Redblacks implode in season ending loss (& 13 other thoughts)

After a season of wild comebacks, tight games and explosive football, the Ottawa Redblacks laid an egg when it counted most.

While Sunday’s East Semi-Final loss wasn’t a beatdown (even if the 31-20 final score is flattering), Saskatchewan left no doubt about who the better team on the field was.

With the loss, the Redblacks’ wildly entertaining 2017 season comes to an abrupt end.

Here are all my thoughts on the defeat:

1) After spending a week insisting that his lack of playoff experience didn’t matter, QB Trevor Harris went out and had his worst game of the season. It’s odd to write that about a QB who threw for 457 yards and two touchdowns in a playoff game, but the fact of the matter is, most of Harris’ stats came when the game was out of reach. There’s no sugarcoating that he played poorly.

Although Harris attempted a CFL record 60 passes, he completed just 61% of those attempts. Harris was also responsible for two interceptions; the first a complete momentum killer, coming as a result of a late, misplaced pass deep in the red zone. The other came on an ugly third down jump ball in the 4th quarter. Frankly, the Redblacks were fortunate Harris only turned the ball over twice, because Saskatchewan failed to hang on to three other passes that were ripe for the taking.

For whatever reason, Harris didn’t seem to be on the same page as his receivers, repeatedly overthrowing open guys. His receiving corps did him no favours either, with four different players dropping catchable balls. Losing his favourite target (Greg Ellingson), also shouldn’t be overlooked.

With all that said, 2017 was supposed to be the year Harris fully came into his own. After six seasons in the CFL, it was to be the year when he finally made a name for himself as an undisputed starter, silencing his doubters. No longer was he in the shadows of future Hall of Famers Ricky Ray and Henry Burris. But fair or not, despite his stellar regular season, R-Nation will remember that in the playoffs, with all the chips on the table, Harris came up short. While this loss shouldn’t influence GM Marcel Desjardins’ decision to re-sign him, it may cause some hesitation given the other pivots (Franklin, Bridge, Collaros, Masoli, Lulay) set to hit the market.

2) Sometimes when a team struggles to perform offensively, it’s unfair to point the finger at the offensive coordinator. After all, he’s not out on the field executing, he just calls the plays. But if an offensive coordinator fails to properly utilize the abilities of the players at his disposal, then that criticism is more than justified. Such is the case with Redblacks’ offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo.

After coming out of the gate firing, scoring eight points on Ottawa’s opening drive (a touchdown and two point convert), the Redblacks failed to find the end zone again until late in the 4th quarter. Undoubtedly, losing Greg Ellingson to a knee injury threw a major wrench in Elizondo’s game plan. But that doesn’t account for the fact that Elizondo chose to hand off the ball to William Powell just eight times. Powell, who finished second in the CFL in rushing despite playing just 12 games, was averaging 120 yards per game heading into the playoffs. For whatever reason, Elizondo saw fit to run the ball 8 times in a playoff game while calling 60 passes. That’s hardly a recipe for success for November football.

Furthermore, after being one of the best teams in the regular season in the red zone (scoring a touchdown 65% of the time), Ottawa’s offence went 1/4 vs Saskatchewan. The Redblacks also went 10/27 on 2nd down, converting just 37% of the time. While the final stats look gaudy (500 yards of total offence, 25 first downs), the reality is that Elizondo’s group didn’t move the chains with any consistency until the game was out of reach.

3) Not feeding Powell the ball might have been justified if he wasn’t finding room to run, however the shifty back averaged 6.3 yards per touch. Just like he’s done all season long, Powell was a threat both on the ground and as a receiver coming out of the backfield, catching 5 passes for 27 yards.

4) For the second game in a row, Diontae Spencer looked like an absolute game breaker every time the ball touched his hands. Spencer finished the game with 9 catches for 157 yards and 135 return yards. Despite another game with huge numbers, Spencer will rue what could have been. In addition to an end zone drop, Spencer was overthrown after getting behind everyone on defence.

5) As for the rest of the receiving corps, kudos to Greg Ellingson for clearly playing injured. Ellingson, who injured his knee on a non-contact play, gutted out 4 catches for 52 yards before retiring to the sidelines. In his absence Juron Criner had a game high 18 targets, but only managed 11 catches (for 102 yards and a touchdown). Both Ellingson and Criner were guilty of deep drops, coming on passes that hit them in the hands when they were already past the last defender. Outside of Spencer, Ellingson and Criner, no other receiver caught more than two passes.

