Monday, August 28, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Do We Extend?

The Riders are hoping to exit the bye will with the same excitement as when they entered. I’ll admit I feel slightly less better about the BC win after seeing what Hamilton did to them, but at this point we should just enjoy the wins when they come and not ask too many questions. It's kinda like a fast food burger... delicious, just don't starting asking about the ingredients. 

But one question the Riders need to start seriously pondering is whether or not to extend the GM and Head Coach. 

Both are on the final year of their current deals, in a “prove it” situation. A 5-5 record doesn’t exactly offer a definitive answer either way but we can’t afford to wait too much longer to make a decision. In particular, we need to make a call right away on the GM. The head coach can (and probably will) wait until the end of the season. But you can’t have a lame duck GM. Your GM needs to be planning for next year and beyond already. You can’t have a GM whose contract expires at the end of the season and expect him to do that. If your boss refused to guarantee your employment beyond 3 months from now but then told you to spend all your effort planning a big company event in 8 months, how hard are you really working on that? You need to commit to a GM. 

That brings us to the question of whether Jeremy O’Day warrants a further commitment. I may not always be a fan of everything O’Day does and I don’t think he’s the best GM in the league but I do think he earned an extension.   

His job is to bring in talent and he’s done that. #1 need coming into the season was a QB. He delivered. Hell he delivered enough depth at QB that we have won games with 3 different QBs. He brought in receivers. He built a strong defense that prominently features guys he recruited: Lanier, Robertson, Christmas, Brown, Reavis, Clark, Milligan, Williams. He’s added solid free agents to build the talent and leadership of this team: Micah, Dean, Alford. He’s even done pretty good with the Canadians he’s drafted: Schaefer-Baker, Emilus, Dalke, Dabire, Korte-Moore.

His major knock has always been his inability to build a good O-line. By no means do I think our line is great this season but I do think it’s improved. Godber and Kelly are solid additions. He tried with guys like Blake, Hawkins and Tucker but injuries got in the way. Even Council and Lofton (our 3rd and 4th string options at OT) are serviceable and way better than the trainwrecks we fielded there last year.

My only remaining knocks on O’Day at this point are his questionable belief that Evan Johnson is still good and his reluctance to make drafting OL a priority. He kept telling us that Fry would be this immensely talented player… he has yet to even beat out Bandy for the 6th OL job.  

Overall when we look at what’s holding this team back at this point, its injuries and coaching… not a lack of talent. So while he’s far from perfect, I support extending O’Day as GM. We could do a lot worse. If it was me running the team I would have had the deal done and signed off weeks ago. My guess is that they have verbally agreed behind the scenes but for optics sake, are waiting until the end of the season to make it official.   

As for Dickenson, he’s got 8 games plus playoffs left to make his case. I would not extend him if I had to make a decision today. You could argue that a 5-5 record when you look at the injuries we’ve been through on offense, is pretty good. And it is. But my knock on Dickenson continues to his ongoing and repeated coaching errors. He’s one of the worst time clock managers I’ve seen and in his fourth season of coaching still seems to be baffled at how to effectively use timeouts. He kicks when he should gamble. He gambles when he should kick. No sure how much latitude he has given rookie OC Kelly Jeffries but there have been some bad play calls there at key times.  Special Teams (his calling in life) goes through a yearly midseason downturn for reason. Injuries (especially at QB) are a big factor on the season but in a lot of games coaching decisions made things harder for us, not easier. 

Now, if I start seeing the intensity we saw in the BM game for frequency down the stretch then I think Dickenson has a chance to save his job. But currently he’s about as much of a sure thing as our short yardage plays this season.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Punching Back

Riders 34 – Lion 29

That was quite the rollercoaster Sunday night. I walked in fully expecting a loss and in true Rider fashion I damn near almost managed to leave disappointed. They were the better team for 3 quarters and then tried really hard to lose the game in the 4th. But dammit if they didn’t manage to hold on and escape with a massive upset victory over the visiting Lions!

