Monday, October 30, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Next Year Territory

 I won’t lie, its really weird to have the Riders season over and the firings already starting while other teams are still playing meaningless regular season games. To be fair, the Riders were playing meaningless regular season football since Labour Day… but I digress. We are in next year country and with declining attendance and general interest in the team, this next few moves the Riders make are pretty important. They could start the process of righting the ship and restoring pride in this franchise or continue powering us towards reliving the 90s. Kids, if your only knowledge of Rider football is from the 2000s, ask your parents how bad the 90s were. Odds are at least the few of you are a result of them trying to numb the pain of a Rider loss with liquid pain reliever.

I want to start with O’Day. There is a lot of hate of out there for the guy and the decision to give him a 3 year extension. I have been vocal in my support of keeping him. He sucked in 2022 and I wouldn’t have been on board with firing him then but his job is to bring in talent and he did that in 2023. I’ve lived through years where our recruiting was hot garbage and we were finding about as much legit talent as a Regina strip club. This is not that. O’Day has his issues (mostly his complete inability or desire to draft OL) but overall the talent is there and our issues were injury (not O’Day’s fault) and bad coaching (something he can fix with this next hire. His first actual extensive head coach search as GM). As for those asking why we couldn’t just extend him 1 or 2 years? I get the thinking but you absolutely can’t do that. If we want a good head coach they will demand a 3 year deal. You can’t have a GM with less tenure than the coach he hires. Remember when we were forced by default to hire Kelly Jeffrey? That’s what happens when you don’t have long term stability at the top. You either had to fire O’Day or give him 3 more. There’s no in between.

As for the Head Coaching staff. There are 2 keys for me 1) finding a head coach who brings a winning culture and is willing to hold people to a high standard (i.e. not a softy like Dickenson) and 2) who can that person bring in as coordinators. The second point is almost as important as the first.

Here’s a list of names being thrown about and some random thoughts on them. I’m sure we will here more leading up to the end of the actual season.

Scott Milanovich – Lots of people’s #1 choice and it tough to argue that. He’s got multiple Grey Cup rings including one as a head coach. He’s got NFL pedigree. He’s the only undefeated head coach in Edmonton history. He does good work with QBs. I’m still not convinced the Ti-Cats just let him go (they brought him there for a reason). It would be interesting to see who he could bring as his coordinators.

Cory Mace – The top guy on the list who has never been a Head Coach before. He’s widely viewed as the next coordinator ready to make the jump. He comes from a winning culture in both Calgary and Toronto. He is a top tier D Coordinator. He is widely respected. Possibility he could bring Pete Costanza as his OC.

Pete Costanza – Basically the offensive version of Mace. He has multiple rings as an assistant. We tried wooing him to be the OC last season and he was smart enough to avoid this mess so he’s clearly smart. As an avid Seinfeld fan, I would love a Costanza as a coach. Possibilities are endless. 

Mark Kilam – Calgary being awful this season took a bit of the luster of his shine but Kilam has long been viewed as a future Head Coach. He’d bring solid special teams. He may even be able to bring Mark Mueller as his OC. Complete shot in the dark here but could he use his Calgary connections to get DeVone Claybrooks at DC? He’s been out of football just long enough to start looking for another coaching job.

Kent Austin – I like many, don’t just like recycling coaches but I think you need to at least consider Austin depending on what your options are. Yes he has a short shelf life before players grow tired of him and yes he’ll jump ship the second something better comes along but he produces winners in short time frames. A Grey Cup as OC with Toronto, a Grey Cup here, 2 Grey Cup appearances coaching Hamilton. He could maybe get LaPo as his OC (it was Austin who originally brought him here). 

Henry Burris – It’s almost pathetic how shamelessly Burris is trying to promote himself as a coach. I honestly would be ok with him as an assistant or even rolling the dice as a coordinator but the man has zero CFL coaching experience. His interview would just be him bragging about turning all those franchises around.

