Redblacks head into bye on high (& 11 other thoughts on beating the Bombers)

Statement made.

By thrashing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 44-21 on the road, the Ottawa Redblacks served the league notice that they aren’t to be taken lightly. A strong effort in all three phases of the game ensured the Redblacks head into their bye week on a high.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Trevor Harris is balling. Over his last two games, Ottawa’s starting pivot has completed 73 of 93 pass attempts for 878 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Against the Bombers, Harris was again highly effective, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers and completing 74.4% of his passes.

On the night, Harris went 29 of 39 for 361 yards and a touchdown. He consistently made good decisions and used his feet to avoid the rush when the pocket broke down, scrambling twice for 26 yards (although he did fumble once). It must be acknowledged Harris was fortunate that a couple of errant throws weren’t picked off. Still, considering the calibre of defence he was up against (Winnipeg leads the league in sacks and interceptions), Harris was nearly flawless.

2) Up against a fearsome defence and with a dangerous opposing offence across the field, Jamie Elizondo did a masterful job engineering long, clock chewing drives. The first half, in particular, was a clinic on how to run a ball control offence with short passes. Of their seven opening half possessions, the Redblacks scored four times, with each scoring drive at least seven plays long. But as much as the focus was on the short passing game, Elizondo kept Winnipeg’s offence off-balance with play-action, misdirection screens and timely deep shots.

The offence racked up 493 yards of net offence, 28 first downs and held onto the ball for over 33 minutes. Perhaps the most impressive stat of the night is that the Redblacks averaged 12.1 yards per second down play and consequently converted 67 per cent of their second down opportunities (18 of 27).

Ottawa was perfect in the red zone, going 3 for 3 and set a CFL record with the most successful two-point converts in a game (four). The Redblacks are now 10/13 on the year for two point converts.

3) For the second week in a row, the later it was in the game, the hotter William Powell became. Before the fourth quarter, Powell’s number had only been called nine times and he had 24 yards. Over the game’s final fifteen minutes, Elizondo leaned on Powell to close out the game. Powell responded magnificently, turning nine fourth quarter carries into 82 yards and a touchdown. On the night, Powell averaged 5.9 yards a carry and repeatedly broke arm tackles. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching four passes for 46 yards.

4) Whatever slump Greg Ellingson was in is well and truly over. Ellingson led all Ottawa receivers with eight catches for 100 yards. His partner in crime, Brad Sinopoli, had a relatively quiet night by his standards, only catching three passes for 51 yards, but all three receptions came on second down and moved the chains.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Dominique Rhymes was impressive, hauling in five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. R.J. Harris had a pair of catches for 30 yards and Diontae Spencer made six catches for 27 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per reception.

As well as they run routes and catch the ball, the ability of Ottawa’s receivers to generate YAC (yards after the catch), is a testament to how well the group blocks for each other. Having guys who aren’t afraid to get their nose dirty in the blocking game opens things up for everyone.

5) The decision to start Evan Johnson at left guard over veteran Jon Gott raised some eyebrows when the move was announced. Gott, a Day One Redblack who has suited up for 76 straight games when healthy, is a fan favourite and clearly still has game. But there’s no denying that Ottawa’s 2017 1st round pick has come a long way in his development. Not only is Johnson bigger, younger and arguably faster, he also provides roster flexibility with his ability to play tackle. Scratching Gott also meant 2018 1st round pick Mark Korte made the game day roster.

So how did Ottawa’s young linemen respond against Winnipeg? Well, Korte was used as a tight end in heavy run packages and did an excellent job opening running lanes. As for Johnson, he more than held his own in the passing game and in 39 drop backs, the Redblacks conceded only a single sack to the best team in the league at getting after the quarterback. Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that Powell’s late game-clinching run game right behind Johnson, who had sealed off the defensive tackle.

Gott will certainly play again for the Redblacks this season, after all, injuries are always a concern and there’s still nine regular season games to go, but don’t be surprised to see Johnson continue to start.

6) Coming into the game, Winnipeg was averaging 152 yards per game on the ground. That’s why top priority was shutting down Andrew Harris. Thanks to a strong group effort, Noel Thorpe’s unit was able to limit Harris to just 72 rushing yards. Led by Kevin Brown’s team-high nine tackles, Ottawa forced the Bombers to try and beat them through the air. Aside from two long touchdown strikes given up by Jonathan Rose, the Redblacks effectively held Matt Nichols 174 yards on the night.

The Redblacks’ defence forced six two and outs, an interception, returned a fumble for a touchdown and generated four sacks. A.C. Leonard and Danny Mason were a handful coming off the edges, each registering a sack, four tackles and a knockdown. While it was far from a perfect defensive game, it was good to see the unit rise to the occasion against the toughest offensive test they’d faced in weeks.

7) Rookie Lewis Ward finally missed a kick. Luckily it was only a convert and thanks to another pair of successfully hit field goals, his consecutive field streak now sits at 24, four shy of tying the CFL record of 28, held by David Ridgeway.

As for the rest of the special teams, Richie Leone punted six times for 281 yards and thanks to excellent coverage from guys like Antoine Pruneau, Justin Howell and Kevin Brown (who each had a pair of special teams tackles), the Redblacks averaged a net gain of 41.5 yards per punt.

In the return game, Spencer broke one return for a nice 35 yard gain but overall seemed too quick to run sideways looking for a seam as opposed to simply turning up-field.

8) As well as the Redblacks played, it must be noted that Winnipeg repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties. The Bombers were flagged 11 times on the night; seven times on defence, once on offence and three times on special teams. Those hidden yards keep drives alive and flip field position.

9) Much is made of the West’s superior record over the East, but for what it’s worth, the Redblacks have done their share of representing the division. Since 2015, the Redblacks are 16-17-2 against Western teams. That’s best in the East by four games; Toronto and Hamilton each have 12 victories against the West in that same span.

10) Two weeks ago the Redblacks were up 24 points late in the 3rd quarter and found a way to lose to the Argos. Last night, they were in the same situation but instead buckled down and put the game out of reach. As a fan, that’s what you want to see from your team; growth and improvement.

11) With the win, the Redblacks head into their bye week on a high note. At the half-way point of the season, Rick Campbell’s squad firmly sits entrenched atop the East at 6-3. That’s a far cry from last year’s 2-6-1 mid-season record. Ottawa is fairly healthy and following the bye, could have guys like Kyries Hebert and Avery Ellis back on the field.

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).