Monday, July 31, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Almost No “Touchdown” Atlantic

Riders 13 – Argos 31

If you have been a Rider fan for any length of time you are familiar with the feeling I am about to describe. We entered that game with virtually no expectation of winning (be honest) and the team somehow managed to disappoint us despite literally no expectations. It takes a special level of sucktitude to manage that. 

Here’s the deal, in the wake of the Trevor Harris injury we all downgraded our expectations… ok not all, there are still some diehards out there who probably still believe we are going to the Cup. But for the second week in a row QB was not necessarily the primary reason we lost. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and overtly lie to you and tell you Mason Fine played well. What I am saying is that it was a winnable game in-spite of his current shortcomings. And that is at the core of what is most frustrating about this team right now. We have a built-in excuse for not winning and we inexplicably keep deciding to add reasons on top of that. The score won’t reflect it, but the Riders had a chance to win or at the very least keep it close… in spite of the glaring deficiencies in our team. 

For the second week in a row, the defense played well enough to win the game. The Argos have the most productive offense in the CFL and our D held them in check. We held Chad Kelly under 100 yards passing through 3 quarters and under 125 overall. We held Ouellette under 4 yards per carry. We forced a turnover. 31 points allowed is a very deceiving number because the punt return TD was not on the D, the pick 6 was not on the D and the INT returned to the 25 leading to a TD was not the defense’s fault. They did their job against the best offense in the league. And for the second week in a row, their reward was watching the other phases of the game waste their effort. I was very critical of the D early in the season but credit to Shivers he has got his unit back to playing the level of defense we’ve come to expect. Amari Henderson is still a frustratingly inconsistent player but other than that I give the defense full credit for a great game. 

Unfortunately, there are 2 other phases of the game. Special teams took most of the first half to figure their life out. Argos could have scored 2 more kick return TDs. We also did not seem to think that offering some form of blocking for Alford was a priority in this one.

The curious case of Mason Fine. In 2 starts Fine is completing over 70% of his passes and averaging close to 300 yards per game. What he is not doing is producing points. Since the Trevor Harris injury he has produced one legit TD and one fluke over 2.5 games. The problem in analyzing his play is factoring what parts of this offensive ineptness is his fault and what part is out of his control. Its not his fault his O-line got massacred. Its not his fault Jamal Morrow fumbled away one of our few promising drives (I still kinda think Jake recovered it but there was no much chaos that the ruling on the field would have stood no matter what). Its not his fault Lenius failed to haul in a pass that hit him in the hands. The pass was far from perfect but receivers are paid to make plays. Its not his fault we are comically inept at short yardage. Its not his fault the coaches make stupid decision (hey, our offense his struggling to move the ball forward, you know what will help… backwards passes). I’m not saying Mason Fine is a great QB but let’s be fair and not place all the blame on him. He’s handcuffed with a lot other people’s shortcomings. He also just had to play 2 of the best defenses in the CFL.

But he also is contributing to the issues. Both INTs were his fault. Deciding to throw a 2 yard pass on 2nd and 16 was his fault. Throwing into double and triple coverage was his fault. And at some point the fact that he has produced exactly one non-hail mary fluke TD in 10+ quarters as a starter has to fall on him at least a bit. His passing yard stats are deceiving because he seems to be able to move the ball from our 15 to midfield consistently but really struggles on the opponent’s side of the field (you know, the important part). And while we are being fair about QB performance, can I put a halt on the Jake Dolegala parade that is surely coming. Yes he produced a TD on a couple nice throws. But he did so against prevent defesne in garbage time. Let’s not pretend that had he started the whole game he would have done any better behind a porous OL, with poor play calling and WR/RB falling to secure the ball. At some point we will need to turn to him but I would like to go on record as being against the motion to anoint him saviour of the franchise based on one garbage time drive. As much as I don't like it based on production, I think you gotta give Fine at least one more start. 