Rider Prophet – If smiling Hank won’t let a complete lack of qualifications stop him from throwing his hat in the ring, why can’t I do it too? So I’m officially letting everyone (including Jeremy O’Day) know that I’m interested. Looking at the history of coaches in this franchise, I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t crack the bottom 5 for worst ever despite having no qualifications whatsoever.

Jordan Maksymic – Has done great work with the BC offense with both Rourke and getting a career season out of Vernon Adams. He would be a fresh, new alternative. I’m somewhat leery of assuming that a good coordinator will automatically make a good HC. That kind of thinking got us into this mess.

Kelly Jeffrey – I kid. I kid. By can you imagine? The anarchist in me almost wants to see what would happen.

Khari Jones – Was part of the 2013 staff. Good offensive mind. Players love him. Was only mildly successful in Montreal though. To be fair, he was in some very trying circumstances but I’m still not convinced he’s the guy. If we could find a way to get him back as an assistant that would be nice.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Thursday Thoughts

Well I made it back from Vegas and I am neither sorry to have missed the last game, nor surprised by everything that I happened over the past week. We lost, the season is over, O’Day was retained and Dickenson was sent packing. Another year over and another disappointing ending. It’s a bit like Ground Hog’s day… except I guess this time we have the prospect of a new coach to instill some shred of hope that next year might not suck as much.

I’ll have fill thoughts on the coaching search coming up on Monday but for now here are a few random thoughts on what’s been going on.

-        The best comparison I have for Craig Dickenson is Richie Hall. High character guy, highly successful coordinator, completely unsuited for head coaching. Since his own failure as a head coach, Hall has settled nicely into being a top end coordinator and just keeps piling up rings. Dickenson may yet follow a similar path.

-        Has anyone within the organization admitted that in retrospect hiring a grossly underqualified OC who was the only candidate who didn’t turn us down was maybe a bigger issue than that should not have downplayed?

-        I really don’t get the hatred of O’Day. I was vocal in my criticism of his job last season but look at our roster and tell me he’s not bringing in talent. We needed a QB, he got Harris. Our OL sucked, he got Godber, Blake and Kelly. We needed leaders, he brought in Micah. Receivers he has Bane, Sterns, Emilus, Baker and Lenius. We have RBs. At DB, Milligan and Williams were brought in by O’Day. We keep finding DL. The Canadians he drafts are making an impact. The Globals he drafts are too. A GM’s job is to bring in talent. O’Day isn’t perfect but on the whole he’s doing his job.

-        His main issue was injuries and being too loyal to a bad head coach. If he screws up this next hire, then yes fire him.

-        Micah Johnson should have been our nominee for outstanding defensive player. With due respect to Larry Dean (who I do like as a player), his nomination is completely based on stats and many of his “stats” were tackles that came 7 yards down field.

-        Brady Olivera was the most outstanding player on the Bombers, period full stop. Anyone who think Collaros got jobbed or people just got tired of voting for him are just plain wrong. Collaros was once again very very good but Olivera was the Most Outstanding.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Vacation Time

 I'm leaving on vacation for a week. 

This was prearranged, so its only a pleasant coincidence that it will allow me to avoid the final Rider game. So there will be no pregame write up (I expect us to lose, no shock there) and no Sentimonies on Monday (they would probably be that we sucked).

I am going to drown my sorrows in punk rock, dice rolling and whatever the server is brining me while doing said dice rolling.

See you next week.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Please Make It Stop

Riders 19 – Stampeders 26

Calgary tried really hard in this one, but in the end they were just no match for the sucking powers of the Riders. I mean the Stamps did pretty much everything they could to not win that game. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more inept receiving effort. They spotted us a 13 point lead. They took a ton of penalties (in one drive they took 40 yards of penalties and we didn’t score). At family Christmas Craig will have bragging rights that definitively he sucked more this season.

It's sad because the defense actually showed up for once. They actually looked like they wanted to be there and play at a professional level (well I mean a key part of our defensive success was Calgary’s moral opposition to catching but we still shut them down). The defense was responsible for only 10 points allowed. The other 16 were not their fault. D-line looked fired up. Nick Marshall looked engaged. They were hitting hard. It wasn’t always pretty but for the first time in a long time the defense stepped up looked good. They did enough to win that game. 

