Stop me if you’re heard this one before, but the Ottawa Redblacks lost another close, entertaining game, this time falling 33-30 to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers. As has been the case all season long, the Redblacks seemed to have victory in their grasp, only to blow another late lead, losing on a last second field goal for the second week in a row.
Here are all my thoughts on yet another loss.
1) Trevor Harris came out of the gate on fire, marching the offence down the field on Ottawa’s opening drive by completing 9/10 passes to seven different receivers. Unfortunately that was the high point of his night. Because although Harris was playing pitch and catch in the first quarter (racking up 116 passing yards), he managed just 37 in the 2nd quarter, 33 in the 3rd quarter and 77 yards in the 4th. Overall, Harris completed 69% of passes, threw two touchdowns and avoided turning the ball over. But for long stretches of the night Harris struggled while making his reads, often failing to find the open man. Other times his passes were slightly off target and he didn’t always seem to be on the same page as his receivers. In fact, he was nearly picked off twice in the first half.
One thing Harris did extremely well was use his feet to move around the pocket as it collapsed. Ottawa often found success with Harris outside the pocket and hopefully offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo noticed and will continue to work that into future game plans.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) August 4, 2017
2) Speaking of Elizondo, this game was a microcosm of why so many in R-Nation are frustrated with his play calling. Early on, he could do no wrong, as evidenced by the ease in which the offence moved the chains. His play calling was varied and displayed some creative motion. But after the opening 15 minutes, it was obvious that Winnipeg had adjusted while Ottawa did not. The 2nd quarter was an abysmal showing with just 53 offensive yards (37 in the air and 16 on the ground) generated.
Over the final 30 minutes, the offence sputtered but had its moments, thanks largely to a huge run from William Powell and the efforts of the Buds. Yet late in the game, as has so often been the case when Ottawa’s had a lead, Elizondo tried (and failed) to kill the clock. The Redblacks had the ball with 2:41 left in the game and up by 3 points. A few first downs would’ve sealed the deal. On 1st down, Elizondo brought in a heavy package, clearly broadcasting that he was going to run the ball. While he did kill 20 seconds off the clock, the Redblacks picked up a whopping 0 yards. On 2nd down, Harris threw a 5 yard out to Brad Sinopoli, which forced a punt. That kind of play calling is beyond puzzling, especially when things that had been working so well early in the game (such as quick slants over the middle) were abandoned.
The thing is, this isn’t a new issue. Since he arrived in the nation’s capital the knock on Elizondo is that late in games, he tends to get conservative and tries to protect the lead by running the ball. In both the East Final and the Grey Cup, the Redblacks offence jumped out to big early leads and tried to sit on them. Luckily, last year they often managed to hang on/make the plays they needed to to win. In 2017, that simply hasn’t been the case.
While many in R-Nation have been clamouring for Elizondo to be replaced, the reality is it’s near impossible for a team to implement a new offensive system in the middle of a season. Elizondo isn’t going anywhere which is why fans should hope and pray that he sees the error of his ways.
3) It was a strange night for the Redblacks on the ground. Although they finished with 130 rushing yards, 52 of those came on a single William Powell 3rd quarter run. Powell finished the night with 8 carries for 85 yards, a costly fumble and a touchdown, but left the game with an apparent injury. I say apparent because it’s hard to pinpoint the moment he was hurt and he spent the remainder of the game standing on the sidelines, fully geared up.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 5, 2017
Powell was replaced by Ottawa native (and former Gee-Gee) Brendan Gillanders. In his first carries since the season opener, Gillanders showcased his burst and power, running violently downhill and averaging 5.8 yards per carry. If Powell is forced to miss any time, count me among those who would like to see Gillanders get a start.
4) Does anyone remember the last time an Ottawa receiver not named Brad Sinopoli or Greg Ellingson made a catch? Sinopoli had a monster game against the Bombers, repeatedly moving the chains on 2nd and long. He finished with a team high 10 catches (on 15 targets) for 98 yards. Ellingson had a quiet night by his standards (5 catches for 59 yards and a TD) yet still came up big in the 4th quarter, hauling a late go-ahead score.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) August 5, 2017
As for their supporting cast? Nearly invisible yet again. Dionate Spencer finished with a measly 3 catches for 23 yards, Cody Hoffman 2 catches for 30 yards and Josh Stangby made 2 catches for 19 yards and a TD. Ottawa desperately needs someone to step up and take pressure off the Buds. The lack of a reliable third option is holding the offence back. At this point in the season, it’s fair to wonder if the Redblacks decision not to bring back Ernest Jackson was the right one. Jackson’s cap hit essentially turned into Spencer (who’s had a single big game) and Kenny Shaw (who has yet to catch a pass). Perhaps the newly signed Quincy McDuffie ends up making an impact.
