When we last chatted, you predicted that the Riders, who were then sitting at 3W-3L, would still be .500 at the two-thirds point of the season. Following their 30-25 victory over Calgary at Mosaic Stadium on Sept. 23 that precisely where they sit — two points ahead of the last place Edmonton Eskimos and two points behind the 7W-5L Stampeders in the race for second in the CFL West.
Over the past stretch of six games what do you think were positives for the team?
RON MEXICO: The main positive has been the improved play of the defence, especially the coverage by the defensive backs and the addition of Joe Lobendahn at middle linebacker. Both have been major, major improvements. The other positive is that it seems Drew Willy is a reasonably capable backup quarterback. Darian Durant still gives the team the best chance to win, but it is not a total catastrophe if he goes down and Willy has to be relied upon.
CAL CORDUROY: I admire the fact that they have been (essentially) competitive for all their games to date, without a real blowout (at least on the receiving side). Considering their injuries and a lack of any perennial stars, the Riders have actually held it together fairly well. Their play calling has improved, and their defence has improved, surprisingly, giving the Riders a couple of chances to either win games or give the ball back to the offence when they needed to hold. All facets have been good at times, no facets have been great, and save for intermittent collapses, no facets have been horrible. Kory Sheets has been a nice surprise, Jock Sanders has been a nice find, and Weston Dressler has been his usual consistent self (save for the drop against the Stamps in Calgary). The D-line has been good against the run (save for that knob Jon Cornish’s big game in August) and the secondary has been okay despite injuries. Lobendohn has been a nice find in what was a relatively weak middle. I was impressed with Willy, but only insofar as how well he played considering the limited experience he has. Durant’s experience certainly showed against Calgary last Sunday.
EARL CAMEMBERT: Ever since the defence added Lobendahn they’ve played much tougher on that side of the ball. It’s amazing what happens to a defence when you put a middle linebacker in there who’s actually played middle linebacker in his career. I also think that getting Sanders the ball more often has been positive. I suspect Sheets is banged up so Sanders can only help. The pass rush was also excellent against Calgary. Let’s see if they can keep it up.
RM: The negatives have been the continued mediocre play of our receivers. Despite good statistics, I don’t think Chris Getzlaf has had a good season at all. Other than Dressler, the rest have been mediocre to poor. Another negative is the team’s tendency to take more stupid penalties than they have in a number of years. Odell Willis takes at least one per game.
CC: The inability to score points prior to the Labor Day blowout (five in BC, ten at home to Calgary) hurt the Riders. The offensive lacks any real weapons (Sheets perhaps notwithstanding) as defences focus on Dressler and everyone else (including Getzlaf) have been marginal. Durant is his usual okay self, never destined to be great unfortunately. When your QB is only good, it is really difficult to build a great team. Defensively, Shomari Williams just isn’t the middle linebacker we need. He’s better on the outside. Our secondary’s prevent defence under Richie Hall continues to “prevent us from winning” although, in fairness, there is a little more blitzing to try and get some pressure on opposing QBs which at times has helped our secondary. We continue to allow too many yards to opposing teams, especially through the air.EC: On the negative side, I still don’t like the Riders’ vertical passing attack. The numerous nameless receivers who have played thus far can’t get it done consistently, and I question Durant’s accuracy on the +20 yard passes too.
The Riders open the last third of their campaign at home against the Lions on Sept. 29, then play road games against the Argonauts on Oct. 8 and Edmonton on Oct. 13, then they host the Alouettes on Oct. 20 and Argos on Oct. 27 before closing out the season with a game against the Lions in Vancouver. Calgary, meanwhile, plays home-and-homes with Edmonton and B.C., and has Winnipeg on the road and Hamilton at home. Do you think the Riders have a shot at catching them for second, or are they destined to battle the Eskimos for third?
RM: I think the Riders are destined to coast into third place. I can’t see them making up the distance between them and Calgary, and I can’t see Edmonton winning many of its remaining games.
CC: I think the little Roughies are destined for a third place finish. They should beat out the Eskimos. They’re better than the Eskimos.