Unfortunately for the defense, they not only had to overcome Calgary’s inept offense but their own inept offense. I have said many times that longterm Dolegala probably warrants keeping for further development. But right now, he is utter garbage. Road Jake is a thing and it’s a more awful form of garbage. He makes me miss Nealon Green. And I loathed Nealon Green (minus his stellar music career). His first 2 throws went straight into the tuft… when your launch point is 8 feet in the air I don’t know how you manage to throw so short. He is still fixated on short passes to outside, something that Cam Judge clearly also determined and exploited for an easy pick six. He does not seethe middle of the field. He was throwing to no one at times. He failed to throw the ball on the last play of the game. I guess he assumed getting hit for no gain was a good idea in that situation. He has not won on the road. He now has 2 passing TDs to 6 INTs on the road. Mason Fine ain’t saving our season but at this point how do you not give him some playing time? Hell I think Pipkin is a liability throwing the ball and at this point I say give him a shot. Jake don’t got it right now.

To be fair to Jake, not only does he not have it, he also doesn’t have a competent coaching staff backing him either. I don’t understand our play calling. You know its almost like our plays are being called by an unqualified shlub who only got the job by default because anyone good was qualified was smart enough to avoid stepping into this mess. Giving up a safety was a gutless call. Your defense was playing lights out at that point. Punt the ball and assume your D holds them to a FG or better. There were many times where the defense was clearly stacking the box and rather than reading that and looking for a hot route, we stubbornly opted to continue to run the run up the middle into a wall of defenders. If someone who has never played professional ball can see it while 3 ryes deep on his couch, how can the people who devote their entire careers to it not?

Alford had a rough game though in fairness to him, we block for him like he owes every other special teams player money and they are trying to teach him a lesson. Also, on the last Calgary punt I thought our coaches made a mistake (you’re shocked, I’m sure). We lined up in punt block. Nothing inherently wrong with that in that situation but ask yourself… what is more likely to lead to a TD? Attempting a block? Or setting up a return for one of the best returners in the game? We opted to fail on the block attempt and leave Alford with zero blockers. Good call. 

As many have mentioned (including some of you regular readers), Dickenson challenging pass interference on a play where his QB failed to actually pass is the epitome of his abilities as a head coach. He assured us this is a better team than last year. Well the 2023 Riders have scored less points, given up more yards and points, turned the ball over more, taken the ball away less and are on pace to not win in the second half of the season yet again. The fact that he thinks this is better, should tell you everything you need to know. 

Like most fans I just want this miserable season to be mercifully over. This has been the worst 2 consecutive years of football I can recall since the 90s. I’d willingly miss the playoff if it meant firing Dickenson 2 weeks earlier.   

Other random thoughts:

-        In 6 of our 9 road games we have failed to score 20 points.

-        Tevin Jones is a lazy player who I think should ride the pine and I’ll say it every week until it happens.

-        I want to know the story behind Meskell’s black eye.

-        Its clearly a scheme thing but routinely our safety is nowhere near the middle of the field. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue moving the safety around, but no one ever seems to fill that zone and the middle always seems wide open.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Riders vs. Stampeders: Dickenson Sucking Contest

My how this once great rivalry has changed. Back in the early 2000s Calgary/Saskatchewan was a heated affair. Tons of fans would travel. The atmosphere would be electric. Henry Burris was wearing a bra for reasons no one quite understood. It was awesome. Today the rivalry is still there but its now just fans arguing over who sucks more. “We suck more”, “No we suck more”.

Its quite the matchup. They are 2-5 at home; we are 2-6 on the road. They have the 7th ranked O; we have the 8th. They have the 6th ranked D; we don’t seem to have any interest in even fielding a D. Sadly one of these two terrible teams will make the playoffs and Friday’s game goes a long way to deciding who. Riders win and they are in. Stamps win and they are a win away from the playoffs. Personally if I’m either of these teams and I make the playoffs, I would just save the embarrassment and travel costs and forfeit.

