For much of 2018, quarterback Trevor Harris has been doing his best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression.
In six wins, Harris has averaged 354 passing yards, completed 71.3 per cent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions.
In five losses he’s averaged 219 passing yards, completed just 59.6 per cent of his passes and thrown three touchdowns to seven interceptions.
As the numbers show, there really hasn’t been any middle ground. When Harris has been on top of his game, he’s been really good. The word “elite” gets thrown around. When he’s been bad, it’s been painful to watch and led many in R-Nation to call for Dominique Davis. That lack of consistency is what excludes him from the top tier of quarterbacks in the CFL, one currently exclusive to Alberta pivots Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly.
Before diving into Harris’ stats, it must be acknowledged that no quarterback exists in a vacuum. He doesn’t perform in isolation and although strong quarterback play can mask a lot of deficiencies , in reality, a quarterback needs help to be successful; from both his teammates and his offensive coordinator. Help that Harris currently isn’t getting.
Let’s look at Ottawa’s two most recent losses. Both Montreal and BC blitzed the Redblacks early and often. Faced with repeated blitzes, Redblacks’ offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo refused to adapt. He continually called play-action passes and long developing routes which required deep drops in the pocket to set up. That led to pressure and to Harris forcing balls and causing turnovers.
Not to mention that Harris isn’t exactly a mobile quarterback. If Elizondo needs inspiration, he should look to Green Bay. In their Week One match-up against the Bears, after being hurt, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a statue in the pocket. But that didn’t matter as Green Bay called quick passes and Rodgers got the ball out long before the pass rush came close.
Poor play calling also makes it easy for fans to lay the blame on the offensive line, but in reality Ottawa’s veteran hogs have played well. Harris bears some of the blame for his sacks, as at times, he’s hung onto balls he should’ve thrown away. That’s why even if his offensive line has given up the third most sacks in the league (22), one has to remember that they’ve been asked to pass block more than any other team (439 times).
With all that said, Harris must simply be better and overcome the obstacles he faces; be it an opposing defence, shoddy play calling or a broken down pocket.
There’s two specific areas that Harris could improve in which would go a long way towards boosting his overall stats and give the Redblacks a better chance to win.
The first and perhaps most obvious is on second down.
So far this season, Harris has completed just 49 per cent of his passes on second down (136 of 274). That’s a big reason why despite being under centre for 152 offensive possessions, Harris has only led 18 touchdown drives.
Completing more passes on second down would (in theory), extend drives, allow Harris to get into a rhythm (which is when he’s at his best), and lead to more points on the board.
The second thing Harris must improve on is deep throws.
On passes that travel 0 to 19 yards, Harris has a completion rate of 74 per cent (261 of 351). On passes that travel 20 yards or more, Harris’ completion rate noses dives to 28.4 per cent (19 of 67). To put that into context, the league average among current starting quarterbacks is 38.2 per cent. If Harris could simply be at the league average, Ottawa’s offence would be more explosive and produce more “chunk” plays.
Things are even more dire the further down the field you go. Through eleven games, Harris has just 12 completions of 30+ yards. Contrast that with Bo Levi Mitchell’s 30 completions.
When you look at Harris’ numbers on deep passes, it’s no wonder that Ottawa’s main deep threat, Diontae Spencer, has looked so mediocre this season.
The fact of the matter is, Harris has all the tools to be a top tier quarterback in the CFL. He routinely has moments in which he dominates, as evidenced by his six 300-plus yard games and when he completed the second most passes in a single game (44) in league history. And in spite of all his struggles, he’s still 4th in passing yards (3221) and touchdowns (11).
Clearly it’s not all doom and gloom for the Redblacks with Harris until centre. But until he improves on second down and on deep passes, the Redblacks will continue to yo-yo between wins and losses.