EC: The Riders have a shot at second but they have to win their home games and pull one out unexpectedly on the road. If they lose one of the home games then I think it’s a long shot for second.
If you were voting for the CFL awards, who would be your nominees from the Riders and the CFL for Most Outstanding Player; Most Outstanding Canadian; Defensive Player; Offensive Lineman; Rookie; and Special Teams?
RM: MOST OUTSTANDING Riders: Kory Sheets (a good year, but not a serious candidate). CFL: Chad Owens (leads the league in receiving and return yards and closing in on 3000 total for the Argos). CANADIAN Riders: Brendon LaBatte (again, not a serious candidate). CFL: Jon Cornish (leads the league in rushing for Calgary, is a dink). DEFENSIVE Riders: Tyron Brackenridge (the best of an unspectacular bunch). CFL: J.C. Sherritt (no contest for the Edmonton linebacker). O LINEMAN Riders: Brendon LaBatte (could be a serious candidate, especially if Sheets wins the rushing title). CFL: Jovan Olafioye (if LaBatte doesn’t get the nod, it should go to this B.C. lineman). ROOKIE Riders: Kory Sheets (if he qualifies) or Tyron Brackenridge (if he qualifies). CFL: Chevon Walker (this is a tough one because there always seems to be an issue of who qualifies as a rookie in the CFL. Assuming Sheets doesn’t because of his NFL experience, I’d go with the Hamilton running back). SPECIAL TEAMS Riders: Sam Hurl (he’s been great, unfortunately a good coverage guy won’t get the attention he deserves). CFL: Chad Owens (Toronto) or Chris Williams (Hamilton) Williams has fewer return yards than Owens, but a crazy number of return TDs.
CC: MOST OUTSTANDING Riders: Weston Dressler. CFL: Travis Lulay (B.C. QB) or Chris Williams (Hamilton receiver/kick returner). CANADIAN Riders: Brendon LaBatte. CFL: Jon Cornish (another Stampeder jerk, they seem to be good at producing them ie. Henry Burris, Nik Lewis, Dwight Anderson). DEFENSIVE Riders: Keith Shologan. CFL: J.C. Sherritt (Edmonton). O LINEMAN Riders: Brendon Labatte. CFL: Scott Flory (Montreal) or Dimitri Tsoumpas (Calgary). ROOKIE Riders: Kory Sheets or Ben Heenan. CFL: No idea. SPECIAL TEAMS Riders: Sam Hurl. CFL: Chris Williams (Hamilton).
EC: MOST OUTSTANDING Riders: Weston Dressler. CFL: Travis Lulay. CANADIAN Riders: Brendon LaBatte. CFL: Jon Cornish (as much as I hate to say it. He’s a total asshole). DEFENSIVE Riders: Brent Hawkins. CFL: J.C. Sherritt. O LINEMAN Riders: Brendon LaBatte. CFL: Not sure. ROOKIE Riders: Ben Heenan (unless Sheets counts as a rookie, then he gets the nod). CFL: No idea. SPECIAL TEAMS Riders: Sam Hurl. CFL: Chris Williams.
Care to throw in your two cents on the stadium debate?
RM: I am in favour of the stadium. It’s time. The economic conditions are as good as they have been in a long time. If we waited until every single social problem was solved, we’d never build stadiums, theatres, museums, etc.
CC: Far be it for me to chime in on arguably the most popular brand in the country and our inability to commit to showcasing that brand. CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) seem to sprout up quite frequently in this province … and for what it’s worth, both the Riders and the City have made a mess of the file. At least Mayor Pat Fiacco said “were doing it”. Look, we elect these people to make decisions, and, unfortunately, not simply the decisions that we favour personally. If we don’t like their decisions, then don’t elect them next time (you could live in a dictatorship and you wouldn’t even have a say in that). Go hug a tree for Christ’s sakes.
EC: As for the stadium, yet again we hear lots from the CAV constituency — that is, Citizens Against Everything. Then they move on and protest the G-20. They can shut the hell up.