Calgary/Jake Maier are a tough thing to figure out. The Stamps allow the 2nd least sacks. They allow the second least turnovers. Maier is 3rd in passing yards. There is no reason they should be as bad as they are. But they couldn’t find the endzone even if they were placed on the one yard line and pushed in the right direction. The only QBs who produce TDs less often than Maier are Fine, Cornelius and Dane Evans (i.e. guys not capable of holding a starting job). Maier has the lowest average depth of pass. He loves him some short stuff. He will be without he best receiver in Reggie Begelton. The good news for Maier is that the Riders D is the cure for a struggling. 

If we want a chance, we need pressure up front. Our coverage isn’t great at the best of times. Give a QB time to go through his reads and he will find the one of many open receivers. Cox is back from injury and Christmas is back on the roster. We have the depth for a strong rotation. Moncrief is sitting. While this would normally be big news, its probably for the best at this point. I feel like our D’s chances of getting out of this funk rely on Marshall picking off Maier to rejuvenate things. The way Maier plays, that’s very possible. 

Offensively the main key is to avoid Micah Awe’s blatant headshots that will once again go unsuspended by the league. Calgary has the #2 pass D but the 2nd worst run D. Let’s reward Jamal Morrow for being the only Rider that cared last game by feeding him once again. I will also repeat my calls for a couple runs by Hudon to set the physical tone. Lord knows our passing game isn’t going to help. Jake Dolegala has not been great in a while. Even worse, we get Road Jake. Road Jake is regular Jake's much crappier alter ego. On the road he has produced exactly 2 passing TDs and 5 INTs. I think his bread and butter should be crossers and seams. Our OC seems to be content with checkdowns to the outside and a deep ball that gets completed once in a blue moon. I think Baker and Bane should be the focal point of what we do. If we can get them going, we have a chance.

I expect special teams to play a role in this. Calgary has the second highest punt return average and we are about due for a breakdown in that department leading to a TD. Maybe Mario can offset it with one of his own.

Look, Calgary sucks. They have just 4 wins: Ottawa, Us, Toronto without Chad Kelly and Edmonton.  Despite our struggles this is a winnable game. But I damn sure don’t believe in us. Here’s the telling stat for me. In the last 10 games, we have held our opponents under 29 points once. Once! Over that same period we are averaging 22 points offensively. Until our defense proves they can keep us in a game, I don’t see us winning.

Stamps by a FG. Riders will make it close build up hope only to shatter it in the dying minutes of the game.


Monday, October 9, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Putting the /=S=/ in Embarrassing

Riders 13 – Ti-Cats 38

About the only thing Rider fans are thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend is that there are only 2 more regular season games left in this godawful season. On legends night, where the Riders were honouring George Reed and the 2013 team, the current Riders boldly chose to honour the Riders of the early 80s. The end result was a predictable and painful lopsided loss.

Since Labour Day of last year, Craig Dickenson’s record as a head coach is 6-17. And I don’t know if you recall some of those 6 but they weren’t exactly convincing victories. He’s in “prove it” mode in the final year of his contract and about the only thing he’s proving is that inanimate cardboard cutout of Gainer would do a better job of getting the team prepared to play. Offense couldn’t produce a point if their life depended on it. Defense looks completely and utterly lost. The players aren’t showing a shred of “give a damn” in their play. But don’t worry, I’m sure Craig will just tell us they need to try harder.

There was exactly one guy who seemed to care out there: Jamal Morrow. As a running back who attended the same college as George Reed he displayed some pride and put in a performance that I think Reed would have been proud of. He was the lone bright spot. It was a terrible play call on his TD run but he managed to make it work.

Dolegala is very much following the Dustin Crum career arc. Burst onto the scene and then quickly plateau as teams find out you’re a one trick pony. And Dolegala’s only trick is short passes to the outside. I actually think the reason our defense routinely leaves the middle of the field open is because they constantly practice against Dolegala and he wouldn’t look to the middle even if there was a giant bullseye in the middle of the field. He may yet still have long term prospects if we keep developing him but he ain’t got it right now. I know Fine may not be the answer either but at some point you gotta sit Jake back down for a bit.

