Following the Sept. 28 forum, the Riders went 2W-4L in their final six games, and finished third in the CFL West with an 8-10 record. On Nov. 11, they’ll take the field in the West semi-final against the Calgary Stampeders (who they’ve defeated in five consecutive playoff games dating back to 1997) at McMahon Stadium. To offer their thoughts on how the Green & White might fare, we’re joined by Earl Camembert, Ron Mexico and Cal Corduroy.
The Riders this year have been streaky with a capital “S”. Currently, they’re on a four-game losing skid. Do you think they can heat up again and make some noise in the playoffs?
CC: The Riders have a chance against the Stamps. Keeping running back Jon Cornish under wraps is the key (and covering that fat, cocky Nik Lewis). But that’s where it ends for the Riders. While they would’ve had a slightly better chance against Montreal had they crossed over to the East Division, B.C. will be a graveyard should they get there.
RM: I would be surprised if the Riders can make any noise in the playoffs. They appear to have been mentally in neutral for several weeks. I heard that they were hoping to cross over and their play down the stretch supports that. I don’t know how easily you can turn things back on again. I don’t expect them to, and I don’t expect them to get past Calgary.
EC: I don’t mind the Riders’ chances this weekend. They’ve played Calgary tough in the playoffs the last number of years and I think this year will be no different. If they get past Calgary I’m not sure they can win in B.C. but they match up pretty good against the Lions. They actually played B.C. the toughest of all the CFL teams this year. Anyway, the game this weekend will be close.
Looking at the season as a whole, are you satisfied with how the Riders played this year? Or do you still feel the team’s performance was disappointing?
CC: After a horrific 2011 season where they finished out of the playoffs with a 5-13 record, it’s clearly an improvement. At times the defence was very good, but they lacked consistency. The addition of Joe Lobendahn at middle linebacker made a significant difference. The loss of Abraham Kromah hurt more than I would’ve thought at the beginning of the year. The D-line played reasonably well, considering injuries — so credit to Brendan Taman (which I don’t give very often). But under Richie Hall, the defence doesn’t know how (or when) to blitz. Our pass rush was mediocre all year. Shomari Williams was a disappointment. Maybe he can play outside linebacker, but the middle position was a bust. Tyron Brackenridge had a nice year, but he’s small for a linebacker (can you say Sean Lucas?).
Offensively, Kory Sheets was a great find, Jock Sanders added a different dimension to the offensive scheme, and the O-line has potential to be one of the best in the league. Xavier Fulton was a great find (credit Taman, again), and Brendon Labatt, Dominic Picard, and Ben Heenan are bona fide starters. Taj Smith had a reasonably good season, but the Riders still lack a game breaking third receiver. Chris Getzlaf had a marginal year. Weston Dressler remains great. Which leads us to the quarterback. Darian Durant remains a good QB and his stats (turnovers, QB rating) were the best of his career. However, to win in this league you need an elite QB, which unfortunately he isn’t. The Riders lost a lot of close games this year where they couldn’t finish and kept falling short under Durant’s leadership. If and when he takes this team on his shoulders, the Riders have a chance. Unfortunately, in his five years as starter, and in his prime, I haven’t seen it yet.
Finally, I’m pleased with head coach Corey Chamblin. The offensive and defensive coordinators (Bob Dyce and Richie Hall) were disappointments. Craig Dickenson did a good job on special teams. Brendan Taman deserves another season (as much as I’m not really a Taman fan).
RM: I am reasonably satisfied with their improvement this year — lots of new and improved faces. However, dramatic and quick turnarounds of a major nature are not foreign in the CFL (worst to first type of thing) and we didn’t do that.
EC: At the beginning of the year I was calling the Riders for a .500 record. They were pretty close to that and would have been over it if they hadn’t blown the game in Calgary, the game here against Hamilton and either home game against Montreal and Toronto. I’m satisfied.
Prior to the Rider vs. Stamps game on Sunday, the Toronto Argonauts will host the Edmonton Eskimos in the East semi-final. The semi-final winners will then play the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions in the East and West Finals on Nov. 18. Then on Nov. 25 the Grey Cup will be played in Toronto. How do you see the playoffs unfolding?
CC: I don’t see any surprises coming out of the playoffs. The Riders can (should?) beat Calgary, with the winner losing in B.C. Toronto should beat Edmonton and then lose to Montreal. B.C. wins the cup (although I hate Wally Buono).
RM: I think the second place teams (Toronto and Calgary) should win handily in the semis. The third place teams are playoff teams only because this is the CFL where 3/4 of the teams make the playoffs and 1/4 of the teams play in the championship game. This league needs two more teams. I think B.C. and Toronto will win the division finals. Montreal is ripe, and Toronto may be fired up to play at home in the Grey Cup… where they will lose to BC… with Justin Bieber being tremendous at halftime.
EC: Toronto over Edmonton and then knocks off Montreal who have been vulnerable all year. Riders over Calgary and then lose to B.C. B.C. wins the Grey Cup.
In 2013, the Riders will host the 101st Grey Cup. To give themselves the best shot at playing in that game, what should be the team’s top off-season priorities as far as position players and coaches go?
CC: In 2012, the Riders, while improved, simply didn’t have the horses. They need a legitimate outside threat, a stronger pass rush and some shoring up in the secondary. I would look for a much more aggressive defensive coordinator, and a more creative offensive coordinator.
RM: For next year, the Riders need receivers, defensive ends (I would have cut Odell Willis by Labour Day), a D-back and an offensive coordinator. Taman should keep looking for a QB. Durant is good, but not great. Last year’s dramatic slide by him was only partially corrected this year.
EC: The Riders need a competent Canadian receiver and another fast receiver — maybe a fast Canadian receiver. The other weak link they should look at is pressuring the QB. If you get pressure it covers up a lot of other defensive ills. I think this means finding a pass rusher. Odell Willis hasn’t done it for me this year and Brent Hawkins, although good, is always hurt. I also don’t like Ritchie Hall’s death by a thousand 12-yard outs style of defence. It’s frustrating to watch at the end of games.
Care to weigh in on the University of Regina Rams vs. Calgary Dinos Hardy Cup tilt in Calgary on Nov. 10?
CC: Should be a good game. The Rams have beaten the Dinos before, which should give them confidence. On the other hand, the Dinos will be looking for revenge and pounded Manitoba 57-18 to get to this game. Prediction: Dinos in a high scoring game.
RM: I think the Rams represent the better chance for football glory in Calgary this weekend. If the Rams can stay in the game in the first half, and QB Marc Mueller stays healthy, I’ll call them for the upset.
EC: The Rams have a shot. Mark Mueller is a difference maker. The problem is they haven’t beaten the Dinos in Calgary since when… Ever?