Friday, July 19, 2024

Riders vs. Bombers: Friday Night Football

Friday the 2-4 Bombers are in town for a showdown with the obsidian-clad 4-1 Riders. Two weeks ago this match-up was looking very different. Bombers had so few wins they were at risk of being legally required to no longer advertise themselves as WINnipeg. The Riders were undefeated and their injured list contained far fewer important names. Suddenly we are banged up and coming off our first loss and the Bombers are on a 2 game win streak. While I wholeheartedly disagree with these 2 teams playing before Labour Day, this should be an intense battle between heated rivals under the Friday night lights. 

Completely random thought but do you think if obsidian night was done in the Chris Jones era he would have caved and wore it because it’s close enough to black? Who am I kidding, he would have made them create an all black button-up long sleeve with the smallest logo imaginable... and sunglasses strapped to his head despite it being a night game.

We all expected the Bombers to stop losing at some point. I enjoyed the hell out of their winless start but it was never going to last. There were even signs of their resurgence before they started winning. Their last 3 loses were by a combined 9 points. Turns out that losing all your top offensive players to injury will impact performance. Go figure? The Bombers may not be the dominant force they have been over the past 4 seasons but they are still a good football team. 

I actually don’t mind coming into this one as the underdog. Had they still been losing it would have been easy to get overconfident. I have confidence that Mace will have them ready to play and feeding off that underdog status as well as the crowd.

Offensively I can’t say I’m enamoured about facing Willy Jefferson with a back-up QB and a tackle making his first pro start. Betting on a Jefferson pick is probably a good idea. The thing about the Bombers D is that they are stingy against the pass but the worst in the CFL at stopping the run. So let's not overthink this. Make it easy on Patterson and Brammer by feeding Ouelette. For all his mistakes Patterson has actually been very good about protecting the football. We have the least giveaways. We do allow a lot of sacks… and losing Hardrick won’t help that. Surprisingly the Bombers have the 2nd least sacks. In addition to a focus on the run, I would like to see us use that quick passing attack we went to in BC after the first 2 drives failed. Emilus, Baker and Bane can make things happen with the ball in their hands. Let them do the heavy lifting. Been a while since Bane had a big game, seems like a good time to feed him. I would be in favour of someone slapping Patterson before the game or whatever it takes to get his head on right and avoid his game starting craptitude (it’s a word now, feel free to use it). 

Defensively the key matchup is the leading rusher in the CFL in Olivera vs. the #1 run D in the CFL. This is the match-up that gives me some confidence. I am used to watching Olivera run all over us but this is the best equipped the Riders have been to shut him down. Without the run it will force Collaros to do the heavy lifting. Lots of people talking about how Collaros is “back” after last game… but he still threw 2 picks. He leads the league in that category. I am betting on 2 more picks added on Friday. D-line needs to be disruptive. Either hit him or make him hurry. I am also betting on a Demski TD. Guy always seems to have monster games against us. The Bombers have the least point but half their point have come in the last 2 games (did I mention who they really really sucked to start the season). Shut down Olivera, disruptive front 4 and don’t give up the big plays, those are the keys. And for the love of god when Streveler comes in can Williams actually play man and not get caught peeking. Steveler has 2 plays run and huck it deep. 

Betting lines have us as the underdogs and I agree. I think we have a very good chance but the Bombers aren’t going to just lie down and let us take it. Historically new Mosaic has been very kind to the Bombers… though I feel ever since Toronto blocked that kick here in the Grey Cup, some good mojo has been restored. This season, the Bombers are winless on the road and the Riders have yet to lose at home. Should be the biggest crowd of the season. Players are pumped for the new jerseys. Atmosphere should be electric and I expect the team to feed off it. 

I expect a patented Shae Patterson crap start but I expect it to be balanced by a patented Corey Mace strong 4th quarter comeback. 

Riders by an Ouelette TD. 

Get loud!