I saw what I needed to see most of all in that game. We punched back. After getting as embarrassed as you can get with your pants on in Montreal, it was a big test to see how the team would respond and how prepared Dickenson would have them. They stepped up and showed some pride. Defense was fired up. Special team was maybe even more fired up and played one of their best games of the season. It would have been easy to mail it in and deliver a widely expected loss and be in a rush to get to the bye week. But despite being massive underdogs, the Riders played one of their best games of the year, not backing down from one of the top tier teams in the league.

I will eat a bit of crow. Ever since Fine went down I have been very negative towards Dolegala. Legit expected him to be as brutal as he looked in Montreal. I was wrong. He’s not exactly ready to vie for MOP anytime soon but he played a pretty good game… and with this defense, pretty good is all we need to have a chance. He had his share of errors. I was convinced that Emilus TD was guaranteed INT until Emilus swooped in at the last second. He was almost useless in the second half. He made some questionable throws. HE took a time count penalty at the worst possible time. But he didn’t turn the ball over. He made some damn nice throws and he found ways to produce TDs. Sure a couple of them were gifts from the defense in terms of field position but we have spent all season finding ways not to get TDs. He produced 4 TDs against the best defense in the CFL. Props where props are due. I thought the O-line joined in with the theme of playing angry. They were far from perfect but generally gave Dolegala the time he needed and we even had some semblance of a run game against a very good run D. O was a true team effort with pretty much everyone making a play at some point. How nice was it to see the game open with a Baker TD? BC allows an average of 16 points per game. We more than doubled that. Again, it’s a good thing I’m not a big bettor because I would have lost a lot of money on this game.

We could focus on how they tried really hard to lose the game in the end but I will choose to focus on one hell of a game by the D. BC is a good team and they did more than just hang with them, they dominated. 5 sacks, 2 turnovers, no run game to speak of. We needed a bounce back game from this unit and they delivered. Yeah BC mounted a comeback and threw for over 450 yards but they are a damn good team full of playmakers. Better teams than us have struggled to contain them. I could have done without the late game drama but credit where credit it due they made plays. They set the tone early by forcing a turnover on the first drive. BC never fully recovered from that and had to chase all game.

Special teams stepped up too. Our return game is still AWOL but the coverage team was on lockdown. They forced a turnover and how about that hit from Brunson?!? They were fired up and for once decided not to be a liability.

That was an impressive and much needed win. I‘m not going to play revisionist history, I did not think we had a chance in this one. Riders proved me wrong. They now head into the bye week on a high note. Labour Day is on the horizon and heading into that with positive momentum is a welcome turn of events.

Other random thoughts:

-        Same Emilus is a damn good receiver. Credit to O’Day. I questioned prioritizing drafting a WR and Emilus is showing exactly the skills that led O’Day to make that move.

-        How great was it to have the script flipped and have us succeeding on short yardage and the other team struggling?

-        There should be a penalty equivalent to diving for a challenge to is clearly a fishing expedition.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Riders vs. BC: Beatdown Coming

 Before we get to the actual game, I want to take a moment and acknowledge that Sunday is Junior Rider cheerleader day. This allows us to commemorate one of the greatest moments at Old Mosaic. The year was 2006. The Riders were playing the Argos. Ricky Williams (while serving his NFL suspension and playing the CFL) broke his arm in that game and literally just walked himself straight to the hospital, gear and all and that wasn’t even the craziest part of the game. Just before halftime, Scott Schultz broke free and unloaded on Spergon Wynn. Wynn’s helmet went flying and he was out. Well it just so happened that was junior cheerleader day at halftime and rather than cancel on the poor girls, they had them awkwardly dance around an ambulance and the lifeless corpse of Wynn. So every junior cheer day allows us to honour the great heritage moment.

