Redblacks fail to overcome slow start (& 13 other thoughts)

Riding a three game win streak and at home vs the Ticats, expectations were high in the nation’s capital that the Ottawa Redblacks would add to their division lead. Instead, the team got punched in the mouth and failed to overcome a shockingly poor start, ultimately falling 26-22 to the visitors.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) Tough to see Trevor Harris go down on a hellacious (but clean) hit. After a first half in which he looked a bit off, not seeming to be on the same page as his receivers, Harris was rounding into form and leading scoring drives when he was hurt in the third quarter. As inconsistent as Ottawa has been this season, the one constant has been stellar QB play, as evidenced by the fact that Harris leads virtually every passing category. There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that the more time he misses, the greater the odds the Redblacks miss the playoffs.

2) Thrust into action, Drew Tate did fairly well coming off the bench. His numbers weren’t great (8/13 for 114 yards and a touchdown), but he had little help. His offensive line was porous and his receivers dropped three balls by my count. Tate showed a willingness to push the ball down the field which bodes well given the weapons at his disposal. That said, if he is the QB for the foreseeable future, he’ll need to do better than throwing a four yard dump pass on 3rd and 12 with the game on the line.

3) You had a feeling the night might not go well for Ottawa right off the bat. On the first play of the game, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo dialled up a reverse flea flicker that led to an 11 yard loss. The call was simply baffling. It’s one thing to be aggressive, but why take the ball out of the hands of your QB to let Josh Stangby throw it? The play set the tone for all the wrong reasons. Overall, the offence had a poor night, especially on 2nd down. The Redblacks averaged 3.3 yards on 2nd down and moved the chains only 42% of the time (11/26).

4) Mossis Madu continues to impress. In addition to picking up 54 yards on the ground (averaging 4.9 yards per carry), he also caught four passes for 52 yards, including an incredible 37 yard catch. With Harris out, Madu will be even more heavily relied upon to produce.

5) The look on Greg Ellingson’s face when Trevor Harris left the game said it all. Ellingson, more than anyone, is aware of what Harris means to this team. It’s worth noting that once Tate entered the game, Ellingson disappeared from it. In fact, Tate’s only completion to the Buds was a four-yard pass to Brad Sinopoli in the 4th quarter. If he’s going to be under centre for any length of time, Tate needs to look the Buds way early and often. As for the rest of the receiving corps, they could help Tate out by not dropping passes that hit them in the chest. I’m looking at you Stangby, Jake Harty and Dominique Rhymes.

6) Yet again, Ottawa’s offensive line was manhandled, only this time it cost them in the worst way. To be frank, this injury could’ve happened in Week One or Two or any of the games this season. That’s because all year long, Jon Gott and company have failed to keep their QB upright. Harris has taken dozens of shots and frankly, it’s a surprise and a testament to his toughness that he’s stayed healthy this long. Hamilton amassed four sacks to go along with another six QB pressures. Until the offensive line tightens up and provides a clean pocket with regularity, it won’t matter who is throwing the ball, because they’ll be on their back or running for their life.

7) For 30 minutes, Ottawa’s defence made Jeremiah Masoli look like Mike Vick in his prime. They had no answer for his legs when he tucked the ball and ran, nor his arm when he stretched the field with deep bombs. Defensive coordinator Mark Nelson deserves a ton of credit for his half-time adjustments. After allowing 23 points in the first half, the Redblacks gave up just a field goal the rest of the way. Nelson dialled up the blitz in the 2nd half and his aggressiveness paid off, leading to four two and outs. Although the defence gave up 6.6 yards per play, they only allowed the Ticats to convert on 42% of their 2nd down opportunities and held them to a pair of touchdowns on five red zone trips. LB Taylor Reed was everywhere, racking up 10 tackles and a sack.

8) If you go back and look at every Ottawa loss this season, you’ll find a few things in common. One of them is that Brett Maher’s foot left points on the board. Such was the case against Hamilton, as two Maher misses (from 25 and 44 yards out) cost the Redblacks four points, which turned out to be their margin of defeat. It’s hard to know what to make of Maher’s season. At one point he made 15 kicks in a row and yet he’s missed seven FGs and six converts. Those misses loom large because the Redblacks have only lost close games. Given how well he punts, it’s not likely the team cuts him, but it may be time for another kicker to be brought in for a tryout.

9) Coming into the game, Keelan Johnson led the league with 17 special teams tackles. He padded his stats with another three vs the Ticats. Johnson’s coverage skills might not be noticed by the casual fan, but you can bet teammates and coaches appreciate the tough work he does.

10) Fantastic to see Henry Burris honoured at half-time. OSEG knocked it out of the park. From having Russ Jackson on hand to unveil the banner, to carving a wooden Grey Cup out of the leftover end zone log from the 2016 season. Pure class all around.

While some around the country may not understand or agree with the team retiring his number, nobody in the nation’s capital is against the move. Retiring his number isn’t about the stats he put up or the championship he won. Rather, it’s because Burris rekindled Ottawa’s love affair with CFL football, restored a city’s pride and reminded its inhabitants that not only can football work and flourish in their hometown, but that even decades of despair, frustration and embarrassment can be wiped away with a moment of glory.

11) Another sold out crowd, another home loss. You’d think that having 24,901 rambunctious members of R-Nation on hand would count for something. Apparently, you’d be wrong.

12) It’ll be interesting to see what GM Marcel Desjardins chooses to do at the QB position. Tate will obviously be under centre for as long as Harris is out, but will the team feel comfortable with Ryan Lindley as his backup? If not, Desjardins could sign a guy like Jacory Harris or try to swing a trade. Maybe he gives Eric Tillman a call and sees what the price is for Zack Collaros (I kid, but crazier things have happened).

13) With the loss, the Redblacks drop to 4-7-1 on the year and the East division is officially wide open. Even the Ticats, who as recently as two weeks ago looked dead to rights, are only four points out of a playoff spot. Given that the Redblacks face four Western teams in the next five weeks, next Sunday’s game in Montreal is a must win.

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).