There’s a feeling of unease in R-Nation these days and it’s not hard to see why. After bursting out of the gate with a white hot 3-0-1 record, over their last seven games, the Ottawa Redblacks have gone a cold 2-5 and lost their grip on 1st in the East Division to the Hamilton Ticats.
With a massive four point divisional game looming on Friday night vs the Toronto Argonauts, it’s not a stretch to say that a win could be the difference between hosting a home playoff game and going on the road into Toronto or Hamilton.
Though some in the nation’s capital feel the season is quickly spiralling out of control, the reality is that the Redblacks are merely a single point behind an injury ravaged Hamilton team who needed a last second field goal to beat a nose diving Montreal squad.
Let’s take a look at a few basic things Ottawa can do to calm their fans’ nerves and get back into the win column.
1) Get the ground game rolling
We’re eleven games into the 2016 season and Ottawa has yet to have its first 100 yard rushing performance. In fact, the closest anyone has come has been Travon Van, who put up 86 yards in Week Two vs the Montreal Alouettes. Van also put up 63 yards (again vs Montreal) in Week Eleven, which is Ottawa’s next highest single game rushing total. Many of Ottawa’s struggles on the ground can be attributed to the rotating casting of offensive linemen that suit up each week. After being extremely fortunate to start the same five guys all season long in 2015, this season has featured weekly shuffling on the offensive line. The offence as a whole has also been hampered by a tendency to get away from the run game at times in lieu of hitch screens and short passes. Unfortunately for the Redblacks, news today broke that Van was placed on the six-game injured list, so someone like Mossis Madu or Kienan LaFrance will need to step up. Establishing a credible run game will go a long way towards providing offensive balance and taking pressure off of QB Trevor Harris.
2) Generate more turnovers:
Ottawa’s been good at getting sacks but taking the QB down doesn’t equal points the same way a game changing interception or fumble does. Currently, the Redblacks have 16 turnovers to their name, good for 8th out of the CFL’s nine teams. The Redblacks also own the distinction of being the only team in the league not to have scored a defensive touchdown so far this year. Of particular note is that a year after tying for the league lead in interceptions (with the Ticats), Ottawa’s secondary has picked off opposing quarterbacks a measly four times in 2016. In theory, more turnovers means less points against and more for, which in turn should translate into wins.
3) Drink a big cup of Sinopolatte:
Brad Sinopoli was the straw that stirred the offence last season, earning the nickname “Mr. 2nd Down” among fans for his ability to continually move the chains and keep drives alive. After going over 1000 yards for the first time in his career on his way to being named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian, Sinopoli seemed poised for another big year in 2016. Despite being on pace for another 1000 yard season, Sinopoli hasn’t had the same impact on the offence as last season. Often overlooked in the game plan, Sinopoli hasn’t cracked the 70 yard receiving mark or scored a touchdown since Week Five vs Saskatchewan. OC Jamie Elizondo should do everything in his power to get Sinopoli increased looks by calling more plays over the middle, such as slant routes or intermediate 10-15 yard passes. Sinopoli has demonstrated he is capable of carrying the load when called upon and is a proven game breaker.
4) Take advantage of home cooking:
In 2015 the Redblacks went 7-2 at home, but through five games this season they are an uninspiring 1-3-1. R-Nation provides the team with one of the best home field advantages in the league and it’s high time to reward the rabid home crowd. Opposing fans, coaches and national media have noted the rambunctious atmosphere of TD Place on game days and with four more home dates left, the Redblacks need to use every bit of that home field energy to their advantage.
5) Cut the flags:
To be honest, considering the fact that the Redblacks lead the league in penalties with 128 (an average of 11.6 per game), it’s a miracle they’re only a single point out of first place in the East. To break it down, Ottawa has committed 37 flags on offence, 56 on defence and the rest have come as a result of undisciplined special teams play. As a consequence of their reckless play, the Redblacks have gifted opponents 37 first downs and an astounding 1267 free yards. Reducing the number of penalties taken per game, even if they cut it in half, could be the difference between Ottawa finishing 1st or 3rd in the division.