Redblacks Fall Apart Late (& 14 other thoughts)

The weather was cold, wet and miserable and by the end of the game, so was the home crowd. In another inconsistent performance that mirrored the course of their season as a whole, the Redblacks surged out of the gate early, before faltering down the stretch and ultimately falling 39-36 in double overtime. Here are the rest of my thoughts on the game:

1) Clearly Henry Burris didn’t get the memo that QBs are supposed to struggle in torrential downpours. Picking up where he left off last week, Burris shredded the Ticats’ secondary, showcasing his signature arm strength while hitting 8 different receivers and going 31/41 (75%) for 418 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Though the two interceptions were huge momentum killers, I’m not sure how much blame Burris deserves for them; one was the result of an incredible play by DT Michael Atkinson (who batted the pass and made made a diving catch) and the other was also tipped at the line. While he did miss an open Ernest Jackson in double overtime, for the majority of the night, Burris made quick, accurate decisions when faced with pressure or used his feet to pick up first downs (rushing 5 times for 20 yards). The touch displayed on a sideline pass to Khalil Paden and touchdown passes to Jackson and Juron Criner was phenomenal. Following an explosive first half, Burris and the rest of the offence fell into a lull in the 3rd quarter, repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. In particular, the botched snap exchange between Jon Gott and Burris on the goal line looms large as it took a surefire touchdown off the board. Despite loss, there’s no doubt Burris continues to start.

2) Mossis Madu had another strong game on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards per carry while rushing 15 times for 87 yards. That stat line is a bit deceiving, as 9 of those carries and 54 of his yards came in the first half of the game. Many of Madu’s runs were right up the gut and often times he wasn’t touched until at the linebacker level, which is a credit to the offensive line’s excellent blocking Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the coaching staff got away from calling his number as the game went on.

3) Speaking of the play calling, going purely by stats, you’d have to say OC Jamie Elizondo called another great game. And the reality is that, for most of the night, he did. The Redblacks’ finished with 514 yards and 33 first downs and controlled the ball for over 31 minutes. But as has been the case throughout the season, though Elizondo’s offence puts up huge numbers, in crucial situations he reverts to playing small ball and seemingly gets away from things that were working. Consider this game. For 95% of it, Elizondo did an excellent job of mixing up runs, passes and effectively used the ground game to set up play action passes. He also tailored his playbook to Burris’ strength, which is reflected in the fact that the longest pass of the night was just 35 yards. Quick slants over the middle and routes in the 15-20 yard range is where Burris excels. But despite all that, what fans will remember is Elizondo’s bizarre play calling at the end of the 4th quarter and in overtime. With 2 minutes left in the game and backed up under the shadow of their own goal post, Burris quickly completed two passes for 43 yards. A few plays later, the Redblacks converted a 3rd and 1 at midfield with a minute left in the game. Despite being out of field goal range, Elizondo elected to hand the ball off to Madu for a short gain. Though it killed time off the clock, the run call made no sense situationally, because the Redblacks weren’t in field goal range yet. Instead of running the clock, Elizondo should have been more concerned with picking up yards. The call loomed large as Burris’ 2nd down pass was broken up by Cassius Vaughn. Instead of electing to try a 57 yard FG, the Redblacks were forced to punt and effectively ensured they were going to overtime. In overtime, the Redblacks began their first possession by calling an extremely risky WR reverse to Ernest Jackson. Considering that Burris had already racked up 418 yards and was completing 75% of his passes, why would you not put the ball in his hands with the game on the line?

4) I don’t want to say the Chris Williams isn’t missed but his absence is definitely less noticeable when Khalil Paden and Juron Criner play like they did last night, combining for 6 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD and 0 drops. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Ernest Jackson led the way with 10 catches for 102 yards and 2 TDs, while Brad Sinopoli hauled in 4 passes for 48 yards, leaving him 37 yards back of 1000 for season. It’s also worth noting that 3rd year Canadian Scott MacDonell caught his first pass of the season for a 14 yard gain.

5) In the 31 drop backs before RT Jake Silas got hurt while covering Chris Milo’s missed convert (more on that soon), the offensive line gave up just two sacks, doing an excellent job providing Burris with a clean pocket to step into his throws. Following Silas’ exit from the game, the offensive line was shuffled, with Alex Mateas coming in at LG to replace J’Michael Deane who kicked out to RT. Behind this new offensive line, Burris was under siege all 10 times he dropped back to pass and was sacked on consecutive plays in overtime, fumbling on the last one. Deane struggled in space and Mateas repeatedly failed to identify and pick up the blitz. If Silas is forced to miss and games, the Redblacks will clearly need to bring in another tackle.