I expected to lose this game. But I guess I was silly to expect we’d at least be competitive. One third of our team was competitive but the rest looked like a team that belonged on university turf. We had chances to make a game of it but failed miserably at each turn. The issues with this team are way more than just playing a back-up QB. As I said, it would be a lot easier to swallow if we could pin all our issues that.

 Our issues are this simple. You can’t win when you don’t score TDs. Doesn’t matter how good your defense is. And brother, TDs are a more foreign concept in Riderville than reasonably priced merchandise and concessions. Until we figure out how to cross the goal line at least twice a game, gonna be tough to find a win regardless of who we play. 

Random thoughts:

-        Really weird series of events took place when the Argos accepted a penalty to make it 2nd and 16 rather than 3rd and 6 and force us to punt in our own zone. Being the kind and generous souls we are, we rewarded their stupid decision by throwing a 2 yard pass on 2nd down gifting them improved field position.

-        After a few seasons of being critical of us taking a FG when we should not have, I never expected to opposite scenario to unfold. But the boneheaded decisions of our coaches never cease to amaze. 3rd and goal from the 15, a FG would have made it a 2 score game. Low odds of making the TD and even if we make it you still need 2 scores. So of course Dickenson chooses that time to forgo his longstanding love affair with the FG. He doesn’t even appear to have coherent logic to his poor choices. He’s all over the map.

-        He’s not always getting the supporting coverage but Korsac is a really good punter. (Yes I am reduced to choosing to take solace in our punter… that’s a sure sign of how good things are going.)

Friday, July 28, 2023

Riders vs. Argos: Please Make Touchdown Atlantic Literal

Saturday the Riders are in the Maritimes for an afternoon game against the undefeated Argonauts. As the title of this post implies, we are all hoping that the Riders’ only touchdown isn’t on the plane ride in. Early in the week I would say that my optimism was next to non-existent. Toronto is good in all phases of the game and hasn’t lost. We are fielding a back-up offense that couldn’t find the endzone if you put them on the 1 yard line and pushed them forward.

But I am officially upgrading us to “So you’re saying there’s a chance” because for the first time this season the injury situation actually improved, after seemingly endless weeks of adding to the IR. We did lose Mitch Picton (which is not great) but we are getting back Godber, Lanier, Wieneke and for the first time this season Brayden Lenuis. Now this suddenly doesn’t fix all our issues but it certainly gives us a boost when we really need it.

Offensively Toronto presents the greatest challenge we’ve faced all year. They average 37 points per game (10 more than the next best). They are #1 in rushing and #2 in passing. They allow the least sacks. They have the least turnovers. Chad Kelly is fearless and though some of his passes would make any coach cringe, he’s making it work. We need to see the D-line we saw in BC show up again but even more ferocious since our best lineman will be back. Toronto doesn’t give up a ton of sacks but we need to get pressure and make Kelly uncomfortable. With the risks he takes, the more pressure we put on, the more likely he is to make a costly mistake. We also need to be sure tacklers. Oulette is a powerhouse of a runner. If we are soft in tackling our decide not to use our arms he will run all over us. With how productive our offense has been, if the D can’t keep this under 25 then we might as well grab a bottle of screech and hit ye olde maritime pub early. 

There have been 2 polar opposite sides presented this week about Fine’s performance last week. Side A – he wasn’t that bad (high completion, put up yards, looked competent). Side B – That was like watching paint dry and produced as many majors as the non-exitent Rider Prophet naval academy. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. No Fine wasn’t awful. You might even say he was… fine (I’ll show myself out). He wasn’t a trainwreck and with better coaching might have been competent. But I don’t give a crap that his completion % is 77%, you can’t win games without scoring a TD. It’s that simple. Hopefully getting some actual starting WRs like Lenius and Wieneke back will help open up the passing game. Also, hopefully getting Godber back will help our run blocking up the middle return to mildly competent. Argos have the #1 run D but the #8 pass D. So we are going to need to pass in this one…and not just 5 yard check downs on 2nd and 9. Can’t be reckless with the passes though. This is the team that picked of Vernon Adams 6 times. Let’s try and get some medium crossers going. We hit a solitary one to Emilus last game and then it disappeared. Also, let’s try and use Alford in the pass game. Give him a sweep or swing pass. Or, here’s a radical idea, line him up at receiver and use him as a decoy since the only reason he’d be on the field is a designed play. Something. We heard all offeason about how Kelly Jeffrey would reinvigorate the run game and get Alford involved in the O. That has amounted to 1 pass attempt to Alford in game 1 and a running attack that is only slightly more useful than CFL stats. 

