Filoso: Another loss leaves the Redblacks with more questions than answers

If the Ottawa Redblacks are looking for solace after losing 26-14 to the B.C. Lions on Friday, they can take heart in the fact that the game is over. Otherwise, especially on the offensive side of the ball, there really aren’t many positives.

On a night when their opponent lost their starting centre and quarterback to injuries, the Redblacks failed to take advantage, instead repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Normally, Trevor Harris has his way with the Lions. Heading into last night’s game, Harris had thrown for at least 300 yards in his last six games against the Lions. Unfortunately for Ottawa, that streak snapped last night, and it wasn’t pretty. It was a nightmarish performance from the Redblacks’ pivot, who was briefly pulled from the game and utterly failed to get anything going

Harris completed 58.3 per cent of his passes (21 of 36) for 216 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. And if B.C. defenders hadn’t dropped a handful of gift-wrapped mis-throws, that interception total could have been five.

When Harris is in the zone, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. When he’s not (and he wasn’t on Friday), it’s downright ugly. It must be acknowledged that he didn’t get much help from his teammates; his offensive line was porous and the play-calling did him no favours.

Still, Harris struggled with basic things. He held onto balls he should’ve thrown away and made sloppy throws that resulted in interceptions when he should’ve instead taken the sack. He repeatedly failed to read the incoming blitz and audible. Thanks to TSN’s Live Mics, we were able to hear that despite facing a fearsome pass rush, Harris rarely changed his cadence, almost always snapping the ball on one, allowing B.C.’s pass rush to tee off on the offensive line. Lastly, he simply made a ton of bad throws.

Like any CFL team, the Redblacks go as their quarterback does. In his last two games (both losses), Harris has completed 55 per cent of his passes, threw for 486 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Until No. 7 elevates his level of play, the Redblacks will continue losing games.

2) For the second straight game, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo failed to put his players in a position to succeed. Although he had a full week of practice following the loss to the Alouettes, many of the issues that plagued the Redblacks then, were again on display against the Lions.

Despite watching B.C.’s front seven dominate, Elizondo continually called long developing plays. Instead of screens, draws and quick slants, Elizondo favoured play-action passes or deep drops. The result? Ottawa averaged 3.1 yards per first down play, 5.4 yards per second down play and just 5.8 yards per passing play.

Of the Redblacks’ 15 possessions, eight lasted five plays or less, seven resulted in punts, four in turnovers, two in field goals and one in a touchdown.

If you’re looking for a positive from the play-calling, at least this week Elizondo remembered he had one of the best backs in the league at his disposal and handed the ball off more then nine times.

3) If not for William Powell’s efforts, Ottawa would’ve had no consistent offence at all against the Lions. Powell ran hard, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, blocked well in the passing game and caught three passes for 24 yards, including two passes that moved the chains on second down. Powell finished the night with 82 rushing yards and busted off three runs of 10-plus yards.

4) While it would be easy to tear into the offensive line for another poor performance, there’s a couple of things to consider. First off, play-calling makes a huge difference and as mentioned above, their coordinator has done them no favours. Being asked to hold your blocks on a three-step drop is much different than having to do it on a five or seven step drop. Screens or misdirection plays would have gone a long way towards alleviating B.C.’s rush. Secondly, too often their quarterback held onto balls he should’ve thrown away, which led to sacks.

All that said, the group can’t allow so much pressure. From giving up six sacks to struggling to pick up the blitz, the veteran unit should be better. Although the calls for Jon Gott to return to the lineup will likely grow, the reality is that the biggest issues facing Ottawa’s offensive line are on the edges, not the interior. All things considered, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan have been solid. But tackles SirVincent Rogers and Jason Lauzon-Séguin certainly have room to improve.

5) It was a poor night for Ottawa’s receiving corps. Brad Sinopoli led the group with six catches on eight targets for 68 yards and a touchdown. Greg Ellingson’s first catch of the night came on the second last play of the third quarter and he finished the game with four catches (on eleven targets) for 51 yards. R.J. Harris made two catches for 17 yards, Julian Feoli-Gudino had a single catch for 22 yards in his first start of the season and fullback J.C. Beaulieu made two catches for 16 yards.

6) As for Diontae Spencer, he continues to be misused and under produce. Spencer made four catches for 30 yards but as has often been the case this season, was no threat to stretch the field. For whatever reason, Jamie Elizondo continues to have Spencer run horizontal crossing routes, as reflected by the fact that his longest catch of the night was only 12 yards. This carries over into the running game, as Spencer’s lone carry was a sweep that resulted in a loss of five yards.

Perhaps as a result of not being used properly, Spencer doesn’t look engaged. On Dominique Davis’ interception (an overthrown pass intended for him), despite being the closest player to the interception (and the fastest player on the field), Spencer made no attempt whatsoever to chase down the ball. That’s not the kind of effort you want to see from anyone, let alone one of your star offensive weapons.

7) It’s a shame that another strong defensive effort will be overshadowed by a loss. Noel Thorpe’s unit was stout for the majority of the night, despite continually being put in terrible positions by their offence.

Ottawa’s defence held B.C. to 229 yards of net offence, forced six two and outs, generated two sacks and limited B.C. to a 52 per cent conversion rate on second down (11 of 21).

Led by George Uko and A.C. Leonard, the Redblacks’ front seven harassed BC’s quarterbacks all game long. Ottawa generated a ton of pressure, leading to numerous incompletions.

Too often though, a short field (off a turnover) led to points, and when the Redblacks’ were within a single score late in the fourth quarter, the defence buckled and allowed the Lions to put together a nine-play touchdown drive to put the game out of reach.

8) On a night full of negatives, Lewis Ward was a positive. By nailing 44- and 31-yard field goals, Ward extended his streak of consecutive field goals to 29 in a row, good for fourth all time.

As for the rest of the special teams, Leone had a busy night, punting seven times for 366 yards. Long snapper Louis-Philippe Bourassa had a rough start to the game, first taking a holding penalty (resulting in a re-kick) and then allowing a defender through his gap to block the ensuing punt.

J.R. Tavai led the coverage units with two special teams tackles but will be remembered for his high hit on Travis Lulay. Tavai’s wallet will definitely be lighter when he hears from the league.

9) For the first time in 2018, the Ottawa Redblacks have lost back to back games. Aside from dropping their record to 6-5, the loss has erased any breathing room the Redblacks once had from their perch atop the East Division. The Redblacks find themselves in a tie with Hamilton. Rick Campbell’s squad needs to find solutions to their issues quickly, as tough games against Saskatchewan (on the road) and Edmonton (at home) loom large.

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).