I intentionally started with that happy memory because most of what will follow will not exactly brighten your day. 

I don’t know how much effort you want me to put into breaking down this game. In one corner is a 7-2 team who has only lost to the best team in each division. In the other corner is a team that is down to their 3rd string QB and even on their 1st and 2nd QB could only beat teams with losing records… and even those wins were by margins so thin they have been offered a modelling contract. If this is an old fashioned western gun duel, the Riders are showing up with a picture of a gun on a napkin. 

This province thrives on false hope, so let me do my provincial duty and analyze what succession of miracles will be required to emerge victorious.

BC has only lost to Toronto and Winnipeg. No other team has come close. We actually came the closest of any other team by only losing by 10 points.  In that game we did hold BC to 19 points, which was their lowest point total other than that game where Winnipeg whooped em. But if you recall, Vernon Adams played only briefly before being injured and letting Dane Evans take over. Although there may be something in life Dane Evans is better at than others (parcheesi maybe?), football is not one of them. Barring crippling VA a second time, we won’t be seeing Mr. Evans in any meaningful portion of the game and that doesn't bode well for us.

Defense is literally our only hope in this. They need a bounce back game after showing all the aggression and physicality of a ragdoll kitten in Montreal. I do expect the front 4 to have a solid game. They looked really good the last time we played BC, notching 5 sacks. We need some turnovers. For all VA’s strengths he still throws INTs. To be fair 6 of his 9 came in one game but still he is prone to the odd mistake and we need to force a couple of those. He also has 9 TDs on deep passes so we can’t give up the big play. Make him earn each drive and hope the pass rush gets to him or he makes a mistake eventually. BC is #2 in passing yards but #8 in rushing. While we can get lazy and let the run become a factor, passing is BC’s bread and butter. 

Offensively, I suggest praying to your deity of choice. A full week of prepping as the starter should help Dolegala. But here’s the thing, he is clearly our 3rd best QB. He gets to face the #1 defense in the CFL. They allow 16 offensive points per game (I’d bet the Riders on the under on that number). Our second best QB mustered absolutely nothing against this defense. Do we really think our 3rd best QB is just going to suddenly turn into the second coming of Rocky Butler in this particular game?

BC has the #2 run D but we still gotta find some way to get at least the semblance of a run game going. If we let Dolegala drop back and attempt 50 passes behind our line, Betts maybe break the single season sack record by the 3rd quarter. Lets get the ball out quickly with some slants or timing outs. Get Dolegala in a rhythm and slow down the pass rush. I fear we will instead try poorly blocked WR screens and sideways runs. At lot will rely on Dolegala though. Coaches could come up with the best game plan ever (at least hypothetically) and its all for naught if your QB’s reads lead him to throw into double coverage or just plain overthrow guys. I hope I’m wrong about it but I am honestly not feeling great about his chances. Baker may make his season debut in this one, which would obviously be a boost. But with a bye week looming, they may take the cautious approach and give him one more week. 

You gotta win a minimum of 2 phases to win the game. Our D has a shot. Our O does not. That leaves special teams as the deciding factor if we want a shocking upset win. Given that we are the worst in the league at covering punts (despite a phenomenal punter) and our return game has fizzled to next to nothing in recent weeks that doesn’t bode well for us. But this is a unit that can be good when they want to. So let’s see it.

Much like Spergon Wynn I see us being plastered to the Mosaic tuft in this one. D will probably do what they always do and keep us in a game we have no business being in for 2-3 quarters but waiting for our O to provide scoring support is like waiting for a deadbeat dad to comeback from the store with cigarettes. 

BC by 17.

No go back and rewatch the Schultz hit. It’ll cheer you up.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Oh No, We Suck Again!

Riders 12 – Alouettes 41

To be fair I did advise you not to be on the Riders. I’m a little rusty on my French but I’m pretty sure that’s what the locals would refer to as Le Embarrassment or Le Ass Kicking. I guess I should know better than believe in blind hope and just accept that when it comes to playing in Montreal on a short week, the Riders have about as much chance of winning as Johnny Manziel has of doing film study.