If you want one stat to give you some hope that we will emerge from Touchdown Atlantic with more than tear-soaked lobster bibs its this: Toronto is #6 at defending punt return and #9 at defending kickoffs. Given that Mario Alford is legitimately our best chance at finding the endzone, if there was ever a time for him to be a gamechanger, its this game. 

I legitimately think there is a chance we could steal a win. But I damn sure am not betting on it. Toronto has never scored less than 30 points. It would take the Riders 2-3 games to put up that many points. I do think the D will keep it closer than some expect but we aren’t winning this game. 

Argos by 10.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Expected Loss

Riders 9 – BC 19

I’m back. Seven days fishing up north was a great way to disconnect and unwind from the loss of our franchise QB. I arrived back in town at 4pm yesterday… just in time to be reminded of the misery that currently is the Riders. Great timing.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I that was a much better game than I was expecting. Given how not great of a game it was, it tells you how low my expectations were. We were going to lose that game, if you thought any differently then I would recommend against you operating heavy machinery. But it was far less of an ass kicking than I expected. Obviously the Adams injury likely played a roll in that. Holy hell are starting QBs cursed this year. And still, defying all logic, Collaros is the shining example of health. How? 

Not a lot of positives in Riderville these days so I am going to take a rare opportunity to acknowledge a big time positive. I have been very critical of our defense this season. So I was pumped to finally see them show up to play to the level we’ve grown accustomed to. Noticeably the effort level was way up. Micah and Robertson were leading the charge there. Our pass rush has been more useless than the CFL stat system over the past few weeks (Ok I take that back, that's too harsh a criticism, nothing is that bad). But dammit they stepped up in this one! 4 sacks (after just 7 over out previous 5 games) and big time disruption in the trenches. It’s amazing how much better your secondary looks when they don’t have to cover for huge chunks of time on each play. Run D was rock solid. We are going to need our D to salvage this season and this game gave me the first glimmer of hope that they can still deliver. They did enough to keep us in a game we had no business being in (which is becoming Shivers' calling card as the Riders DC). 

Offense is another story. I’m trying to be fair here and remember that our 6 game injured list is 3 players away from containing our entire starting offense (and I thought for a minute that low hit on Morrow might add him to the mix). You can expect struggles when you are relying on your 2nd, 3rd and 4th stringers to carry the load. But for one thing, our offense wasn’t great when we had more actual starters. We have a total of 10 offensive TDs over 6 games. I still don’t completely understand what happened in Week 2 against Winnipeg when we put up 3 TDs but that appears to be an anomaly. So we are down to 7 TDs over the other 5 games. One of those came from an interception returned to the 1 yard line and one was the hail Mary that bounced to Jones. So 5 legit TDs over 5 games and only 1 game where the offense produced 2 legit TDs in the same game. Its tough to win in the CFL when you can only produce 2 TDs, let alone struggling to produce a solitary one.

While I can forgive mistakes made by inexperienced players (like Fine) what really bugs me is how our coaching is holding back an already struggling unit. For all his offseason talk, Kelly Jeffries is as about as effective at establishing a run game as Jason Maas was and at least Jason Maas didn’t try. Jeffries is trying but we get no push in run blocking whatsoever. We also run a dumb times, like 2nd and long. That may be a great change of pace play to catch a team off guard but not when you can’t run block worth a damn. Then its just a wasted play.

