For whom does the bell toll this week?

June 20, 2018 - 8:23am

I think there is a boxing expression that everyone has plan in the ring until they get hit. The CFL is no different as Week 1 is in the books and the best laid plans of Marc Trestman. Jason Maas and all took a bit of a beating.

I remember when the CFL had a four game exhibition schedule, so you would see rookies in the first game, then an increasing amount of veterans until the fourth game which would be a tuneup for the vets and a last chance for rookies to make their case.

The problem was fans didn’t want to pay regular season prices for games and players who might not make it the regular season. So two exhibition games got chopped and added to the regular season and now coaches walk a fine between giving rookies some game experience to see what they can do and providing vets with a chance to get into a regular rhythm which for football teams is a sweet spot.

So Marc Trestman doesn’t play Ricky Ray in the exhibition season, because everyone knows what Ricky Ray can do, but against the Riders, what we saw was a Ricky Ray that needed perhaps a week or so to get his timing with his receivers. Trestman saved his quarterback from injury in the preseason, but his lack of timing was a major contributing factor in Toronto losing to Saskatchewan.

Jason Maas figured there was no chance in hell his team would get hit by the injury bug two years in a row. After beating Winnipeg in the never ending season opener, Maas discovered that a year ago his injury list has seven players after one game and now he has 12 players.

Chris Jones of the Riders pulled Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge from the last exhibition game after they were getting mugged on a regular basis by the Calgary defensive line. Jones might have saved his quarterbacks, but Collaros, while getting the 12 game losing streak off his back might have been nice,  had the arm strength of Zoey the Magnificent Himalayan Cat going after a ping pong ball. It will be interesting to see if Collaros gets better with more playing time or if the Riders will revert to putting Bridge in if Collaros gets beaten like a gong.

My regular job starts at midnight so it was a rare occurrence to see the end of the Winnipeg-Edmonton game. For all of Edmonton’s offensive might, this was a game that Winnipeg should have won without intereference by Mother Nature. Winnipeg needed to play a perfect game on special teams and defense to give their offense a shot and it was the offense’s inability to get a first down in the fourth quarter, perhaps due to exhaustion at 1 am, that cost Winnipeg the game.

So for the Bomber fans, fearing an implosion of their team after Matt Nichols went down in practice, the result was not as bad as they might have feared. The Bombers had the element of surprise on their side for this game and a template for how they might be able to salvage the first third of their season without falling too far behind in the CFL West.

And Edmonton, who won the game, is now going through Rider cuts to find players to fill the holes in their team. If Mike Reilly can continue his level of performance, then he will deserve to win his second straight most outstanding player award because Edmonton’s defensive secondary and their offensive line are taking a bit of battering.

The Montreal-BC game was interesting because it was Mike Sherman’s debut as head coach and Montreal has added some new parts but has Drew (Free) Willy pulling the trigger. I don’t mind Willy, but when he went to Winnipeg and his offensive line disappeared, he took a battering that seemed to have left him in shell shock.

Willy is best when he has protection and can throw the ball downfield. What made this game against Montreal fascinating like driving past a car wreck was how Mike Sherman may not have realized the potential of the CFL game. Being down by 12 points with a couple of minutes left in the CFL is nothing.  But if it was the NFL, the game would have been over and when Montreal was trying to come back, they were not pressing downfield and instead going with a short game which made no sense considering they had time to make it competitive.

One comment I heard was that Sherman seemed disinterested in the game, but I think part of Montreal’s problem was the unfamilarity with the Canadian game and the possibilities it presents. Montreal is a work in progress and ironically enough, may have to revert to an NFL style of run offense to take the pressure off of Willy. Montreal’s defense has the pieces in place to keep them in games, it will be up to the offense to figure how to get the most efficient use of its pieces.

Then we had Hamilton at Calgary. Considering the last time Hamilton visited, they lost by 59 points – a 14 point loss seems reasonable enough. But Jeremiah Masoli throwing an ill-advised interception is probably a reflection of the subtle pressure he must be feeling with Johnny Manziel sitting on the bench.  There are drinking games around the country involving Rod Black and the number of times he talks about Manziel or Johnny Football. Each time he says one or the other, have a drink. And the way things might be going for Masoli, he might be joining us in that game.

The Riders for their part unveiled a defense that was stunning in its pursuit from sideline to sideline and in its pass rush. I’m sure I amused Trevor Doroshenko with my amazement at the different defensive fronts the Riders provided Ricky Ray, and trying to anticipate from where, never mind if, the defensive pressure was going to come.

The lack of zip from Collaros might have been a concern, but the Riders may be inclined to go with a two tight end formation and rely on Tre Mason and Jerome Messam to run the ball and take the pressure off of Collaros. Collaros does not give the Riders much mobility, and I think the Riders may revert to inserting Bridge if the Riders run across a defense that will not let the QBs set up.

Speaking of which, that occasion may come up on Thursday night as the Riders go to Ottawa to provide the Redblacks with their first game of the season.  The Riders have altered their offense and defense with an apparent hand injury to Nick Marshall, who clinched the game with a pick six against Ray, is out for six games and Duron Carter is apparently moving to his spot.

Some have a problem with Carter playing DB, thinking he would be more useful on offense, but Carter’s size and the fact he does get physical make him at least a good stop-gap measure. The other factor is if the Riders offense is now tilting towards an increasing emphasis on the run and with all receivers getting three to four touches a game at best, then putting Carter on defense is a good way to keep him engaged in the game without being too much of a distraction.

