A third of the way through the season; the Riders are 2-4 and hanging on to fifth place in the west.
By the time the Banjo Bowl rolls around in just over a month, their season will, for all intents and purposes, be over.
The Riders 30-15 loss to BC was notable for the defensive genius of rushing just three people against quarterback Travis Lulaly so the Riders could drop people into coverage and help limit his options. That was a bit of strategy from the unpredictable Chris Jones that BC clearly was unable to anticipate and they responded by throwing deep to relieve the pressure and also trying to run up the middle.
547 yards of total offense later, including 202 yards rushing, the Rider defense felt their bend and not break down too much approach was a crucial factor in avoiding repeating a 60-1 defeat that Hamilton suffered at the hands of Calgary. The record for biggest margin of defeat in 2017 is still safe for another week.
However in the rematch it appears Jonathon Jennings will return as quarterback, relieving Lulay. The Riders may remember Jennings from the preseason when he threw at will against an assortment of hobos and street people the Riders dressed in their defense. Jennings also has the annoying habit of moving around, which means the three man rush needs to be even more inventive under the defensive genius of Chris Jones. Maybe they can go with just two people rushing Jennings.
The Riders have run out of healing water from the Lourdes Shrine in France because they have released Canadian defensive lineman Linden Gaydosh who they traded for last year from Hamilton and who, hours after his release, was signed by Toronto. Gaydosh continues the Rider tradition of signing the halt and the lame in the hopes special healing waters from Manitou Lake can revive their careers. For other examples please Google Eric Norwood.
It was interesting to see Hamilton make some changes to their coaching staff off to a 0-6 start despite a narrow loss to Edmonton. Hamilton made Phil Lolley, who was formerly here in Saskatchewan last season under Jones before he moved to Hamilton, presumably to take advantage of easier plane flights south to be close to a sick family member, defensive coordinator, removing Jeff Reinbold who was no great shakes in that capacity.
The Riders wrap up their season series with BC this weekend, but have falled two games behind Winnipeg for fourth place and are in danger of losing contact with the other teams in the West.
Since it is highly improbable the Riders can finish in the top three, if they can grab fourth, a crossover berth would be a welcome touch to the last few seasons of astounding alcohol abuse.
The problem the Riders face, and something their fans are getting their heads around, is that while the Riders may be competitive in the east, they have only beaten one western team during the reign of Chris Jones.
Throw in the fact they were outcoached by BC last week, and they face Edmonton, then a bye week, then a home and home with Winnipeg already down one game to Winnipeg, and the potential for the Riders to be 2-10 at the end of the Banjo Bowl is actually pretty good.
The athletic level of the players may be improved, but the team lacks leadership from the coaching down. It looks like a team more concerned with individual accomplishments or `measurables`to use a Chris Jones phrase, than perhaps team goals and how they can all better work together.
The Rider offensive line may be improved from the pylons in place last year, but they are still getting their quarterback battered and bruised and throwing medium range passes the opposing defense is dialling into. Kevin Glenn is a placeholder, but either he hasn`t been getting the time or he is unable to get the ball away fast or far enough to stretch defenses.
The offense may run the odd play or so and even be effective, but the coaching is lacking in being able to adapt to what other defenses are doing. They are either unable or incapable of being able to adapt.
The defense has become predictable and perhaps the only mystery is why Jones persists in using the same strategy of rushing three people. Maybe he thinks with the defensive breakdowns his secondary has experienced that having more people in coverage may reduce the number of catches for the opposition.
Of course having a Rider defensive back run into the goal post in the BC game and claim it was a pick play will rank right up there with Junior Mertile and his matador tackle a couple of seasons back. The Riders seem to be relying on Willie Jefferson to be the entire defense and no matter how inventive Chris Jones may want to use him, it isn`t going to be enough.
So if the Riders go to 2-10, will there be changes like in Hamilton?
