Plenty of blame to go around in Redblacks’ collapse (& 12 other thoughts)


If you want to, you could point to individual plays.

You could note that if RJ Harris hadn’t been tripped by SirVincent Rogers (his own teammate), he would’ve scored and put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter.

If quarterback Trevor Harris had killed a bit more time and not snapped the ball with six seconds left on the play-clock on the first play of Ottawa’s final possession, time would have run out before Toronto’s game winning touchdown throw.

You could recall that Diontae Spencer’s drop on second down gave the ball back to the Argos with 1:45 left, or the inexplicable PI call on Jonathan Rose that gifted the Argos 10 yards on their game-winning drive.

But the fact of the matter is, when you hold a 24-point lead in the third quarter of a game, winning and losing shouldn’t come down to a handful of plays.

The Ottawa Redblacks lost 42-41 to the Toronto Argonauts because they collapsed in epic fashion, not because of what happened a single play.

This loss isn’t on just the offence, the defence, the special teams or the coaching staff but rather the Redblacks as a whole. As a group, they failed to get the job done, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Trevor Harris is a polarizing figure in R-Nation. To some, he’s an elite quarterback and among the league’s best at slinging the pigskin. To others, he’s a guy who puts up big numbers but comes up short in the clutch. His performance against the Argos will fuel the arguments of both groups. On one hand, there’s no denying that Harris was in the zone against Toronto. He completed 77 per cent of his passes (27-of-35) for 381 yards and two touchdowns and an interception and finally showed chemistry with some of his big-play receivers.

Even with those gaudy numbers, Harris’ detractors will point to the fact that he led five scoring drives on fourteen possessions and went two and out six times. That despite completing 77 per cent of his passes, Harris’ third-quarter interception (a result of a terrible throw across his body) helped sparked Toronto’s rally. That on Ottawa’s final possession, with the team desperate to chew some clock, he went 0-for-2 on his pass attempts.

Ultimately, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. Harris didn’t cost the Redblacks the game by any stretch but if he wants to be regarded as elite, he needs to do the things he does with ease in the 1st quarter, late in the fourth.

2) On paper, Ottawa’s offensive performance looks good. A team doesn’t average 7.7 yards per play and put up 423 yards of net offence by accident, but if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see that the longer the game went on, the worse Jamie Elizondo’s group performed.

Let’s start with the positive, Elizondo deserves full credit for finally finding ways to get Diontae Spencer involved. Whether it was deep routes or bubble screens, Elizondo made sure one of his best playmakers often had the ball in his hands. Elizondo also orchestrated six long drives that moved the ball more than 50 yards.

But that’s where the positives end. In reality, although Ottawa finished with 41 points, 14 of those came from special teams. Elizondo’s offence converted 12-of-22 second down opportunities (55 per cent), only mustered two field goals (and didn’t have a drive of more than five plays ) over the game’s final 30 minutes. Most damningly of all, the run game was non-existent. Despite at one point holding a 24-point lead in the second half, Elizondo only called his running back’s number six times in the second half. Even worse, with the Redblacks needing to kill time late in the game to hold off Toronto’s rally, Elizondo ignored traditional convention and instead of keeping the ball on the ground put it in the air. Two incompletions later the Argos got the ball back with plenty of time to go down and score the game winning touchdown.

3) William Powell is in a serious rut. Although he’s still second in the league in rushing, that’s largely due to a few huge games early in the season. In recents weeks Powell has struggled to find open space on the field. Typically, even when his rushing production is low, Powell contributes as a pass catcher, but not last night. Against the Argos, Powell had 14 carries for 35 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and just two catches for nine yards. To be blunt, the Redblacks need more out of their lead back.

4) I haven’t been shy in recent weeks to call out Diontae Spencer for underperforming. So full credit to him for his massive game against his former team. Spencer dominated and showed exactly why expectations are so high. Coming into the game, Spencer had only made two catches longer than 20 yards all season. He doubled that total against the Argos while averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Spencer hauled in a total of eight passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a punt 87 yards for another touchdown. Let’s see if this performance serves as a catalyst for his season.

5) As for the rest of Ottawa’s receiving corps, Brad Sinopoli continued to roll (seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown) and RJ Harris looked good too, (five catches for 73 yards) and would have had a touchdown if not for a trip by his own teammate.