6) Heading into the game, much was made of Rick Campbell’s decision to flip Jon Gott and Alex Mateas on the offensive line. Mateas, who was named an All-Star for his play at centre, was moved back to guard, where he struggled early in the year. Many questioned the logic of moving Mateas out of a role in which he excelled at for Gott, who is more than capable of playing both positions at a high level. SirVincent Rogers also returned to the lineup but that didn’t seem to help much, as Harris was under siege all game long; sacked twice and pressured 10 times. Hindsight is 20/20 but looking back, I wonder if Campbell still tinkers with an offensive line that was playing so well to end the regular season.

7) From the game’s opening drive, you kind of had the feeling it might be a long day for Mark Nelson’s defence. Ottawa couldn’t stop the run (conceding an average of 7.9 yards per carry) or the pass (conceding 9 yards per completion). Any way you slice it, the numbers aren’t pretty. Saskatchewan averaged 9.4 yards per first down play, racked up 212 yards on the ground, 252 in the air, 23 first downs and had a second down conversion rate of 55%. Not only did Ottawa fail to contain any aspect of Saskatchewan’s attack, they were also unable to force a turnover. Most damningly, the Redblacks failed to sack Glenn, rarely even pressuring him. Ottawa seldom blitzed and when they did, they were burned. LB Kevin Brown led the way with 8 defensive tackles but too often, poor angles and sloppy tackling led to massive Saskatchewan gains.

8) In terms of special teams, Ottawa’s units were solid, if unspectacular. Spencer broke a few big returns early, but was later bottled up by excellent downfield coverage. Brett Maher made both field goal attempts, but shanked a late convert and butchered an onside kick attempt. Shoutout to Keelan Johnson and Serderius Bryant for doing their part to flip momentum in Ottawa’s favour. Their turnover set up the offence inside of the red zone.

9) Injuries are never an excuse, but it’s fair to wonder what may have been if Greg Ellingson, Jake Ceresna and Jake Harty don’t leave the game hurt. Those were three starters Ottawa could ill afford to lose, already without the likes of stalwarts such as Brad Sinopoli and Jerrell Gavins.

10) It’s common knowledge that most football games hinge on a of handful of key plays. On Sunday, Ottawa came out on the losing end of every pivotal play. Whether it was Harris being picked inside the red zone, failing to connect with Ellingson and Spencer when they were behind the defence, Ryan Lindley fumbling on a QB sneak, Marcus Thigpen rumbling (untouched) for a 75 yard touchdown run or coming out on the wrong end of a questionable ball spot on 3rd and 1 in the third quarter, the Redblacks did themselves no favours.

11) As has been the case far too often, another sell out crowd left TD Place disappointed. With the loss, Ottawa’s dream of repeating as Grey Cup champions on home turf ends in bitter disappointment. Still, R-Nation should look at the bigger picture before hanging their head in shame. Four seasons in, their franchise has won the division twice, made the playoffs three times, played in two Grey Cups and ended a 40 year championship drought. Not a bad four year span by any standard.

12) GM Marcel Desjardins has an interesting off-season ahead of him. As per our man Justin Dunk, players such as Trevor Harris, William Powell, Diontae Spencer, Brad Sinopoli, Alex Mateas and Taylor Reed are all pending free agents. Given their high level of play and Desjardins’ propensity to stay within set budget limits for positional groups, once again, R-Nation could see significant roster turnover.

13) I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Redblacks’ early touchdown celebration. It seems like every week players on both sides of the border come up with new, creative celebrations, but this one tops them all. It’s easily the best celebration in recent memory.

Santino Filoso

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)
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Santino Filoso
About Santino Filoso (171 Articles)
Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

38 Comments on Redblacks implode in season ending loss (& 13 other thoughts)

  1. 7 of 8 wins came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. I can’t be too bummed about this because, quite simply, they deserve to be where they are.

    I hated the “plenty of football to be played” mentality that they had throughout the year. There seemed to be this complacency, or a belief that everything would just magically fall into place for them, or that they cold just turn it on when it mattered. Let this be a splash of cold water to the face.

    Unless I missed it above, I’ll add a grand total of zero (accepted) penalties against them as a talking point. This used to be a problem so that’s a positive.

