Monday, June 26, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Victory In Calgary

Riders 29 – Stamps 26 (OT)

How nice is it to watch another team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory… or I guess from the jaws of a tie in this case? Also, how nice is it that 2 of our first 3 games have come against QBs struggling as a new starter?

The Riders went into Calgary and somehow emerged with a victory. I say somehow because the following things had to happen in order for us to win:

-        Sack fumble that results in a first down

-        Ball bouncing of a defenders legs into the hands of Dean

-        Milligan dropping the ball and it bouncing directly back into his hands without breaking stride

-        Maier throwing a pick in a situation where they had a tie guaranteed.

For once its seemed we were on the right side of the bounces.

Let’s start with the offense. To put it nicely, they were not very good. They had their moments and they came through when it mattered but for most of that game they were useless… with the exception of Morrow. He carried the load for us when we needed it and had a hell of a game. It was nice to be able to see a consistent run game. Colin Kelly looked solid at RT. Our look at Hawkins was an abbreviated one unfortunately. I will say that by some miracle Logan Ferland was not awful at tackle. I assumed we were screwed when he had to slide out but he held his own pretty well. It’s a good thing Harris likes to spread the ball around because it’s a must on this team. We have no #1 receiver. Injuries play a role but Wieneke is proving to not be a #1. I’m not saying cut him or anything. I just think we are seeing that he’s a good #3 but he’s not a guy who is going to carry the load himself (except for converting strips sacks into first downs, he’s rocking that task). Shawn Bane is our best receiver at this point hands down. He is a difference maker out there and we are leaning on him more and more. Once again solid contributions from Jones and Emilus.

Defense won us the game but I believe we are fortunate to have played a struggling QB. Maier is certainly better than Conelius but he’s not very good. The Dean pick was kinda lucky but the pass was behind the WR. The Milligan pick Maier just threw it directly to him like he was the intended WR. And the Marshall one, he just plain did not account for the CB in coverage. Our only TDs of the game came off turnovers. This was the second game in a row where I was very underwhelmed by our front 4. I gave them the benefit of the doubt that fatigue was the issue last week but this week again we got next to no pressure. Something to watch moving forward. I would prefer if Lanier spent more time inside at DT. CJ Reavis has been playing well which is super important given how much our depth is being tested. We got to see good Marshall and bad Marshall in that game. He got burned on the Henry TD but then saved the day in OT. Credit to the D for making plays when it mattered but we won’t play a bad QB without his best 2 WRs every week.

The rest of the league should thank the Riders for educating them on obscure rules that only ever seem to impact them. Much like the infamous card rule fiasco, the Riders were once again the victim of a section of the rule book that hasn’t seen the light of day in generations. I guess I understand and it seems to be a technically correct call but like, why is it always us? I also think that the standard for conclusive evidence to overturn a call on the field was not stringently followed there. 

I was pleasantly surprised that our patchwork special teams unit did not hurt us in coverage. What did hurt us was once again Brett Lauther. He missed a FG and an extra point. Either one of those would have been extremely important points that could have avoided OT. I love Lauther but he’s not been good this year. He missed a FG and 2 extra points in the preseason and has missed a FG in every game this season. I’m not saying cut him but I do think it’s time for some competition for him to at least make him earn his starter role. You should at least be more reliable than the CFL stats system to be a kicker. 

Overall it was an ugly gritty win but it was a win and it feels great. What I loved is the defense going up to celebrate on the stage under the jumbotron and jeer the Stamp fans. That’s the kind of swagger that’s been missing around here. What is also good is we now have 2 road wins over western teams. Those are important wins.

We get to head into a much needed early season bye week on a high note.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Riders vs. Stampeders: War of Attrition

Saturday the Riders are in Cowtown for a battle with the 1-1 Stampeders. The story all week has been injuries. The short week last week did not lead to good results on the field and its really not leading to good things on the injury front. Calgary is dealing with some injury issues of their own as their best receiver Begelton was just placed on the 6-game injury. In a weird reversal of the normal Stampeder fans aren’t feeling great coming off a win  while Rider fans seem to be feeling pretty good despite coming off a loss.

