Redblacks sink themselves (and 10 other thoughts)

1) Despite another statistically strong performance (30 of 43 for 370 yards, two touchdowns and an interception), Trevor Harris is still looking for his 15th career win. Although Harris deserves credit for completing nearly 70 per cent of his passes while averaging 8.6 yards a throw, mistakes at key moments were ultimately the difference that left Ottawa still searching for its first win of the year. The first miscue came about as a result of a miscommunication with centre Jon Gott. Harris was clearly trying to draw the Argos offside when the snap sailed off Harris and eventually bounced its way into the end zone for a Toronto touchdown. At that point in the game, Ottawa was ahead by 11 and seemingly in control of things. The fumble sparked a 15 point run for the Argos. The second Harris error was a bad read in the 4th quarter that was intercepted and led to an Argos field goal. In yet another one score loss, those 10 gifted points loom large.

2) The good news for offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo is that even though his play calling led to the team’s worst offensive output of the season, the unit still generated 25 points, 25 first downs and 395 yards of offence. On a night when his offensive line was routinely pushed around, Elizondo did his best to offset the Argo rush by pounding the ball on the ground. Unfortunately, his offensive line failed to rise to the occasion, paving the way for a meagre 3.4 yards per carry. Going forwards, Elizondo must find a way to get better first down production out of his offence, as against Toronto the Redblacks only averaged 3.9 yards per first down play. Often facing 2nd and long, Ottawa only converted 48% of its 2nd down opportunities (13/27).

3) In a somewhat surprising move, the Redblacks chose to make William Powell a healthy scratch and gave Mossis Madu the start for the second consecutive week. Despite not getting much help from his offensive line, Madu put up solid (if unspectacular) numbers; 51 yards on the ground and 36 in the air with a touchdown. Someone must have told Madu that the Canadian Track and Field Championships are taking place this weekend in Ottawa, as during the 2nd quarter he attempted a few hurdles of his own.

4) For the second week in a row, Ottawa’s offensive line really struggled to keep a clean pocket. Harris was harried throughout the game, being sacked 5 times and hit numerous more. With veteran Nolan MacMillan on the 1-game injured list, Eric Lofton got his first start of the season. To be blunt, he struggled and the sooner MacMillan returns, the better. Perhaps it’s also time for the return of Jake Silas to right tackle, which would free up Jason Lauzon-Séguin to move to guard, further shoring up the interior of the line. Even if you take the point of view that the recent offensive line struggles should be taken with a grain of salt as not every team in the CFL boasts a pass rush as strong as that of the Stampeders and Argos, the Redblacks’ offensive line needs to be better.

5) After having three 100 yard receivers last week (Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer), last night only Ellingson cracked that mark, pulling in 10 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. Ellingson had a phenomenal game, making a handful of highlight reel catches as he continued to show why he leads the CFL in receiving yards. Sinopoli made 6 catches for 67 yards and Spencer finished with 4 for 47 yards. In his first start, Dominique Rhymes had two targets but no catches.

6) Even if they only brought him down twice, the Redblacks defence did a good job making Ricky Ray uncomfortable. While Zack Evans and Avery Ellis accounted for the sacks, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Jake Ceresna had quietly effective games, pressuring the QB a combined five times. Still, one way to relieve pressure is to have a safety valve and SJ Green was certainly that for the Argos. Green, who is clearly 100% recovered from three torn ligaments and a torn meniscus, often found himself matched up against former Argo AJ Jefferson and torched the Redblacks to the tune of 10 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t all negative in the secondary though, as Jerrell Gavins had a strong game with 3 knockdowns. LB Nick Taylor had a whale of a game, leading all Redblacks with 8 tackles.

7) While you can’t fault a kicker for not making a 59 yard FG attempt, a 48 yarder in the 1st quarter is fair game for criticism. When the Redblacks signed Maher, it was believed that the kicking situation was resolved and in good hands. And while that’s certainly been true in terms of punting (Maher was again stellar averaging 49 yards per punt) just three games into the season, Maher has missed two field goals and two coverts. Given how close Ottawa’s games have been, that’s a cause for concern. Also, with Ryan Lindley as the go to QB in short yardage situations, Drew Tate’s only role is to hold the snap on kicks. Mishandling the ball as he did last night on the game tying touchdown is inexcusable.

8) Although the Argos get credited with the win, the Redblacks ultimately beat themselves, taking 10 penalties, turning the ball over three times and missing three kicks (a convert and two field goals). It’s early in the season, but head coach Rick Campbell needs to send a message that sloppy play is inexcusable. If not for undisciplined play, Ottawa could easily be sitting at 2-1 or even 3-0.

9) What on earth was Rick Campbell thinking when he dialled up the play call for the onside punt in the 4th quarter? To set the scene; on 2nd and 20, trailing by 4 points and with the ball on their own 12 yard line, Campbell decided to call a trick play that featured receiver Brad Sinopoli catching a short pass behind the line of scrimmage, and then punting it gently for an onside recovery. While the concept is nice (on an onside punt, as long as the ball crosses the line of scrimmage, anywhere it’s recovered counts as a change of possession and automatically results in a first down), the call itself was situationally awful. Instead of just lining up and running a play that featured enough deep routes to get a fresh set of downs, Campbell gambled on Sinopoli’s ability to get off a good short kick (which he failed to do) and on the defence being caught unprepared (which it wasn’t). Not only did the Redblacks not get the fresh set of downs they hoped for, they set up the Argos within the shadow of their goalposts, giving Toronto an easy three points. Hindsight always make it easy to second guess a coach, but given how much time was still on the clock (over 9 minutes), the onside punt call was simply baffling.

10) Shoutout to the 14th straight sellout crowd at TD Place. Even if the Redblacks haven’t sent R-Nation home with too many wins the past few seasons, fans continue to pack the stadium.

11) Sitting in 3rd place in the East with a 0-2-1 record, frustration is setting in for both players and fans alike. Coming off a Grey Cup win and with this year’s championship game taking place at TD Place in November, this is not the start anyone in town envisioned. That being said, there’s no reason to panic. The reality is that the issues that plague the Redblacks are self-inflicted and easily corrected. In every game this season, Ottawa has only been a play away from getting a win. Furthermore, the fact that the East division as a whole is off to a slow start only helps the Redblacks’ case. With 15 games left in the season, there’s plenty of time to turn things around. All that said, this week’s game in Edmonton looms large. With 3 games in the next 11 days, it’s time for the Redblacks to start stacking wins, even if the deck is stacked against them.

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).