If you were as nauseated as I was listening to Rod Black gush over Johnny Manziel last Sunday, well, spare a thought for the fans of the Montreal Alouettes.
They are the subjects of some kind of weird S&M experiment by the Montreal braintrust to determine how much abuse a fan base can take before they finally snap and take in, uh, a jazz festival or two.
If there was any kind of doubt coming into this game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it probably came from looking at their past games and seeing the team play to the level of its competition. Sometimes it is successful as in wins over Calgary and the Godless Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and sometimes they fall flat as in losses to Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton.
The final score 34-29 was notable for the Riders nearly gassing a big lead and letting Montreal back into the game, aided by officials not being able to determine holding on a punt return touchdown by Stefan Logan. It was also aided by the Riders being able to use a ball control offense to take momentum back from Montreal after they scored some touchdowns.
As for Manziel, he lost his CFL touchdown cherry with two TD passes, he also scrambled in a way that was dangerous for a defense not watching its lanes. He was also sacked five times thanks to a porous offensive line and some of his decision making was not the best.
For Manziel fans, it showed glimpses of what might be possible if he had some help at say, the offensive line. But otherwise it showed Manziel is just a playground quarterback who can make plays when he scrambles, but otherwise scares no one with his ability to lead an offense.
The Riders for their part were without Naaman Roosevelt at receiver and the addition of Kenny Shaw and the continued improvement of Kryan Moore and Shaq Evans demonstrated growth in the Riders ability to generate enough offense to allow their defense to get a decent breather on the sidelines and not have to score as many touchdowns as the offense to try to stay in the game.
The Riders seem dedicated to rotating their offensive and defensive players to ensure no one gets overworked and are at increased risk for injury as the post-season approaches. It also allows them to have what they feel are the best personnel to match up against their next opponent.
It’s an approach that may rankle some of the older vets, but as the Riders continue their six wins in seven games and drive towards hosting a playoff game, the amount of wear and tear on their defense is being reduced and this might help when the Riders play games that matter in a November to Remember.
The other interesting development is the insertion of Josiah St. John on the offensive line in Jumbo plays on third down. St. John, the former 2016 first round draft pick has spent more time on the injured list than the practice roster and this season is expected to show whether he can finally show he deserves to be a part of the team going forward.
The relative lack of film and experience has seen St. John slip behind Dariusz Bladek on the offensive line as a contributor, but if St. John can show he belongs, then maybe adding another Canadian on the offensive line will free up a spot for an American elsewhere on the roster. One of St. John’s shortcomings was his ability to handle defensive linemen, but while there are occasions where he does get beat, he is at least hanging in there, which for offensive linemen means a lot.
So the last weekend of CFL play saw a surprisingly convincing Winnipeg win over Edmonton in Edmonton, while Hamilton showed why it is not a good idea to dance on their logo in their thumping of BC. The Winnipeg win resulted in Edmonton firing special teams coordinator Cory McDiarmid, although when a team scores only three points, you would think the offensive coordinator should take the blame.
Oh yeah, that is Jason Maas, and while his fiery style may have had old-time Eskimo fans nod approvingly of Maas and the “Eskimo Way”, Maas’ temper tantrums have opened the door for his team to play sloppy football and they have seemingly lacked any spark in the last two games.
Maas said the way for the Eskimos to rebound is through better execution and paying attention to details. However, if the Eskimos are paying attention to anything, it is the sight of their coach losing control on the sidelines and taking it out on whatever inanimate objects they may find.
The Bombers went after Edmonton with an all out blitz that didn’t give Mike Reilly a chance to set up and took CJ Gable out of the game early. The loss dropped Edmonton to fourth place and for a team that is hosting the 2018 Grey Cup, the Eskimos lack of performance means fans may be pondering when to put their tickets up on the resale market.
The BC loss to Hamilton follows the miracle comeback BC made against Hamilton the week before. While the Lions felt good about themselves and their quarterback Jonathon Jennings, they may have made the mistake of thinking their win completely demoralized the Cats and all BC had to do was show up and dance on the Cat’s logo to demonstrate their Alpha status.
Well so much for that idea and after the 40-10 loss to Hamilton, it was not surprising to hear that should linebacker Solomon Elimimian get clearance Monday from his wrist injury and quarterback Travis Lulay set to return from his shoulder injury next week, BC will likely be in its best position to make a run for the playoffs.
The Lions brought in more speed for their return game by adding Shakeir Ryan to the practice roster. A wide receiver who was cut by Hamilton and remembered for being tackled by the dreadlocks while breaking a run open, BC seems to be wanted to become a combination of speed in their return and receiver positions and more physical in their running game because they will likely be playing their games in cold weather.
Calgary took care of Toronto rather easily and giving rise to stories that the Argos spirally out of control season may mean changes to the combination of Jim Popp as General Manager and Marc Trestman as head coach. The combination helped lead Toronto to a Grey Cup last year, but the big difference was the presence of Ricky Ray to rally the team.