But more than a lack of anything resembling a run game what bothers me is the brutal decision making. For example, gambling on a 3rd and 2. Not a terrible football call normally but a) we are anything but automatic in short yardage. Getting stuffed is almost a weekly occurrence. And b) if you are going to gamble for god sake don’t do a shotgun run that requires you to now advance the ball 5 additional yards when you know you struggle to get 1!! Another example was the clock management at the end of the game. Down 10 you need to 2 scores and there are 2 ways to get it. Kick the FG quick to conserve clock for your defense and second drive or push for the TD first to make it so you only need a FG on your second drive. We combined the worst elements of both strategies. I honestly don’t hate taking the FG first but then take it early and conserve the clock. Don’t gamble on 3rd down and kill the clock only to settle for a FG. With how much time we were eating up on that drive and how many short plays we were running you had to push for the TD in that situation. The second we gambled the FG should have been out the window. But the continuing poor game management of Dickenson popped up yet again.

Fine struggled but I do think you need to keeping rolling with him at this point at least for a couple weeks to see if he improves.

I was pleased with the effort the Riders put up in a tough road game but in the end, the better team won. Nice to see the defense show up but the short term isn’t looking great for the Riders.

Other random thoughts:

-        Amari Henderson is a polarizing player. Sometimes he makes plays that make you think he’ll be a starting HB for a while and sometimes he gets lost in coverage. If he could ever up his consistency he’d be a hell of a player.

-        Someone please create a “Should I Challenge” decision making flowchart for Craig Dickenson. The only thing that needs to be on the page is “Do I (Craig Dickenson) think I should challenge this play?” If so, “NO do not challenge. You never ever win a challenge.” Whether or not you think that was roughing the passer (I think it was marginal at best), there was 0% chance that was being overturned.

-        On the flip side, was there not a blatant headshot on Fine later in the game? The one that knocked his helmet off. I have no clue what video review can or can’t fix from the booth (seems to change week to week and only hurt the Riders when used) but could that not have been booth reviewed? Player safety seems a better use of booth reviews than some of the things its been used for in the past.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Good Time To Take Off

 Probably the best time in the world for my annual fishing trip. I will be gone and out of cell coverage until next Saturday.

Going to enjoy my holiday because the rest of this football season is looking about as pretty as a closing time JD's girl (If you know, you know)

See you next week.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Riders vs. Stampeders: Running on Fumes

It’s rare for a game this early in the season to have such big implications. With a win the Riders take the season series over the Stamps and a 4 game lead in the standings. That's massive. For Calgary, they can’t afford to go 0-4 against the west to start the year if they are aiming any higher than a crossover. The only thing bigger than the implications of this game is the length of our injury list. It will soon feature an entire starting 45 worth of players and qualify under Elections Canada rules to have its own Member of Parliament. This week we added Lanier, Milligan and Council to a list that already featured 5 starting WRs and 3 starting OL. 

Calgary is basically the bizzarro Riders at this point. The world is crumbling around us but dammit if we don’t have a rock solid QB. The Stamps are actually pretty solid everywhere except they are crumbling because of their QB.  The crazy thing is that despite Maier struggling they still made the right call in choosing him over Bo.  

You might think I’m being harsh on Maier but the stats don’t lie. He’s got a solid run game (2nd in yds per rush) and great OL (second least sacks allowed). So its not like he’s being hung out to dry. He has 2 TD’s to 6 INTs. He has the lowest completion % of any starting QB and that includes Edmonton and Ottawa who aren’t exactly the picture of QB stability. He is completing an abysmal 14% of his deep passes (you almost have to try to be that bad). He has completed as many passes over 20 yards to opposing teams as his own players. His sucktitude on the deep ball has forced Calgary to become check down city as his average gain per pass is 6.8 yards (only Ottawa is worse). And with all that scathing commentary now penned he is absolutely going to rip us to shreds out of spite, isn’t he?