  2. I guess this is a fair assessment. It’s funny to hear a homer describe what happened in a game. Naturally all points come from their reference and perspective and of course what they did wrong. From mine, the Riders are a better team, came to play, and never was the game in doubt. Each time the RB’s thought they had a leg to stand on, the Riders took it away. TO will be a much tougher test, but doable. #historyinthemaking

    • You’re right Ladd Law. It is interesting hearing a homers perspective of a game. That applies to rider homers too right?

      • E. Einienstien IV // November 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm // Reply

        Since you obviously have no idea what Ladd Law meant when he said its funny to hear a homer describe what happened in a game. He’s talking about the author of the article goof! He’s not talking about a quick blog response.
        Funny thing is the author has a grip on what really took place. Unlike your babble spew that you spit out after every Rider game Bread Donkey in Flight.

      • Ah dork, you just can’t help yourself. Clinical I say. You’re clinical and in need of much. Riders are trending well. How has the stumps last few outings gone?? Seems next weekend the tide turns in cowtown and the Esks punch their ticket.

  3. RalphInTheCreek // November 13, 2017 at 12:19 pm // Reply

    Show boat Harris sure ain’t no legend in his own mind Hank.

  4. Your perspective is always on point!

  5. Limbo stunt may have thrown out Ellingson’s knee by initiating the injury.Limbo stunt beginning of the end for Redblacks by straining Ellingson’s knee and setting himself up for later injury.Grey tossed to do the limbo, Greg.Next step, dancing for the stars.

    • Why make things up? The guy has played every game beginning to end. Nearly 100 receptions on the year, however much blocking he’s had to do for his teammates, he survives all of that without injury. All of a sudden he does the limbo and the “strain” is too much. Sweet Jesus…

      • Sorry, but losing Ellingson to the Redblacks may have motivated my comment unconsciously.However,I don’t like the stupid stunts.

        • I don’t either, to tell the truth.

          Actually, a spontaneous act, like last year’s snow angel, is kind of cool. But this choreographed stuff has crossed a certain line.

          But then it got shown on ESPN and was all over social, so maybe I’m just on my way to being a nasty ol’ curmudgeon. Get off my lawn, Cisco Kid!

  6. Everyone In Canada // November 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm // Reply

    Can’t wait for Donkey to lose. Reilly is gonna light that fraudulent team up! Maybe then he will shut the hell up and realize his Stadium is a total dump like his team. Go Eskies

    • Wow..thats a very intentional, specific, focus hate comment directed to me..

    • Stop being owned you sound like Lancaster and Ladd law who are obsessed with mr incognito

      • Lancaster/Reed // November 13, 2017 at 3:44 pm // Reply

        You really have no idea what “ owned “ is. Owned is what the riders do to hufnagels stamps in the playoffs. 3 wins, 1loss.

    • Well said !!!! I know its a lot but I think its time to just ignore the Donkey’s comments , to bad one didn’t have the option just to filter anything he says while reading the posts , ie block his comments. Obviously this fellow is just some poor pathetic looser looking for attention here as he gets no real life attention from anyone . The problem is the looser tis such a master attention seeker via his insane comments that its virtually impossible to ignore his abusurdity!!!! Donkey you are just a pooor pathetic looser in real life I feel badly for you !!!

  7. Calgary has a great team that has been hampered by injuries.Bo Levi Mitchell has proven to be a cool dude in a personal way as well as a great footballer.Contest of champions is coming next week.

  8. I think before heaping too much blame on Harris there should be a closer look at the receiving corps, and by extension the performance of Desjardins. Your starting receivers in this game included Criner, Rhymes, and Harty. Harty was there because of injury, but the other two are not starting calibre receivers in this league. In an era where there seem to be a glut of great receivers – see Edmonton and Sask. – Ottawa was not able to replace Williams and Jackson for most of this year. Spencer emerged late but then Sinopoli when down, and in this game Ellingson went down. It seems to me that Desjardins has not done a good job of bringing in good young receiving talent this year, and maybe other areas as well.

    • I should have said receiving talent period. They don’t all have to be young. Look at what Chad Owens did with the Riders this year when he got healthy.

    • I wouldn’t argue with that, save to say that we also lost Kenny Shaw for most of the year. He only played two games or and they could have really used him yesterday. Josh Stangby returned from injury in this game and they seem to like him, but personally I’m not a fan.