5) According to the stats sheet the Redblacks’ offensive line only gave up three sacks. But in actual fact it would’ve been much more if not for Harris repeating scrambling out of the pocket and into open space. In his first game of the season, Jake Silas struggled at times and was often beat by speed moves. He wasn’t the only tackle to struggle, as SirVincent Rogers also lost his matchup more often that R-Nation is used to seeing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alex Mateas had his best game of the year at guard, mauling defenders on the ground and protecting well on passing plays. The group must be better in short yardage situations, as turning the ball over on downs after having two cracks at picking up a single yard is unacceptable.
6) Even if the 10 points that came off turnovers aren’t really on their shoulders, Ottawa’s defence failed to make life difficult for Winnipeg. The Bombers averaged an incredible 8.1 yards per 1st down play though they only converted on 2nd down 48% of the time. Avery Ellis did get two sacks, and the unit did pressure Matt Nichols 6 other times, but for most of the night, when he dropped back, Nichols had plenty of time to pick apart the Redblacks’ secondary. Much was made of Khalil Bass playing his former team, but it was interesting to note that he split reps with Serderius Bryant. The duo combined for 8 tackles and a sack.
7) In his 2nd consecutive start, Sherrod Baltimore was unquestionably the Redblacks best defender. Baltimore flew around the field and played with an energy that wasn’t apparent in his teammates. He had a team high 6 tackles and displayed great closing speed while bringing down the ball carrier. Baltimore was the lone bright spot in a secondary that was a step behind all night long. Jonathan Rose was repeatedly victimized and speaking of veterans, when was the last time Jerrell Gavins made a play?
8) Brett Maher had a solid game. In terms of field goals he was perfect (2/2) and averaged 47 yards per punt, despite shanking a kick for 29 yards late in the 4th quarter. Bob Dyce needs to draw up new protection schemes for his punter, because Maher very nearly had three punts blocked. Perhaps those close calls factored into his late game shank. Either way, one bad kick shouldn’t take away from an otherwise good night for Maher.
9) Quincy McDuffie was brought in as a return specialist and he wasted no time in showing off his speed and agility. McDuffie, who finished the night with 145 return yards, seemed a threat every time he touched the ball and nearly took a missed field goal to the house.
10) Having only one challenge didn’t seem to make Rick Campbell more hesitant to use his flag. Campbell was lucky his decision to challenge for a fumble lateral in the 2nd quarter didn’t come back to haunt him. Mainly because replays showed that it was never close. Not sure if that decision falls on him or his replay assistants up in the booth.
Many fans lambasted Campbell when Winnipeg added a kick off single late in the 4th quarter, saying he should’ve chose to scrimmage at the 35 yard line instead. What those fans are forgetting is that CFL rules dictate that within the last three minutes of a game, teams must kick off following a score. More than anything that rouge was just bad luck, something this year’s Redblacks squad has plenty of.
11) It won’t be of any consolation to R-Nation, but the the Redblacks have now set a CFL record with seven straight games decided by 5 points or less. All things being even you would have assumed Ottawa would’ve come out on top of at least half those games, yet here they sit at 1-5-1. There’s no sugarcoating it, the Redblacks blew a huge opportunity to make up some ground. With the entire East playing poorly (and a crossover team looking extremely likely), Ottawa needed to take advantage of the Argos losing, which they didn’t. With Ricky Ray sidelined for the following month, now is the time to make hay.
12) Blame the rain. After 16 straight sellouts, R-Nation came up just short of another, with 23,725 braving the weather to watch the Redblacks lose again. Losing at home isn’t a new phenomenon, after all, the Redblacks have won only 3 of their last 13 at home. So much for home field advantage.
13) Things don’t get any easier for Ottawa, as the undefeated Eskimos come to town for a Thursday night tilt. It’s a game that not many will pick the Redblacks to win, but if they do, it could work wonders for team psyche and be just the tonic they need to turn their season around.