The defense will need a bounce back game after looking completely helpless last week. I still think a lot of that had to do with playing on four days rest. We get Marshall and Moncrief back this week. And despite an early week scare it appears both Lanier and Milligan are a go. That means in terms of starters we are really only down Christmas and Dalke (Dalke being a pretty big deal). They get to face a Calgary offense that is struggling to say the least. They are averaging less than 18 points per game offensively.  Some of that is on Maier who seems to be a very hot and cold QB. Some of that is on their receivers. With Begelton out its not exactly a lineup that inspires fear. They still run the ball well, despite the absence of Kadeem Carey so they will likely look to lean on that. Not sure if it’s how Dickenson is calling the offense, or just what Maier is deciding to throw but he is living on the short ball. His average depth of pass is 8.8 yards, the lowest on the season of any QB. He’s 2 of 10 with an INT on passes over 20 yards. So we need to limit the run and ideally be strong enough up front to get pressure with a 4 man rush. If we can keep 8 in coverage when all Maier wants to do is look short then its going to make life difficult. It will be nice having Moncrief back out there. I wonder how often we roll him back to safety to help offset having to start a raw rookie in Ford?

What has most surprised me this year about the Stamps is the defense. Not surprising to see an offense struggle with a new QB at the helm but the defense was supposed to be good. Real good. They have looked anything but. I almost hesitated to write this because history has shown that the Riders more often than not can be a cure for underperforming. Stamps do lead the league in takeaways and that front 7 is a strong front. The secondary hasn’t looked great. The Riders will be rolling out 2 new offensive tackles this week. Jerald Hawkins (fresh off dealing with personal issues) and Colin Kelly (fresh off a suspension for juicing). I didn’t think Council and Lofton were bad. They were decidedly adequate (i.e. a massive upgrade from 2022). We have been hyping Hawkins since we signed him and Kelly is a steady vet so hopefully they can at least get us up to mediocre, possibly even ok. I still have very limited faith in our interior. Our run game is next to non-existent and a lot of it is the middle giving us next to no push. Logic would say run Morrow to see if you have some road graders in your new tackles but based on what I saw on Friday, let Harris chuck. He got 400 yards with Bane, Emilus and Jones. No disrespect to those guys but they are far from established producers. I would love to see the run get going and I hope we try. But I am going against my normal logic and saying that if it ain’t working again then let’s focus on what is working. 

Our extensive injury list could impact things on a couple fronts. First is on special teams. Our starters are mostly OK but we have lost a lot of the depth guys that play on teams. A small mistake on teams could lead to big plays if someone new is out of position. The other, that concerns me more, is depth. If someone goes down in the game the guys we have left to step in may be guys that arrived in town this week. Save us Brian Harelimana! 

Healthy I would feel real confident about our chances. Defense should rebound and offense should be able to produce. I was almost leaning back towards Calgary due to our injuries until I heard Begelton was also out. This strikes me as a game that will be lacking in style points on both sides. Win or lose, its probably going to be a bit ugly at times. Logically I think we should be the Stamps so we will start the opposite and make them look good early. The defense will force a turnover that turns the tide and the Harris-Bane connection will lead us back in the game. Prep your tickers because this one will take a few years off it.

In the end, Riders by a come from behind TD to Jake Wieneke (he’s gotta show up some time right?)

Monday, June 19, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Expected But Still Disappointing

Riders 27 – Bombers 45

We all know that I expected us to lose. So the outcome of the game was not a big surprise. It was exactly like I said it would be, close until half and then slowly slips away. But which particular side of the ball let us down was more surprising than Kim Mitchell taking liberties with the timing of a song people want to sing along to (seriously Kim, that’s not the song to take creative liberties with). In a surprising role reversal, the offense did their job and the defense came up shorter than Peter Dinklage’s belt line. 

I think (or at least I really want to believe) that a lot of what we saw on defense was a result of playing on 4 days rest. D-line had no push. Secondary’s coverage was porous. Jeremy Clark had the worst game I have ever see him play as a Rider. Not sure I have been more disappointed in a DB’s performance since the days of James Johnson. You would have assumed that Williams (who was filling in for Marshall) would have been the weak link but he did alright all things considered. Certainly a high effort player. It did not help things that Dalke was not able to play for most of the game. A reminder that Lokombo was a second overall pick and Dalke was a 5th round afterthought. Would we have won the game with more rest? Probably not, if I’m being honest. But I think we will see a much better effort out of the defense when they get a full week rest. 