Monday, July 15, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Should Probably Cover That McInnis Guy

Riders 20 – Lions 35

If I were to tell you that at one point Miles Brown had to play guard that should pretty much be all the information you need to know it did not go as planned on Saturday. Look, we all expected a loss at some point (most of us expected it sooner) and to lose to the top team in our division on the road is not the worst kind of loss… the Elks appear to have the market cornered on those. But the game did highlight some weaknesses this team has that they will need to overcome to be in the conversation with the top dogs come season end. It also unfortunately further added to an already full injury list. 

For me the game boiled down to one simple thing. We made more mistakes than the Lions and they made us pay when we did. I thought we held our own not bad. Yes Justin McInnis seemed to put up yards at will on us but through 3 quarters that only resulted in 1 TD. We were down 2 points in the 4th quarter. Honestly the goal line stand and the Emilus fumble were the difference. Take away those 2 and it drastically changes things. Add in Sterns losing a sure TD in the roof and the missed FG that followed and we easily left another 17 points on the field. But when you play top end teams you can’t pile up mistakes and expect to win. 

I have 2 criticisms of Shea Patterson and then I’ll get to some compliments. 1 – He starts like pure garbage. His first few series are always painful and then he eventually gets it going. But he’s gotta find a way to start better. 2 – Someone needs to teach him how to strap up his helmet properly. Every single time he uses his legs, he adjusts his helmet mid stride… every time! It’s a really weird bad habit. Now to the good stuff… he’s actually a decent QB for this only being his second start. He’s no phenom but he at least looks like he belongs on the field and can manufacture drives. Hell he should have had another TD as he literally hit Sterns with the ball in the endzone (beauty throw) but Sterns lost it in the roof. Major credit to Marc Mueller who has shown a great ability to adjust his play calls when things aren’t working and find things that do. Patterson will need to keep improving if we want to get back to winning but he has certainly shown me more than either Fine or Dolegala did (though having an OC that is actually qualified for his job probably helps a lot there too). 

Defensively there was some really good things. On a day were we were very short staffed on the D-line Lanier stepped up and had a big game. Micah was impactful too. Our pressure definitely made VA feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately sprinkled in a amongst some great plays were mistakes that VA made us pay for. Not sure what in the world Williams was thinking on that 3rd down fake. He had one job and managed to fail at it. I am decidedly not sold on Lokombo at safety. I don't know enough about the kind of D we are running to know for sure but I see him a step or 2 late to a lot of plays but rarely (if ever) actually making a play. The margin for error against the top end is so small and our pass defense found out what happens when you are off, even by a little bit. 

We saw the good and bad on special teams too. Alford’s big return led to points and Lauther might run the best dribble kickoff in the CFL. But he also missed a makable FG. Just another mistake in the pile of things we could not overcome. 

Big time injuries continue to pile up. D-line is down pretty much all their depth with Carney, Albright and Dabire out (honestly Dabire is the biggest loss there). Now the O-line (already down Blake) is likely to be without Hardrick long-term. As of writing this we don’t know how long but usually leaving on a cart with a knee injury is not a good omen. That would be a massive loss and erode all our depth on O-line too. 

I expected us to lose this and we did. Looking only at the passing stats and the final score doesn’t tell the full story. We proved we can hang with the big boys. We need to make less mistakes to upgrade from hang with to beat but we aren’t far… without our starting QB.

Other random thoughts:

-        We might set the record this year for technically correct calls that are travesties of logic. This week Williams got called for unnecessary roughness… for incidentally contacting Vernon Adams while lying on the turf after previously falling down. Did he contact a defenseless runner? Yes… but a sneeze would have had more impact on Adams than that hit.

-        There was 100% holding on the Vernon Adams TD run. And not even the incidental holding that happens on every play but blatant, overt holding.

-        I love watching Schaefer-Baker run with the ball.

