Redblacks blow another fourth quarter lead (and 12 other thoughts)

Despite not having their top two quarterbacks, three out of five starting offensive linemen and an All-Star defensive back, the Ottawa Redblacks still found themselves holding a 17-0 lead in the middle of the 3rd quarter. And then, as they so often have this season, they found a way to lose through a comedy of errors.

The 18-17 loss to Saskatchewan doesn’t crush Ottawa’s playoff hopes, but it certainly doesn’t make things any easier. It also won’t do much to calm a restless fan base that’s quickly running out of patience in a year when they host the Grey Cup.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Even if Rick Campbell claimed otherwise afterwards, Ryan Lindley did not give his team a chance to win. His first pass of the night was tipped and nearly picked and things didn’t really get better from there. Although he had a few moments where we looked like a competent QB, overall his throws and accuracy were erratic. Lindley got to ride the coattails of the best rushing performance in Redblacks history yet still failed to come up with the handful of throws needed to win the game. Too many of his passes were one-hopped, overthrown, or behind his target. In the 4th quarter, as Saskatchewan began to claw their way back, it was very apparent that the pressure affected Lindley, causing him to rush his throws. The good news for R-Nation is that it’s likely that he’ll be limited to short yardage carries next week, as both Trevor Harris and Drew Tate should be ready to go vs BC.

2) For long stretches of the night, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo could do no wrong. That’s because he rode the hot hand and kept feeding his running back, who was simply unstoppable. Yet in the 4th quarter, Elizondo got away from the run, calling just two rushing plays in the final 15 minutes, choosing instead to put the game in his rookie QB’s hands when Ottawa needed to move the chains the most. As has been the case all season long, the Redblacks struggled on 2nd down, converting just 13/26 opportunities (50%). And on a night when Ottawa lost by a single point, going 2/4 in the red zone certainly stings. Lastly, while on one hand you’ve got to applaud Elizondo and Rick Campbell for their aggressiveness in going for two following touchdowns, the fact that they seemingly only have a one two point convert play (a handoff out of the shotgun formation), isn’t ideal. This isn’t a new phenomenon either. Whether it’s been William Powell or Mossis Madu in the backfield, it truly does seem like when the Redblacks go for two this year, the only play in the playbook is a handoff. Last night’s missed two point convert wound up looming large in another single point loss.

3) What a waste. William Powell set a franchise record with 187 rushing yards and became the first Ottawa running back with three straight 100+ yard rushing performances since “The Little Ball of Hate” (Josh Ranek) did it with the Renegades, and it still wasn’t enough for the win. Powell’s shiftiness and ability to find the cutback lanes allowed him to pick up massive yardage every time he touched the ball. His number was called repeatedly (until the 4th quarter) and he responded by turning his 26 carries into 187 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

4) It truly doesn’t matter who’s under centre, because as long as the QB is willing to throw his way, Brad Sinopoli will do his thing, making catches that move the sticks. Sinopoli led all Ottawa receivers with 5 catches for 68 yards, leaving him just 11 yards back of 1000 for the third straight year. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Greg Ellingson made three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, but also had a pair of drops. Diontae Spencer’s 3 catches were good for 24 yards, and even if he was held without a catch, Jake Harty deserves mention for his stellar downfield blocking. It’s an overlooked aspect of a receiver’s game, but without many of the blocks thrown by Harty, there’s no way Powell has such a big night.

5) In his first return to the field since an early season knee injury, Juron Criner had a night to forget. Despite being targeted 8 times, he managed just 2 catches for 4 yards. Even worse, Criner’s 4th quarter (self-induced) fumble, a case of bad luck or sloppy ball handling depending on your point of view, was a major turning point. Overall, Criner didn’t look crisp in his route running and his ability to track the ball was awful, especially on the game’s last pass which ended up being intercepted. Hopefully more practice time results in better performances going forward.