Defense has not been good this season. They are the 7th ranked D in the CFL and given that Edmonton doesn’t really count as a team that puts us second worst effectively. They have avoided most major injuries up until now though I do believe guys have been playing nicked up. So a struggling D will now be without their best 2 players in Lanier and Milligan. Not ideal. But facing Maier we still got a chance. Force the man to throw. He’s not a threat to run so than means taking away the run game. Also take away the quick easy passes. He’s a liability when chucking deep so make him play to his weakness. Tough ask without Lanier but some pressure would be nice. Maybe even a sack. Make life uncomfortable for Maier. He fell apart at home when things got tough. On the road when the crowd gets on him it won’t be easier. I can only assume he will hear my boos raining down from the second deck and let a single tear fall in sadness. 

I will say this. I guarantee… GUARANTEE, they will try and get Marshall on a double move this week. As much as I know he’s licking his lips at the prospect of further padding his stats, he needs to stay assignment sound and not force it or he's giving up a long one. If he’s patient, Maier will find him.

Offensively I won’t say I’m the most optimistic. We scored 12 points on the worst team in the CFL last week. The only change in offensive personnel is a back-up OT. This will be a grind. It would help if we can get Morrow/Hickson going. Awe and Judge are studs and will make that tough but we need some yards on the ground. In the pass game, receivers have to get open. Harris is a great QB but not a miracle worker. It can’t all be on Mitch Picton… though seriously give the guy a few more looks. He knows how to find space. This where our OC needs to earn his pay find some ways to get Bane open or use some misdirection to get a guy like Watson open downfield. With Maier being mistake prone and our O needing to grind it out, we can’t afford Harris’ weekly INT this game. Protect the ball, let's not make this harder than it already will be. 

If we want a win, I really think its going to take Alford taking one to the house. A game changing play like that on Teams can really give us the boost we need in what I think will be a very close game. He’s gotta be due right? Speaking of special teams, how odd is it to see Paredes and Lauther as 2 of the worst kickers in the CFL at 75% on the season?

Everything about this match-up screams Calgary win… except QB, which just so happens to be the most important position. This team is giving me slight 2008 vibes. In that season we started 6-1 and just kept winning despite breaking 2-3 key fibulas each game. Eventually that group ran out of gas and they had more talent that this group. It just feels like that is sneaking up on this team, either this week or next. I think we can win but I’m not betting on it. We keep it close but…

Stamps by a Paredes FG

Monday, July 10, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Rouge!

Riders 12 – Elks 11

That game was a lot like getting a hand job from a hobo in exchange for a cigarette. Its sad, embarrassing, not something you feel great about and not something you’d ever brag about, but in the end it has a happy ending.

Look, we are a franchise desperate for wins. Hell we hadn’t won at home in a year. So we will gladly take a win however we can get it. Even if was a god awful win against a god awful team. Trust me, last year we would have given our souls for a win this ugly. As long as the Riders keep finding ways to win that’s the important thing. But let’s call it like it is. That was one of the worst football games I’ve watched. Just 58 minutes of shame and embarrassment and the wildest 2 mins you’ll ever see. Its kinda like the reverse of my love life.

Offensively I can’t say I’m super surprised. We are down to 7th and 8th string receivers and didn’t really have a bona fide #1 guy even before half our guys landed on the 6 game IR. It showed. A lot of the struggles on offense we simply receivers not getting open. Harris was going through his reads but finding nothing. When he did find something he made the mistake of going to the well one too many times. His INT was the result of trying to run the same play 3 times in a row. This marks 3 of 4 games this season where Harris has thrown an INT. Sometimes I watch his throws and wonder how he hasn’t won multiple Cups yet, then I see him make mistakes like that and understand what’s holding him back. Though for al his shortcomings, when the game was on the line he delivered the TD drive we needed and just as import the 2 point convert. Good QBs, rise to the occasion when it matters most.

Not going to even lie and say I hate saying I told you, because I relish it. Picton man! I called it. He was the only guy I saw stepping up in that game. There was a couple more times he was open but didn’t get a look. He won’t wow you with his speed or physicality but dammit if he doesn’t know how to find the space and be where he needs to be.