This year Ray went down early with a neck injury and the Argos first tried James Franklin, the former Edmonton back-up they traded for as an heir apparent, and then McLeod Bethel-Thompson who led the Argos to two come from behind wins before his carriage turned into a pumpkin. The Argos also added Duron Carter who was let go from the Riders for being too high maintenance (please note the Riders have gone 6-1 since Carter got released) and whom Trestman has been worried about giving a prominent role in the Toronto offense because he would be too at-odds with the team philosophy Trestman is trying to build in the locker room. The result is a minimal involvement by Carter in the team offense and Trestman may be choosing principles over the potential payoff an engaged Carter might have on the team fortunes.
The Argos fall this season may also point to the factor that if Trestman has a veteran quarterback, he tends to do well, whether it is Anthony Calvillo or whomever. But Trestman seems unwilling or unable to coach up a quarterback who is not as experienced. If the stories of Trestman not opening up the playbook for Franklin are true, then the question for Toronto is if Trestman and Popp are to remain for next season, do they trade Franklin or do they recruit a quarterback and go with him?
As for Calgary, they should be moving in on clinching first place sometime soon and they face Montreal this week. Calgary has undergone a number of injuries at the receiver position and now they are getting ready to welcome Eric Rogers back and they signed Chris Matthews, the former Rookie of the Year with Winnipeg who made an impression for Seattle in the Super Bowl against New England.
Calgary expanded their practice roster with a number of players they want to look at before next season and one addition that bears watching Ka Deen Carey, a 5’10” 215 lb running back from the Arizona Wildcats who was drafted by the Bears three years ago. With the recent record snowfall in Calgary, western teams are going to look at fine-tuning their running games in case they are playing in similar conditions a month from now when the playoffs begin.
So as we enter Week 17, the games get more interesting and the implications for the playoffs more profound.
We start Friday with Winnipeg going to Ottawa. Winnipeg is on a two game winning streak and feel pretty good about themselves after thumping Edmonton to get back into the playoff race in the west. While Winnipeg’s offense is approaching the pedestrian levels of the Rider offense, their defense has stepped up to pick up the slack and has been on a bit of a roll the last few weeks.
Ottawa on the other hand is coming off a bye and sits in first place in the east, hotly pursued by Hamilton. Ottawa plays well in stretches, but consistency is not a given with this franchise. They are coming off a win over Edmonton before they hit the bye, but this team is not exactly the easiest to figure out.
For what it’s worth, Ottawa thumped Winnipeg 44-21 to spark the Bombers four game losing streak, but this time it should be a more evenly matched contest with Winnipeg coming away with a 26-25 win because hey, turnabout is fair play and the Bombers are looking to peak before the playoffs.
Then we have Toronto at BC on Saturday in a match where both teams need a win to try to salvage their season. For both teams it’s a question of trying to salvage their seasons with Toronto needing to win out and perhaps relying of voodoo priestesses to make sacrifices to ensure the appropriate teams lose.
For BC the thrill of beating Hamilton at home was replaced by having their collective butts handed to them back in Hamilton, especially after dancing on the Cats logo. For BC that continued a trend of not winning on the road and then playing pretty well at home. For Toronto this is do or die and for BC its’ time to try to get back into the playoff race in the jousting for third or a crossover spot. Since the game is in BC the Lions should win this one 27-24.
On Thanksgiving the Calgary Stampeders go to Montreal, which is a pretty nice way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Calgary is on the verge on clinching first and this is a pretty good way to start.
The problem is that Calgary has stumbled in Montreal, probably due to the wonderful distractions the city has to offer. While Montreal has seen some improvement with Johnny Manziel, the porous offensive line and the questionable defense probably will result in Montreal losing the rest of the way unless they manage to pull off an upset against a team taking them for granted.
With Calgary expecting receiver Eric Rogers back and signing Chris Matthews, the Stampeder receiving corps has gotten faster and bigger. This will be a good first test for Calgary to test out their receiving corps for the playoffs and expect the Stampeders to win 32-19.
Finally, we have Edmonton at Saskatchewan and this one can go either way. The Eskimos have slid out of second and may end up in a dogfight for the crossover spot unless they discover a way to play better.
The decision to fire the special teams’ coordinator does not address the root problem with the Eskimos which is discipline. Maas’ lack of control is reflected in the Eskimos lack of discipline when it comes to penalties, but when Edmonton came into Regina last year at a similar time, the Eskimos came up big time to beat the Riders.
The Riders pedestrian offense has gotten better and the more Zach Collaros plays with his young receiving corps, the more efficient they are becoming. The weather has changed from the initial forecast of snow and rain showers to plus 3 so the Riders will likely still focus on their running game while employing a mixture of blitz and coverage schemes to try to throw Reilly off.
This game has the feel of a playoff game with tremendous implications. The Riders have won six of 7 but with their offense, there is the feeling the wheels may come off at any moment. The Riders road record is better than their home record while the Eskimos are trying to get back into the race with a win and a sweep of the season series with the Riders.
This will likely be the closest game of the weekend, unless the Riders blow this completely. But I suspect the Eskimos are starting to harbour some doubts about their ability to show up for big games and while they will put up a fight, I’m picking the Riders to win 29-27.
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