Monday, June 17, 2024

Monday Morning Senitmonies: Chaos

Riders 33 – Ti-Cats 30

Just as everyone expected, the Riders became the only remaining undefeated team remaining in the West after another comeback win. After the game I had a buddy ask me “what even is this team?” My answer was “Chaos”. There’s good, there’s bad, there's elation, there's swearing, but its never boring. 

For the second week in a row we used the patent pending Cory Mace method to win. That being: score a 1st quarter TD and then immediately quit being useful for a large chunk of the game on both sides of the ball, fail to do any kind of run blocking, fail to generate any kind of pass rush, commit more penalties than you can fathom, get to the point where pretty much everyone has given up hope and then claw your way back to an improbable victory. Definitely not a sustainable formula for success but at this point, no one is complaining about style points. Keep the wins coming no matter how. 

Its only 2 games in and I expect defenses to start adjusting as more and more film becomes available but I am liking Marc Mueller as an OC. You can tell he is scheming his receivers open. He is making adjustments when something is not working. And him and Harris seem to be in synch. Our passing attack is legit dangerous. If we could ever get any semblance of a run game going, look out. But the lack of rushing yards is not on Mueller or on Ouelette. Our O-line just plain sucks at run blocking. Its weird because they are pretty good at pass blocking and usually that is the more difficult aspect of their job. I at least like that Mueller found a way to keep Ouelette involved in the pass game this week. He’s too important not to keep involved somehow. Hopefully Sterns and Bane are not out for long. They are both impact receivers in this offense. Nice to see Baker step up and own the day (like a certain robbed prognosticator predicted). Emilus was fighting the ball today but Ajou made the most of his first reps.

Defensively it was painfully obvious to everyone (especially the Ti-Cats) that we rushed Sayles onto the roster. He was an absolute liability out there. He looked like a guy on just over a week’s practice… because he was. He had no business being on that field. D-line did the exact same thing as last week… that being next to nothing until the very end when they started making some impactful plays. We are very good against the run but the D-line can’t seem to generate any pressure even when we blitz. It’s kinda like when Scott Gordon used to safety blitz… people are running in the direction of the QB but can’t get within the same area code. Cox has some issues maintaining contain (a younger less mature Prophet would have no doubt made some sort of crude joke about not containing a black Cox… but I’m clearly above such low brow comedy now). On the positive side, Rolan Milligan is a tackling machine. Whether its on defense or on teams he sheds blocks and consistently delivers sound, impactful hits. 

Overall, chaos remain my word to describe this team. I hate that we go to sleep in the 2nd quarter. I hate that we can’t stop taking dumb penalties. I hate that we can’t run the ball. But I love that we are so resilient that we find ways to win in spite of all of that. Defense seems to show up and make plays when needed despite being inconsistent and full of issues. Offense delivers points when we need it. There is a level of confidence in Harris and co’s ability to deliver. An amazing 60% of all points we have scored this season have come in the fourth quarter.  But at some point teams are going to stop making the key errors (like whatever Tim White did to pop that INT up) that keep us in these games.

But this week was not that week. We won. We overcame a lot. We should be ecstatic at being 2 and 0 at this point.

Other random thoughts:

-        It was technically the correct call but its still stupid. Common sense says Reavis recovered that fumble.

-        Sterns a tough bugger to hang onto that catch while his leg was bending ways it shouldn’t. Was surprised he walked off so hopefully it looked worse than it was.

-        Feel bad for Blake. Injuries seem to be following him like a black cloud.

-        Don’t want to jinx it but for all the preseason Lauther doubters, he seems to be doing just fine so far.

-        I feel for Hamilton because Bo Levi Mitchell in the last 2 games has played his best football in the past 3 years and they can’t manage to win even with that. When his body inevitably starts breaking down again in a couple games they will regret wasting this narrow window of health and usefulness.

-        Seriously, Marcus Sayles was awful.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Riders vs. Ti-Cats: Going for 2

I am loving this early season tradition the CFL year has started with. If every week could start with Winnipeg losing on Thursday that would be fine with me. It really just starts things out on such a positive note. 

Saturday the Riders look to continue doing the opposite of the Bombers. They will need to be better, Hamilton may not be Grey Cup favourite at this point but it’ll probably take more than a furious 4th quarter to win a second straight road game. Its still so early in the season that its hard to get a handle on teams. Is Hamilton only slightly not as good as a good Calgary team? Or is Calgary only slightly less crappy than a crappy Hamilton team? Are we good or just not a crappy as the Elks?  Lots left to be sorted out. 

