It’s usually towards the end of the season when you have an idea of how a team has progressed or not, so the Riders did their fans a favor last week by imploding against the Montreal Alouettes 23-17 to put themselves in the drivers seat for the first overall pick of the 2019 draft.
Chris Jones got his start under Don Matthews and you can see a number of parallels with the unusual player selections and the “go big or go home” approach that Matthews and now Jones seems to favor.
Unfortunately, the Riders tendency these last few years to swing away with players with either a chip on their shoulder has resulted in an organization with many fine athletes but with no apparent sense of being a team yet, or anytime soon.
On paper before the Montreal game it seemed the Riders should beat Montreal, maybe not by a 56-10 score that Winnipeg beat Montreal with a week before with a rookie backup quarterback, but overall the Riders seemed to have a chip on their shoulder after getting flattened by Ottawa and would work out their frustrations on Montreal.
Well, the Riders problems begin with the offensive line, a motley collection of misfits seemingly incapable of herding sheep, never mind keeping out determined defensive players. With no depth on the offensive line, and one big bust (Josiah St. John) in the treatment tub, the Riders seemed determined to stock up on as many defensive linemen as they could get.
The reason for that became obvious as Duron Carter was burned more times than a toast order in a truck stop restaurant by opposing receivers. I sort of buy Jones’ argument that Carter is a fine athlete who can contribute on defense, but perhaps the reason Carter is on defense is that his antics on offense distract from the rest of the team and putting him of defense should theoretically keep him more quiet on the sideline.
The problem is Carter is being lit up more times than fireworks on Canada Day and to compensate for his lack of defensive technique and apparent lack of discipline, Jones is forced to rotate as many defensive linemen as possible in an effort to put as much heat on the opposing quarterback before they can burn Carter for another touchdown.
Carter’s antics on offense got him voted off the team in Montreal and Jones was pretty sure he could handle Carter in Saskatchewan. Which might have worked for a year, but now I wonder if Carter is beginning to wear out his welcome here and having Carter on defense is an opportunity to audition replacements without obviously alienating him.
So with no offensive line and a donut hole at cornerback, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Hamilton is going to do Thursday night. They will go after Carter with Chris Banks, have Jeremiah Masoli sramble and stretch out the Rider defense while blitzing the Riders offensive line every chance they get and shutting down the Riders main receiver, Naaman Roosevelt and forcing the Riders to beat them with Shaq Evans and Devon Bailey.
Which leaves us with the question mark at quarterback. After a pretty good season last year coming off the bench, Brandon Bridge had an opportunity to take hold of his future with a performance that could demonstrate he could manage a game. After a drop by Marcus Thigpen on the opening play, Bridge was mauled by Montreal’s defense until he was chased out at halftime without having an opportunity to play through his mistakes.
I read someone saying Bridge reminded them of Michael Bishop, but with a Canadian passport. Bishop was another strong armed quarterback who could run and throw deep but had the game sense of a billy goat by running around and making up plays as he ran. Once defenses caught on to that, Bishop’s days were numbered.
So the Riders, who went all in by making Zach Collaros the highest paid quarterback in Rider history, how have him in the spotters booth with an apparent concussion while Bridge is being beaten like a gong behind that swiss cheese offensive line. Jones bet big on Collaros and if Collaros returns by Labour Day, the Riders might be 1-8 by then and well out of the hunt for a playoff spot, never mind competing for one.
The Riders seemingly lack of interest in Canadian offensive linemen came to a bit of a halt this week with the signing of Braden Schram, who once upon a time, last year, was a second round draft pick of Hamilton, whose other Canadian offensive linemen had moved ahead of him. Schram was signed to a two year deal, which was sweet, but the Rider problems run deeper than trying to keep Bridge upright.
When Bridge was brought in last year, it was usually when Glenn was getting killed by the pass rush and opposing teams now had to contend with a quarterback who would run before getting hit. The problem is when you have a quarterback that is running outside the purported protection of the offensive line, they have no clue where he is and then you get things like holding penalties as they try to cover for not knowing what is going on.
Now perhaps Bridge has a tendency to go with his first read and was trying to go through all his progressions against Montreal before he got hit, but a good coach puts his players in a position to make plays. The Riders signed Derek Dennis last year as a big piece of their offensive line puzzle, only to let him go and he went back to Calgary where for the most part he seems like he is doing his job.
This year the Riders signed Travis Bond out of Winnipeg as a big physical tackle, but let him go and he got picked up by Edmonton who are going through their annual injury calvacade. If there is a pattern of behaviour being displayed here is maybe the Riders offensive line coaching is not doing the job. If that is the case, then maybe the Riders season is all but over.