I thought it was a huge mistake to go for it on third down in the first quarter rather than take the FG. I get the concept of being aggressive but you gotta call based on your situation. Our offense was not exactly humming along and we were playing a really bad team that was only able to score single points. Take the points in that situation, don’t get cute. Those 3 points certainly could have come in handy later in the game. 

It seems weird to rip on a defense that allowed just 11 points. In any other week that would be a damn impressive game worthy of mad props. But despite only allowing 11 points and technically doing their job, it just seemed they struggled against a very week opponent. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good things. A few times we got massive pressure (almost too much) but Cornelius was able to side step it and gain yards. But Edmonton had 3 plays that entire game that we seemed not to be able to predict or stop. 1 – the Cornelius run. That should have been the most obvious thing to game plan for. Play contain, have the LBs fill the gaps and dare him to throw (because spoiler alert, he’s not very good at throwing). But we almost got too cute. Early in the game we ran a stunt with the DE and DT, but while they were stunting Cornelius easily escaped the pocket. Had we played just a conventional pass rush he would have been contained. 2 – was the short middle pass against our insanely soft zone. 3 – was swinging it short and wide. We just could not get off the field defensively. Yes they allowed nothing in terms of points but the time of possession was wildly slanted to Edmonton. If we can’t get off the field against arguably the worst offense out there, what’s going to happen when we play a mildly competent team? I’m not exactly enamored by the play of Bryan Cox at this point. If I was O’Day I would be calling Shawn Lemon and moving Lanier back inside. (Side note, Lanier is clearly not 100% and that’s definitely a factor in our pass rush). 

So now we do need to address the infamous Rouge. First off, full credit to Lauther. Yes it was wind and stupidity aided but he kicked the piss out of that. As for the error on the part of Sims. Jones admitted it and I fully agree, that is a coaching error. Yes the player should know but in a kick that critical, the coach should have reminded him that it needs to come out of the endzone. Hell, Sims almost let us recover it for a game winning TD he was so casual about it. We of course then proceeded to almost give then the game back by letting them drive on us. Was Cornelius over the line? In reality, yes. But on video review a millimeter of him was close enough to the line that the call was probably technically correct. I will add that the video review official was Bradbury.

One last thought, full credit to Nick Marshall for being a game changer for the second week in a row… but how does he keep getting these opportunities? I’m not as skilled at breaking down film as an Offensive Coordinator but I can tell you that with the game on the line Marshall is playing for the pick every time so either pump him and use that your advantage or don’t throw his way. 

Am I happy I had to sit through a game that awful? No. Am I proud of how it unfolded? Also no. But is a win, a win? Yup! Schedule gets a hell of a lot tougher from here but I’m pretty happy to be sitting 3-1 when you consider our injury situation and how bad we were as a team at the end of last season.

Other random thoughts?

-        It was a nice touch on retro night to have Evan Bray and Jeff Sawatsky as part of the pregame festivities. But opportunity missed to not go even further and have retro (non- creepy drug eyed) Gainer and retro faceless Work Safe Bob. 

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Riders vs. Elks: Thursday Night Football

I went back into the vault to look at old blog posts about Edmonton. I found this gem that seems a fitting way to start today’s post. Back in ’07 I started a poetic game analysis with this line that rings as true today as it did then:

Ode to the Edmonton Eskimos

A once great team that now really blows.

I actually contemplated remaking that whole poem for today but quickly gave up after trying to rhyme with Elks. Turns out there is a direct correlation between words that rhyme with Elk and wins that said Elks team has. 

Under normal circumstances, confidence in Thursday’s game would be at an all-time high. The winless Elks are in town. Not only are they winless they are bad even by winless team standards. They are averaging just 12 points per game offensively. That is 7 points per game less than last year when they won 4 games. The only thing they lead the league in is QBs they’ve managed to piss off. That and sacks. Man do they give up sacks. I’m sure its only a coincidence that Stephen Sorrels is their current OL coach and they are on pace to give up 72 sacks this season, which would almost match the 77 allowed by the Riders last season… who were coached by Sorrells. Pure coincidence I’m sure.  

