Nine thoughts on the Redblacks coming up short

It’s only Week Two but we may have already witnessed the game of the year. In a heavyweight slugfest, with both teams trading big plays and miscues, the Ottawa Redblacks narrowly fell to the Calgary Stampeders 43-39.

Here are all of my thoughts on last night’s game.

1) What a difference a week makes. Last week, Trevor Harris averaged a measly 7.3 yards per pass. This week, he more than doubled that, going 27/35 for 425 yards, two touchdowns and averaging 15.7 yards per completion. Harris came out swinging, stretching the field with a beautiful deep ball to Greg Ellingson for what looked like the game’s opening touchdown, only to have it wiped out due to a bonehead penalty. Still, for the second week in a row, Harris had his way with the Stampeder secondary, carving them up every time his offensive line provided him a clean pocket. His signature zip on perfectly placed deep shots was on full display, as he completed five passes that travelled more than 25 yards in the air, with one going for a touchdown. Harris also deserves full credit for paying the price on some of his throws, hanging in the pocket to get the completion and getting hammered in the process. On a night when his offensive line was frequently manhandled, Harris’ toughness was evident.

2) Full credit to Jamie Elizondo’s offensive game plan. After many (including myself) criticized him for being too conservative in Ottawa’s Week One tie, Elizondo set the tone immediately, stretching the field on the game’s opening play. He also displayed creativity on a receiver reverse that resulted in Brad Sinopoli overthrowing Ellingson on a go route. Despite the incompletion, look for that play to surface again later on this season, it’s a good one. Elizondo’s unit put up 21 first downs, 478 yards of offence, averaged 8.5 yards per play and controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes. In addition to taking more shots downfield, Elizondo did an excellent job of making use of fullback Patrick Lavoie, moving him around to create mismatches.

3) With William Powell sidelined with an ankle issue, Mossis Madu got his first start since last season’s snowy East Final. Madu had a strong night, running hard and finishing with 74 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (5.7 yards per carry). He wasn’t much of a factor in the pass game, finishing with a single catch for nine yards. In his first full game in nearly eight months, Madu served a reminder to R-Nation that even if Powell remains out for a few more weeks, the run game is in capable hands.

4) Brad Sinopoli did a lot of things right against Calgary, as evidenced by his seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. But everything positive he did came after the first play of the game, in which he took a completely unnecessary illegal block penalty that wiped an 80 yard score off the board. Ottawa settled for a field goal and ultimately the four points left off the board came to haunt the Redblacks, who went on to lose the game by that margin. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Greg Ellingson had another huge performance, snagging seven catches for 133 yards, averaging 19 yards per reception. After a quiet debut in Week One, Dionate Spencer exploded for three catches, 107 yards and a touchdown. Spencer’s breakout performance bodes well going forwards, primarily because the Redblacks’ receiving corps took another hit with Juron Criner leaving the game due to what looked like a serious knee injury. With Kenny Shaw already on the six-game injury list, Spencer will be heavily relied on to produce. When not hauling in passes, the receiving unit did an excellent job blocking for each other, as evidenced by the 200 YAC (yards after catch) the group generated.

5) The offensive line had a truly Jekyll and Hyde performance. On the ground, the group was stellar, paving the way for an average of 5.1 yards per carry and getting a great push in short yardage situations, averaging 2.3 yards per QB sneak. But in terms of pass protection, each player on the line (aside from SirVincent Rogers), had their lunch handed to them more than once. Their Swiss cheese pass blocking conceded four sacks and Harris was pressured and hit on least half a dozen other plays. Perhaps no player exemplifies the kind of night the offensive line had more than left guard Alex Mateas. On running plays, Mateas used his size and strength to seal off running lanes and helped push the pile. But on passing downs, he struggled at times to pick up the blitz or win his one on one matchup. The Redblacks simply cannot allow Harris to keep taking the kind of shots he’s been absorbing these past two weeks as there’s no way he’ll be able to stay healthy.

6) On the whole, you have to like the defensive performance put together by defensive coordinator Mark Nelson’s unit. They limited Jerome Messam to just 3.6 yards per carry (and 51 in total), sacked Bo Levi Mitchell twice, held him to under 300 yards passing, a 61% completion rate and were 50% in the red zone (giving up two touchdowns on four Stampeder trips). Furthermore, 12 of Calgary’s 43 points came when the defence was on the sidelines (due to a fumble recovery and punt return). While certain players such as Taylor Reed, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Rose and Ettore Lattanzio deserve kudos for throwing some monster hits, others, such as Imoan Claiborne need to refine their technique. Claiborne choosing to attempt to jar the ball loose instead of wrapping up the ball carrier resulted in a QB sneak becoming a 60 yard TD scamper.

7) On the special teams front, the good news is that it looks like the Redblacks finally have a game-changing returner. Diontae Spencer’s coming out party in the return game was a marvel to watch. In addition to his 96 yard punt return, he also had returns of 36, 34 and 22 yards. Brett Maher was solid, going 4/4 on every field goal attempt that wasn’t blocked. Unfortunately, he missed a convert and had another blocked. That wasn’t the only block the Redblacks gave up either, as a second quarter punt was also stuffed. Ottawa’s special teams woes continued in the fourth quarter when Carleton Raven alum Tunde Adeleke took a 71-yard return to the house. On the play Jake Harty seemed to have Adeleke dead to rights, but by going in with his shoulder for the knockout shot and not using his arms, Adeleke spun out of Harty’s hit and sprinted to the end zone.

8) Flags, flags, flags. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but the Redblacks completely shot themselves in the foot by taking so many penalties. Ottawa was flagged a total of 11 times (though three were declined) and gifted Calgary with 90 free yards. Against good teams, that kind of sloppiness will cost you, especially on the road and especially in a one score game. Although overall, the referees did a good job, two calls in particular left R-Nation fuming. The first came early in game when the Redblacks stopped the Stampeders on 3rd and 1 inside of Calgary territory. Ottawa was flagged for being offside, yet replays failed to show any early movement or a player lined up in the neutral zone. The second came near the end of the third quarter when a first down catch by Patrick Lavoie was wiped out when he was flagged for taunting, despite not being near a Calgary player.

9) With the loss the Redblacks remain winless at McMahon Stadium and drop to 0-1-1 on the year. Given that the team has put up 70 points over two games, it’s disappointing they only have a single point in the standings to their name and remain winless. That being said, going toe to toe with a powerhouse like Calgary proves that last season’s Grey Cup win was no fluke. The Redblacks will be a force this season as long as they stay healthy. Still, it can’t help but feel like Ottawa wasted good opportunities against the Stamps. Last week it was blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead. This week it was a handful of plays (Sinopoli’s penalty, Andrew Buckley’s 60 yard QB sneak, Lavoie’s fumble and Adeleke’s return) that could’ve made the difference. But with a strong looking Argo group headed to town next week, the Redblacks don’t have time to rue missed opportunities.

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).