Rider Review – Week 4: When it rains, it pours

ughIt was a dark and stormy night at Mosaic…

While it may not be your typical scary movie, in football terms, the start to the Riders’ 2015 season has been nothing other than a horror story.

The Riders’ lost their starting QB in Week 1, and since then, things have simply snowballed.

Every game results in a serious injury to a key player, and every week brings a new controversy.

This week, DB Tristan Jackson hobbled off the field after a horse collar tackle brought him down.  And Coach Chamblin stood up to his detractors, possibly in an attempt to take some of the pressure off of his team.

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The result?  Another loss.

Football is a funny game.  It’s a game of inches.  A game of strategy.  And at times, a 60 minute game that comes down to one or two plays.

The proof?  Through Week 4, the Riders are 0-4.  But they’ve only lost those four games by a combined 12 points.  In comparison, the Stampeders are 3-1, but they’ve only won their three games by a combined 7 points.

The Riders’ losing streak continues to summon comparisons to the 2011 season, but that season was not so much a horror story as a sad story as the team gave up on its coach.  The barrage of injuries to key personnel and the small scale of the losses is what differentiates 2015 from 2011.

The good news for the Riders, though, is that some players will get healthy and return, and there are 14 games left.  In other words, the Riders have a chance to change their story from one of horror to one of redemption.

THINGS THAT WORKED

1. Running game: Once again, the RB tag team of Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen amassed over 100 yards of rushing.

2. Second down conversions: While the offence was not as in sync as we’ve come to expect over the last couple of games, it was certainly resilient.  The Riders continue to lead the league in second down conversions, and this game more than likely extended that lead.

3. Jerome Messam: While most of the focus has been on his league-leading rushing statistics, his ability to catch the ball is just as impressive.  He added 75 yards to his receiving total, and combined with his rushing yards, he leagues the CFL in combined yards.

4. Weston Dressler: Another 100 yards game.  Need I say more?

5. Jamel Richardson: He doesn’t get a lot of touches per game, but when called upon thus far this season, he’s answered.

6. Stopping the big play: The Riders’ defence generally made BC march the ball down the field, as opposed to the previous week when big plays did them in.  The defence also made a big stop near the end of the game, giving the Riders a chance to win.  Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Run defence: For the love of all things Green and White, why oh why oh WHY did someone not spy Travis Lulay when he continually ran for big gains??  Because the Riders always love to contribute to CFL history, they helped Lulay rack up 105 rushing yards, a career best for him.

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2. Pass rush: See each of the previous weeks for my comments on this issue, because I don’t feel like repeating myself for the umpteenth time.

3. Energy: The Riders looked like ‘The Walking Dead’ out on the field.  Maybe it was the weather.  Or maybe it was the losing streak looming over their heads, but the Riders showed very little spark.

4. Penalties: The amount of offensive penalties are absolutely killing drives and costing the Riders valuable points.  Hell, even Weston Dressler got a penalty this week!  I continue to be stunned, amazed and perplexed by CFL Command Centre’s interpretation of the new illegal contact rules and its inconsistency.

OFFENSIVE STAR: #33 – JEROME MESSAM, RB

He put up nearly 140 combined yards on Friday night, even after sustaining a vicious, but clean, hit that made him slow to get up.  His average yards per carry is 7.7, which is ridiculous.  If he stays healthy, he’ll be in line for the Riders’ MOP nomination.

DEFENSIVE STAR: #50 – JAKE DOUGHTY

This is solely based on statistics: 6 tackles and one forced fumble.  He led the team in tackles and he always seemed to be around the football.

SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: #38 – TRISTAN JACKSON, DB

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This is more of an honourary award, because TJ looked like he was going to have a good game before being brought down by that rookie BC kicker whose name I refuse to mention.  Get well soon, TJ.

NEXT UP: vs. HAMILTON.  I thought the Riders’ record against the Kitty Cats at Taylor Field was far worse than it actually is.  That being said, Hamilton is a weird team: they win when you’re sure they’re going to lose, and lose when they should win.  I expect another close game, as the Ti-Cats will be a little cranky after losing to the Als last week.

Rider Report – Week 3: Riders in BC

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THE RECORDS

Saskatchewan: 0-2 – Last in the West Division

BC: 0-1 – Tied for 2nd in the West Division

THE WEEK BEFORE

The Riders lost 42-40 to the Argos in double OT.  The REDBLACKS came back to drop the Lions 27-16.

THE STATS

*Note that the Lions have played one less game than the Riders.