The part of me that is finding Game of Thrones much more entertaining than watching the Riders is thinking not.
Jones has one more left on his contract and the Riders have been dropping money all year and cannot afford to pay Jones to sit for a year while paying for a new head coach.
Jones might be asked to give up either defensive coordinator or perhaps his football VP position, but a part of me is tempted to have Chris Jones and company carry on through the end of their contracts and then let them walk.
One thing I was hoping to see in Jones was the capacity to learn from his mistakes, but the repeating of the same strategies over and over and getting nothing but a loss indicates that while Bill Parcells may think the Riders are close, I think Parcells should stick to fishing or whatever he is doing these days.
Jones seems unable to compete in the West, especially when the west seems to have stepped it up a pace and he is losing ground.
So for someone with the boundless self confidence of Chris Jones, what will it say if he got all the financial resources, power etc that he wanted and he still couldn’t build a winner? And that is why if the Riders are going to miss the playoffs this year, and conceivably next year, I want him to wear this so the only job he could realistically expect after this is arena football.
That’s the Game of Thrones talking for me.
So this week we have some interesting games starting with Edmonton at Ottawa. Edmonton despite 18 players on the injury list is 6-0, which makes you think its’ either the coaching or the leadership from the players that is making this happen. They managed to gut out a win against a Hamilton team that could have and should have won and now they slide into Ottawa to meet a Redblacks team that folded against Winnipeg in the final minutes.
Ottawa was snakebit playing four games in 17 days and now has the challenge of facing the best record in the CFL. Edmonton has the character and they have the talent, but they are also playing against the odds and not matter how well they have responded, there comes a point where reality has to istep in and say you can only cover up those holes in your roster for so long. Ottawa has lost close games and their problem is mental focus. They seem to play Edmonton well, and I think Ottawa breaks Edmonton’s bubble with a 28-26 win.
Then we have Toronto at Montreal as the two top teams face off in the east with 2-4 records. Toronto found out Ricky Ray will not be out for four to six weeks although as I write this it’s not altogether clear if he will be in the lineup. Toronto got through their three games in a short period and Montreal is coming off an epic choke in Winnipeg where the Bombers scored twice in just over a minute to edge Montreal.
Toronto has filled some gaps on its defensive line, but the real concern is the offensive line and whether it can support Ray if he lines up under centre for this one. Noel Thorpe will be paying close attention to who runs onto the field and Montreal’s defense plays a very bruising style that will provide a headache to Ray or whoever. There is a bit of uncertainty to this one, but Montreal plays well at home and will eke out a 26-25 win to move into sole possesion of first place in the east.
Winnipeg takes its magical mystery tour to Hamilton where the Tiger-Cats have made changes to their coaching staff, bringing in June Jones as assistant head coach to maybe implement the run and shoot because Kent Austin’s offense is obviously more obvious than Chris Jones’. Everyone, including myself, keep expecting the Winnipeg coach to turn into a pumpkin with their last minute wins, but the Bombers seem determined to prove they are for real.
So this game will be interesting because Hamilton showed some fire against Edmonton and with the changes on defense, it will be interesting to see how they respond. I get the feeling Hamilton will respond because realistically they are only a couple of wins of being back in the race in the east. I think the coaching changes on offense and now on defense will have an effect on the team and result in another miracle – a Hamilton 34-28 win over the Bombers.
Finally we have the rematch of the Riders-BC game which asks the question, if the Riders lose here, is all hope lost? Well as James Bond, Never Say Never Again, but falling further behind the west will make it harder to keep up and again, I have seen no evidence that Chris Jones can grow and learn from his mistakes.
The Riders have yet to show they can compete with their western opponents and while the Riders have played games close at new Mosaic Stadium, BC with a licence to kill with Jennings and Lulay at quarterback will likely go deep on the Riders, run up the middle and emerge with a 29-25 game because after winning the season series, Wally can just move on and concentrate on Calgary and Edmonton.
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