This one doesn’t require a lot of analysis. We weren’t good enough. They were ready to play despite missing 3 of their best players. We were not. While the short week was definitely a factor, its not an excuse. Here’s the crazy thing. The Also took a too many men penalty on the first offensive play of the game! Then a no end penalty 3 plays later. And somehow we were less ready to play then them.

Defense looked gassed. They started slow but I thought started to settle in ok… not great but ok enough to hang in the game. But eventually the repeated failings of our offense took what little life there was out of our defense. Maas called a very good game plan for Caleb Evans… let him do as little as possible. Lots of runs and short passes that we struggled to slow down and the occasional shot, like the one to Mack. Defense did their best (well ok, not their best but they gave it the old college try) to keep it close in the first. The second half they just had nothing. This game yet again proved what a frustrating player Amari Henderson is. He had a nice tackle for a loss and an INT. But he then proceeded to screw up on the INT. I don’t mind him looking to see if there was a return lane but there damn sure wasn’t and he kinda waivered on whether to run it out or go down. He should have gone down. Running it out to the 5 was dumb. That play was like a microcosm of his career. Some really great stuff and some really not great stuff. 

I hope everyone who has been calling for Jake Dolegala shuts up for a bit. This coaching staff has its share of bad decisions but they damn sure knew what they were doing when they determined Fine was our best chance to win. The second Fine tweaked his hammy, any remote chance we had of winning disappeared. Dolegala seems to excel at 3 passes. Deep into double coverage because he makes no attempt to look the safety off. Deep about 10 yards further than our receiver. And crossers that he throws just behind the receiver rather than hitting them in stride. It was not good. He has now managed to give up TDs in back to back weeks because he can’t hang onto the football. He had a pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage. He’s literally taller than anyone on the field, there should be a remote chance of that. Yes he may improve with more reps as Fine has. But I will tell you he is starting well behind were Fine did. I really hope whatever Fine did was minor. The problem is with a bye week on the horizon, unless Fine is 100% you probably rest him one more to make sure he’s healthy for the back half of the season. This was a barely good enough offense with Harris. This was a mostly not good enough offense with Fine. If you think it will suddenly get better with Dolegala go back and subject yourself to rewatching the game. (Edit: Clearly trading for Pipkin shows that Fine will not be playing soon. Backup punter for a QB with CFL experience is a good deal. But I remain steadfast in my belief that Pipkin is not good... as evidenced by the fact that he is only worth a backup global punter.)

If short yardage is our achilles heel, 2nd and 2 is not far behind it. We consistently call the worst plays in that situation. When we need two yards we seem to love to call sideways runs, slow developing shotgun runs, or screen passes to wide receivers. All of this have the ball going backwards or sideways. Not forwards. Why? What about a hook, or a timing out or a short slant. Something to actually move the ball in the direction of a first down.

I noticed that when we ran, we consistently ran Morrow a bit sideways to the right either going between the guard and tackle or tackle and extra blocker. Clearly Jeffrey saw something on film he wanted to exploit. Problem is, we went to the well too many times and Noel Thorpe pretty easily figured it out. When we finally changed things up and ran Morrow up the middle he got a decent gain.

Speaking of things I noticed schematically. Is it just me, or have we changed our return game? It really seems like Alford is trying to follow the wedge straight up the middle as a point of emphasis. It seems a change from his normal approach to roll left or right waiting for a block or a lane to develop. I don’t think Alford’s strength is trying to bust one through a crowd. Would it not make more sense to design return schemes that play to his strength?

It was a rough game to watch. I do think the short week played a factor or our defense. But coaches get paid to have the team ready to play and we were so not ready that Jason Maas and Caleb Evans made fools of us. That’s like having a toddler beat you in 90s trivia. Our next 3 games are against the 2 best teams in the West. Might want to stock up on your preferred mind-numbing agent.