The Riders lead all team offensive categories in the CFL, averaging 542 yards per game, with a net average of 538 yards per game.  This average is nearly 200 yards more than the next team.  The Riders are passing and rushing for an average of 381 and 161 yards per game, respectively. The Lions’ offence is 6th overall in the league, with only 254 passing yards and 59 rushing yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Riders are 5th in yards allowed per game (6th passing/6th rushing), while the Lions are 7th (5th passing/9th rushing).

THE STORY LINES

Both teams look for their first wins of the year after disappointing starts to the year.  The Lions got off to a good start in their opening game, but faltered in the 4th quarter, allowing the REDBLACKS to score two late TDs to win.  The Riders are 0-2 for the first time since 2011 (also known as the FAILED GREG MARSHALL EXPERIMENT), but have only lost both games by a combined total of 6 points.  However, the Riders have dug themselves a bit of a hole to begin the season, losing two games at home.  A win on the road would go a long way to helping them dig themselves out.

geooooooooooorge

A few notable players and coaches switched sides over the offseason.  Former Rider offensive coordinator George Cortez now has the same role with the Lions.  Rider PK Paul McCallum was released by the Lions just prior to training camp after playing for the team for nine years.  This will be McCallum’s first game back at BC Place since being released, and he comes in with a 100% field goal percentage.  Not too shabby.

THE MATCH-UPS

Quarterbacks: Kevin Glenn has put up spectacular numbers through the first two weeks of the season.  He’s 3rd in passing in the CFL, but he’s also played one less half than the two QBs in front of him and only trails the leading passer by 38 yards.  Travis Lulay played his first full game in nearly two years last week.  He looked a little rusty, and he seemed to be forcing the long throws.  This week will be a test as that shoulder gets two straight weeks of work.  Edge: Riders

Offensive lines: The Riders’ offensive line has been surprisingly strong thus far, allowing only 1 sack thus far, and letting KG do all of that passing.  The Lions’ offensive line, though, is full of Lions’ rookies; only one player on the Lions’ offensive line remains from last year’s group.  Edge: Riders

Receivers: Both teams heavily rely on their receivers for offence.  This is a big turnaround for the Riders, who have been known as a rush-first offence for the last couple of years.  BC’s receivers are more prototypical receivers – tall, strong and speedy – while Saskatchewan’s receivers are a lot smaller and rely a lot more on finesse and speed rather than height and power.  Nevertheless, the Riders have been lighting up opposing defences.  The jury is still out on the Lions’ receivers under the new offence run by George Cortez.  Edge: Riders

Defensive lines: The Riders’ defensive line has struggled to get pressure thus far this season, but the Lions haven’t had a lot of success either.  Edge: No one

Linebackers: The Lions have reigning MOP Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill in the middle.  The Riders are starting Jeff Knox Jr. and Jake Doughty, both of whom are only in their third and second CFL starts, respectively.  Edge: Lions by a lot

SecondariesThe Riders have a veteran secondary, but that secondary is having trouble adjusting to the new illegal contact rules.  Instead of playing a man-to-man defence, the Riders now play a type of zone defence that has more holes in it than Justin Trudeau’s election platform.  (Yeah, I was reaching there).  The Lions’ secondary is officially full of newbies as stalwart Ryan Phillips went down to injury last week.  Edge: Riders, but barely because they’re playing like rookies

Special Teams: As noted above, Paul McCallum returns to BC for the first time as a Rider since 2005.  Ray Early leads all punters in punting averages and has been a welcome addition to the Riders’ special teams.  The Riders’ special teams coverage has been solid.  The Lions are starting a rookie kicker who converted all of his field goals and converts last week; his punting, though, was a bit suspect.  The Lions also allowed a TD on a return, but lucky for them, it was negated by a penalty.  Edge: Riders

INTANGIBLES

For whatever reason, I think the Riders will want this game more.  But, the Riders also need to stop taking so many penalties  Edge: No one

Rider Review – Week 2: Close, But Not Quite

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Appearances can be deceiving.

For instance, look at the statistics for the Rider offence in this game:

587 total yards, 477 yards passing, 110 yards rushing,  and 4 TDs

Impressive, not?

Would it surprise you, though, that even with those gaudy numbers, the Riders still managed to lose?

Another stellar effort from the offence was stymied by a defence that could not put pressure on the Arblows’ defensive line, nor figure out how to cover the backfield.  The result?  A 42-40 loss in double OT.