But its by no means “normal circumstances” on the prairies. We damn near managed to come out of a bye week more injured than we went into it. At best it’s a saw off. Currently 4 of our 6 best receivers are on the 6 game and we are reworking our OL again. So confidence is not exactly our thing. It’s more a feeling of “well we probably should still win but have all been burned so many times that we can’t rule out the possibility of the Riders choking”.

Let’s start with the defense. Jayden Dalke returns which means we're pretty much starting everyone we want to. Depth is still a concern but the starting 12 have thus far been spared from the rash of early season injuries… at least the major ones. Edmonton will hopefully be the cure for what I would call a struggling unit. Since game 1 when they smothered Edmonton with the exception of a single play to Geno Lewis, they haven’t looked great. It starts up front, we have been getting all the pressure of a half inflated dollar store inner tube. Well, if they can’t pressure on this Elks’ OL then we’re in trouble. They have allowed a league high 16 sacks and now are reduced to starting Brett Boyko at right tackle on 1 week of practice. You might remember Boyko his time in Riderville when he was awful. 

Cornelius was the lucky winner of the random draw to select the starting QB in Edmonton. I fully expect them to try and get him running. Late last season (the only time Cornelius ever looked mildly competent behind centre) he was at his best when he was using his legs. He’s a lot like Daniel Jones, deceptively dangerous when he runs. Priority #1 is for the D Ends to maintain contain. Keep him in the pocket and force him to throw… he ain’t beating us with his arm. We were able to lock down the Edmonton offense when they had Lewis playing. I like our odds of keeping the pass game in check without him. Edmonton has a league high 14 turnovers. Expect that number to grow. 

Offensively, man is Trevor Harris earning his salary. He is second in pass yards per game despite having to start each week by introducing himself to the new set of receivers he will be throwing to. Expect Bane, Emilus and Jones to continue to carry the load. I also have a gut feeling that this is the type of game Mitch Picton ends up in the endzone. Normally I would be concerned that we are starting like 8th string receivers but it seems to work somehow. Its not like losing Wieneke’s production will hurt us that much based on the first 3 games. Now if it were me, I would be making Morrow/Hickson the focal point of everything. Edmonton allows 164 rush yards PER GAME. Makeshift OL + no receivers + really bad run D… let’s not overthink things. My preference would be run off of the Colin Kelly side of the line. We need Harris to just not make bad decisions. Last time we played the Elks he threw 2 picks. Lets not make life difficult on ourselves by giving them the ball. 

One area of the game that does concern me a bit is special teams. Their returner Sims is about the only positive thing happening in Edmonton this season. We can’t let him impact the game. Also, maybe Brett Lauther could use the opportunity of Retro Night to turn back the clock and not suck. At 72% he’s statistically the worst kicker so far on the season. The kicks he missed would have made our 2 wins a hell of a lot less stressful. I have faith that he can pull himself out of this funk but sooner would be preferable to later on that one. 

This is a pretty big early season opportunity. A home game against a struggling team with a chance to win the season series and take essentially a 4 game lead over them in the standings. Getting back to the playoffs starts with winning the games you should. And we should win this game, even in spite of an injury list that will soon be long enough to require its one sperate Appendix on the depth chart.

Its $5 beer before the game, so get their early and prime your vocal chords. I don’t expect a big crowd but those who are there better be loud. Let’s hope retro night means like mid 70s or 2010’s and like the early 80s or 90s. 

Riders by 7 (We will make this way more difficult and stressful than it should be).

Monday, July 3, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: How Are We Doing So Far?

Hope you enjoyed your bye week. I was lucky enough to take in Blink 182 in Edmonton. Pretty freakin’ awesome. 

