After playing near perfect football in the first third of the season the Riders have tailed off considerably. In their last six games — all of which were considered winnable by Ron Mexico, Cal Corduroy and Earl Camembert in the last Rider Fan Forum, given the quality of the opposition and/or the fact the Riders were playing at home — the Green & White sport a mediocre 3W-3L record.
Next up for the Riders is a game against the Alouettes in Montreal on Sunday (TSN 11 a.m.). And Rider fans are increasingly antsy that a season that began with such promise is on the verge of slipping away -– leaving the Riders on the outside looking in when the Grey Cup is held in Regina on Nov. 24.
So what do Cal, Earl and Ron have to say? Let’s find out.
Is the Rider season in jeopardy? Or do you think their recent stretch of so-so play is more of a mid-season slump that the team can pull out of?
RM: I think that there is some jeopardy, mostly due to the health of the team. If the question was just about talent and coaching, I would have been more confident that this is just a mid-season slump. But the loss of Rey Williams, Kory Sheets and the numerous injuries on the offensive line are really worrisome. I don’t think we can win it all without Sheets.
EC: The recent swoon reminds me of last year’s team’s performance. Fumbling snaps. Four yard passes into the flat and a QB running for his life. Losing to QBs no one has heard of. Shitting the bed at the end of games. It all seems so familiar.
CC: Newsflash — the bandwagon has some room on it if anyone cares to jump on. A slight descent from grace from an 8-1 record (on a relatively easy schedule I might add). Not one aspect of the game from coaching through defence, offence and special teams seems to be working. Time for the monkey and the dart board.
From what I’ve seen of the Riders this year, the team seems to have played reasonably well defensively and on special teams. Are you happy with their performance in those two facets of the game?
RM: Generally yes. As usual, we freeze up on defence when the game is on the line and a stop is needed. How many times in the Richie Hall era have we given up a late score after the opposition picks its way down the field 10 yards at a time without a sack or an interception? I have no real complaints about special teams. It’s not easy to hit the upright three times in two games on field goals like Chris Milo has done.
EC: People keep telling me the defence has played well enough to win these recent games. I don’t agree. They led Toronto by 11 in the second half and puked the lead up to a rookie QB. They had B.C. on the ropes and managed to parlay a soft zone and zero pressure into a loss to another rookie. Both at home — that’s inexcusable. Special teams are OK when healthy but like last year Chris Milo now has a case of crapshootitis. If he made the 35 yard field goals in the Toronto and B.C. games the Riders might (and I emphasize might) have won them both. And twice on special teams I think they really screwed up. In the Calgary game in early August there was that kick out of bounds after they surrendered a safety, and then in the B.C. game a line drive kick at the end that some clown ran back to the 50 — leading to the game-winning field goal.
CC: Sorry, but I’m just not there defensively. Both the Toronto and B.C. games were winnable had our defence done ANYTHING to prevent the opposing offences from marching down the field. Oh right, prevent stands for “prevent us from winning”… my mistake. I should know by now — Richie Hall defences are break but don’t bend. God forbid we would blitz a rookie quarterback who has to go to the sidelines with 44 seconds left. Special teams are “OK”. Milo has suddenly found such pinpoint accuracy that he’s hit the upright three times in the last two games. The Winnipeg kickoff was perfect save for Carlos Thomas making the executive decision to leave his lane. Ricky Schmidt can still kick. By the way, just to show I’m sensitive to the Rider situation, there have been some injuries — in particular, the loss of middle linebacker Rey Williams hurt the Riders. Of course, no one else has any injuries. Ooops, did I just use my outside voice for that?
Offensively, the Riders have struggled of late. At different times, offensive coordinator George Cortez, the O-line and QB Darian Durant have been criticized for the team’s inability to take advantage of generally favourable field position and put TDs on the board? What would you recommend to help get the offense back on track?
RM: A healthy Kory Sheets and offensive line, and running the ball 20-25 times a game. Unless we can do that, I don’t think we can win it all. I don’t think we can win dropping back and passing 90-per cent of the time. Our receivers aren’t that good.
EC: The offence has really been hurt by injury, but so has every team. Toronto didn’t have Ricky Ray or Chad Owens. Calgary doesn’t have Fat Nik Lewis and the Greek guy on the line. B.C. didn’t have Howdy Doody Lulay or Manny Arceneaux. The Riders response to the injury bug has been to throw five yard passes to Taj Smith and maybe one or two to Dressler, their best player. I think they need to mix it up in the pass game. It would be nice to see some plays to take advantage of the blitz packages they see all the time now too.
CC: Hey George, can we please mix it up a bit? How the hell did Taj Smith become our “go to” guy (notwithstanding the year he is having). How about a hot route? Incidentally, Darian was making me eat my words early this year. But he’s certainly “leveled off” since Kory Sheets stopped rushing for 100 yards per game. And what happened to him hustling on and off the field as was happening in the early part of the year? Back to the issue at hand. The offensive line (injuries or not) has not played well for a number of games. I think centre Dominic Picard has to pull up his socks. I also think we’re being out coached for the first time since Chamblin has been here.
Heading into week 15 of the season what would your CFL power ranking be for the teams in the league one through eight?
RM: Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Saskatchewan, B.C., Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg.
EC: I don’t think Calgary is very good but they keep getting it done. Right now Toronto is playing the best. They have the best coach [Scott Milanovich] who the Riders passed on to hire Greg Marshall I might add. Unbelievable. So I size it up as Toronto, Calgary, Hamilton, B.C., Sask., Montreal, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Like last year.
CC: Toronto, Calgary, Hamilton, B.C., Riders, Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg. Although Riders/Montreal might be different depending on the outcome of their game this weekend. My those Eskimo and Blue Bomber clubs are top drawer outfits, aren’t they?
Is there anything else you want to get off your chest about the broader operation of the Riders and the CFL in general?
RM: I just finished saying that the Rider receivers aren’t that good, and that got me thinking about who in the league is really good at receiver. Maybe I’m overlooking a bunch of guys but I think the caliber of receivers in the league right now is weak. It is also getting very difficult to rush a quarterback in this league, given the rules that are in place to protect quarterbacks.
EC: Pro football is getting to the point where halfway thru the year everyone is hurt. Then what you get are basically exhibition games with a bunch of back-ups. What ensues are turnovers, a huge number of penalties, and crappy football. The first half of both the Toronto and B.C. games are right up there with the worst I’ve seen. I was pissed I’d paid money to watch it. I’d also hate to coach defence in the league. You get flagged for unnecessary roughness if you cut a fart within three yards of a quarterback. Oh, and the officiating in the league continues to be the absolute shits. Watching that Andre Proulx crew do the Argo game was incredible comedy. Although they did call a piling on penalty in that game. That was refreshing. Finally, nothing good happens after midnight on Dewdney.
CC: I was flabbergasted to hear that Dwight Anderson was in a rhubarb in Regina. It’s nice to see that the refereeing in the CFL still hits a solid 9 out of 10 on the shitty scale. Has anyone figured out just what constitutes pass interference (still unclear since Ken Miller first asked the question). Rider president Jim Hopson has to go. Apparently the Rider fans in Calgary are assholes. The first half of the B.C./Rider game was one of the worst halves of football I have seen in a long time. No, wait a minute, the first half of the Toronto/Rider game was maybe worse. No, just a second, the Winnipeg game in Winnipeg was pathetic. And to the guy from Winnipeg who responded to our last column, would you care to discuss the access and egress to the Winnipeg stadium?