Redblacks fail to overcome depleted Eskimo squad (& 17 other thoughts)

Another game another loss. This time it was the undefeated Edmonton Eskimos coming into town and earning a hard fought 27-20 win over the Ottawa Redblacks, who yet again found a new way to lose.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It’s hard to complete passes when you’re running for your life or flat on your back, which makes Trevor Harris’ stat line all the more impressive. On a night when he was under siege every time he dropped back to pass, the fact that he still managed to go 26/37 (70%) for 266 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception is impressive. I’m not holding the turnover against him though, as it came on a desperation heave on the last play of the game.

But as good as the stats look on paper, they’re a bit deceiving. After all, Harris only had five completions of more than 15 yards. That’s baffling considering that every time he did push the ball down the field, his receivers made plays and came up with big catches. Also, there’s no getting around the fact that within the last five minutes of the game, with his team trailing by a touchdown, Harris had two opportunities to lead a game-tying drive. Both times he failed. While that’s not wholly on him, at a certain point, the QB needs to step up and make the necessary plays for his team to win.

2) Offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo is going to take a lot of heat for his play calling against the Eskimos, and rightly so. His offence generated a measly 288 yards of net offence (5.5 yards per play), went two-and-out seven times and only possessed the ball for 24 minutes. Worst of all, the Redblacks converted just 32% of the time on 2nd down (6/19) and averaged a pathetic 3.8 yards per 2nd down play.

For the majority of the game, Elizondo’s calls pushed the ball towards the sidelines instead of down the field. Given the success Ottawa had when they went deep (and the fact that Harris throws a great deep ball), not stretching the field more often was criminal. For example, in the 3rd quarter, on 2nd and 10, the Redblacks called a swing pass to the running back in the flats. It was a play that never had any chance of success, so why bother? And with 5 minutes left in the game, trailing by 7 and on his own 30 yard line, Elizondo dialled up another running back screen that lost 2 yards. How is that possibly justifiable?

Not to mention the fact that on a night when his offensive line was manhandled, Elizondo called 37 passes to just 6 running plays. Instead of establishing a run game (which in turn could’ve set up play-action and helped slow down the Eskimo pass rush), Elizondo abandoned it.

With the talent the Redblacks have on the offensive side of the ball, something’s got to give. These kind of offensive showings simply aren’t good enough. Maybe those voices who have been vocally clamouring for a new face at the offensive coordinator position finally get their wish this week.

3) With William Powell on the sidelines yet again, Mossis Madu got the start at running back. Unfortunately for him, his best play of the night, a 31 yard catch a scramble, didn’t count. Madu failed to get the job down on the ground, finishing the night with just 6 carries for 23 yards (3.8 per cary), though much of that is on his offensive line. He was equally ineffective in the air, turning 4 catches into 2 yards. If Powell isn’t ready to go next week, the Redblacks should seriously consider giving Ottawa native Brendan Gillanders a start. He’s only averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

4) It was a quiet night for the Buds, with Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli combining for 10 catches, 98 yards and a touchdown. That’s why it was nice to see signs of life from the rest of the receiving corps. Rookie Josh Stangby led all Ottawa pass catchers by making 5 receptions for 78 yards. After a string of near invisible performances, Dionate Spencer reminded R-Nation what he can do when set free to fly down the field, hauling in 2 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.

5) The Redblacks made a conscious effort to get Quincy McDuffie involved with the offence but it didn’t exactly pan out. He finished the night with 3 catches for 19 yards, had a drop and didn’t seem to always be on the same page as his QB. McDuffie did have a nice run on a sweep and I think that if used properly (aka given the ball in space), he can provide a nice change of pace to keep defences off balance. That said, I don’t think screen swing passes are the way to do it. Ottawa could also use McDuffie’s speed to take the top off of defences and open up space for the rest of their receivers.

6) Officially the Redblacks gave up 3 sacks, but if not for Harris’ shiftiness, the total would be much higher. Ottawa’s offensive line was utterly dominated in the trenches. LG Alex Mateas was routinely exposed and was directly responsible for two of the sacks conceded. With Matt Albright now healthy, it’s time for Mateas to head to the bench. In previous seasons the offensive line has been a strength for the Redblacks, right now it’s clearly the opposite.

