Defence leads the way as Redblacks clinch the East (& 9 other thoughts)

The Redblacks finally did something the easy way. After a season full of inconsistent efforts and shooting themselves in the foot, the Ottawa Redblacks made the most of a Hamilton loss and clinched the East Division with a win in Winnipeg. Led by their defence and a punishing ground game, Ottawa put in one of its best efforts of the year en route to a 23-10 victory. Here are the rest of my thoughts:

1) Another week, another solid performance from Henry Burris. Despite not throwing for a touchdown, Burris had an efficient night under centre, making good reads to beat the blitz and showing a soft touch when necessary. Burris came out of the gate hot, completing the first 12 passes he attempted and wound up hitting 7 different receivers as he went 23/33 (69%) for 338 yards and an interception. With the East locked up, it’ll be interesting to see how much, if any, playing time Burris gets next week.

2) Though the Redblacks finished the night with 453 yards of total offence, this was far from their best effort. While OC Jamie Elizondo did a lot of things right, such as striking a good balance between runs vs passes called (26 to 33) and an early 11 play, 101 yard TD drive, the fact of the matter is that Ottawa still struggled mightily to put up points in the 2nd half of the game. After jumping out to a 17-3 lead after 30 minutes, the Redblacks only managed to tack on 6 points (two FGs) through the second half of the game. Also, the Redblacks’ three red zone opportunities failed to result in a single touchdown. While that didn’t cost them in this game, with the playoffs around the corner, Ottawa needs to start converting when they get close to the goal line.

3) It only took 17 games, but the Redblacks finally have their first 100 yard rushing performance. Mossis Madu averaged 6 yards per carry as he slashed, juked and powered his way to 125 yards on the night. As well as Madu ran, the offensive line deserves credit for opening up some gaping holes. On one 40 yard gain, Jon Gott and Alex Mateas opened a hole the size of Prince Edward Island through the teeth of the Bomber defence.

4) Speaking of the offensive line, last week’s injury to Jake Silas led to another shuffling which saw Tommie Draheim step in at LT and Jason Lauzon-Séguin move to RT. Despite not playing since the pre-season, Draheim did a fantastic job protecting Burris’ blind side. For the majority of the night, the offensive line as a whole did well to provide Burris with a clean pocket to step up into, conceding just 2 sacks on 33 dropbacks.

5) With a 26 yard catch in the middle of four Winnipeg defenders, Brad Sinopoli became the latest Redblacks’ receiver to go over 1000 yards. Along with Chris Williams, Greg Ellingson and Ernest Jackson, Sinopoli makes CFL history as being part of the first quartet to have back to back 1000 yard seasons. Though Sinopoli’s 73 yards weren’t a team high (that distinction goes to Ernest Jackson’s hard earned 99 yards), each of his 5 catches moved the sticks.

6) Over their previous 4 games, the Redblacks defence had surrendered a staggering 140 points. That’s why it’s safe to say nobody, aside from perhaps the players themselves, expected them to come out in Winnipeg and put forth such a dominant effort. Led by the dynamic linebacking duo of Taylor Reed and Damaso Munoz (who combined for 22 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble), Ottawa’s defence was smothering. Bomber QB Matt Nichols had only thrown 5 interceptions on the season but added 3 to that total by half-time and frankly was fortunate it wasn’t more. In addition to the picks, the defence stopped Winnipeg twice on 3rd down, both times snuffing out runs. Nichols looked uncomfortable all game long, often coming under pressure, taking some ferocious shots and being sacked twice by Arnaud Gascon-Nadon.

7) Ray Early seems to have arrived in the Nation’s Capital right on time. In addition to averaging 45 yards per punt, Early wound up handling all kicking duties for Ottawa as Chris Milo tweaked something in the pre-game warmup. Early was responsible for 7 points as he attempted (and more importantly made) 15 and 29 yard FGs and smashed a 65 yard punt for a rouge. Despite Early’s perfect night kicking field goals, if Milo’s injury is something long term the Redblacks will need to bring in another kicker. It’s worth noting that early in the game, the Redblacks chose to go for two after their touchdowns, instead of letting Early kick the converts. For the record, both of the two point attempts were successful.

8) Since I’ve ragged on them many times this season for their undisciplined play, it’s only fair that I commend the Redblacks on one of their most disciplined games of the season. Ottawa was flagged a season low 3 times for 30 yards but should have been hit with a penalty for no yards during a 3rd quarter Bomber return. That being said, the objectionable conduct penalty given to Taylor Reed following a massive collision between Jerrell Gavins and Weston Dressler a few plays later certainly seemed like a make up call.

9) With 2:22 left in game, leading 23-3 and on Winnipeg’s 17 yard line, Head Coach Rick Campbell decided to hand the ball off on 3rd and 10. I understand the fear of having the ball picked off, but running the ball was never going to result in a first down. Gotta admit that I find the call puzzling. I get being conservative and wanting the opposition to drive the length of the field, but why not kick the field goal? Early had already made kicks of 15 and 29 yards, so why not let him boot another chip shot? In the end the difference is the Bombers needing 3 TDs in 2:22 vs needing 3 TDs and 3 two point converts. Neither scenario is very likely, but again, why not just take the points?

10) With the playoffs looming large, there really was no better time for the Redblacks to put together such a complete effort. By beating the Bombers, the Redblacks finish atop the division and will host the East Final for the second consecutive year. November 20th promises to be another loud, sold out affair at TD Place, but before then, Rick Campbell has some interesting decisions to make. With nothing left to play for in the regular season finale, how much does he play his starters next week? Every team wants to go into the playoffs on a winning note, but in year that has seen the Redblacks’ roster decimated by major injuries, will Campbell risk anyone? At the same time, given that Ottawa now has a bye, will too much time off led to rust? One massive positive that comes with the bye week is that it will give Tristian Jackson, Moton Hopkins, Abdul Kanneh, Chris Milo and anyone else banged up extra time to heal. It’s also been suggested that SirVincent Rogers might even be healthy by the East Final. Given how this season has gone, it has to be deeply satisfying for both the team and R-Nation to know that the Redblacks are just a single win away from returning to the Grey Cup.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).