Thoughts on the Redblacks’ Season Opener

What a way to start the season. With an unstoppable offensive attack that carved up the Eskimos, the Ottawa Redblacks became the first CFL team from Ottawa to win in Edmonton since 1983 and served notice to the league as a whole that last season was no fluke. Though it was far from a perfect game, there was much to like from R-Nation’s perspective. Here are a few of my thoughts and observations on last night’s wild win:

– Any concerns R-Nation may have had about new offensive co-ordinator Jamie Elizondo were quickly put to bed. The Redblacks’ offence picked up right where 2015’s torrid pace left off, racking up 590 yards of total offence and averaging over 9 yards per play. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa’s 45 points are a franchise record.

– Count me among those underwhelmed by RB Travon Van’s first game as William Powell’s replacement. Van started the night off on a bad note with a fumble near the goal line and struggled to run up the middle. That being said, in space he definitely has the ability to make people miss and was a real threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Van finished the night with 12 carries for 47 yards and 4 catches for 44.

– On a related note, I’d love to see Canadian RB Kienan LaFrance get more touches. He scored his first career touchdown and ran through contact on kick returns. To me, he’s more of a power back than Van and could prove to be useful in short yardage situations as the season goes on.

Kienan LaFrance

– Before I get into Trevor Harris’ performance, can we take a second to appreciate the game Henry Burris put together? Prior to getting hurt Burris went 23/31 (74.2%) for 251 yards and a TD and INT in just over a half of action. Of course that’s overshadowed when the guy replacing you comes in and goes 17/19 (89.5%) for 292 yards and 3 TDs. Combined, Harris and Burris torched the Eskimo secondary for an eye popping 543 yards and 4 TDs.

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) looks at his injured hand against the Edmonton Eskimos during second half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.
Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) looks at his injured hand against the Edmonton Eskimos during second half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

– As for Harris, even Hollywood doesn’t write that dream start. From coming off the bench and immediately hitting Chris Williams for with 71 TD bomb to completing his first ten passes, Harris looked exactly like the guy who threw for 4300 yards and 33 TDs last season.

Trevor Harris

– While some media will be doing their best to stir up a QB controversy, this is still Burris’ team and if healthy, he deserves to start. Hank showed no drop off from last season’s MOP level of play and when he went down, Harris came in and did what he was signed to do. R-Nation can take comfort in the fact that going forward, whatever QB is under centre is more than capable of getting the job done.

– GM Marcel Desjardins deserves the game ball as much as any player for going out and signing Harris in the off-season. There’s simply no way the Redblacks win this game with last year’s backups.

– Alex Mateas, 2015’s 1st overall draft pick, started the game at right guard but failed to finish it, being replaced by Jason Lauzon-Séguin (2016’s 1st round pick) in the 3rd quarter. The change may have been made due to an injury or because the coaches weren’t pleased with Mateas’ play, but once the field, Séguin did not look out of place.

– Overall, Ottawa’s offensive line played extremely well against a very dangerous Eskimo defensive line, giving both QBs tons of time to step up and hit their receivers. In 50 dropbacks they conceded only 2 sacks.

– The “Fab Four” are off to a flying start. After all having 1000 yard seasons in 2015, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson came flying out of the gate, finishing with 79, 176, 84 and 96 yards respectively. The scary part for opposing defences is that five other players caught a pass for Ottawa. Talk about spreading the ball around. Also, Ottawa’s YAC (yards after the catch) was through the roof.

– Once again, Chris “Money” Milo lived up to his nickname. Not only did Milo go 4/4 in FG attempts (including the game tying 55 yarder with no time on the clock), he also punted extremely well in the place of injured Ronnie Pfeffer, consistently pinning the Eskimos deep in their own territory.

Chris Milo

– Quite clearly communication broke down between OC Jamie Elizondo and Head Coach Rick Campbell as the game wound down. With 10 seconds left, the offence lined up seemingly in an attempt to run a play but just before the snap Campbell sent out the punt unit. Thankfully for Ottawa, the officials had not yet put up the substitution gates which meant they avoided a flag and that the play clock had not started. I’ll be honest, I don’t understand the explanation but I’m grateful we got the break.

– Another thing that nearly cost the Redblacks the game was penalties. 14 flags for 100 yards is simply unacceptable, too many positive plays were wiped out by sloppiness. It’s early in the season but if Ottawa wants to be elite, it needs to clean up the flags.

– D-Block as a whole didn’t have their best game. Not only were they shredded by Mike Reilly to the tune of 383 yards, they also missed numerous tackles. Too often players went for the kill shot instead of wrapping up, allowing Eskimo receivers to break free for huge gains.

– Coming into the game, much was made of the players Ottawa lost in the off-season along their defensive line. As a whole the unit was solid, limiting Edmonton’s ground game to just 59 yards. They also brought Reilly down twice, once courtesy of Arnaud Gascon-Nadon.

– As for special teams, count me among those confused as to why QB Brock Jensen is an up back on the punt team. While I get that his presence allows for the possibility of running a fake, the reality is he’s a QB and not used to blocking. Last night’s blocked punt was directly a result of him whiffing on a block. Why expose him like that? Coaches need to put players in position to succeed and I think its asking too much for a third string QB to block blitzing defensive linemen and linebackers.

– Lastly, on behalf of R-Nation, I’d like to thank the Edmonton Eskimos for coming out and participating. Without them, such an entertaining game wouldn’t have been possible.

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