6) Yet again, Ottawa’s defence failed to get the job done. Despite picking off Jeremiah Masoli twice, he ultimately got the last laugh, using his feet to avoid pressure and to buy time for his receivers to get open. Masoli wound up averaging 8.8 yards per completion and was unstoppable late in the 4th quarter. Ottawa’s defence utterly failed in applying pressure, sacking Masoli once in 41 drop backs. On paper, the Redblacks boast a core of guys who are capable of producing sacks, with Aston Whiteside, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Zack Evans and Moton Hopkins, but the reality is, any member of R-Nation would struggle to recall the last time any of them made an impact play. The most frustrating aspect of Ottawa’s defence is that for long stretches they play well, but in critical situations, they break, such as when they allowed the Ticats to go on an 8 play, 82 yard drive to tie the game at the end of the 4th quarter.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Terrence Toliver (80) watches the ball bounce out of his hands after being tackled by Ottawa Redblacks' Jerrell Gavins (24) during first half CFL action on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Terrence Toliver (80) watches the ball bounce out of his hands after being tackled by Ottawa Redblacks’ Jerrell Gavins (24) during first half CFL action on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

7) It’s an absolute shame that Antoine Pruneau’s best effort of the season was wasted in a losing effort. Pruneau was a monster, flying around the field all night long as he led the team with 10 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He also returned a goal line interception 53 yards and batted away a 2nd down pass in overtime. His stat line is even more impressive when you take into account that he missed a few series in the 3rd quarter after being shaken up during his interception return. Much like the rest of the defence, Pruneau has had an inconsistent year, but if he can keep playing at this kind of level, he should be a difference maker down the stretch.

8) Stop me if you’re read this before, a missed Chris Milo kick cost the Redblacks in a loss. Not only did Milo’s missed convert prove to be huge on the scoreboard, since if he’d made it the Ticats would’ve needed a 2 point convert on their late 4th quarter TD, but while covering the kick Jake Silas was injured and forced from the game. Though Milo deserves credit for the 3 FGs he made, his erratic season has been a major headache to the team. On a related note, Ray Early is clearly not the answer at punter. Early averaged only 41 yards per kick and had a brutal 37 yarder in the 4th quarter that was short and low, which also meant the coverage unit took a 15 yard no yards flag.

9) Speaking of flags, a week after only being penalized three times, the Redblacks were back to their league leading undisciplined ways, collecting 9 flags for 89 yards. Worst of all, 6 of those penalties came in the 4th quarter and overtime. Head Coach Rick Campbell has harped on this issue all season long, preaching accountability but clearly the message isn’t getting through to his players. On the flip side, the Ticats did an excellent job of avoiding the refs, committing only 3 infractions on the night.

10) It’s a small thing but something I always keep an eye out for. This week’s special team standouts were Pruneau, Tanner Doll, Andrew Marshall and Kienan LaFrance. All made huge tackles while covering kicks.

11) Why didn’t Campbell challenge the play in the 3rd quarter when Brad Sinopoli seemingly scored a diving TD but was ruled out at the 1 yard line? Perhaps he figured the QB sneak was a surefire thing. Hopefully Jon Gott’s bad snap ensures he never assumes it’s a given again.

12) In any given season, most teams don’t play a single overtime game. Last night was Ottawa’s 4th, and their record in those games is 1-2-1. It really goes to show how much a few plays can impact the course of a season. Another way to look at it is that at least the Redblacks keep things entertaining for R-Nation, even in losses.

13) Last night was the Redblacks’ 10th straight sell out and 8th of the year. That being said, while the team sold 24,210 tickets, there definitely wasn’t that many butts in seats. The cold monsoon weather had much to do with it, but shout out to those dedicated fans who braved the inclement weather to watch Ottawa’s home record drop to 2-5-1. It’s shocking how the team fails to capitalize on their enthusiastic home crowd.

14) With the loss, the Redblacks squandered a golden opportunity to clinch 1st place in the East Division. Now, instead of having the chance to rest players and heal up in anticipation of a home East Final, the Redblacks will be forced to play hard against a desperate Bomber team that will be fighting for a home playoff game of their own. While the Redblacks have a home and home vs Winnipeg, the Ticats close out their season with home dates against the Eskimos and Alouettes. The math is simple, if the Redblacks want to ensure the East Final runs through TD Place, they need to finish the next two weeks with more, or the same number of wins as the Ticats.

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