PS’ pigskin pundits review the season so far, then look ahead

Sports | by Gregory Beatty

The Riders sit third in the West with a 5–4 record heading into the Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl doubleheader with the 5–5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers. To look ahead to the season’s second half we’re joined by our Rider Fan Forum panel of Ivanka Trudeau, Earl Camembert, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico.

How thrilled are you with the quality of CFL football these days?

CAL CORDUROY The first half was terrible, and slowly things have got better. We continue to be plagued with select ineptitude (read: Montreal), officiating remains terrible, and certain rules (e.g. pass interference or illegal contact downfield) continue to have too big an influence on the outcome of games.

RON MEXICO I go to all the Rider games and tune in to as many of the other games as possible, so I would say generally thumbs up on the entertainment/quality. My perception is penalties are down somewhat, but I’m not sure if I’m right. I know scoring was down early, but I’m never one to demand shootouts to be entertained. I like defensive play.

I like that the East has a real good team in Ottawa. I like that even the league sad sack, Montreal, has an interesting story line in Johnny Manziel. I wish TSN would get some varied commercials and stop playing that Thursday Night Football song every five minutes. It’s a decent tune, but they beat it to death. TSN beats a lot of things to death.

IVANKA TRUDEAU The quality of play and parity are quite good so far. I’ve especially enjoyed the better pace to games now that those stupid fishing-expedition illegal contact on a receiver challenges are gone. I like what they’ve done with the Thursday night games and concerts: as long as they don’t do more than one a season for Rider home games because I (and many others) travel from out of town. The mic’d up games were neat at first, but I don’t see the need for one per week.

EARL CAMEMBERT Some games have been good to watch, and some have not. So I’d say this is a normal CFL season in terms of quality of play. I also think games have been more watchable because they’ve pretty well got rid of the ridiculous endless challenges on pass interference.

What’s your assessment of the Riders’ play so far?

CAL I fail to understand what takes so bloody long to get the team performing at a high level season after season. We’re around .500 halfway thru the year, with some brutal games (e.g. Montreal, Ottawa), then start to tear it up in the second half. The defence has been excellent for the most part, proof that while Chris Jones might be [a jerk], he’s an excellent defensive mind. Special teams have been consistent (including improving our return game), although our punter is two yards a kick shorter than the league average, and the offence has been poor, with a slight improvement with Zach Collaros’ return. Our offensive coordinator and/or offensive play selection has been brutal.

RON I’m frustrated that we’re always around .500 and clinging to a cross-over or third place finish in the West. It doesn’t matter who we have here, this is every Rider season. Two first place finishes since 1976 in a four or five team division? That’s unbelievable. That big picture rant aside, the Rider defence is elite which bodes well for late season games. The Calgary game was very encouraging because that was a straight up ass kicking. Not a fluke. I was a Collaros doubter, but he has played well. He isn’t in the category of Mike Reilly or Bo Levi Mitchell but he’s adequate.

IVANKA Watching the Riders was not fun for the first third of the season but they’ve improved. I was starting to question Jones over things such as Duron Carter’s release, starting more than one American on the O-line, submitting the wrong roster, not having a back-up DB when Nick Marshall was injured, constantly changing players like it was still pre-season, etc. But his decisions are starting to pay off.  It appears he and his two assistant GMs are capable of finding talent with new receivers Jordan Williams-Lambert, Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore and a solid defence. The offense needs to score more TDs, but hopefully that will improve now that the O-line is giving Collaros more time.

Speaking of Carter, I was definitely sad to see him go. He’s one of the CFL’s most talented athletes and was great to fans and very amusing on Twitter. But I can understand the decision if his offensive coaches and potentially teammates had issues with him. Glad to see he signed with the Argos though. Maybe he’ll return to Twitter, too!

EARL I think the Riders have been pretty good overall. In fairness, you can’t do much without a quarterback, which led to a pile of screens and “five yards and hope like hell” passes after Collaros went out. The defence is as good as they’ve had in some time, and it’s keeping them in most games. Actually, “keeping them” in games isn’t right. The defence has scored more than the offence! The only real downer was the Montreal loss. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt them.

The Riders are riding high after victories over Calgary and B.C. How do you see them doing in the second half?

CAL The Riders continue to improve every game, so they’ll be north of .500. But if they have any hope to win the cup, they’re going to need some other teams to fall flat — there’s too much talent in this league for the inconsistency we’ve been delivering. We better hope our QB doesn’t get hurt (again) or it’s curtains for the little Riders.

RON Like always, 9–9 or 10–8 and no home playoff game. However, they’re capable of knocking off anyone.

IVANKA I’m predicting a split with Winnipeg (each team wins at home), going two and one against the three East teams (Ottawa at home, Toronto and Montreal on the road), then two and two against the West (Edmonton and B.C. at home, Winnipeg and Calgary on the road) to finish 10 and 8. That should be good enough for third in the West. I think the Riders have played pretty well against Edmonton and Calgary, so they might even make it to the Grey Cup via the West.

EARL I’m optimistic about their chances. Collaros has to stay on his feet though, and avoid getting nailed on his glass jaw. Ditching Carter should end up as a positive. Clearly Jones had tired of that act, and I suspect so had a bunch of his teammates. I say they beat Winnipeg (who seem to be imploding with a whiner for a QB) two out of the three games they have against them, and go 6–3 in their last nine games.

Who has impressed and disappointed among the other teams?

CAL Impressed: Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg. Unimpressed: Montreal, B.C., Hamilton. The Riders can win on any given day if they play their best, and don’t resort to their punt-oriented offence (with credit to Rob Vanstone).

RON I’m really impressed with Ottawa. They should be 7–2 and are full marks for it. Excellent receiving corps and perhaps head coach Rick Campbell does a good job. I still think that Edmonton is the best team in the West and will prevail over the chokers from Calgary. I think Reilly is the better QB than Mitchell. I thought Hamilton would be better.

IVANKA Mike Reilly has been impressive again. I haven’t been as impressed with Bo-Levi Mitchell this year though. The new QBs in the East are doing better than I expected, but that’s largely been against other East teams.

EARL Ottawa has been better than I thought. They are well coached and QB Trevor Harris has been good for them. They’re the class of the East. Edmonton is on the opposite side of the coaching spectrum. Jason Maas is a boob and I don’t think they can keep it together over the second half. I’ve been calling Winnipeg to suck for two years and now they do. Montreal just stinks, but I thought they would, so no surprise there.

Labour Day Classic prediction?

CAL Riders 31 Bombers 21
RON  Riders 32 Bombers 14
IVANKA Riders 40 Bombers 23
EARL Riders 36 Bombers 15