I honestly don’t recall the last time our defense was this bad. Even in bad years we usually had competent D. We try running zone but it looks like no one on the team knows how to run zone or that they each running a different zone. Our coverage has more holes than a Regina road in springtime. I love Moncrief. One of my favourite players ever. I’m not sure if he’s hurt or just losing a step but we keep asking him to lock up in coverage and he can’t stay within 3 yards of his receiver. D-line couldn’t generate a push. Team struggled to tackle those rare times when they were actually in a position to do so.

This is one of the worst teams I’ve seen and sadly they still have a good shot at making the playoffs. Not because they deserve to, but because Edmonton dug a hole too deep to get out of and Dave Dickenson seems to be a competition with his brother to see who can suck the most. I hate hoping for loses and the idea that Trevor Harris could maybe deliver us an upset playoff win is enticing. But honestly, the best thing that could happen to us at this point is missing the playoffs. We have a week 21 bye and that would give us a head start on firing Dickenson and looking for his replacement.

If I was the Riders I would definitely hold off on sending out season ticket renewals until you fire the coach. At the jacked up prices I’m expecting, its going to be tough to convince even the most faithful of Rider fans to pay to endure another season of football that just isn’t enjoyable to watch.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Legends Night

It will be with heavy hearts that we head to Mosaic Stadium Saturday (and this time it won’t just be because of the on field play). Not having George Reed in house will be different. I won’t add to all the well deserved praises of Mr. Reed that have been written since he passed on Sunday but I will say this… it’s a testament to his greatness that he stopped playing years before I was born and I still feel very emotional about his passing. He was a great man in every aspect of his life.

But amid all the talk of Mr. Reed’s greatness and the greatness of the 2013 team that will be honoured, its unfortunately the not so great 2023 team that actually has to play this game. We are on a 4 game losing skid and if you exclude the final 2 minutes of games, have not played anything resembling competitive football since Labour Day. But thanks to the craptasticness of the Elks and Stamps we are still in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. Here’s the 3 ways playoffs can happen:

1 – Beat Hamilton and Toronto

2 – Beat only Calgary

3 – Lose everything but Calgary loses to BC and Winnipeg.

When we do eventually limp into the playoffs (as we likely will), I hope we do the ridiculous champagne celebration the Blue Jays did.

Defense needs to show up. They have looked downright awful of late. We do get Lanier and Williams back so that should help. To stop Hamilton you need to stop 2 people Tim White and James Butler. You do that and you have a chance. Hamilton is second last in points scored (even behind us) and they have the most turnovers. At QB it could be honestly any one of Bo, Schiltz or Powell. Of those 3 Powell scares me the most. I may eat this words later, but I would love to see them trot Bo out in Regina. He’s been awful this year. We need Lanier to lead pressure up front. With the emergence of Albright, I would love to see Micah/Lanier insider and Albright/Robertson outside. Pressure the QB (whoever it is) into mistakes. Don’t let Tim White run free in the secondary. Take turnovers when they are there and hit like you mean it. That’s our defensive recipe. 

Offensively for the love of god show up before the final minute of the game! This start with a nice drive and then take a 45 minute nap stuff is getting ridiculous. Hamilton is #6 against the run so dammit, let’s run! A lot. (Editor’s note: We won’t). Hamilton is 7th in yards allowed so we should be able to move the ball if Dolegala makes good decisions. I will reiterate my point from Monday that he needs to improve on his deep ball. He is completing just 27% of his passes over 20 yards. The only people worse than that are Fine and Bo Levi. For comparison, last year when we were all over Fajardo for the lack of success on the deep ball, he was completing 45% of those passes. I think short to medium seams and crossers are where we are most effective. Dolegala needs to stop focusing exclusively on what’s happening outside the hashmarks. Some of that is ok but too much of that will make for some easy pick 6s.