Other random thoughts:

-        I like Betrand-Hudon. He has no jukes, no spins. When he gets the ball he runs hard in a straight line forward. The few times he’s go the ball offensively or in the return game he’s done pretty well.

-        Evan Johnson still sucks. I'm sure you are well aware of that but just felt the need to state the obvious.

-        I still think that was PI on Bane. I would agree that most camera angles did not show enough clear evidence to overturn but the one angle seemed to clearly show his arm and body being twisted back. Usually when you see tugs like that its PI. Then again it is also a moving target from week to week.

-        First play of the game our struggling kick coverage made an appearance. Can we fix that? We have a top tier punter but are wasting his talent most kicks because we can’t bring the returner down.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Riders vs. Alouettes: Le Fajardo

Friday the Riders are in Montreal to face the 4-3 Alouettes. Leading the Als are two men that the Riders were all too happy to see punted and the end of last season. And while Maas and Fajardo are both saying the right things publicly (its just another game), if you don’t think both desperately want to stick it to their former team then you probably also believe that Al Bradbury was the best referee ever. 

Look here’s the thing about Fajardo: He’s a good QB. Not a great one but a good one (think like the CFL’s Kirk Cousins). He did well here in Sask at first and I know he gave everything had to this team on and off the field. Much respect for the guy. Remember the good time when we all sang "Fajardo!" like Jay Onrait told us to? But I also am praying I will get to see him spin left right into a perfectly timed Moncrief blitz.

As always we start with the defense because any hope of winning relies on them leading the way. They have been playing some great football over the last 3 games and that will need to continue in Montreal. Honestly playing Fajardo is a lot like playing an improved version of Dustin Crum. The key is not letting him get the edge. Ends really need to focus on contain. Cody for all his strengths still does not like stepping up into the pocket if the edges get pressure he will do pretty much anything but step up into the pocket. His favourite options include: getting sacked, turtling and spinning left to avoid pressure. No QB has been sacked more than Fajardo this season but I’m sure that’s merely coincidence and has nothing do to with Maas' play calling or Fajardo being probably the most difficult QB to effectively block for.  

Fajardo is a game time decision but let’s be real… he’s playing. He gutted through a lot of stuff here (some of which he shouldn’t have), he’s not missing this game. Stanback is missing which is important. Unsurprisingly Maas is 3rd last in running attempts but over the last couple game he has been leaning on Stanback more and more. Walter Fletcher is a good back but he’s not Stanback. Want a fun stat… the Alouettes have scored 2 less TDs than the Riders this year. We are all over Fine because only 8% of his drives lead to TDs but right behind him is Fajardo at 10%. They are an OK offense that can make some plays. Mack is a hell of a receiver and I expect Philpot to be more involved as he gets back to 100% following injury. But they are a middle of the pack defense and the only thing that concerns me is not our defense's ability to hold them in check (they most definitely can) but the impact of a short week. This D’s worst performance was on a short week against Winnipeg in Week 2. Now in fairness the Bombers/Collaros are a wee bit better O than the Als. For all his struggles last year with the deep ball, the Als are 2nd in the league in 30+ yard passing plays. Turns out you can throw deep better when your knee is not crippled. Who knew? 

I will say this I guarantee that in this game Nick Marshall is jumping a WR screen. It’ll either be returned for 6 or they’ll pump him and score 6. There is no in between.   