-        Since BC smashed watermelons when we came to town, does that mean we get to do the same with kittens when they do? Asking for a friend.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Saturday Morning Sentimonies: Bonus, Undefeated Edition

Riders 30 – Argos 23

You might be wondering what would possess a notoriously lazy man to post early (and not the more likely late and/or not at all). Well, I leave tomorrow on my annual spiritual retreat… the retreat being held at a fishing resort and the spirits being the liquid kind. I will be off the grid from Sunday until just before our next game on Saturday. So there will be no Game Preview post on Friday. And rather than deny you 2 posts, I am blessing you with my sentimonies before I go. 

What a game! After pushing their undefeated streak to 4 games and taking down a quality opponent in the process, it may just be time we start taking this team seriously. I am not saying plan the parade route (trust me a few enthusiasts are no doubt already on that). I am just saying that we might be more than just the best of the bottom tier teams. We may be contenders. 

Shea Patterson passed the first test… barely but C’s get degrees. His first quarter was awful. To his credit, he did not turn the ball over which is important for a young QB. But he really didn’t do anything. True to my scouting report, he only saw the right side of the field and the only time he went left he failed miserably at the patented Fajardo spin left. But the defense (more on them later) held us in the game until a magical drive in the 2nd quarter when a spark was lit. Starting at our own 16, Patterson led a 8 play, 94 yard drive that culminated in a highlight reel Emilus TD. He hit 5 different receivers on the drive. The complexion of the game changed right there. It was the first time all year we did something productive in the second quarter. Patterson was far from an all-star the rest of the game, but he definitely settled down, was more productive and confident. He still has an insane bias to the right side of the field that will eventually catch up with him but even in a so-so performance he scored two TDs and got the job done. Harris would have eaten that Argo D alive.

The other offensive player to highlight is Logan Ferland. Normally a guard sliding out to tackle due to injury creates a weakness in your line. Not with Ferland. I don’t want him starting there full time but he does a great job at tackle whenever called on. It does make me wonder why we didn’t try him when we were rotating through some of the worst American tackles imaginable over the past 2 years. Telling me he would not have been an upgrade?

Defensively they dominated. They allowed 3 total points in the first half and 6 points through 3 quarters. 2 sacks and 5, count ‘em 5 turnovers. When we needed them most they stepped up and delivered. Best game so far of the season for Micah and Lanier. Thurman is a force out there. Milligan may be the most well rounded DB in the league. I’ve seen guys that cover as well. I’ve seen guys that tackle as well. I’ve seen very few that do both extremely well. After a rough game 1, Marcus Sayles is settling in nicely. I take back most of the awful things I said about him. My scouting report was that running was the Argos' strength and we take that away better than anyone. Well low and behold, without the benefit of a dominant running attack, Cameron Dukes went from being talked about as a future all-star to being talked about as someone doing a great homage to when his head coach played in the Grey Cup. Not writing Dukes off but he’s still got lots of developing to do. 

The one thing that I think will become the calling card of Corey Mace is overcoming adversity. In Game 1 and 2 we needed miracle 4th quarter comebacks, but we won. In Game 3 we lost our starting QB, but still won. In Game 4 we played out toughest opponent to date, with a backup QB who sucked to start, but we still won. He has instilled a never give up mentality in that team and they believe they can overcome whatever gets placed before them. It’s a welcome change from the fold early and try next time mentality we dealt with for the past 2 years. 

With Montreal and BC on the road over the next 3 weeks the challenges only increase from here but there is reason to believe again in Riderville.

Other random thoughts:

-        People keep talking about how good Toronto’s D is and I don’t get why. They have McManis and decent front 4 but they have allowed more points than any team not name Hamilton and allow more passing yards than anyone. They are maybe a mediocre defense.

-        I love that we iced the game by pulling out the “they forgot that Mitch Picton exists” page of the playbook. The first one was too the left side too.

-        Yards won’t show it but Ouelette had a solid game and the hard yards he earned were key.

