Former Redblacks make Ottawa pay (and 9 other thoughts)

Despite playing another entertaining game, the Ottawa Redblacks failed to do enough to secure their first win of the season against the Edmonton Eskimos. Here are my thoughts on the 23-21 loss.

1) While on paper it was his worst game of the season, there was actually a lot to like about Trevor Harris’ performance against the Eskimos. Though he completed just 65% of his passes, going 23/35 for 284 yards and a touchdown, for the most part, Harris displayed excellent zip and accuracy on his throws. He also made his reads quickly and used his feet to move the pocket when under pressure. All that said, if not for a pair of clearly missed throws (the first a poorly placed lateral pass to Brad Sinopoli which resulted in a fumble return touchdown, the second an overthrow on the game tying convert), the Redblacks likely win the game. Four games into the season, it’s evident that Harris is among the best QBs in the league and is developing serious chemistry with his receiving corps. Once he eliminates the few mistakes he’s been making, the team will get into the win column.

2) For the second week in a row, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo failed to have his offence convert on more than 50% of its second downs (10/20). Although the Redblacks moved the sticks 24 times, the offence only averaged 5.3 yards per play and put up 291 yards of total offence. Against a high flying Eskimos team, that was never going to be enough. In terms of play calling, there’s two ways to look at the ratio of run to pass (35 passes to 17 runs). On one hand, you could say that Elizondo did a good job of balancing out his play calling to keep the defence honest. On the other, you could argue that on a night when his offensive line failed to consistently open lanes, Elizondo stubbornly stuck to the ground game, wasting plays that could’ve been better spent pushing the ball down field. One area that the offence did excel was in the red zone, where they finished drives with authority, going 3/3 in terms of touchdowns.

3) Finally declared fully healthy, Willam Powell got the start at running back for Ottawa. Unfortunately for the team, his return wasn’t exactly the spark the offence was looking for, as he mustered a measly 3.1 yards per carry and was held to 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground. To be fair, perhaps it’s not really on him, as Mossis Madu did no better last week behind the same offensive line. It doesn’t really matter who’s at running back if the hogs up front aren’t creating space.

4) Speaking of the offensive line, the unit deserves praise for it’s much improved pass blocking. Led by centre Jon Gott (who made his 120th career start), the group only gave up a single sack against a fearsome Eskimo pass rush. Still, as much as the offensive line did well in pass protection, they must be better on the ground. Until they can establish a respectable running game, the offence will continue to struggle to maintain drives.

5) Does anyone remember the last time Greg Ellingson lost a jump ball? Me neither. Ellingson again led the way with a team high 66 receptions yards. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Dominique Rhymes (4 catches for 59 yards) Brad Sinopoli (4 catches for 53 yards) and Joshua Stangby (3 catches for 30 yards) were Harris’ other favourite targets. The emergence of Rhymes and Stangby is huge for a corps that has already had it’s depth tested early this season due to injuries. As per the norm, Sinopoli led all receivers in terms of YAC (yards after the catch).

6) This loss wasn’t on Ottawa’s defence. As a group, the unit played violent, aggressive football. It started up front with a defensive line that really got after Eskimo QB Mike Reilly. In addition to sacking Reilly four times, Ottawa pressured him another 12 times, often flushing him out of the pocket and making him uncomfortable. Arnaud Gascon-Nadon was a beast, regularly beating his man and getting after the QB. The Redblacks also got big defensive performances out of their linebacking corps, as Khalil Bass and Taylor Reed were constantly around the ball and dishing out punishing hits. The duo combined for 11 tackles, a sack and 2 QB pressures. Technically Ottawa’s defence gave up 10 points, as they weren’t on the field for the fumble returned for a touchdown and when given a short field following a punt block, they held the Eskimos to a field goal. Can’t forget to mention the performance of DB Corey Tindal, who made 6 tackles and had 2 knockdowns. Though some around the league were surprised by the release of AJ Jefferson, Tindal has shown that he’s more than capable of filling his shoes.

7) There’s no denying that Ottawa’s got a kicking problem. After missing another convert, Brett Maher is an unacceptable 4/7 on point after attempts. He’s also missed two fields through four games. Given that Ottawa’s three losses have been by a combined seven points, the missed kicks by Maher loom large. Even if Maher has been excellent in terms of punting the ball (averaging over 45 yards per punt), GM Marcel Desjardins really needs to consider bringing in another kicker for field goal duty. Perhaps the recently released Swayze Waters gets a call this week.

8) It took him four tries, but Jason Maas finally earned his first win against his former team. On an Eskimo squad loaded with former Redblacks (GM Brock Sunderland, Forrest Hightower, Danny O’Brien, Scott MacDonell, Mike Moore Brandyn Thompson, Travon Van), it was only a matter of time before someone had a big game against Ottawa. On Friday night it was Van strutting his stuff to the tune of 18 carries for 103 yards and 4 catches for 21 yards. Thompson also made a massive play, scooping up Harris’ errant pass to Sinopoli and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown.

9) Still don’t think it’s time to panic despite Ottawa’s winless start to the season. Even though team hasn’t won a game yet, they have proven they can hang with the top teams in the league, playing both Edmonton and Calgary tough. The Redblacks are a group that play better than their opponents for long stretches, before succumbing to self-inflicted wounds. Rick Campbell’s team needs to stop finding new ways to lose. This week it was failed two point converts, giving up 20 straight points, a fumble returned for a touchdown and a block punt that cost them.

10) Despite being winless, the sky isn’t falling and the Redblacks only sit three points out of 1st place in the East. With back to back games against Montreal and Toronto on tap, Ottawa can easily get back on track with a pair of wins.

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).