At the one-third mark of the CFL season I invited long-time Rider season ticket holders Ron Mexico and Earl Camembert to offer a few thoughts on how things had gone for the team so far.
We’re at the two-thirds mark now, and Ron and Earl are back to answer another round of questions. This time, they’re joined by Cal Corduroy. On Nov. 10 we’ll get together one last time to dissect the Rider season and look ahead to the playoffs.
When we last talked on Aug. 11 the Riders were 1-5. Following losses to Calgary and Toronto they fired head coach Greg Marshall and offensive coordinator Doug Berry. Seemingly revitalized by Ken Miller’s return, they dominated the Bombers in the Labour Day home-and-home, then gutted out a win over the Argos at Mosaic on Sept. 17. Had I canvassed you then, you likely would’ve given thumbs up to all the changes — including Andy Fantuz’s return from an NFL tryout with the Bears. But last Saturday the Riders were mauled by the Lions 42-5. How much of a shock was that game for you?
RM: Moderate. This is still a team that started 1-7 and was atrocious in a number of those losses, so getting beat badly was certainly a possibility. I actually don’t think this performance was as consistently bad as the Hamilton and Toronto losses. The high snap, the 100-yard Arland Bruce TD pass, and the pick six interception return happened very quickly, and resulted in 21 points against.
EC: The B.C. game wasn’t that much of a shock. When you look at the Rider roster, you come to the conclusion that they really aren’t that good at receiver, running back and defensive end.
CC: Not a shock that we lost, but a shock we lost by that much. To have a team step into our barn and kick our butts like that is a bit embarrassing. B.C. has a good team (a very good defense, and a pretty good offense — Travis Lulay notwithstanding), and from the first drive the Riders weren’t in it. The Riders simply don’t have the horses.
Special teams, I think we can agree, have been adequate. But at different times the offense and defence have struggled. What would you do to improve the offense?
RM: Jason Clermont cannot play wide receiver. He is too slow. Darian Durant still needs to roll out more. The slotback sweep to Weston Dressler should be run 2-3 times per game. A true, classic draw play to Wes Cates after a snap under center. A classic screen to Cates.
EC: The offence needs to run the ball with more authority because their receiving corps is too thin to just rely on the passing game alone.
CC: I’d hire an offensive coordinator. I’d platoon Hugh Charles/Brandon West and Cates, running more outside the tackles (our running game stinks). I’d get more play action going, get Durant outside more, use Clermont more (he never drops the ball), probably go underneath a bit more and get more creative in general. Oh yeah, and I’d stay away from the 40 yard out pattern that gets us 5 yards.
What about defence?
RM: Sean Lucas and Lance Frazier have to go. They can’t cover anymore. Leron Mitchell should go in for Nick Graham at corner, which would allow a different American to dress. The corners should be playing 5 yards tighter. Lastly, defensive backs and linebackers who don’t wrap up on tackles, and instead go for the big blow, should have their asses kicked.
EC: Defensively, the Riders need to bring more pressure. They aren’t causing any quarterbacks to lose any sleep with their pass rush.
CC: Never been a Richie Hall fan. The only time the Riders had a decent defense under him was when we had a pass rush with John Chick and Stevie Baggs. Our blitz seldom seems to result in a sack or even substantial pressure, although the safety/halfback blitzes seem to work better than the linebacker blitzes. I sympathize (somewhat) with James Patrick having to play all over the place, but rookie Craig Butler has been a nice find at safety. Overall, though, our secondary hasn’t made many big plays — outside of the two interceptions Chris McKenzie returned for TDs against Winipeg and Toronto. Jerrell Freeman is the second best defensive player in the league right now. Barrin Simpson has been okay, but our third linebacker (whoever it is) is not very prominent. Our D-Line has been okay on the inside against the run, but our ends have been non-existent. More creativity (was Gary Etcheverry really that bad?) to keep offenses off balance would be nice, but that’s not Hall’s style.
The Riders are among the most penalized teams in the league this year. Is on-field discipline a problem?
RM: Easy to generalize and say yes. However, I’m not so sure the lack of discipline is widespread. Dario Romero takes a lot of roughing penalties. The new defensive ends take their fair share of dumb penalties as well. Tristan Jackson and Nick Graham also seem to get flagged a lot. The guys who have been here a number of years, during which the team discipline has been great, seem to continue to play with a fair bit of discipline.
CC: The only bright spot on Saturday was the return game, and most of our good returns were negated by penalty. Nick Graham’s rough play penalty and ejection occurred on special teams too. Initially, I thought Montreal was chippy, then Toronto, then Winnipeg. Now, I think it’s the Riders who are dirty. That’s okay if you win (like the old Oakland Raiders), but not if you lose. The O-Line has been reasonable on the pass rush with not too many holding penalties, but the receivers seem to go offside a lot.
In the final third of the season, the Riders travel twice to Calgary and Edmonton, and have B.C. and Hamilton at home. The potential certainly exists for them to make up ground against their West rivals, or at least position themselves for a cross-over playoff berth in the East. How do you like their chances?
RM: I think they win 4 of their remaining 6 and are close to third in the West or a cross-over.
EC: I don’t like their chances at all. They haven’t won a game against a western opponent yet, and I can’t see them turning it around at this point.
CC: Not very good. They haven’t beaten a west division opponent yet, lost the series to B.C. The hole is too big, and the B.C. loss did little to instill any confidence that we’re there yet.
Who are your candidates so far for Most Outstanding Player, Top Canadian and Rookie of the Year for the Riders and CFL?
RM: MOP (Riders) Jerrell Freeman; (CFL) Jamel Richardson (Montreal) or Solomon Elimimian (B.C.). Top Canadian (Riders) Chris Getzlaf; (CFL) Ricky Foley (Toronto) or Getzlaf. Rookie of the Year (Riders) Craig Butler; (CFL) Chris Williams (Hamilton).
EC: MOP (Riders) Chris Getzlaf; (CFL) Brandon Whitaker (Montreal). Top Canadian (Riders) Chris Getzlaf; (CFL) Getzlaf or Jerome Messam (Edmonton), although I don’t really think any Canadian players around the league are excelling like Fantuz did last year. Rookie of the Year (Riders) Craig Butler; (CFL) Chris Williams.
CC: MOP (Riders) Jerrell Freeman; (CFL) Solomon Elimimian, Jamel Richardson or Geroy Simon (B.C.). Top Canadian (Riders) Chris Getzlaf or an O-Lineman; (CFL) Getzlaf or Paul McCallum (B.C.) or Sean Whyte (Montreal). Rookie of the Year (Riders) Craig Butler; (CFL) Chris Williams (Hamilton).