I will add that no less than 3 times I saw Hardrick move early. Ref somehow didn’t see it even though it was early even by Ray Elgaard standards. I was amazed to finally see Winnipeg get a holding call. Their line gets away with a lot. 

It’s amazing to watch Trevor Harris play QB and then reflect on what we thought starting QB caliber play was the past 2 years. He was far from perfect and still needs to limit his mistakes but god damn were some of those passes beautiful! Deep balls that were dropped just over coverage and hit receivers in the hands (as opposed to blindly chucking it and praying the WR can bail you out). Keeping eyes down field and stepping up into the pocket (instead of spinning left and turtling). He had a hell of a game. In normal circumstances 27 points (particularly by recent Rider standards) should be enough to win. Once again Emilus and Bane were the guys stepping up. This week we added Tevin Jones to that list. Curious if someone watched closely enough to see if Wieneke is invisible because he’s drawing the bulk of the defense's attention or if he’s just a non-factor for the most part? There is hope for a passing attack on the prairies. 

What is not making people hopeful is the run game. You know, the one we spent all offseason insisting would be a focus. Well the reason we aren’t making it a focus is because we suck at it. Last year our crap OL could not pass block to save their soul but the could run block. This year it somehow switched and we are mildly competent at the more difficult pass blocking and utterly useless at run blocking. No push, no holes. It’s a struggle. Maybe the anticipated return of Jerald Hawkins can help… otherwise there’s not really much to do other than hope the current group suddenly stops sucking. 

Speaking of sucking. Craig Dickenson has many good qualities as a head coach but he remains one of the worst at managing a clock that I have ever seen. The decision to kick a FG from the 12 yard line with 7 minutes left down 14 points is inexcusable incompetence. It literally decreased our odds of victory. You still needed 2 TDs and gave them better starting field position then if you gambled and didn’t get it on 3rd. There was no way to justify that call. Then on the next drive the play calling was brutal. I don’t care if it worked, a WR screen was a dumb call at that point in the game. It was followed by some short looks and Harris running as opposed to at least throwing it and hoping for a phantom PI call. We just looked completely mentally checked out by the fourth. Again, maybe the short week was a factor but we are not a good enough team to overcome self-inflicted wounds like poor coaching decisions at this point.

A loss is a loss, but I honestly thought we played better than I was expecting. Particularly on offense. Hopefully a full week’s rest will refresh this team and lead to better effort in Calgary.

Other random thoughts:

-        Not taking anything away from the amazing effort by Grant on that kick return TD (or the repeated failures of our team to make a tackle when presented the opportunity) but I honestly don’t know what is and isn’t challengeable anymore. Not saying the call was wrong but there is a weird line between what isn’t challengeable and should be and what is.

-        Home opener started on a strong note on the second deck. Only half the tills were open for both food and booze leading to long lines and the booze station did not have the card system working so it was exact cash only. Meaning your options for a drink were to wait in an extremely long food line for an overpriced draft beer or wait in line to pay $10 cash for a $9.50 drink. I definitely spent less money than I normally would have.

-        On a positive note, the camera actually came up to the second deck for probably only the second time ever. I have been calling for this for years. Get everyone involved in being see on the big screen not just those in the first few rows of the first deck. If you were at the game you would have been lucky enough to see me and my made for internet blogging good looks show up on the MaxTron.

-        Speaking of the MaxTron, the Kiss Cam had an outstanding night. First they showed just a dude sitting by himself and then all of the sudden a lady who was clearly crouching down beside him suddenly appeared looking quite embarrassed. I’m not going to allege what she may or may not have been doing down there but a less mature person than me might infer she was engaging in fellatio. Then the camera person just went for it and put two young ladies up on the screen to see if they cave. They ultimately did not but props to the camera person for giving it the old college try.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Riders vs. Bombers: Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain

Friday night the Riders have their home opener as the arch-rival Bombers are in town. The Riders will be looking to remain undefeated in 2023… a goal which has similar odds of success as my goal to have Scarlett Johansson answer my call.  

The Riders’ marketing team has pulled out all the stops to attract new fans to the stadium for this home opener. From a Kim Mitchell concert, to hats for dads, to… well that’s it. The Riders’ plan to attract new fans is curiously to cater almost exclusively to their existing core demographic. Bold strategy cotton.

