Redblacks overcome major adversity (& 12 other thoughts)

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon, the heat was the smallest obstacle the Redblacks overcame in their 29-11 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.

For the second straight week, Ottawa watched its starting QB leave the game with an injury. Thankfully for the massive R-Nation contingent on hand, a strong running game and stifling defence carried the day.

Here are all my thoughts on the win.

1) You have to feel for Drew Tate. Before suffering a hellacious hit and leaving the game, Tate had the offence humming. At the time of his injury, Tate had completed 21/29 passes (72%) to eight different receivers for 185 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Aside from one ill advised throw which resulted in an interception, Tate made excellent reads and repeatedly got the ball out of his hands quickly. Given the fact that he didn’t return to the game and was seen on the sideline with his arm in a sling, it’s likely his injury is long term.

2) How many CFL QBs can claim that their first career pass was intercepted AND good for a safety? Ryan Lindley didn’t have the best start, but he shook off an early interception and wound up playing quite efficiently. Though his numbers don’t look great (7/14 for 76 yards and an interception), Lindley stood tall when his team needed him the most, coming up with a handful of great throws on a long 4th quarter drive that put the game out of reach. Starting from his own end zone, Lindley’s completions to Diontae Spencer, Brad Sinopoli, Dominique Rhymes and William Powell chewed up the clock, flipped field position and led to a valuable field goal. Not to mention the fact that his receivers did him no favours. Both Spencer and the normally sure handed Greg Ellingson dropped passes that hit them in the hands.

3) Full credit to offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo for not missing a beat when his 3rd string QB entered the game. While he obviously leaned on the run in the second half, overall, he called a number of screens, crossing patterns, roll outs and just enough play action to keep Montreal’s defence off-balance. It also helped that his offence dominated time of possession, holding onto the ball for 41 minutes while running 76 plays. Thanks to balanced play calling and good execution, the offence moved the chains 28 times, generated 414 yards and had a 59% conversion rate on 2nd down (19/32). Elizondo also orchestrated scoring drives of 15, 11 and 16 plays. Most teams struggle to do that with their 1st string QB, Ottawa did it with their backup and short yardage QBs.

4) When the Redblacks chose to start William Powell and make Mossis Madu a health scratch despite the production they’ve gotten from him the last few weeks, eyebrows were raised. It turned out to be much Madu about nothing, because Powell was stellar in his return to the field, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Powell turned 25 touches into 144 hard earned yards. He ran with strength and power, often picking up yards after contact. It seems that as long as he’s healthy, he’ll continue to be Ottawa’s lead back.

5) After being the Achilles heel of the team for most of the season, the Redblacks’ offensive line had their best game of the year against the Alouettes. The feat is even more impressive given the fact that perennial All-Star Jon Gott sat out with an injury, a first in franchise history. Alex Mateas had big shoes to fill at the centre position and he performed admirably. The other major change was that 2017 first round pick Evan Johnson got his first career start at left guard. He didn’t look out of place or miss any blocks, which is just about the best praise you can bestow upon a young lineman. Bryan Chiu’s unit dominated the line of scrimmage, paving the way for 160 rushing yards on the ground, including 16 yards in 8 short yardage situations. The offensive line’s ability to open holes in second half is doubly impressive given the fact that Montreal knew Ottawa would be leaning on the run with Lindley under centre. As good as unit was on the ground, they also got the job done in pass protection, conceding no sacks and just two QB pressures.

6) Awesome to see Patrick Lavoie so involved in the game plan. The big fullback made the most of his non-blocking snaps, turning 6 targets into 5 catches for 50 yards and a TD. Lavoie is a force and tough to bring down once he gets a head full of steam. With Harris (and now Tate) out with injuries, it’ll be interesting to see if Lavoie’s big body becomes a safety valve for Lindley.

7) The Redblacks’ offence was well balanced and the receiving stats reflect that. Spencer led everyone with 6 catches for 52 yards, followed closely by Ellingson’s 5 for 43 yards, Sinopoli’s 4 for 41 and Stangby’s 3 for 32. Rhymes, Jake Harty, Brendan Gillanders and William Powell all also recorded a reception.

8) If you blinked, you probably missed seeing Ottawa’s defence on the field. The unit was smothering, limiting Montreal to just 8 first downs, 151 yards of offence and a 27% conversion rate on 2nd down (4/15). Mark Nelson’s group forced seven two and outs, a turnover on downs and generated three sacks (two from Jonathan Newsome, one from Avery Ellis). MLB Taylor Reed led the way with 4 tackles but the hit of the night went to Keelan Johnson.

9) In terms of special teams, the Redblacks were excellent. Not only did Brett Maher go 3/3 on his FG attempts, but Ottawa also scored a touchdown off of a missed Alouette field goal. While Spencer deserves a ton of credit for his runback, let’s give Bob Dyce some props too. The blocking throughout the entire return was top notch.

10) Official attendance for the game was 22,596. Around 150 of those on hand bussed in from Ottawa and sat behind the Redblacks bench, where they did a good job of making themselves heard. I guess if you can’t see your team win at home (the Redblacks have won 5 of their last 17 games at TD Place) why not make the short trek across the 417?

11) Ottawa’s injury concerns continue to mount. In addition to losing Tate, the Redblacks also lost veteran DB Jerrell Gavins to an apparent head injury. But the biggest issue is under centre. If Tate isn’t ready to go next week (and given that his arm was in a sling, it looks like he won’t be), the Redblacks will need to sign another QB. Whoever they bring in must already have CFL experience and be ready to step in at a moment’s notice if Lindley goes down. A guy like Rakeem Cato might be on someone GM Marcel Desjardins eyes. Another option would be to try and swing a trade with another CFL team, but aside from Edmonton’s James Franklin (who they won’t part with), there’s real no other good option available.

12) By sweeping the season series against the Alouettes, Ottawa moves back into first place, a single point ahead of Toronto. The Redblacks’ 5-7-1 record is nothing to write home about, but it does give them a bit of breathing room, which might come in handy given that their next month of games comes against Western opponents.

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).