-        I almost lost it when Mace was thinking about going for it rather than taking the field goal to make it a 2 score game late in the 4th. Fortunately, logic prevailed.

-        DeMarcus Fields did not register a defensive stat… for someone playing halfback that is a very good sign. Means they were not targeting receivers in his area.

-        Seems wrong that the Williams INT counts against Dukes. He made a good pass, Williams just stole the ball away from the WR.

-        The lightning was definitely much closer during the last game than it was went they called a lightning delay to warmups.


See you in a week.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Riders vs. Argos: Thursday Night Patterson

Side note before I start this: Today marks the 17th Anniversary of this blog. Its a staggering milestone that I never would have imagined possible. My thanks to all you readers who for some reason still come here to hear biased football analysis, Simpsons references and super immature humour. 

And with that let's get on to discussing how I am hoping for a big showing from Cox.

Tonight the 2-1 Argos are in town to face the (still) undefeated Riders. Shea Patterson gets his first start with Harris out. Bane will also not play. And we finally have to play a team that has managed to win a game. So you know, everything is fine. 

After losing many of their top defensive players (and coach) to other teams and their starting QB to being an idiot and then having other idiots attempt to cover up his idiocy, many expected the Argos to struggle. They have not. Their only loss is to Montreal and Cameron Dukes looks like a capable QB. Turns out Ryan Dinwiddie may indeed be more than just a pair of soul sucking eyes. 

We will start on the defense this week because with our starting QB and best receiver out I think we all know that defense is going to need to step up and keep us in games. The good news is that I think they should be up to the challenge. It will be strength against strength. Toronto has by far the most potent rushing attack powered by Ka’deem Carey and Deonta McMahon (who I can only assume is the long lost son of Vince). They are averaging 136 yards per game. But they will face the #1 run D in the CFL. We have allowed 98 TOTAL rush yards. I expect Carey and McMahon to push those numbers higher but I don’t expect them to run wild. 

Cameron Dukes is an interesting guy to watch. He looks calm in the pocket, protects the football and makes good decisions. But he hasn’t had to do a whole lot. They have the second least pass yards and have attempted 20 less passes than the next closest team.  But Dukes is making the most of it when he does throw. 77% completion rate, 5 TDs to just 1 INT. Key to success will be limiting the run game to make them more one dimensional than they are used to and then disrupt Dukes. Toronto has allowed the 2nd most sacks (despite only playing 3 games) so opportunities should be there for the front 4 to make plays. Dukes has the lowest average depth of pass so taking away the quick easy ones will force him to stuff outside of his comfort zone and increase the chances for our D to force a turnover. 

Offensively we are accepting prayers to your preferred deity. I have Jebus handled so let’s focus on some of the other ones to cover our bases. If Harris had played I really think he would have had a monster game. Toronto is allowing 31 points per game (2nd worst) and are the worst at defending the pass (most yards allowed and a staggering 77% completion rate allowed). They really miss Jamal Peters and Quantez Stiggers. But Harris ain’t playing. Its Patterson and will all due respect to him, my expectations will be lowered despite facing a porous defense. 

I am hopeful that with the benefit of a bye week and full week of practice, Mueller will have a game plan in place that suits Patterson. Everyone is talking about getting his legs going and while I think that’s an important part of his game, he is going to need to pass the ball to win. Losing Bane hurts but Baker, Emilus and Sterns are capable. Even mix in a little Ajou squared. Frankie Hickson will dress for the first time this season and I can’t imagine they do that without plans for him. We need to keep Ouelette’s momentum from last game but Hickson can be an effective change of pace. He runs angry and that’s just what we need. I hope the O-line spent time working things out with Patterson. Very different blocking for Harris who hangs in the pocket and makes quick reads vs. Patterson who is not afraid to use his legs (to roll right). Also, while I think we all can agree the O-line is much improved over previous years when it comes to pass blocking, they still have allowed more sacks than any team despite having a bye week last week. Toronto has some quality pass rushers and I’d rather not leave it all up to Patterson’s legs to try and beat that. 

