A mid-season look at everyone’s favourite green team

by Gregory Beatty

sportsThe Labour Day Classic marked the halfway point of the CFL season. Currently, the Riders are tied with Edmonton for second at 7W-2L behind Calgary at 8W-1L. To share their thoughts on the year to date, and the second half to come, we’re joined by pigskin pundits Ron Mexico, Cal Corduroy and Earl Camembert.

With the competitive imbalance between East and West, and tons of penalties, it’s been a ho-hum start to the season. What’s irked you most?

RM: The penalties. Notice I didn’t say the refereeing, as I’m not certain what percentage of the flag epidemic is due to poor refereeing and what’s due to sloppy play. Either way, it’s unbelievable. Close behind is the lack of entertainment. The games have almost all been terrible. Generally, I applaud TSN’s CFL coverage. But Rod Black, Matt Dunigan, Jock Climie and the commercials are seriously annoying. I’m not done yet. I can’t believe the competitive imbalance between East and West. I also can’t believe Hamilton’s stadium still isn’t ready. This is one of the worst years for the CFL that I can remember. I hope it changes soon because I’d hate to see the league lose the momentum it’s gained over the last few years.

CC: The season has been one big bore. If you like defensive football then I guess it’s been okay. The other perspective is that the offences have stunk. The officiating is typical CFL stinko, with plumbers and milkmen tossing flags ad nauseam. That pass-interference challenge has to be the stupidest rule the CFL has ever implemented.

EC: Two things have irked me. The number of flags officials throw is first. I don’t care what lame excuses the head of officiating comes up with about the players being to blame. No one goes to a game or watches on TV to see the officials drag things out to the 3 1/2 hour mark. Second is the useless coach’s challenge on pass interference calls or non-calls. The games are dreary enough without making people suffer through delays while a ref figures out whether the DB breathed on the receiver and made him change his route by three inches. Ridiculous.

Heading into 2014 you predicted the Riders would weather the loss of some key cogs from their Grey Cup team and be competitive. What have you liked so far?

RM: I’ve liked that they can win ugly. I’ve been very impressed with the defence. I’m always quick to criticize defensive coordinator Richie Hall so I give him a lot of credit. John Chick’s play reminds me of the way Cameron Wake used to dominate before leaving for the NFL. I’m not even that down on the offence or Durant. The receiving corps has been crippled, yet they’ve been doing enough to win. Chamblin’s handling of the running backs is bizarre, but I think part of it might be that virtually any RB will perform behind that O-line. I’ve also been impressed with the coaching. It’s rare I find myself critical of the decision-making. The unsung gems of the team are the defensive tackles. That position doesn’t usually get a lot of attention. They’re doing a great job plugging up the middle and getting sacks.

CC: How can you not love the defense?  John Chick is having an Outstanding Player/Defensive Player of the Year season. Trey George is underrated at defensive tackle. Tyron Brackenridge is having another good season at safety. And Terrell Maze is one of the best cover backs in the league. Our O-line remains one of the best in the league. If the Riders are close in the fourth quarter, they’ll run the ball down your throat.

EC: Although I felt Durant wasn’t sharp in the first eight games, he stuck the fork into Winnipeg on Labour Day with some timely runs at the end. In addition, the Riders clearly have concluded that if they win the turnover battle, they’ll win most of their games, and they’re right. They have the best D-line in the league by a mile, and it makes all the other players on the defence better. Finally, the Riders have shown they can run the ball when they need to.

What areas remain a concern?

RM: Linebacking is below average at best, and kicker Chris Milo is going to cost the team games.

CC: The pass game is still suspect. With Dressler back, the Rider attack should take flight (so to speak). Not sold on the linebackers either. The Riders seem to get burnt underneath a lot, but not enough to kill them. And three kicks returned for TDs in the last three games makes me nervous.

EC: The passing attack has been weak, and now that Dressler’s back, I don’t want to hear any more about Durant and the receivers needing to develop some “chemistry” to be successful. Special teams are a concern too. I sure as hell hope an important game doesn’t come down to the Riders needing Milo to hit a 47-yard field goal to win.

How does the rest of the West stack up?

RM: I think Calgary is better than the Riders, although have trouble beating the Riders. The Riders are better than Edmonton, who have to come down to earth soon. The Riders are better than B.C. by a slim margin, and better than Winnipeg by a fair bit. Therefore, like other years, it comes down to Calgary and Saskatchewan.

CC: Edmonton is overrated. Their defense is very good, but QB Mike Reilly reminds me of Buck Pierce — he’s okay when healthy, but takes a beating. You can’t play that style of game and make it through the season. I was pleased to see the ass-man Jon Cornish out for a bit with a grape ache. The problem with a concussion is that after the first one, the next one comes easier.  One good belt from Brackenridge or some other hard hitting defensive player and Cornish will become a game hen. I rate Calgary first, Riders second, with Edmonton, Winnipeg and B.C. slugging it out for third.

EC: The Riders have the best team in the West. I was talking to someone after the Labour Day game and we agreed there are very few players you’d trade for someone on another Western team. QB: no. RB: no. O-Line: no. Receivers: Maybe one. D-Line: no. Calgary always seems to find a way to win. Edmonton was WAY over their head the first eight games. Winnipeg is decent, but still have a way to go. B.C. is an enigma. Can Howdy Doody Lulay make a difference? I don’t know.