaq. So losing him from an already struggling pass game is not ideal. To me this is where Duke has to step up and earn every penny of his overly inflated contract. He’s paid to be THE guy and we need to lean on him and he needs to produce accordingly. Obviously Baker becomes the #2 guy but we really need a strong #3 option to make this work. Maybe Prall can step up, maybe its Jones or Aristilde (aka new-Roosevelt). Duke and Baker will attract attention and we need people who can find the space that is created by that. Also need Maas to earn his keep. Duke will draw double coverage so use motion to try and create some 1 on 1 chances for him. Try getting some crossers or timing outs going to limit how long our crap O-line has to block. If there was ever a time to pump fake a WR screen and take a deep shot this is it. (Side note: to my knowledge we pumped faked the screen once last season only to end up checking down to a swing pass). Also its pretty apparent that we need FBs and extra OL to assist with pass blocking. We could have all the open receivers in the world and it won’t matter if Cody has 0.5 seconds before finding himself under a pile of Alouettes.

Special Teams can’t suck. You need at least 2 phases to be good to win and lord knows we are not counting on the offense. At a minimum better kick coverage and less crappy punting is needed. A big return would be a bonus but I’ll settle for not actively working against us.

A rested team and a home crowd helps balance the scales but I would not say we enter this game with any kind of advantage. Given that ugly wins seems to be the only wins we are interested in, odds are this will be ugly. Defense will keep the score low, offense will do the same. We’ll need to mount some kind of comeback, most likely sparked by a defensive turnover. But somehow, some way, the Riders find a way to steal a win.

Riders by a Lauther FG.