Many people are talking about an emotional boost for the team due to honouring Reed. I call BS. I think it’s definitely an emotional boost for the crowd (we better be loud as hell so Reed can hear us) but I don’t buy that the team gets a boost from this. As evidence I submit the game after Lancaster died and the final game at old Mosaic. Both highly emotional events. Both loses. Simply put if a team needs an outside emotional boost to win then they probably weren’t going to win anyway. 

I do think we play better and at least turn in a competitive performance. Hell these is even a chance we win (not just thanks to 18 simultaneous miracles) but after watching us play over the last 4 games and watching Hamilton (who by the way is still contending for a home playoff game), they are the better team at this point and until I see evidence to the contrary, we aren’t good.

Hamilton by a James Butler TD in the 4th.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: /=S=/ till /=S=/ uck

Riders 26 – Lions 33

The Riders are settling into a nice late season routine. Start slow but decent, go to complete hell with minutes remaining in the half, only start playing again when there is so little time on the clock that the comeback is nothing more than a pipe dream, score, onside kick, score, fail the second onside kick. They have now followed that script in back to back weeks. So while a cursory glance at the score might give illusion that we are a competitive team we are not. I think the most recent Grey Cup halftime announcement (which is freakin’ awesome by the way) is the perfect metaphor for the current Riders. We are living in a word of Hedley’s and half of Florida Georgia Line while the rest of the league is trotting out Green Day.

I actually thought the defense started the game pretty well. It was the first sign of life I’d seen from them in many weeks. They were holding the Lions to FGs and generally not getting stomped. Hell, they managed to stop the run. That lasted less than a half and then we were treated to a D that couldn’t cover a receiver if said receiver offered to give them a piggy back while running their route. We looked about 3 steps slower than the Lions on every play. I will say that Christian Albright looks like a keep and that at 35 years old, Micah Johnson in unquestionably our defensive MVP. Despite his age, he’s is about the only guy still giving top level effort on every play. The reality is, if you can’t keep a team under 30 points, winning is going to be tough. And we damn sure can't. 

Offensively, we were treated to road Jake. Stats will show that he threw for 400 yards but that masks a lackluster performance. Through 58 minutes of play he produced 11 points. Sure there were some good throws mixed in there and one nice drive. But on the road he displays no level of consistency. I lesser man would make a joke about his performance on the road and his DUI charge… but clearly I’m above such sophomoric, low brown attempts at humour. For all the talk of Jake’s big arm, the reality is he’s not that good at the long ball. His completion percentage on passes over 20 yards is the worst among pretty much all QBs in the league. He can launch it, but he ain’t completing it when he does. In fairness to him, one pick was completely on Tevin Jones being lazy. This is a recurring theme with Jones. He’ll make some damn impressive plays but has a tendency to check out mentally and hurt us. I’m not saying Wieneke is a saviour but if I were coaching, Jones and his inconsistency would sit and see if we can get someone who can give full effort every play in there. Speaking of full effort, Frankie Hickson runs angry and I love it. Unfortunately, Kelly Jeffery does not love it for some reason. Also love me some Bertrand-Hudon. Not saying he should be starting but I’d be trying to find a way to get him a handful of touches each game. I think I’m officially an old man now that I’m calling for a Canadian RB to get more carries. I’m this generation’s Szarka enthusiast. I’ve become everything I hate. 

The outcome surprised no one. We aren’t good enough to beat bad teams and suck on the road. There was no chance of us beating a good team on the road. Sadly, because Calgary is equally as awful and gave us a slight head start, we currently have an edge in the “try and out suck each other” contest we are in for the final playoff spot. An out-sucking competition sounds like a bad premise for a porno… its an even worse reality for a pro football team.  

At least next game, we are guaranteed to see a competent Rider football team on the field. Unfortunately it will be the 2013 team. 

Other random thoughts:

-        It made no difference in the grand scheme of things but why on earth did we not go for 2 after our first TD to tie? That seemed like just another entry in our growing encyclopedia of questionable coaching decisions.

-        That OPI on Baker was weird. Normally OPI means a push-off. KSB actually pulled the DB in closer. Regardless of the validity of the penalty, challenge with 13 seconds left in blowout is a douche bag move that should result in a kick to the nuts.