As much as I would love to open the season by finally beating the Bombers at home, I don’t see it happening. Look, we were in tough with a fully healthy roster. We just came off narrowly beating a not very good team and have to play on 4 days rest while the Bombers have had 6. But the injury bug has beaten us like we owe it money. Blake torn his pec. Marshall and Walker are out. Moncrief isn’t quite ready to return and of course Harris is banged up and may not play. That combination of awful news turns a likely loss into “this could get ugly”.

As much I don’t like the thought of serving up Fine to the Bombers, I think it’s the smart move for the long term benefit. Remember last year when we kept letting a very crippled Cody Fajardo play and he never got fully healthy? That went well for us. If resting Harris for one game means he will be good to go for the rest of the season then let’s be smart for once. With that said watch us trot him out and run a naked bootleg on a meaningless play again and get fully crippled.

Here's how I see this game going. Defense will keep the game close for the first half keeping us in a game we have no business being in. They will wear down in the second half and it will slowly turn into a bloodbath. It’s a shame because I think the Riders could beat the Bombers but not on a short week and not this banged up.

This will be a good measuring stick for our D-line. It’s one thing to look ferocious against the Elks but if they can be as disruptive against a much better line and QB then look out. That O-line is not dominant as it once was but it’s still pretty good. Lanier, Robertson and co will need to step up. It will be important to keep Collaros in the pocket. He’s damn-near Mahomes-like with the plays he makes on the run at times. Keep him in the pocket and pressure him. On a short week I would be looking to pound Olivera at us if I was O’Shea. Look for a heavy dose of that particularly in the second half. I want to see Dalke continue to lay big hits and make people think twice about coming over the middle. Also wouldn not be opposed to him recreating the Butler/Pierce hit on Collaros (but maybe we save that for Labour Day). I’m curious to see how Williams will do replacing Marshall. He looked really good in the preseason but that’s like saying I’m dominant at Madden when its on rookie mode.

We get a slight break offensively as Jeffcoat is out. We still need to deal with Willie Jefferson which is a scary prospect with our line. The Winnipeg D-line has been slowly declining from the their super dominant days (they were second last in sacks last season) but they are still good enough to cause us issues. I’m assuming Mason Fine plays but either way this would be a great time to lean on that run game we spent all offseason hyping. We have the RBs to do it but our O-line was awful at run blocking last game until the 4th quarter. Part of that admittedly was Edmonton sending a lot of pressure but run blocking needs to be better. We need to get a blocker past the d-line and onto Bighill or he will shut that run down quickly. Receivers are getting thin quickly. We already have no Walker, Lenius or Schaefer. That’s 3 of our top 4 receivers. We need Wieneke to step up and be a #1. He’s the guy for the foreseeable future. The only guys I saw “step up” last game were Bane and Emilus. I’d be willing to lean on them a bit more. Preseason showed us that Mason Fine loves Mitch Picton. With TDs likely to be scarce I see Picton being the guy to punch one in.

Is it possible that Fine channels his inner Rocky Butler and we emerge with an improbable win? Yes. Is it probable? About as probable a thunderstorm is Regina that doesn’t result multiple cars stuck under the Albert St. overpass.

I’m looking forward to the return of regular season football to Mosaic and I will be cheering until I can no longer speak but I am expecting a loss.

One of these days we will witness us beat the Bombers at home again. Maybe we just need to revive the 11 Years That’s Enough song (if you don’t know what that is, for the love of god google it) and update it be about our home losing streak to the Bombers. 4 years that’s enough.

Bombers by 17.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Tequila!

Riders 17 – Elks 14

You’ll have to forgive me. Even at my best my grammar and cohesiveness are questionable. And usually I have a day or 2 to digest a Rider game before sitting down to write my sentimonies. A late Sunday game means you are pretty much getting the raw unfiltered thoughts coming out by brain. I’m sorry.

What I’m not sorry for is the good luck that my new ritual of a pregame shot of bad tequila is bringing. We are undefeated since I started doing it. At the rate the season is going I will need a sombrero and the Mexican hat dance on repeat if this continues.

That game was about exactly what you would expect from 2 teams who failed to make the playoffs last season. It’s kinda like a hobo fight. Not big on technical merit and you don’t feel super great watching it but its evenly matched and entertaining.