Surprisingly, Canadian fullback Brendan Gillanders had more catches (three) and yards (39) than both William Powell and Greg Ellingson. Ellingson also had an untimely fumble as his subpar season continues.

6) Given everything Noel Thorpe’s defence has shown this season, you’d be forgiven for having assumed a quarterback making his first career start would be in tough. While that may have been in the case in the first half, following some half-time adjustments, McLeod Bethel-Thompson owned the game’s final 30 minutes. Ottawa’s defence simply couldn’t get off the field.

Despite the fact that only three of Bethel-Thompson’s passes travelled more than 15 yards through the air, thanks to a defence-wide display of poor tackling, Toronto was repeatedly able to string together first downs and keep drives alive. Of their seven second half possessions, the Argos scored on six of them, generating five touchdowns and a field goal. The Argos also had their way with Ottawa on third down, averaging 6.2 yards per third down play, converting on 4-of-5 attempts.

Losing a game in which you held a 24-point lead in the third quarter is bad. Giving up the game’s final 17 points over the last 6:23 is worse. Thorpe’s unit seemed stunned by Toronto’s rally and soft coverage and sloppy tackling allowed the Argos to hang around and gut out a win.

The defence also did themselves no favours in terms of penalties, being flagged seven times for 80 yards. All in all, Monday’s film study won’t be fun.

7) Since the Redblacks have entered the league, they’ve developed a disturbing trend of losing games to quarterbacks having their first starts. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is just latest in a list that includes the likes of Logan Kilgore, Mitchell Gale, Dan Lefevour and Trevor Harris. Perhaps Ottawa is lucky that they play Montreal next week, as it will likely be Johnny Manziel’s second start.

8) In terms of special teams, there were a few bright spots. Lewis Ward extended his streak of made field goals to 19, Spencer scored his first return touchdown of the season and Antoine Pruneau’s hustle led to Anthony Cioffi’s end zone fumble recovery.

All that said, Bob Dyce will likely chose to focus on the fact that for the majority of the night, his normally solid cover team was shredded by Martese Jackson. Jackson regularly flipped field position in Toronto’s favour and busted off long returns of 46, 47 and 70 yards.

9) Even though they all returned to the game, it was still worrying to see players like Kevin Brown, Antoine Pruneau, Justin Howell, Anthony Cioffi, Corey Tindal and Diontae Spencer all shaken up and needing help to leave the field. Full credit to each of them for returning and playing through pain, but you have to wonder if any will have lingering issues down the road.

10) Not a great night for the officiating crew. Al Bradbury and company weren’t at their finest and a few questionable calls went against Ottawa.

First, there was the unnecessary roughness flag on MLB Avery Williams that kept an Argo scoring drive alive in the fourth quarter. Despite delivering a forearm to the receiver’s shoulder and never touching his head, Williams was penalized. Then there was the pass interference flag on Jonathan Rose on Toronto’s final drive.

The problem with that explanation is that Armanti Edwards was clearly the player in the trailing position and Rose was seemingly flagged for existing when Edwards ran into him. Finally, how does it take an eternity (seven-ish minutes) for a review to determine if a quarterback’s knee was down before he threw the ball? The review that wouldn’t end sucked all the life out of an otherwise exciting finish.

11) Feels like kicking a dog when it’s down but what will it take for the Argos to attract fans? Just 11,857 spectators were on hand to witness a wild back and forth affair that showcased exactly what makes this league so great. There’s really no excuse anymore for the pathetic crowds that Toronto pulls in. The weather has been fantastic, their stadium is state of the art, they’ve played good teams at home, tailgating continues (unofficially), they have public transit (a GO Train stop) right outside the stadium and ticket prices have been slashed. Obviously rebuilding the Argo fan base will take time but at some point, Torontonians need to step up.

12) With the loss, Rick Campbell’s squad falls to 4-3 and misses a golden opportunity to take an early stranglehold on the East. The Redblacks would be sitting pretty at 5-2 but instead are only a game above .500 and have set themselves up needing a win next week against Montreal to placate their fan base. Although Ottawa has shown moments of brilliance, they’ve yet to play a full 60 minute game in all three phases. Until that happens, the natives will be restless.


About the author

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

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