Well, so much for an undefeated season. After heading into Regina as the lone team in the CFL without a loss, the Redblacks leave Saskatchewan with their first defeat of the season, three more injuries and a massive question mark at QB. Here are my thoughts on the game:
– Injury wise, 2016 has been an incredibly unlucky year for the Redblacks. With 12 players already on the 6-game injured list, watching Trevor Harris get sacked, twisted to the turf and hurt was enough to make every member of R-Nation simultaneously sick and bang their heads in frustration against the wall. While Harris did walk off the field on his own and though he wasn’t immediately on crutches as he watched the remainder of the game from the sidelines, that may be more of a testament to his toughness rather than the severity of his injury.
– After being thrust into an incredibly tough spot, I thought Brock Jensen more than held his own. By going 20/29 (69%) for 271 yards and 2 TDs, Jensen ensured that his team had a chance and avoided turning the ball over. Some may nitpick over a couple of wobbly incompletions, but the reality is that overall, Jensen played well. In my eyes, the only unforgivable play was failing to throw the ball on 3rd and 15 with the game on the line. A QB always has to give his team a chance with the game on the line, and with the receivers Ottawa boasts, that ball simply HAS to be thrown. On the other hand, the game was arguably over the series before when the Redblacks marched down to Saskatchewan’s 8 yard line but failed to punch the ball into the end zone.
– Speaking of receivers, at half-time last night Brad Sinopoli had 5 catches for 156 yards and 2 TDs, but he may as well have not played the second half because those stats didn’t change. Whether that was due to a combination of GREENWHITE adjustments, Jensen looking elsewhere or Elizondo’s play calling, it’s hard to reconcile Sinopoli going from being unstoppable in the first half, to invisible in the second half. Aside from Ernest Jackson’s 49 yards, no other receiver on the team finished with more than 21 yards. Heading into the game much was made of Chris Williams and though Jensen did occasionally try to hit him with the deep ball, Williams’ 4 targets resulted in a grand total of 1 catch for 14 yards.
– OC Jamie Elizondo had a Jekyll and Hyde game with his play calling. Obviously losing Harris on the first offensive series threw a massive wrench into the game plan but Elizondo initially responded well, calling high percentage passes that allowed Jensen to get a feel for the game and slowly build his confidence. When Ottawa received the ball with 28 seconds left in the first half, many (myself included), figured the Redblacks would simply take a knee and kill the clock. Instead, Jensen came out slinging and Ottawa managed to move into FG range to score again before the half. But, in the second half, the offence struggled to sustain drives as the play calling became predictable and conservative, with more runs and short screens than passes that stretched the field. Elizondo’s unit finished the night with 367 yards of offence, averaging 6.1 yards per play.
– Zack. Beastmode. Evans. The Regina native dominated the line of scrimmage all night long, making 6 tackles, racking up 3 sacks and knocking down a pass. Evans seemed to find another gear vs his former team and hopefully will carry over last night’s performance into future games.
– Losing DE Arnaud Gascon-Nadon to what looked like a knee injury sucked, but losing him because he returned a short squib kickoff sucked even more. Thankfully, Andrew Marshall stepped in and played lights out, knocking down two passes, sacking Gale, forcing a fumble and generally playing stout against the run. Another positive the Redblacks can take away from the game is that DE Aston Whiteside continues to round into form after last season’s knee injury. Whiteside always seemed to be around the ball and though he didn’t register a sack, he did knock down a couple of passes.
– Rounding out the trio of injuries that Redblacks sustained last night was DB Abdul Kanneh. I missed when or how he got hurt but Kanneh missed every series in the second half minus Saskatchewan’s final game winning drive. I’m all for a player toughing out an injury but if Kanneh was too badly injured and needed to sit out the entire 3rd and almost all of the 4th quarter, why was he in for the final series?
– Last night’s game was a back and forth affair that featured numerous lead changes and exciting big plays, in other words, all the best aspects of the Canadian game. Yet at the same time, it was also a game that showcased the major ugly flaw that plagues the CFL; it’s officiating. Ottawa was flagged 14 times to Saskatchewan’s 6.
– Here’s a look at some of the brutal calls that stood out from Ottawa’s perspective. First, there was the DPI on Jerrell Gavins with two minutes left in the first half. Saskatchewan’s receiver ran into and stiff armed Gavins, who fell. If that kind of chintzy call is DPI, then every CFL coach should tell their receivers to run into DBs every single play because it would be constant automatic first downs. Secondly and perhaps more importantly since it was two calls which directly impacted the outcome of the game, was the DPI call on Kanneh and the non-DPI call on Williams. I have no idea how Al Bradbury and his entire crew missed the interference on Williams. It was so blatant and obvious that you have to have had your eyes closed to miss it. Buddy Jackson isn’t even looking back at the ball, has his arms all over Williams and impedes his route. As for the flag on Kanneh, last time I checked a ball had to be catchable for there to be interference and Gale overthrew Naaman Roosevelt by a mile.
– Lastly, there are those who will point to the helmet to helmet hits that went opposite ways for Saskatchewan and Ottawa. I’d argue that the only slight difference is that Evans helmet hit Gale at the exact same moment that his chest did, so he was not leading purely with his head, whereas Leonard’s helmet was the only thing that made contact with Jensen. But to be completely honest, I didn’t like either of the calls.
– After making a cool 91% of his kicks last season, Chris Milo now has misses in three consecutive games and has made 15/20 FGs on the year (75%). In this game, Milo missed a kick and had another FG attempt blocked. It goes without saying that in a one point loss, his kicking could have been the difference. It wasn’t like Milo struggled in isolation though, as the entire special teams unit played another poor game. While the fake Zack Medeiros punt was executed perfectly, he also had a punt blocked that was returned for a TD. Again, in a one point loss, if special teams were simply average, Ottawa would have won the game.
– Despite the loss, R-Nation needs to take a deep breath and avoid hitting the panic button. The reality is that their 3rd string QB stepped off the bench and conducted himself extremely well in what may be the toughest stadium to play at in the league. The defence generated 4 sacks, held Saskatchewan to just 38 yards on the ground and forced 2 fumbles. Even if Harris is out long term, Burris will soon be healthy and back under centre. So much for all that pre-mature talk of a QB controversy eh?
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