The Riders enjoyed a much needed bye week. While it won’t completely erase our injury issues hopefully it will at least put a dent in things. Optimism is fairly high in Riderville after a 2-1 start. For me personally it’s a cautious optimism as we also started last season 2-1 before turning to what can now be described as “Edmonton-like” incompetence.

For today’s post I thought I’d take a look at 2 things. First, are there any signs that this year’s 2-1 start is more sustainable than last year? Second, of the new recruits where did O’Day nail it and where did he display all the accuracy of the CFL's attempt at stats in 2023. 

As to the first question, the stats through 3 games would show that we have reason for some hope offensively.

-        Offensive points are up slightly (73 compared 69 in 2022)

-        Yards are up (1171 vs. 1081)

-        Rush yards are up close to 10% (344 vs. 313)

-        Sacks allowed are way down (8 vs. 12)

So that’s good. What’s surprising and a bit concerning is that defense is trending in the opposite direction.

-        Points allowed are up (84 vs. 66) though that is somewhat skewed but the Bombers hanging 45 on us.

-        Yards allowed are up (1056 vs. 867)

-        Sacks are down (15 vs. 6)

I’m choosing to land on the side of optimism based on 2 key stats. First, penalties are way down. Last year at this time we had 35 penalties for 325 yards (keep in mind this is when we were winning). This year we have 18 for 170. Second, we have 2 divisional road wins. In 2022 we were 3-8 in our division and 3-6 on the road. I realize at this point we have to heavily discount the win that came against Edmonton but still, early season division wins are huge, especially when they come on the road. 

Now onto the question of the new recruits.

Under the category of “Nailed it” you have to start with Trevor Harris. He’s not even playing that great and is easily in the top 3 of QBs in the league at this point. Remember that at one point both Ottawa and Edmonton deemed him expendable. Are we ever bloody lucky he fell to us. I don’t really chalk this up to a win for O’Day because he didn’t really do anything. He pulled a Homer. Montreal screwed up and Harris feel into our lap. Still I am grateful to have Harris, not only for his play but you can tell he is the leader of this team. We lacked that last season. 

I will give O’Day full credit for Shawn Bane. He nailed that one. In a receiving group lacking on depth and high end talent, Bane has stepped up and established himself as a reliable playmaker. I will also give him credit for CJ Reavis. He was a late addition last year but he is stepping up big time at a time when injuries are gutting our defense. Very versatile player. Will also add Deontai Williams to the win list. Small sample size but one thing that jumps off the page with Williams is effort.  Lastly, Adam Korsak has been punting pretty damn good. So much so that even a healthy Vedvik will likely not get his starting role back automatically.

But O’Day (much like his placekicker) has had his share of misses. It starts with DL Stefan Banks who didn’t even make the team. And its not like our starting D-line is exactly lighting it up to start the season. To not even be deemed worthy of sticking around O’Day must have greatly overvalued Banks (to be fair, I thought Banks would be good too). 

Next up on the miss list is, Jake Wieneke. Now I will preface this by saying, I still want Wieneke on the the team and still think he can be a valuable contributor. But we needed a #1 receiver and were led to believe he could be the guy… he ain’t. I openly speculated before the season whether Wieneke was actually a stud in his own right of just the beneficiary of playing beside Geno Lewis. Turns out it was the latter. Wieneke is a solid #3 but he is not a #1.

Lastly on my list is Zach Fry. Yes, its early and yes he hasn’t really had a chance to play yet but that’s exactly my point. O’Day has been pumping this guy’s tires like he is the second coming of Gene Makowsky since he drafted him. Best feet he’s ever seen. But here’s the reality… he’s a practice roster OL who can’t beat out Evan Johnson (who is brutal) and Logan Bandy who is serviceable at best. At want point does Fry (who is like the only OL that made O’Day go against his staunch, no-OL drafting policy) going to actually do something for this team?

Its hasn't been perfect and it hasn't always been pretty but the 2023 season is trending in a positive direction. if we can play even .500 ball until we start getting some big names like Lenius, Schaefer and Dalke back then we might actually end up playing some meaningful football this fall.