Offensively, Fine needs to continue improving. The Als are a better defense than the RedBlacks but not as good as the Lions or Argos. They are 3rd in points allowed but 5th in yards allowed. That honestly matches perfectly with Fine’s skillset, all the yards, none of the points. I kid... kinda. Als are dead last in sacks allowed and Almondo Sewell will not play. They did add Lemon who is already having an impact so expect the sack numbers to climb. With Sewell out of the middle we should try to run. Odds are we will continue to suck at it because the line gets no push but some semblance of a run game will help our young QB. Priority for Fine is protect the ball. Without turnovers we would have stomped Ottawa. We aren’t exactly the kind of O that can put up enough points to cover up for errors. Gotta find ways to keep getting Bane the ball as he’s clearly our playmaker. But Fine can read the field (if the line gives him time) so spreading it around is important. I don’t want to see him emulate Fajardo but I do think there are about 2-3 more times per game he could make plays with his legs.

I’m a bit torn on what I think will happen. On one hand it’s a short week and we tend to suck in Montreal (it was a 37-13 loss last trip there). On the other hand I don’t think Montreal is any better than we are. Their 4 wins have come against Ottawa, Hamilton x2 and Calgary… all teams with losing records. This is a pretty even match-up. The only place the Als had an advantage was maybe at QB but if Fajardo’s nicked up then its an even playing field.

If I’m a betting man, my money is a on us running out of gas on a short week and losing. But my gut is telling me that Jason Shivers is very much up to the task out game planning for Maas and Fajardo. Lots of hitch screens, no running after the 1st quarter, and always spinning left when in doubt. 

D-line steps up and wins the day.

Riders by a Morrow TD.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Fine > Crum

Riders 26 – RedBlacks 24

The final words of my pre-game post were as follows:

By some miracle I see us escaping with an ugly, ugly win.

Riders by a Lauther FG.

Much like sex panther, 60% of the time I’m right, every time.

That game left me with two equal, but opposing feelings. On one hand, we deserved to win that game because we were consistently the better team. We outplayed Ottawa. On the other hand, we deserved to lose that game since, despite being the better team we repeatedly make very dumb mistakes as if we were actively trying to lose. If you take away 4 plays. That game was total domination Riders.  But you add those 4 plays in and the game quickly became about as ugly as the offspring love child of two ugly carnies.

At this point the rest of the team should be carrying the defense everywhere they go. Locker room, supper, bathroom, anywhere they want. Because on the field, all the defense has been doing for 3 weeks is carrying the rest of the team. What a performance yet again, led by Lanier! They made Dustin Crum look like exactly what he is, an unseasoned rookie. Most impressive for me was the fact that we held him to 21 rush yards. You could tell we were consciously pass rushing not for sacks, but to keep him in the pocket. But between the coverage holding up on the backend and our D-line being ferocious, we got sacks anyway. The D allowed just 8 first half points and did not allow a TD. Were it not for the offense's repeated efforts to keep Ottawa in this game, would have smothered them completely. I said it pre-game, Crum can’t read coverage and panics when he can’t run. Shivers exploited that perfectly. Man was Moncrief amped up for this one. The timing on some of his blitzes were so perfect I was worried he jumped offside. 

Let’s start with the good on offense. I mean we did win so we can dwell on the good stuff. Fine still has his issues and needs to improve but the one thing I see from him is that he reads a defense. He is not a one read and panic guy (as so many young QBs are). I guarantee there were exactly zero plays where Sterns was the primary read but he found him 7 times because he went threw his progressions and found open man. What a debut by Sterns by the way. He displayed a great sense of when to sit down in a zone, read the blitz well and fought for extra yards. But back to Fine. He looked pretty good. That TD pass to Bane was picture perfect touch on the ball. He also made a lot better decisions when facing pressure from the D-line than he made in the previous 2 games. He started using his legs a bit more which certainly helped. Hell the dude even pitched in with some receiving yards. I don’t agree with a lot of the decisions Dickenson makes but being patient and letting Fine develop is one that appears to be a good one. Other positives were Emilus making a beautiful high point grab, Wieneke making a couple tough grabs over the middle and even Morrow doing pretty good for facing the #1 run D in the CFL. Too many drives are stalling once we get to midfield but there are signs that we are improving. 