In what should come as no shock to anyone who has followed this team for the past 3 seasons, defense owned the day and was the reason we won. 5 sacks, 2 picks (even though one was purely for stats, still counts), 13 points allowed, a massive goal line stand and were it not for the best receiver in the CFL making a hell of a play on Jeremy Clark who was in perfect coverage, we would have held the Elks without a TD and under 150 yards. Jason Shivers just continues to deliver results. D-line was disruptive and everyone contributed. Tough to key on one guy when every single guy in that rotation is making plays. Milligan was a monster. An impressive pick and a game saving tackle on the goal line stand (even though Marshall was definitely offside on the play… but we’ll overlook that just like the ref did). Also, we were all shocked when the D-line lined up onside 3 times in a row right? Despite giving up that TD, Clark had a good game. That hit on the attempted screen was a hell of a pop. Speaking of pops, I have been hyping Jayden Dalke all preseason and he delivered in Game 1. Dude hits like a truck. He’s most likely going to take a couple 15 yarders the way he hits but gotta love a big physical presence making people think twice of coming over the middle. Were we playing a QB who didn’t suck as much as Cornelius, it may have been a different story but D did their job and continue to be the strength of this team. By the way we still get to add Moncrief to that D at some point.

Offense… looks like a work in progress. Some positive plays but 1 TD ain’t going to cut it and too many stalled drives. I love how after spending all season saying we plan on focusing on the run, we overtly refused to run for most of the first half. To be fair, our run blocking was non-existent and when we did run it was pretty much as waste of a play. Morrow had 22 rush yards going into that final drive where the run game finally showed up. O-line was not great but not an embarrassment. So that’s a positive. Jones seemed to consciously dial up the pressure against us. Harris was OK at adjusting to it. At least he didn’t pre-turtle or spin left. Bane and Emilus stepped up and contributed. I know people are hyping Walker and Wieneke but I still maintain we don’t have a bona fide #1 receiver so we will need multiple guys to step up and make plays to make this work. You can tell the offense has some good things going but they have a long way to go yet. Lots of different formations and looks so at least it wasn’t the boring screen-based Maas offense. 

On special teams, Mario Alford is still good and Adam Korsak has a weird delivery but damn were his punts effective.   

Putting it in perspective we barely beat the worst team in the west and only scored 1 TD in the process. It was an important win and you never apologize for how you win or who you beat but we will play better teams and will need to play better if we want to keep winning.

 For now though, enjoy the win!

 Other random thoughts:

-        I get the logic on that final throwing play from Harris but dear god you cannot let him take a hit like that on a meaningless play!! For how good the D was playing, kick the FG and trust your D to not give up a TD in under 10 seconds. Or let Patterson run around.

-        Speaking of Patterson he came into the game and I said “I wonder if Edmonton knows there is zero chance he throws this”… then he proceeded to throw it and prove why he should never be allowed to throw it in that scenario.

-        Definitely a more disciplined team. At least we didn’t called for cartwheeling into the ref.

-        Did not expect the term butt sniffer to be uttered during the broadcast.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Riders vs. Elks: Season Opener 2023

Sunday the 2023 season opens for the Riders. They will be in Edmonton to face the Elks. The Riders will be looking to start 2023 on a high note with their new look team. The Elks will be looking to win at home for the first time since 2019. Think about how much last year sucked for fans in the stands at Mosaic then compound that for years. Though, if some people are to be believed, the losing streak in Edmonton is a direct result of caving and dropping the Eskimos name. Pretty sure its science… well to be fair, by Alberta standards it probably is.

There is a lot of hype surrounding this new look Riders offense under the leadership of Trevor Harris after a perfect preseason. But let me remind you that Harris threw 4 passes total against a defense missing many starters so let’s maybe pump the brakes on how much we can infer from that solitary drive. I believe in Harris and think he will do well but there will be growing pains. They will likely come as a result of the O-line. My faith in just how improved our line will be keeps slipping a bit every day. We thought Hawkins was the chosen one to lock down the tackle spot but he’s off dealing with family issues. No worries, Philip Blake can hold things down until he’s back… but now he’s hurt. That brings us to Plan C which is Colin Kelly… who is currently suspended for 2 games. Brandon Council represents Plan D (the D stands for desperate). Blake’s presumed absence also means that Evan Johnson still gets to play (that is not a good thing for anyone but opposing pass rushers). Look, I believe better days are coming for the Riders OL. But I just may not be in game 1.