After the game, Coach Chamblin put the blame squarely on the offence.  His comments focused on the Riders’ inability to find the end zone when deep in opposing territory and an ill-timed interception.  As for his defence, though?  A defence that allowed the Arblows to march down the field and score the game-tying TD in the remaining seconds of the game?  Apparently it’s on the right track.

For Coach Chamblin, appearances are deceiving, as he clearly does not see what everyone else does.

Now for Things That Worked and Things That Didn’t.

THINGS THAT WORKED

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1. Passing game: Kevin Glenn, whom I’m now only going to refer to as KG, threw for nearly 500 yards.  When’s the last time a QB threw for that many yards in a loss?  (I don’t know.  Do you?)  He showed resilience after throwing an interception midway through the 4th quarter by leading the offence down field near the end of the game for a go ahead TD.  He also engineered two TD drives in OT.

2. Running game: Jerome Messam had another solid game with nearly 100 yards on the ground.  Dear football gods: You’ve already taken Darian away – please let Jerome stay healthy!  The only mark on the scoresheet was a fumble by Anthony Allen.

3. Ryan Smith: This kid’s gonna be a star.  His amazing somersault of a catch in the 4th quarter brought Mosaic to its feet, and his 8 receptions for 174 yards and a TD put the CFL on notice.

POG

4. Receiving coreI can’t think of one dropped pass.  Another solid outing by this group.

5. Kicking game: Paul McCallum nailed 4 field goals and Ray Early continued to impress with a punting average of 59 yards (somewhat wind-aided).  No longer do I cringe when the Riders are punting or kicking field goals.

6. Punt/kickoff coverage: A day when Chad Owens doesn’t have a big return is a good day for a coverage team.

THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Pass rush: You why it didn’t work?  BECAUSE IT WAS NON-EXISTENT.  A game where John Chick isn’t even mentioned is not a good game.  In the ‘new’ CFL where defenders cannot cover receivers as they once did, a defence requires a pass rush in order to be aggressive.  Otherwise, your secondary is left trying to cover receivers that will undoubtedly either get open or draw a pass interference flag.  The defensive line was supposed to be one of the Riders’ strengths, and through two games it’s been less than ordinary.

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2. Secondary coverage: I don’t like to give Glen Suitor a lot of credit, but I couldn’t help but agree with him later in the game as he continually drew the viewers’ attention to the big hole left in the middle of the secondary because Tyron Brackenridge (TBrack) was playing so far back.  The Arblows attacked that hole over and over again, leading to long drives and TDs, especially in OT.  The soft zone defence that the Riders have been playing over the last two games isn’t so much soft as completely porous.  I don’t know if defenders are scared of drawing flags or what the issue is, but again, there’s no aggressiveness in the secondary, and that was its calling card last year.

3. Time Management: When you have the ball with 1:10 left on the clock and it’s 1st and Goal, you DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT HURRY UP AND SNAP THE BALL.  What do you do instead?  Well, first you line up and get the clock running.  Then you wait until the 20 second clock counts down to 1 and you then you snap the ball and fall forward.  Then you line up and do the same thing again.  Then you line up for a field goal.  You wait until the 20 second clock counts down to 1 again, and you kick the field goal, leaving about 10 seconds left in the game.  Then you kickoff the ball, stop the returner, and then let the opposing team try a Hail Mary, which will more than likely fail. THAT is what you do.

4. Discipline: Two facemasking penalties on the offensive line.  A clipping penalty that warrants supplementary discipline.  Many offsides (TBrack – you need to practice the timing on your safety blitz).  Roughing the passer.  Pass interference.  Too many men.  It’s tough to win football games when you’re negating big plays by taking penalties.

OFFENSIVE STAR: TIE – #5 Kevin Glenn, QB and #2 Ryan Smith, WR

I talked about the great games both of these guys had above.  They’re developing chemistry, and it’ll only get better as the season goes along.  It’s nice to have another speedy threat on the field to bring some of the coverage away from Weston Dressler.

DEFENSIVE STAR: #50 – Jake Doughty, LB

No one on defence really deserve a star, but kudos to the rookie who made an acrobatic catch in order to get his first interception in his first start.

doughty

SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: #15 – Paul McCallum, PK

The 45 year old went 4/4 in his first game action this season, and like usual, it looked effortless.

NEXT UP: @ BC. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Riders as they travel west to take on the Cowardly Lions.  As both teams heavily rely on their aerial attacks, this game could be a bit of a shoot out.