6) Really impressed with the work Bryan Chiu is going with a revamped (and young) offensive line. No SirV, Jon Gott and Nolan MacMillan? No problem. If you told me before the game that an offensive line consisting of Jake Silas, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Matt Albright and Jason Lauzon-Séguin would pave the way for 203 yards on the ground and only give up a single sack and QB pressure on 26 dropbacks, I would’ve called you crazy. Hats off to a group that performed extremely well, they deserved a better result on the scoreboard.

7) For three quarters, Ottawa’s defence dominated, to the point that many speculated that Saskatchewan QB Kevin Glenn was on the verge of being pulled. But then a handful of deep passes flipped the script and had Mark Nelson’s unit on their heels. Despite being in good position and getting his hands on the ball, Corey Tindal lost two one-on-one situations with Duron Carter which led to a touchdown. On the next series, Jonathan Rose getting beat deep led to the tying field goal. That was basically the difference in game in which the defence held Saskatchewan to a 48% conversion rate on 2nd down, 60 yards on the ground, forced a turnover and had four knockdowns. Watching the secondary struggle in man coverage at times last night, one can’t help but wonder if Mitchell White, who had two interceptions in his Argo debut last week, would’ve made a difference. White is on record as saying he reached out to the team about coming back following his NFL stint, and GM Marcel Desjardins is on record as saying he believed his team didn’t need him. Time will tell if Desjardins erred.

8) Speaking of questionable GM decisions, Brett Maher’s poor season continued last night with a missed 47 yard kick. It was his 9th missed FG to go along with the 6 converts he’s also missed. After starting the season hot, making 26/29 of his FG attempts through the opening eight games, Maher has cooled off, going 8/14 since. There’s no denying Maher is a hell of a punter (he leads the CFL in punting by nearly 500 yards), but perhaps the pre-season decision to jettison Ray Early, who flawlessly kicked the team to a Grey Cup championship, was a mistake.

9) In terms of special teams, the punt return touchdown seemed to deflate the entire Redblacks bench. Kudos to Antoine Pruneau for not giving up on the play, very nearly catching Christion Jones from behind. Also, as I mentioned last week, I’m still not a fan of Quincy McDuffie as a returner. And I’m not saying that solely because he misjudged a punt that led to the game winning rouge, but simply because I don’t understand not riding the hot hand. When McDuffie was out, Spencer had two return touchdowns in three games. And I don’t think having both of them back as returners is the answer, because all that does is leave the return unit with one less blocker. Perhaps because Ottawa chooses not to use McDuffie on offence, they feel they have to use him as a returner.

10) Officiating was not the reason Ottawa lost, but it was certainly a factor. Truly, what do the people in the Command Centre look at? Because it can’t be the same images that TSN commentators and hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country see. That Rick Campbell was forced to use his only challenge after the on field officials blew the call is understandable, that’s why the challenge system exists. But that the Command Centre (with the ability to review film from multiple angles) also missed it was inexcusable. Not to mention that in all my years of watching the CFL, I’ve never heard of a fumble being ignored because a player was encircled. Maybe we can just eliminate tackling altogether and let the refs blow plays dead when a player is surrounded. Furthermore, on the play that Criner fumbled the ball, multiple Saskatchewan players lined up in the neutral zone and were unpenalized. To repeat, the refs didn’t cost Ottawa the game, but they also didn’t do them any favours.

11) Even with the rain, R-Nation packed TD Place, ensuring yet another sell out. Unfortunately, they once again left disappointed, as for the 13th time in the last 18 home games, the Redblacks lost. It hasn’t happened yet, but at some point you have to think the lack of home cooking results in fans staying away, especially on nights with poor weather.

12) If the Redblacks fail to win the East or even make the playoffs, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. This is a team that has lost five games by a field goal or less. This is a team that has six losses and a tie despite owning a 4th quarter lead in each of those games. 2017 has been a season of almosts for the Redblacks, and if things continue this way R-Nation will spend the off-season talking about how the team almost made the playoffs. Ottawa fans will be rooting for Toronto today, because the alternative of the Ticats pulling closer in the standings is even more unwelcome.

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).