It’s Year Three of the Chris Jones Plan, and the goal is to make it to the Grey Cup.
Of course WINNING the Grey Cup remains the ultimate goal.
Last year the Riders came within 23 seconds of the championship game. In one of the odder East Division finals in recent memory, the Riders scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to storm back and take the lead, only to watch future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray pick the Rider defence apart and drive down the field for the winning touchdown.
Being so close – and yet so far – from the ultimate goal hopefully caused the coaching staff to reflect on its 2017 performance, as the same mistakes cannot be made this year if the Riders want to go through the West Division this season.
It all starts with Rider offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo.
I am not a McAdoo fan. (I think I even called for his firing after the East Final.) His schemes lack all imagination, his plays take too long to develop, and he refuses to use a running game to set up the passing game. As far as I’m concerned, there are far better offensive coordinators out there. But McAdoo has a close relationship with Chris Jones, so he’s not going anywhere.
Some will argue that the Riders’ offence sputtered at times in 2017 because of the guy throwing the ball. Kevin Glenn had a solid, if not great, first half of the season. Then he hurt his hand, missed a few games, and wasn’t the same. Brandon Bridge had a few good performances when he came in to jump start a sputtering offence, but by the end of the season, it was fairly clear that neither Glenn nor Bridge were helped by the lack of a running game.
Don’t believe me? The Riders finished dead last in rushing in 2017.
With Jerome Messam in the fold this season, McAdoo has zero excuses for not running the ball and creating a more balanced attack. Otherwise, teams will key on the Riders’ receivers and take away the passing game, leaving the Riders in second and long situations more often than not.
One thing McAdoo does not have control over is when the quarterbacks get pulled. The 2017 East Final was a lesson in how NOT to manage quarterbacks, as Jones yanked Kevin Glenn, only to put him back in when Bridge struggled. The two quarterbacks took turns throughout the rest of the game, leaving it difficult for either to his rhythm. Here’s hoping that new quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh will be able to step in and keep Jones from making the same mistakes this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jones’ continual use of two and three man fronts drove many fans crazy last season, as it provided opposing quarterbacks with far too much time to deliver the football. A revamped defensive line featuring perennial all-star and league sack leader Charleston Hughes opposite Willie Jefferson on the ends, along with Canadian Zach Evans at tackle, should be able to get pressure despite Jones’ tendency to drop linemen into coverage. Jones is a guy who has a certain system; he finds guys to fit his system rather than tailoring his system to fit the skill sets of his players. He may now have the players he needs for his system to create the havoc it’s supposed to for offenses.
The other major issue with Jones’ defense was that it was prone to caving in the waning minutes of games, allowing teams to drive the field and score game-winning points. Remember the Ottawa game where Trevor Harris marched his team down the field for a game-winning field touchdown? That game foreshadowed what happened in the final minute of the East Division Final. This propensity is also a symptom of a lack of a pass rush. In order to compete in the West Division, Jones needs a consistent pass rush in order to keep quarterbacks like Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell guessing.
Chris Jones’ coaching staff has seen little change over the past three years, which is a rare feat in the CFL. He and his football operations staff have had carte blanche over the past three years to do whatever it takes to make the Riders successful. This is the year that fans expect results.