This is a test game for the Riders no doubt. We may be 3-0 but we have beat only teams with a philosophical opposition to winning. If we can hang with an actual good team then you'll start making believers our of people. I think our defense should be up to keeping us in the game. Offense will be a struggle but I don’t think has hapless as some as expecting.

 As I said, with Harris I think we win. With Patterson… I am not sold yet. I think we keep it close and go punch for punch with them (hopefully not literally). But in the end I think this will be just the start of a very rough July.   

Riders by a 4th quarter Coxie TD… most likely on Sayles.

 

Monday, July 1, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Uh Oh

Usually bye weeks are a positive thing. You anticipate the players getting some rest and relaxation and emerging healthier than when they entered. Well the Riders emerged from the bye week with a bang… and not in the good way.

Trevor Harris was moved to the 6-game injured list and Rider fans (known for their calmness and rationality) took it about as well as expected.

Look, we already knew that July was going to be a lot tougher than June even with Harris. The schedule makers served us up a very friendly start to the season, full of teams that couldn’t win if their lives depended on it (combined record of June opponents 0-8). July features road games against the top teams in each division, a Thursday match against a pretty good Argo team… and mixed in there is another team that couldn’t buy a win (combined record of July opponents 9-6). Pre-Harris injury I was thinking 2-2 in July would be a realistic outcome.

But suddenly we face one of the toughest parts of our schedule without our most important player. Defense has been playing some solid football (in spurts) but the strength of this team through 3 games has been the passing attack and its ability to average 30 points per game. I think Harris would have struggled to keep up that pace as the quality of competition increased. Shea Patterson has about as much chance of doing it as Chris Streveler has of becoming renowned for his throwing mechanics and the accuracy of his passes. 

I do like that we are at least being smart with Harris. He could play if we let him. When faced with the same situation 2 years ago with Fajardo we let him try and limp his way through it and it went about as well as you’d expect. Its early in the season and we are currently 3-0 so no need to push Harris. Let him heal up for when it matters. If we run him into the ground now we can expect the “finishing the season on an 8 game losing skid” streak to continue. While the timelines for recovery are unknown, the fact that we signed essentially a practice roster QB instead of a “veteran” like Fine, Pipkin, etc… tells me that this is not expected to be a longterm thing (at least that’s what I keep telling myself to maintain my state of denial). 

Now, I am not ready to write off Shea Patterson or this team yet, but realistically we need to lower our expectations while he’s at QB. I will be interested to see if he looks better with the benefit of a week practicing to be the starter and a game plan built around him. But even me, a guy who dresses in a robe and sees the world through rye hazed glasses has figured out that Patterson loves to roll right more than Cody loved spinning left. Take away his first read and he will panic and try to use his legs to buy time but always moving towards his right. If I have figured that out then D-Coordinators who do this for a living will be licking their chops. Hopefully Mueller can design a game plan that suits his strengths and keeps him away from predictable bad habits. The one thing I will say about Patterson is that despite his habits, he is not reckless with the ball. He didn’t force turnovers and that will be important. 

But it can’t all be on Patterson. Mueller has been doing a great job with Harris and those receivers, now he needs to earn his money and elevate Patterson. The run game needs to step up. A vet like Harris who can make quick reads can compensate for a one-dimensional offensive attack. If defenses don’t have to respect the run, Patterson will be in trouble. If we can keep the momentum from last game where Ouelette finally got going it opens up a lot for Patterson both in terms of passing and him using his legs. Defense also needs to step up and play a full game… and not just come causally strolling in in the 4th expecting that will be enough. Harris was putting up 30 per game. That will not be happening any time soon. So winning will require the defense keeping things close. 

Mace’s team has shown its ability to overcome adversity so far. That will be put to the ultimate test in the coming weeks.