Really our only achilles heel appears to be short yardage. In a league where we are granted 1 yard of free space and line up a QB whose arms are 3 feet long, we cannot get 6 inches if our life depended on it. Its embarrassing. I have more faith in the structural integrity of the midway rides than I do in our short yardage. Its not even enough that we are routinely stuffed. We’ve upped our game and have added somehow giving up TDs to our list of accomplishments. I haven’t seen short yardage this bad since Brandon Bridge. We fixed that issue with Nick Marshall and honest to god at this point I think we need to consider that again. Not sure even he can compensate for the zero push our line gets but we need to try something. Its been an issue all season. 

Special teams continues to be a concern. Lauther seems to have worked through his issues and is back to being rock solid. I would trust him more with a 54 yarder with the game on the line than a 30 yarder in the second quarter but I digress. Korsac is an insanely talented punter. I have not seen a rookie with this good of ball placement in a long time. Outside of those 2 though… yikes. Blocking appears to be a foreign concept on returns. I know Alford is amazing playmaker but I’m sure a block or two would be appreciated every now and then. And coverage… Korsac consistently punts the ball exactly where it needs to be along the sidelines and 2-3 times per game we fail to tackle the returner in what should be a routine stop. Every year under Dickenson we seem to go through this midseason special teams slump.

In the end what I saw Sunday was a defense that continues to play at a very high level and an offense that is progressing. They still have issues and are far from being able to hang with the top offenses in the league but they are at least trending in the right direction bit by bit. A better team than Ottawa likely makes us pay for the many mistakes we made but the Riders absolutely needed a win and they found a way to get one. That's all you can ask for.

Other random thoughts:

-        Starting to notice AJ Allen more and more as time goes by. He’s turning into a solid depth player that can make the odd play when called upon.

-        What in the world was Betrand-Hudon thinking when he jumped in front of Alford to field that kick? I can appreciate his excitement at the opportunity to finally contribute but maybe let the reigning Special Teams player of the year handle that one when you almost have to push him out of the way to get the ball.

-        We scored on the first drive of both halves. Can’t even imagine the last time we did that.

-        Tevin Jones looked mentally checked out. Just did not appear to have his head in the game.

-        The sheep escaping and running all over the field was the best halftime show I’ve seen in literally 2 years at Mosaic. Was hoping for a scenario where both teams had to jointly try and coral a bunch of wayward sheep before the game could continue.


Friday, August 4, 2023

Riders vs. RedBlacks: If Not Now Then When?

Sunday Mosaic will play host to a battle of 3-4 teams looking to rebound from losses. As far as early season games against eastern opponents go, this one is pretty darn big for the Riders. We are on a 0-3 skid where touchdowns have been harder to come by “I Love Trudeau” stickers on the prairies. We need a win and if we can’t manage to score points on Ottawa then buckle up because a short week road trip to Montreal followed by BC and back to back with Winnipeg could quickly turn our losing skid into a giant chasm that will be hard to dig ourselves out of.

Fine vs. Dolegala has been all the talk in Riderville this week. Dolegala joins a long and proud tradition of back-up QBs that the fans fall in love with based on minimal evidence. If you are a back-up QB in Saskatchewan who the fans didn’t love then it’s a sign you should probably just retire. Fine will start and I agree with the call. Simply put, behind that O-line, with that play calling and errors being made by WRs and RBs, I don’t think Dolegala does any better over the past 3 games. So I am on Team Fine. Dude just played the #1 and #2 defense in the league in his past 2 games. Let’s see what he can do against an average defense. That said, he has until half to prove he can produce or Dolegala has to finish the game. Ottawa has allowed almost has many TDs and BC and Toronto combined (editor’s note: I wrote this before Winnipeg obliterated BC). If Fine’s play isn’t noticeably better against this D, then it’s time to worry.