      In 2016, some of their lesser-known players shed the growing pains throughout the season and stepped up late. I would include Criner in that and Forrest Hightower in the defensive backfield.

      That didn’t really happen this year. If anything, guys like Sherrod Baltimore and Corey Tindal regressed. Hightower became available, and Mitchell White, yet Desjardins stubbornly decided against making any real effort to sign them. So instead we had Adrian James whiffing on a sack of Glenn and face down on the ground while Thigpen ran past him for 60 or so yards.

      AJ Jefferson and Khalil Bass were free agent busts too. In the past, we’d have the big mis-season addition which provided a spark, like Tank Reed or Clayon Laing. None of that this year. So yeah, Desjardins has to wear a lot of this.

    • Not able to replace Chris Williams? He was crap this year with BC.

  9. Three man rush most of the game allowing Glenn to stand in the pocket and leisurely pick your D apart. So ya you get burned from time to time blitzing but at least you rattle an older player (Glenn) who isn’t that mobile. Very disappointing defensive game plan. Campbell is a defensive coach could he not see what was going on out there ?

  10. Not going to criticize Desjardins. Newsome & McDuffe were significant in-season signings, even if the latter was damaged goods. The D was lacking a big playmaker, but the GM did try to get Alex Bazzie before he resigned with BC. Campbell’s loyalty to Gott & Vincent-Rogers on the O-line and Harris’ lack of playoff experience hurt the team this day.

    • I forgot about Newsome. He was signed hurt too, so took a while to contribute, but contribute he did, so good point.

      McDuffie has been disappointing but at least the signing made sense at the time that they made it.

      • Finding some good players is not the same as finding enough good players, however. Ottawa had injures in its receiving corps and they had to start Criner and Rhymes. The Riders had injures in their RB corps but they had Thigpen to step in. Chris Jones made an interesting comment when asked about Thigpen recently. A reporter asked him how he knew Thipgpen was in such good shape and could step in and be so successful, and Jones said “our personnel people do a good job of checking the players out.” Thigpen ran track in college as well and has a career best of 10.3? in the 100m, so he’s a legit speedster. Apparently there’s some kind of senior league track and field competition in Detroit – beer league track and field, who knew? – and he’s been training hard for that with his old high school coach. He also says he loves to work out so he’s always kept that up. So he’s been doing some serious training for speed and still in a competitive mindset for the last couple of years. You don’t expect a guy who’s been out of football for two years to be as instantly good as Thigpen has been, but there’s the back story that helps explain why, and if you have the people and the resources to check these guys out thoroughly maybe you learn things like this. We’ve had our share of FA signings who haven’t worked out as well, everyone from John Chiles to Vince Young, but when we swing and miss on a player we just keep swinging. No stone unturned. See the following story about Makana Henry as another example. How many teams would have taken a chance on a guy like him, and now he’s become a very solid rotation guy for us and a great guy in the community too.
        riderville.com/2017/10/02/makana-henry-special-bond-scott-collegiate/
        So maybe part of the answer is to devote more time and resources to finding and developing talent.

  11. I think part of the criticism going Harris’ way is his seeming attempt to not shoulder the blame, or part thereof, for the game. Your not the 1st to mention Franklin when talking about the QB situation. One Ottawa sports writer suggested him as an option should Harris bomb in the upcoming semi, which he did. Harris has the numbers but he also has the damndest habit of turning the ball over at the most inopportune times which are game killers. But the problems go beyond your QB. Losing Maas as OC hurt – 1st with Ottawa & now 2 years with Edmonton, he has had the #1 offence in the league. This year Maas’ team dominated in every offensive category of note. You covered the areas pretty well. Bottom line – they lost to a better team. They are what they are – a .500 team. In the CFL that usually gets you a ticket to the dance. But the odds are very long that it gets you more than a game or two.

    • I don’t think losing Maas is that big deal, honestly. Unless I’m reading the stats incorrectly, Edmonton was superior passing but Ottawa ran better. Edmonton still has an overall edge, but it’s not that dramatic. Harris had a slightly greater passing efficiency rating than Reilly, even.

      Ottawa had 10 interceptions all season. Gainey alone had that. They didn’t force turnovers worth a damn so they don’t give their offence any additional chances. Their leading sacker has only 6, good for 19th in the league.

      I’d be willing to bet that Ottawa is near the bottom of the league in starting field position because they’re constantly fielding punts.