7) At times, Mark Nelson’s defence looked effective against the Eskimos. But every time Ottawa needed a stop, they allowed the Mike Reilly to find a way to move the chains. Part of that is due to the fact that the Redblacks defence was on the field for 36 minutes; there’s no denying that takes a toll. Still, when you give up 7.3 yards per play, you’re in for a long day.

Nelson’s game plan was an aggressive one, and the Redblacks’ brought more pressure than they normally do. it worked to an extent, as Reilly was often flushed out of the pocket and forced to scramble, but ultimately Ottawa only sacked him twice. Worst of all, when the Redblacks desperately needed a stop in the 4th quarter, Reilly had all day to repeatedly convert on 2nd down.

The defence played tough against the run, giving up only 3.8 yards per play, but when you do that 27 times, it still adds up to more than 100 yards.

8) The biggest defensive standouts were Antonie Prueanu, Sherrod Baltimore and Imoan Claiborne. The first two for positive reasons; Pruneau was a force with 5 tackles, a sack and an end zone interception. Baltimore had 6 tackles, flew about the field with an energy lacking in some of his teammates and displayed great coverage skills. As for Claiborne, he was notable for all the wrong reasons. After getting the start over Jonathan Rose, Claiborne was repeatedly beat by his man. He was torched deep twice, and on 2nd down again and again and again, especially in the 4th quarter. Claiborne did intercept a tipped pass but was also flagged for DPI down near his goal line.

9) Shoutout to Dan West, who was Ottawa’s special teams monster of the week, making three tackles on kick coverage.

10) Speaking of special teams, this was the second week in a row that Brett Maher shanked a crucial 4th quarter punt. He also nearly had another kick blocked in the 2nd quarter. Still, when he’s not putting them off the side of his foot, Maher averages nearly 46 yards a kick.

11) How large does Andrew Marshall’s block in the back flag loom? His ill advised penalty wiped out an electrifying 92 yard touchdown return from Quincy McDuffie that would’ve flipped momentum completely in Ottawa’s favour. The good thing is that everyone in the nation’s capital now knows for sure that McDuffie comes exactly as advertised. After watching Chris Williams (and others) dance laterally on kick returns the last few season, it’s great to see a returner who puts his head down and actually runs up the field.

12) Despite the team’s poor start, Rick Campbell shouldn’t yet be on the hot seat. Surely winning a Grey Cup and signing a three year extension gets him to the end of the season. Or at least, that what was my thinking until I saw this tweet. If players are openly questioning the work being done in practice, maybe it is time for a change. That being said, I still think GM Marcel Desjardins fires a coordinator before he changes his head coach. If Desjardins fancies making a change, now is the time to do it. The Redblacks have 8 days before they head down to the Hammer, which would buy a new coordinator a little time to implement a new scheme/playbook.

13) According to TSN Ottawa is now the youngest team in the league. Maybe Henry Burris was onto something with his comments because it sure looked like the Redblacks could’ve used a calming voice on both sides of the ball (or at least someone to come up with a huge play) late in the 4th quarter of another close game.

14) Neat to see the two CC-130 Hercules flying over TD Place on Military Appreciation Night. Although it was just short of a sell out (23,851), those on hand were as loud and rabid as ever. That was more than apparent at the end of the first half when the deafening roar of the crowd forced a punt after causing the Eskimos to take a time count violation and lose a down.

15) Swing and a miss for TSN announcer Rod Black who attempted to call out the home crowd for being unusually quiet. Never mind the fact that the Redblacks had the ball and were on offence when he made his astute observation.

16) Where was the legendary Soupy Campbell’s moment of silence? Given how often the Redblacks throw back to their Rough Rider heritage, it was incredibly disappointing to see them fail to honour one of their own. Jerry Campbell was a Hall of Famer and a local legend, he deserved to be mentioned before kickoff. A simple video tribute would’ve been enough.

17) You are what your record says you are. Forget any thought of playing in the Grey Cup, at this point R-Nation should be praying the Redblacks simply find a way to close out games. The only reason the sky isn’t falling in the nation’s capital is because the entire East division has a combined six wins. As long as the Redblacks win out against their Eastern rivals, they still have a good shot at not only making the playoffs, but hosting a game. That means contests like next week’s match up against the Ticats are must win games. There’s simply no more room for excuses. It’s time for the players in red and black to put up or shut up.

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).