Fine is quite the perplexing player. If you looked only at yardage and completion rate, you’d assume he’s some kind of prodigy. But if you look at how many points that has translated into you’d assume he’s some kind of mannequin. We have the top 2 receivers and 3 of the top 13 but yet we can’t buy a point. We need some F’N points and we need them early. Over the last 5 games we are averaging 3.8 first half points. Pretty sure we could beat that by just telling Adam Korsac to impersonate Jon Ryan. I’d say getting Morrow/Hickson and the run game going would help but a) we suck at running blocking and running in general and b) Ottawa has the #1 run D. Not the position I’d like to be in but Fine is going have to pass us to victory. I would like to see Fine use his legs a bit more. I appreciate his commitment to keeping his eyes downfield but the odd time I felt he would have been better off to run. He also looks pretty effective when rolling out. And the way our OL has been playing, moving his launch point occasionally would be helpful. As of writing this Brandon Dandridge is questionable which would be a huge loss for Ottawa. Dude is a stud. Ottawa has allowed the most passing plays over 30 yards so we can’t afraid to push the ball deep. But As Bo Levi so nicely demonstrated, if you suck at throwing that D can make you pay. They are #2 in defensive takeaways. Some competent play calling would help. Let’s not run and 2nd and long. Let’s avoid very scripted backwards passes. You know, the basics. I’m betting Fine throws at least one INT in this but I’m going to give a risky prediction and say that he offsets that with not 1 but 2 offensive TDs. One before halftime.

Defensively this post would have been very different if written a week ago. A week ago, Dustin Crum was a rising star who you could not hold back from marching his team to victory. Then Hamilton came along with the benefit of game film and made him look downright useless. Turns out (and please sit down while reading this as it’s a shocker) when you limit his ability to run and force him to read coverage he looks like a rookie. Hamilton played him perfectly, rush 3 or 4 with an LB spy and drop everyone else into coverage. Like many rookies when his first look isn’t there he panics and when he can’t run his way out of trouble he freezes. This is a team with 3 total passing TDs and averaging a league low 5.8 yards per play. Even Mason Fine finds that pathetic.

They are the #1 rushing O (though a third of that comes from the QB) and #9 passing O. Priority #1 is keep Crum in the pocket. Not only will that force him to throw but odds are good he will take a sack. He has been sacked 21 times and the dude started the season on the practice roster. Only the Riders allow more sacks. D-line needs to have another big game. Ottawa’s receivers get a boost with the return of Addison and Tevaughn Smith. Behar is THE guy Crum looks for when he absolutely needs a play. Here’s hoping some opportunistic DB uses that tendency to get a pick (and equally hoping some astute OC doesn’t use that info to pump fake him into a TD).

In the last 2 weeks this defense has come alive. We held BC (the #3 ranked offense) to 19 points and we held Toronto (the #1 offense by a wide margin) to 17 offensive points. Let’s just say I like their odds against an offense that averages under 20 points per game.

No surprise but Bob Dyce has very solid special teams at his disposal. I mean, we also have a Special Teams Coordinator as a Head Coach yet are struggling but I feel like that happens once a season. I can’t actually research that, not because CFL stats suck, but because I’m lazy. But it seems that every year there is a brief mid-season period where our special teams go to hell briefly for some reason. Be a good time to fix that.

We need this one bad. I have full faith in our defense to keep Ottawa under 20 points. I’m relying on blind faith as a reason to hope our O can inch across that 20 point barrier. Ottawa is a weird team to figure out. If you exclude that impressive win against Winnipeg (which I still don’t understand) their only other 2 wins have come against teams with a combined record of 2 and 13. (Never mind that our wins have also only come against teams with a combined record of 2 and 13). They could not beat a really bad Hamilton team despite getting 5 picks. But Bob Dyce has them believing in themselves. They never give up and every game seems to come down to the last play. Unfortunately for my heart I expect no different on Sunday.

By some miracle I see us escaping with an ugly, ugly win.

Riders by a Lauther FG.