Two things need to happen in this game if we want to win and they both start in the trenches. D-line needs to make an impact and O-line needs to find a way to open a least a couple holes for Ouelette in the run game. Win the trenches, win the game. 

Taking a deeper dive at out offense, I do like our chances of a run game better in this one. Hamilton has an OK D-line but a very green group of linebackers. That should be something we can exploit either with the run or short passing game. Jamal Peters (Hamilton’s best DB) did not dress for game 1 and they missed him. He has a chance to play in this once which would make Harris’ life harder. But otherwise this is not a secondary that should scare us. Hamilton allowed an 80% completion rate in game 1 and their leading tackler was their cornerback that is a sign someone is being picked on. Obviously the league is on notice that Bane is an impact player and we need to continue to lean on him but I expect someone else to have a big game. Possibly Schaefer-Baker. I expect Sterns to continue to play a big role (maybe not yardage-wise, but as a move the chains guy). Hamilton allowed over 30 points in game one. If we can play an even 4 quarters (and not just go to sleep for half the game) we should come close to that. 

Defensively this will be a big test for the D-line. Figueroa and Murray are supposed to be their stating tackles but are currently on the 6-game IR. You can pass off week 1 as an off-week for the D-line but if they can’t make an impact in this one then I will start to get concerned. The key to slowing the Ti-Cat offense is limiting James Butler. They lean heavy on him. Tim White was dropping balls like he was hitting puberty in game 1. I don’t expect that to happen again. Fortunately White’s production is tied heavily to the performance of Bo Levi Mitchell. Bo didn’t look great in game 1, though he did rally late to make it look more respectable. But I don’t expect his performance to improve as the wear and tear of the season starts to pile up. D-line needs to get in his face and make his life miserable. Quirky week 1 stat… Bo was the 2nd worst QB at the deep ball… only Zach Collaros was worse (what a world). I have Milligan getting a pick and good odds on a second one… unless Bo just continues to sail his passes.

It goes without saying that our discipline needs to be better. An ejection and 4 fines is probably not going to endear the team to Coach Mace. Though you could have given 40 tries to guess the first Rider to get ejected this season and I would not have guessed Ferland. Hopefully its just an aberration. 

Hamilton is not likely to implode and hand us the game, so we are going to need to find a new way to win this one. But on paper, there aren’t many positions I can point to where we aren’t as good or better than the Cats. If we can get the run game going and have the D-line make an impact we should be able to grind out a win. I still expect us to find some way to make it far more difficult than it needs to be. 

Riders by a Schaefer-Baker TD

Monday, June 10, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Not Pretty But Good Enough

Riders 29 – Elks 21

It was:

-        Shabbier than a hobo’s coat.

-        Uglier than the south end of a northbound mule

-        As pleasant as the laundry hamper of an O-lineman after a summer game

Take your pick. That was an ugly game that probably would have fit better as a 3rd preseason game. But ugly or not the Riders found a way to win. That is definitely not a sustainable way for Cory Mace and his team to win. But on Saturday it was just enough. 

But oh man did they try hard to lose it.

The first couple drives were a little shaky on both sides but then at the 5:38 marker of the 1st Q Harris hit Bane on a beautiful TD and it looked like we were settling into a rhythm. We were not. What ensued over the rest of that quarter and all of the 2nd and 3rd quarter was essentially the Riders playing “find every way possible to blow a game” Bingo. Turnovers, dropped passes, missed tackles, no pressure from the D-line and penalties in all shapes and sizes. Regular penalties, ones that took return TDs off the board, dead ball fouls, ones that resulted in injections. We just crumbled and I was left contemplating how much money I would need to spend on rye to make the rest of the season bearable. 

But while the fans may have given up early on that game, the team did not. They fought back a really flipped the script in an amazing fourth. Suddenly we were forcing turnovers, the Elks were taking penalties and most importantly we were scoring. Well, more specifically Bane was scoring. There have been times where we could not score 3 times in a month and we managed to do it in one quarter. Amazing.

The cherry on top for that wild game is that CJ Avery sealed that game with a pick 38 seconds on the clock… and somehow we managed to not close out the game and gave Edmonton the ball back for a last ditch attempt.

Offensively here is what I saw. I am very excited about our passing game. O-line was pretty good in pass protection. Those 2 INTs weren’t good but for the most part Harris was seeing the field well. Sterns is proving to be a great security blanket underneath. Bane is a star. What I liked the most is that we were aggressive and not afraid to push the ball downfield. didn’t work out but I love going deep on the first play.