Two ways to help that line out. 1 is run the ball. Elks will be tough to run on Their front 4 is pretty solid and Nyles Morgan at MLB is an effective run stopper. Still we gotta get touches to Morrow/Hickson in every single quarter (that part should go without saying but after 2 years of Maas, it does not). The other way is to get the ball out of Harris’ hands quickly. Small sample size but we saw some nice crossers in preseason and a long pass that resulted off Harris reading the blitz and getting it off. At least Harris appears to be aware of how to step up into the pocket and not spin left into D-lineman. That will help. If I’m Jones I try and see if 3 man pressure can be as deadly to the Riders OL as it was last year and drop the rest into coverage.

Defensively I think we face the most formidable set of offensive weapons in the CFL. Kevin Brown is a dangerous runner who averaged a league high 6.6 yds per rush. Only 3 players had more 20+ yard runs than him and he only played 7 games. Geno Lewis is the best receiver in the CFL in my opinion. Dillon Mitchell put up 600 yards and 4 TDs in half a season. And their 3rd/4th option are Steven Dunbar (who had 1000 yards last season) and Kyran Moore (who we know well). At least until Kenny Lawler is allowed back in the country that is best WR/RB group in the CFL.

The issue is their QB. I had written Cornelius off early because he never really showed me anything to make me believe he was a legit starter. That changed in the last half of last season. He looked ok. And honestly with those weapons around him and a Chris Jones defense, ok should be good enough. But even an “improved” Cornelius is still a QB who completed just 57% of his passes and had 9 INTs to 11 TDs. He was less accurate on deep balls than Cody Fajardo (let that sink in). So Cornelius is progressing but he’s not yet a top end QB.

I really like our front 4. Lanier, Michah, Robertson and the rotation of Christmas/Cox should be disruptive. We need them to win the line of scrimmage. That will allow us to pressure Cornelius into bad throws and limit the run. If he gets time (or room to run) then even a so-so QB like Cornelius will make us pay. Obviously the lack of Moncrief is not ideal but his longterm health is obviously more important.

I’ve waffled a lot on this one. I think there is good reason for hope with this team and I think this is a winnable game. But no Blake, no Moncrief are big hits on both sides of the ball. Plus I think people are way too down on Edmonton. This is year 2 of the Chris Jones rebuild. They will be better. But how quickly is the question. 2017 ended ok for us but remember that we started that year 0-2.

I am going to believe in the power of tequila (which I will dutifully consume that utter garbage as long as we keep winning) and say that we narrowly escape Commonwealth with a win.

Riders by a Lauther FG.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Bring on the Regular Season

Plan the parade!

While I, of course, am kidding, the 2-0 preseason will certainly have made some on the prairies seriously think that a Grey Cup is inevitable now. Look, the preseason went about as well as it could have. Penalties were down, sacks were almost non-existent, starting O looked great, defense looked ok, we actually won. I think we should all be happy with that preseason. For a team that has been mired in misery and hopelessness since last August, we at least have some hope now. And even if it was just preseason (and against a Bombers team not fielding many starters), it still felt great to actually enjoy watching a football game again.

I won’t dwell much more on that game. The first 2 quarters made it pretty obvious who should make the team. The second half made it almost equally as obvious who should not. The only surprise among the cuts was Stefan Banks. He was a highly touted free agent acquisition from Calgary viewed as the next starting DE. Swing and miss there. He was beaten by Cox (an unexpected reversal of what normally happens) and not even deemed worthy of a practice roster spot. Overall I really like our roster except I think our linebacker depth is downright concerning and we still keep signing OTs which means we aren’t super set their (not that that’s important).

But now its onto the real games, against real opponents, fielding their real starters. The West is shaping up to be a very tight race where I think legitimately each team has a shot at finishing first or second.  

Here are my 10 bold (or not so bold predictions) for the 2023 season

1.     We will finish 9-9 but will get there in a very streaky manner. Start hot, midseason slump, late season recovery. 3rd in a competitive West will be our finish.

2.     Harris will throw for 5000 yards. He will settle for more FGs than we like but he will be able to move the ball on offense.

3.     We won’t have a 1000 yard receiver. It will be a true team effort. We also won’t have a 1000 yard rusher… though Morrow and Hickson combined will be the equivalent of one.

4.     O-line will not be great… but good enough. We will be middle of pack for sacks allowed. We will try a bunch of different OL combinations before settling on a set group on Labour Day. Partial odds on Derek Dennis being part of the mix at some point.