  12. George Fogarty // November 13, 2017 at 8:44 pm // Reply

    Great recap Santino, I agree RB laid a big egg. Play calling was pathetic, 3 man D-line really? Need some DBs, better play calling and a QB who can scramble and run out of the pocket (aka Masoli, go get him Marcel).

  13. CC, not sure where you’re getting the stats but go to cfl website, click on stats & then the PDF file on the RHS which gives 14 pages of detailed stats for the year. Just a sample to compare – Edmonton was #1 in net offence, passing, offensive pts for, rushing TD’s, 1st downs overall & 1st downs rushing, time of possession, plays from scrimmage, avg gain/pass, QB rating, pass efficiency, 2nd down conversions & rushing yards placed 2nd. Reilly led in yds, QUAR, net yards, tied Harris for #1 in passing TD’s, rushing TD’s, big plays over 30 yards, avg yds/pass & game winning drives. There’s not much the Eskimos were not #1 in on offence. Ottawa was 3rd in net offence, offensive pts/game, time of possession, 2nd in 1st downs, scrimmage plays, 4th in rushing yds & passing yds, 5th in QB rating & pass efficiency (team rating) & 6th in completion percentage. True, Harris had a slightly better passing efficiency rating but Harris’ QUAR, the new more inclusive QB rating that came out this year, ranked him 3rd behind Reilly & Nichols. Anyway, both teams had good offences. But above are some of the detailed stats direct from the cfl website itself. Worth a look if you like that sort of stuff.

    • That’s what I was looking at and I’m not disputing a lot of that, just saying that the difference in production was not so great as to be a huge factor. You should still do quite well being 3rd in net offence, offensive pts/game, time of possession, etc. When your QB is statistically better than BLM, you’re probably doing all right.

      I just think defensive big-play production (or lack thereof) was a bigger factor, as well as brain cramps like fumbling snaps (both on offense and special teams). The DBs are young (at one point there were three rookies back there) and there’s no pass rush to speak off to help them out.

  14. Team does need to upgrade in some areas. But folks 2 Grey Cup appearnces in 3 years is not too shabby. We lost, they won, so be it.

  15. Nothing to be ashamed about Mike U. Lot of teams would like that record the past 2 years. Regina is trying to do what RedBlacks already did – rebuild during Jones 3 year contract. Even with all the free agent movement every year, the RedB’s have done an outstanding job & got the city excited. I like the mgmt structure – they’ll get some more talent in next year & reload.

  16. I like the RedBlacks as much as the next guy, but I sense the Riders play had something to do with the “implosion”. Thigpen and Glenn led an impressive Rider performance.

  17. The burning question is whether the team is satisfied with a solid, but woefully immobile pocket passer in Harris or will it seek a more dynamic, run-and-gun type like Franklin & Masoli. I can see BC going after Harris if they lose Jennings to the NFL.

  18. Just finished watching the replay (was at game on Sunday). Considering the injuries on offence, I thought Harris did fine with what he had to work with. Hartley came up with a couple of catches. Criner dropped a couple, but also scored 100 yards. Defence was terrible, due to no rush and soft covereages. Need improvement there. If we choose to kick a field goal rather than gamble on third down at Rider 22, that last drive was for tying touchdown. We didn’t deserve to win, but not far off either. Change a couple of plays, and we are singing a different tune. Marcel will find the pieces for next year and Harris will be staying put.

  19. Enrico Della Penta // November 14, 2017 at 8:05 am // Reply

    Bye bye Ryan Lindley and Jamie Elizondo and a couple of others. RBs need a QB who when pushed out of the pocket can run and scramble a bit. Harris needs to be able to do that. A QB like Masoli who scrambles and runs, throws the Defence off, he just needs to improve passing accuracy. Also not going to win with a 3 front defence, RBs need to get better pass rushers and go to 4 man D-line. Hopefully changes will be made by Marcel and better defence players will be brought in.

  20. Quite an assortment of comments on that game. I believe the top points were 1) The RedBlacks didn’t hassle Glenn, hence his success moving the team; the Riders did keep pressure on Harris, cutting down options for longer passes; 2) the RedBlacks had more injuries on Offence than did the Riders, thus the sputtering; Harris played a good game — minus all his good receivers when Ellingson went down — PLUS the Riders have a Very Good Defence. The game played out as it should have.

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