The run game is another story. Easy to point fingers at Ouelette. He had a very lackluster debut and fumbled at the worst possible time. But he wasn’t the biggest issue. Our O-line displayed all the run blocking ability of a welcome mat. You could have prime George Reed in the backfield and it would not matter if that’s all our O-line can do. 

Defensively, you definitely noticed energy, aggressive tackling and rallying to the football. Deontai Williams in particular was hitting with authority and forced the fumble that really ignited our comeback. What I did not notice was much impact from the D-line. Only got noticeable pressure on a couple occasions. Even when blitzing we often failed to disrupt Thompson. To their credit the D-line made an impact when it mattered most. Cox forced a fumble. Lanier tipped a pass that led to an INT. But overall the D-line needs to be way better than we saw in that game. 

Let’s be honest. If that were a better team than Edmonton, we don’t have a chance in that one. Good teams will put up more points on you when you go to sleep for 2 quarters. Good teams won’t miss an easy FG in embarrassing fashion. But credit where credit is due. It would have been easy for the team to fold and try again next week aka “the Dickenson method”. But they did not. They kept fighting for a full 60 mins and won even when they did not play their best ball… at least, we all hope that wasn’t their best. 

Lots to improve on going forward but takes the wins however you can get em’.

 Other random thoughts:

-        If they had not eventually called that Ouelette TD in I would have rioted. First they missed a blatant offside on Edmonton. Second the ref right beside Ouellette clearly saw the ball cross the line and then pointed to the far ref to make the call.

-        Was that Alford that the TSN mic’s picked up dropping an F bomb after his TD was called back?

-        The only time I thought we made a coaching error was when we punted from the 42 on 3rd and 5. Obviously weren’t trying for the single but its still a low percentage play. Better off to go for it rather than punt and gain 1 point but give Edm the ball at essentially the same spot as if you didn’t convert on 3rd down.  

Friday, June 7, 2024

Riders vs. Elks: Regular Season Opener

CFL Football is back! And in a true gift from the football gods it opened in the best way possible… that being the exact way the last season ended. Winnipeg losing. Oh it just warms your soul and I don’t care how petty that makes me. 

Its time for Cory Mace to show his stuff for real. He has been hyped ever since being hired and now its time to see if there is some substance to go with that sizzle. Its time to start answering all the big questions. Can Mace make this team competitive again? Can Mueller be an effective OC? Does old man Harris have another good year left in him? Can our O-line be every remotely not awful? Will this new look Rider defense be rock solid? Can we keep penalties down? Does Chris Jones shock the world and come out in a nice pallet of pastels?

Offensively my eyes will be on the OL. We went out and got a tackle. Blake and Godber are healthy. Its time for them to prove they can win the battles in the trenches. I think the Elks are a good first test. Chris Jones generally has solid D but his front 4 are greener than the jerseys they wear. Pelly will sit due to injury and the guys they are dressing have a combined total of 5 career sacks. In a case of “keep it simple stupid” I expect us to use Ouelette heavily. We went out and got him to establish a physical run game and that’s the best way to help your OL get in a groove. Should be a great battle between Ouellette and Nyles Morgan. Harris will be looking to get the ball out quick when he throws and let his playmakers do the work. Bane, Schaefer and Emilus have all proven they can do that. We need to find the right balance of aggressive but not reckless. We have a lot of vets on our offense. Elks have a pretty young defense. We can’t be afraid to take shots but need to be picky when we do. We don’t want turnovers to ignite the D. We also no longer have the benefit of Steve McAdoo bringing them down with his questionable play calling. 

Defense definitely has a tall task. Edmonton has a great RB in Brown and at WR Eugene Lewis (one of the best in the league) with Mitchell and Gittens as support. They have playmakers. And unlike last year where they shackled those playmakers with the craptastic play of Taylor Cornelius, they now have a pretty sold QB in Bethel-Thompson. He looked all kinds of rusty in preseason but I expect him to be on point on Saturday. I really want to see how our DL will play under Mace. With Lanier, Micah, Carney and Cox there is talent to boot. They underperformed last year but if Mace can get them going, look out! With guys like the ever-steady Thurman and the playmaker Reavis at LB we will be ok there. In the secondary have Milligan back will be huge. But if I’m Edmonton, I attack the other side of the secondary where we will have raw rookie DeMarcus Field and Nelson Lokombo. Big test ahead for those 2. The more disruptive the front 4 can be the easier it will makes things on the backend.

