14 thoughts on Redblacks’ wild opener

1) Fantastic to see 2016 Grey Cup MVP Henry Burris on hand to unveil Ottawa’s 10th Grey Cup banner. It was a moment a long time coming for the city and started the game off on a satisfying note for the home crowd.

2) If you judge Trevor Harris’ game solely based on stats, there’s not much to complain about. He threw for 300 yards, 3 touchdowns and completed 73% of his passes. But in this case, the numbers are a bit deceiving, because despite the 31 points put up, the Redblacks struggled to move the ball with consistency. That’s reflected by the fact that Harris only averaged 7.3 yards per pass. Also, whether due to play calling (more on that in a minute), a lack of aggression, or an injury, the ball was rarely pushed downfield. In 45 pass attempts, just two completions came on plays where the ball travelled more than 15 yards in the air. Despite his excellent pass completion percentage, when the game was on the line, Harris stumbled, throwing 2nd down incompletions when marching in the last minute, and again in double overtime. He also threw an end zone interception during the first overtime mini-game, though that was more a result of Stampeder luck than a Harris error. Overall, Harris played efficiently, making quick reads and displaying a willingness to move his feet when the pocket collapsed. That said, going forward he’ll need to do a better job stretching the field.

3) Offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo did a lot of things right last night. He struck a good balance on 1st down (calling 16 passes to 8 runs), was extremely creative in his use of FB Patrick Lavoie and directed an offence that put up 28 first downs and 416 total yards. And yet, this was far from a masterful offensive performance. Elizondo seemed content to nickel and dime the Calgary defence as evidenced by the fact that he called so many short passing plays. Thanks to some wonderful work by Ticats’ play by play guy Marshall Ferguson, we know that the Redblacks had 7 pass attempts that never crossed the line of scrimmage (screens and swings). On top of that, 27 of Harris’ 45 drop backs were attempts for less than 10 yards. And while I understand that YAC (yards after reception) are something that Ottawa’s receiving corps has churned with ease in recent seasons, given the speed in their corps, not stretching the field is criminal. But on the other hand, maybe Elizondo tailored his play calling to favour Harris’ throwing hand.

4) Heading into the night, the big question in the run game was just how effective William Powell would be after missing the entire 2016 season due to injury. And for a half, he was healthy, explosive and strong, averaging five yards per carry and catching a pass out of the backfield for a touchdown on a well-designed play. Unfortunately for both Powell and the Redblacks, his health only lasted the first half as he was forced to leave the game with an undisclosed injury. Canadian (and Ottawa native) Brendan Gillanders was pressed into action and performed admirably, carrying the ball 12 times for 80 yards (6.7 yards per carry). Gillanders was excellent until he wasn’t, and the enduring image of the night for many in R-Nation will be his last 4th quarter fumble that lead to a touchdown and sparked a 14 point Calgary comeback. If Powell’s injury proves to be long term, look for Mossis Madu to become Ottawa’s lead back.

5) As well as Ottawa’s offensive line played in the run game, grinding out 5.8 yards per carry, the unit struggled at times in pass pro. Though the group didn’t concede a sack, the pocket collapsed too many times, forcing Harris to scramble and take some massive shots. Without a Hall of Fame backup, the Redblacks’ offensive line must do a better job limiting the big shots their starting QB absorbs.

6) Ernest and Chris who? While a single performance doesn’t compare to the massive stats compiled by the now departed Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams, last night’s game proved that Ottawa’s receiving corps will be just fine. Best buds Brad Sinpoli and Greg Ellingson did their usual thing and combined for 16 catches and 154 yards. Juron Criner continued to build off his strong finish to last season, snagging 4 passes for 35 yards and a TD, and thanks to some creative play designs, FB Patrick Lavoie finished with 3 catches for 31 yards. But by far the biggest revelation of the night was Joshua Stangby, who made a number of highlight reel catches, including a diving 32 yard TD catch, Ottawa’s longest play of the night. Marquee free agent signings Dionate Spencer and Kenny Shaw had debuts to forget, with the former catching 3 passes for 8 yards (all on screens) and the later injured and held off the stat sheet.

7) Although the defensive line failed to register a sack against Bo Levi Mitchell, the group deserves praise for shutting down (as far as anyone shuts down) the mack truck Calgary lines up in their backfield. Jerome Messam is a beast and holding him to 5 yards a carry (and 65 on the night) is a win for any defence. LB Taylor Reed was everywhere, racking up a team high 8 tackles. The defence also deserves praise for bending but not breaking. In six red zone trips, Calgary came away with just two touchdowns. The big black mark on Mark Nelson’s unit is that the group blew a 14-point 4th quarter lead.

8) Despite giving up 376 yards in the air, there was a lot to like from the Redblacks’ secondary. In particular, the play of Antoine Pruneau, Imoan Claiborne and Jerrell Gavins was excellent. All three had pass knockdowns, big hits and were quick to bring down receivers.

9) In terms of special teams, Brett Maher was everything the Redblacks hoped he’d be when they re-signed him in training camp. On top of going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, Maher averaged 48.6 yards per punt. Stangby and Spencer split returning duties but neither really stood out, which likely paves the way for practice roster Daje Johnson to enter the lineup next week. Can’t forget to mention Jean-Philippe Bolduc who was an absolute beast on special teams.

10) Now for the hot topic of the night, the officials. Before going further let’s clearly state that in terms of flags, the refs did an excellent job. The Redblacks earned every one of the 126 yards they were flagged 13 times for. Rick Campbell’s teams have had a history of sloppy play and so far, the 2017 group is no different. As for the defensive TD that was annulled by video review, as close as it was, Kamar Jordan did indeed break the goal line, even if ever so slightly.

But Jordan’s fumble in the fourth with three minutes remaining was blown. There’s no other way to describe it. And here’s the frustrating thing as a fan. On field officials can make mistakes. After all, the CFL is a fast paced game and referees are only human. But, video replay officials, who have the benefit of frame by frame video evidence do not get that luxury. Especially when they have a clear camera angle of the play in question (which in this case, they did). It’s not fair to say that Ottawa lost the game because of a blown call, after all they had the ball with a minute left in a tie game and two chances in overtime to end, but the blatantly incorrect call undeniably swung momentum in Calgary’s favour.

11) Is there anything more unsatisfying than sitting through four quarters of a thrilling game and then having it end in a tie after two mini-games? The CFL has the best overtime format in pro football but it could still be tweaked. Why not keep the mini-games going until a clear winner emerges? Nobody, not fans, players or coaches likes a tie.

12) Though Ottawa escaped the game mostly healthy, the status of William Powell and Kenny Shaw will be worth keeping an eye on. If either can’t suit up for next week’s tilt, look for Madu and Stangby to take over their roles.

13) The Redblacks won’t have to wait long until they see the Stamps again, as next week completes the home and home series. Ottawa is in tough, as McMahon Stadium is the only place they’ve never won in franchise history. The Redblacks will be looking to rewrite the script of being blown out in Cowtown and for the sake of fans around the country, hopefully the trend of thrilling games between the two teams continues.

14) Shoutout to the 24,565 members of R-Nation who sold out the game and makes themselves heard all night long. The stadium was loud and proud throughout the game and whether it was chants directed towards lousy officiating or cowbells and shouts to disrupt Calgary’s offence, R-Nation made themselves heard.

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).