The Riders also have a number of young receivers who add an element of the unknown to opposing defenses until say, Labour Day. Giving them the opportunity to get into this offense and learn how it goes means if someone then goes down with an injury, there are back-ups who are experienced enough to step in.

For Ottawa there are a few interesting factors at play Thursday night. The Riders eliminated Ottawa in the Eastern Semi-Final and Ottawa had a defense that epitomized the bend but don’t break. Noel Thorpe, who took over the defense from Mark Nelson, honed more aggressive defenses in Montreal when he coached there and is expected to bring a similar style to Ottawa.

The other is Trevor Harris who apparently picked up Tom Brady’s book and was looking to work on his mental game for this season. Harris is a rhythm passer and if you can disrupt that rhythm then you can stop Ottawa’s defense. Unless they then unleash William Powell who ran the Riders ragged last year in their first game.

Ottawa has the advantage of having the bye and film on the Riders while the Riders have two exhibition games whose impact is pretty much diddly on game planning. Taking Carter out the Riders offense is supposed to hurt the Riders, but I’d expect to see the Riders go to a ball control offense to keep the Ottawa defense on the field for as long as possible and not allow Harris any time to get into a groove.

Will Thorpe make a difference? That depends if the Riders go to the ball control offense and emphasize the run to take away the pass rush. This may mean seeing more Tre Mason in the first half and then unleashing Messam to physically punish in the second half behind a two tight end set.

So I’m going to pick the Riders in this one based on what I saw the defence do against Toronto. If they flustered Ricky Ray, then Trevor Harris may need to consult his sports psychologist after this game Riders 31-17

On Friday there is a double header with Winnipeg going to Montreal . Winnipeg gave Edmonton almost more than it could handle, but in the end, inexperience and lack of discipline, combined with a never ending game, put Winnipeg down in the end.

Now they go to Montreal and conceivably this is the one game they really need to win to keep treading water in the west until Nichol’s returns. Chris Streveler will return at QB but this time he will be backed up by Mitchell Gale, the former Argonaut, Rider, Stampeder and Lion back-up who at least has started a game and has won a game.

While Winnipeg fans expect their offense to continue rolling as it did against Edmonton, the Al’s did a good job of mostly shutting down BC’s receivers and will likely do the same against Winnipeg, especially a rookie quarterback.

That puts the pressure on Winnipeg’s defense to keep Montreal in check and hopefully pressure Willy into making the same ill-advised interceptions that he tried against BC. If Montreal has not learned from its poor time management and doesn’t use running back Tyrell Sutton to take the pressure off of Willy to make every deep throw, then Montreal deserves to lose.

But…this is maybe Montreal’s best chance to win and more importantly, show their fans they are more than just the world’s biggest tire fire. Winnipeg will get frustrated at not getting the yardage they got against Edmonton and it will be up to Winnipeg’s defense and special teams. Special teams could be the difference for Winnipeg, considering Montreal has discipline problems but if Mike Sherman is going to convince people he is still relevent and the right guy for the job, he will have to show he learned from his mistakes last week and taught his team how to get better.

I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Montreal to win this one because Montreal’s defense secondary is better than Winnipeg’s receiving corps and without an experienced quarterback showing the right amount of patience, Streveler will throw one more interception than Willy. If Montreal doesn’t get the balance between running and passing right, and take the pressure off of Willy, then Montreal deserves to lose – but I am going to pick them to win this one because if Montreal is going to win one, it should be this one when at least the deck is somewhat in its favor - Montreal 24-21.

Then we have Hamilton visiting Edmonton and for Jeremiah Masoli, the future is now. If Hamilton loses this one and Masoli throws yet another ill advised interception trying to force a ball to make a play because he can feel Manziel’s shadow over him on the sideline, then Hamilton might as well do to Masoli what it did to Collaros last year and yank him before his confidence gets shattered.

Edmonton should be favored because of the offensive fireworks of its win over Winnipeg, but with 12 people on the injury list, and Hamilton adding Delvin Breaux t defensive back. Rider fans will remember Breaux for his part in a memorable picture of Kory Sheets straight arming Breaux in the 2013 Grey Cup.

It’s not yet known if Breaux will play Friday, but Hamilton can dress him as an extra defensive back until he gets more comfortable with Jerry Glanville’s defense. I would have had no problem picking Edmonton, and I would not be surprised if Edmonton does win, but 12 injuries this early in the season for Edmonton and there is a window of opportunity for Hamilton and more importantly, a chance for Masoli to show why he should be the starting QB instead of Manziel. So, since I have been going against the odds this week, let’s pick Hamilton 31-38 over Edmonton.

Finally we have Calgary going to Toronto for a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup – except this time there is no snow, no Marques McDaniel and Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost a regular season game against Toronto. Grey Cup apparently is another matter.

Mitchell seemed to demonstrate his shoulder is recovered from last season and it seems Calgary is now in the business of rotating their running backs. Ricky Ray hopefully has worked the bugs out of his system as for three quarters against the Riders he looked awful, but he had a pretty good fourth quarter that was a blown call by Trestman away from perhaps coming up with a comeback win.

This has the makings of a defensive struggle broken up by big plays and while James Wilder Jr. might think he is the straw that stirs the Toronto drink, I actually like SJ Green and Armanti Edwards better.  Calgary has some talented but relatively inexperience defensive backs and when you have playmakers like Green and Edwards go up against them, the question is not if, but when they will capitalize.

Calgary should win this one, they have the motivation, but I am banking on Marc Trestman learning from his mistakes against the Riders and establishing the Argos as more than just a lucky team who won the Cup last year. Toronto wins this one 27-24.

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