Special teams will play a factor in this one. Edmonton seems to be cursed with big time special team gaffs (Especially against us). Leake is a dangerous returner so there is a legit chance he scores and gives up a TD on returns. Be nice to see Lauther kick off his preseason funk. 

Many think we should win easy. Well I thought the same thing last year and we barely beat a much worse Elks team in a opener so ugly even Helen Keller would have swiped left. So no guarantees. I expect a very close game with mistakes on both sides. (These are 2 of the worst teams in the league over the past 2 seasons). I expect my walls to echo with both curse words and screams of joy. In the end I think Mace ekes out a hard fought first victory.

Riders by a Ouelette TD.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Roster Thoughts and Predictions

Saturday, coaches across the league did the easiest part of their jobs… the cuts. By and large the Rider cuts were not surprising. I mean I’m sure somewhere someone is lamenting the loss of Tre Crawford but the majority of us were not overly surprised. Here were a couple things that did surprise me:

 

-        They cut both Pipkin and Fine. I’m not surprised because I think it was the wrong call. I’m just surprised they actually went through with the right call. Patterson outplayed Fine. Coan looked really good for a rookie. Pipkin ranks 43rd on the list of people on the game day roster that I would like to see attempt a pass. I don’t think Fine did anything wrong per se… he’s just really boring, vanilla, high fibre cereal (whichever expression you prefer). He doesn’t make many mistakes but he also doesn’t make many exciting plays.

-        Lenius was probably the other big surprise. It’s too bad that Lenius was blessed with the structural integrity of Dollar Store furniture. In 2021 he looked like he was on the cusp of breaking out as the next big Canadian WR. Since then he has made 17 catches in 8 games over 2 seasons. Ajou is younger, cheaper and not currently yet again injured. Probably not a super difficult decision.

-        I was surprised Ratkovich beat out Hickson for the back-up RB role (at least for now). I was also surprised Malique Straker made it to the active roster as a rookie (on a team loaded with vet Canadian special teamers). That’s a glowing endorsement of the impact they think he can make on teams.

-        I think Meyers is a better receiver than Johnson but with already having Bane and Sterns both at 5’9 we need some height.

Overall I like the make-up of our roster. Good balance of veterans and youth (just 8 guys over 30). No sure about the depth a some positions (WR, LB in particular) but our starters should be able to compete with anyone.

So with the season starting this weekend where does that leave us? I guess I should at least make an attempt to live up to my name and make some predictions, prophecies if you will. Here’s some quick hitters:

 

-        Record – 9 and 9. We were a 6 win team with questionable coaching and only 5 starts from our franchise QB, 9 seems a reasonable jump even if the season doesn't go smoothly. I see this a bit like 2012. New, hot shot coach inherits a struggling team and re-instills energy. Gets them back to the playoffs but the best is probably going to have to wait until year 2 or 3.

-        Finish - Third in west. Win the west semi but lose in the west final. Quite frankly after the last two years, any win after Labour Day will seem like a playoff win.

o   Bonus prediction – its Winnipeg we knock out in the West-Semi.

-        MOP – Trevor Harris. This team will go as far as he can take them. I expect him to be the leader of this team on and off the field.

-        Leading Receiver – Bane leads in yards. Schaefer Baker leads in TDs. I expect Dhonte Meyers to be starting before Labour Day (the expense of Sterns).

-        Most outstanding defensive player – I’d like to say Lanier will be our most impactful but the stats of DT are rarely award worthy. A healthy Rolan Milligan will be out leader.

o   Most sacks will be Carney (narrowly) but at least 4 people will notch 7+ sacks for the Riders.

-        Top Rookie - DeMarcus Fields. I think he locks down a starter spot and doesn’t let Henderson back in even when healthy.

-        Top Canadian – Schaefer-Baker. We never got to see the Harris-Baker connection last year. I expect it to be a frequent sight this year.

-        Top lineman – Hardrick. He will be the emotional and physical tone setter on that line.

-        Bonus predictions:

o   Shea Patterson starts 2 games going 1-1

o   Jake Dolegala starts 1 game in BC and throws 2 picks in a losing effort.

o   AJ Ouelette gets 10 TDs.

o   Zach Fry still fails to crack the starting line-up in a meaningful way yet again.

o   Happy hour beer prices will reluctantly be reintroduced after Labour Day, which we win

o   Micah Awe will be fined 3 more times before his first suspension

o   The injury bug finally catches up with Collaros again after all these years.

 Enjoy the season