The Riders on Tuesday traded defensive lineman Erik Striker to Toronto for someone on their negotiation list, which makes sense because the Riders have something like 20 defensive linemen in camp to try to keep Carter safe at cornerback. The Riders also released quarterback Jeremy Johnson, a guy who played in the Japanese league, but apparently was tried out at cornerback.
The Riders also signed former NFL first round draft pick Matt Elam, a defensive back who had some legal problems that were solved by being dropped. Elam`s signing is maybe the most positive news the Duron Carter Experience at defensive back may not be long, or at least there is an alternative.
But in the meantime, as the Riders have a not bad defense except for the drive through window where Carter plays, their offense was designed for Zach Collaros and to expect them to shift on a dime to accommodate Bridge`s skillset or lack thereof, is asking more of the Riders coaching staff than what they have demonstrated so far.
The Riders are stuck in a situation of their own making, they gambled big on Collaros and have so far lost, and Bridge may be headed to the category of historical footnote unless he manages to produce a miracle or two. Jones`belief in himself is admirable, but the question should maybe be asked – with a cap on football operations coming into effect next year, and the Riders inability to find a defensive back, never mind a quarterback, is Jones current method of finding players cost effective, or just ineffectiveÉ
Ah, which brings us to this week`s stretch of games.
On Thursday Hamilton comes to Saskatchewan and a tale of two contrasting teams was never more obvious. Hamilton came through their Alberta roadtrip with a split and beat Winnipeg the old fashioned way with another 300 yard passing offense from Masoli, rendering Johnny Manziel so far as just a footnote or Rod Black talking point.
Hamilton`s defense seems to be rounding into form and combined with the Riders finding their carriage turning into a pumpkin should be a close, but relatively easy Hamilton win 27-21. Future generations will talk of this game as being the likely CFL debut of Johnny Manziel who will look up into the stands, see all the green and think he is playing Baylor. The Riders will resort to trying to ride their defense to a win, but with Carter playing the role of a drive through window, the Riders are paying for rolling the dice earlier this year and coming up snake-eyes.
On Friday Ottawa goes to Montreal and Kavis Reed got a much needed reprieve from public humilation by beating the Riders. Reed should go down in history as the best job interviewer anywhere and he managed to buy some time with the Riders using their third string quarterback and he was reduced to his second string.
Ottawa found out the bye week advantage didn`t work against Calgary as teams are getting film on the new look Redblacks. Fortunately Ottawa is facing a fat and sassy Montreal and Noel Thorpe will take particular pleasure in tormenting Kavis Reed with a defense that should see Vernon Adams Jr. make an appearance as Jeff Matthews is chased from the field.
I`m going off a hunch that Stepan Logan will get some kind of special teams touchdown, or Montreal gets an early score and Ottawa wins this one 29-17. Which may be quite generous to Montreal, especially after seeing Mike Sherman struggle to get his headset off when Montreal beat Saskatchewan. Montreal reverts to being the gift that keeps on giving to teams other than Saskatchewan.
Edmonton goes to Toronto and this marks the (un) official start of the James Franklin era in Toronto. With Ricky Ray gone for likely the season and perhaps ending his career with a neck injury against Calgary, Franklin is the latest wunderkind quarterback who now has to prove he is more than potential.
Franklin though faces the same problems that Ray and Brandon Bridge are facing – an offensive line that can charitably be called porous. Toronto has had a bye week to try to adjust to the new era and when it comes to quarterbacks, Marc Trestman has a better record than Chris Jones.
Edmonton is coming off a convincing win over BC, but Edmonton has a problem with injuries and if Ray was playing, Toronto might have a chance. With Franklin, Edmonton has the advantage of familiarity of having Franklin in their system and knowing what to expect.
So Edmonton`s flying circus should come through this with a 33-22 win as Mike Reilly will go deep in an effort to break Toronto`s spirit. The interesting thing is to see if Franklin shows he is ready for prime time.
The final game of the weekend has BC at Winnipeg and for Bomber fans, the future is looking pretty good. If they can sweep, or at least split with BC, the Bombers are alive in the west and can position themselves as a viable third place candidate, or at least be in a position to contend once Matt Nichols comes back.
BC against Edmonton faced the fact that while they beat Montreal in their first game (the Riders didn`t), against Edmonton the fact they are a rebuilding team against an injury ridden team didn`t help them very much. Winnipeg was riding high after beating Montreal and were taken down to earth a bit against Hamilton.
The bottom line is Winnipeg has reason to feel optimistic Chris Streeler can help his team tread water or maybe even make some movies while learning to play the position. BC has to wonder if their offseason additions will actually help or if BC still has pieces missing from being a playoff contender. For week fiour, this game has the feel of a fight for a playoff spot and Winnipeg has more pieces in place than BC does for a 30-23 win.
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