5.     Kian-Schaefer Baker will make his triumphant return on Labour Day and score a TD in a winning effort.

6.     Lanier will get double digits sacks in 12 weeks. Defensive player of the year in the West.

7.     While Teitz should be a lock for top Canadian on the team, a young upstart named Jayden Dalke will steal the spotlight and be the best safety we’ve seen since Craig Butler.

8.     Dickenson and O’Day will last the season but after an early playoff exit, O’Day will save his job by sacrificing Dickenson as the scapegoat.

9.     Mario Alford will score at least 6 kick return TDs.

10.  Rider Nation will spend the whole season debating Dolegala vs. Fine and it won’t matter because Harris will play 18 games and Patterson will be the only other QB to touch the ball on 3rd down plunges.

Bonus Prediction: The Riders will continue to put zero effort into half time and the $5 menu (which can only really be found on the first level, not on the second level where the cheap seats are) will be much ado about nothing.

Bring on the season.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Riders vs. Bombers: Preseason Game 2

Friday night to Riders are in stink-town to wrap up the preseason against the Bombers. The veterans will be given one last chance to tune up before the regular season. The newcomers will get one last chance to make sure their plane ticket on Saturday says Regina on it and not their hometown.

Last week’s win has really thrown me for a loop. Normally I would bemoan the fact that we would get killed in this one, especially on the road. But now I don’t know what to think. Winnipeg is resting most of their starters… so logic dictates that we will indeed return to our preseason losing ways. I don’t make the rules, that’s just how it goes around here.

Offense is the primary thing to watch in this one. Not that I think defense is a slam dunk but the starters are almost all veterans and Shivers always has that unit playing top end ball except when the offense does so little that they literally run our of breath from being on the field all game.

Offensively we get our first look at Trevor Harris. It’ll likely be a brief one and on a limited playbook but its an important first step. Really just need to see him look comfortable, make good reads and move the ball for 2-3 drives. Curious what kind of chemistry he will have with the new look receiver group.

A big part of Harris having a strong debut will be the guys in front of him actually blocking. I’m a slight bit concerned at this point about the OL. I think Blake improves that line but our projected left tackle will play zero snaps in the preseason and has never played a live snap of Canadian ball. Our other tackle is far from settled and we seem to sign a new American tackle every other day. Hardly screams of confidence there. Hopefully guys like Lofton, Council and Shorts can show us something to give us hope. Also would like to get a good look at Zach Fry. The way O’Day was raving about him coming into the season he’s the second coming of Gene Makowsky.

I think it’s still an open competition for back-up and 3rd. Dolegala is likely the lead horse in that race but Fine ain’t giving up without a fight and Patterson is hanging around. Fine is probably up against the toughest odds. As a third year player he needs to show that we haven’t seen his ceiling yet. If the race is a dead heat then you likely give the edge to the newer guys in the hopes they have a higher ceiling. He will get time earlier in the game (i.e. with a higher quality supporting cast) so its do or die time for him.

As much as everyone wants to see us run a ton, I don’t expect it. You’ll see a little bit but we know what we have in Morrow and Hickson so we are saving the real running for the regular season. More important to evaluate QBs, receivers and pass blocking than running at this point.

Defensively there are 3 guys I’ll be focusing on. Stefan Banks, Miles Brown and Lloyd Christmas. We need one of those second year DTs to step up and give us a productive DT to spell off Lanier and Micah, or let Lanier bump out to end occasionally. As for Banks, he was the prized D-line free agent acquisition and I'd like to see him show why. Even without some starters, Winnipeg’s line should be a good measuring stick for what we have in that group.

At linebacker it’s the back-ups I want to see most. At some point we will need guys like Brunson, Harvell-Peel and Reavis to step in on D and this is the last chance to see if they are up to the challenge.

 Lastly, while punting won’t exactly drive ratings, an injury to Vedvik opens the door for Adam Korsak. Hard to say how long Vedvik may be out (could be a minor thing, could drag out) so suddenly seeing what this Global kicker can do is important. Good news is that by the second half I expect many punting opportunities.

While its always nice to beat Winnipeg (though sadly it’s been so long that we’ve almost forgot what that’s like) I expect us to lose and that’s ok. Main goal is to evaluate people and get the info need to attend to the easiest part of any coach’s job come Saturday… the cuts.