Redblacks overcome self-inflected wounds (& 13 other thoughts on beating the Eskimos)

On an afternoon when many in the nation’s capital were looking for a reprieve from the aftermath and damage caused by Friday night’s tornado, the Ottawa Redblacks did not disappoint. In a lively back-and-forth affair, the Redblacks eventually managed to get out of their own way, settling in and beating the Edmonton Eskimos 28-15, sending the Family Day crowd home with smiles.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) With his parents in the stands and looking on, Trevor Harris put on a show. For the second straight week he was sharp, decisive and efficient. Harris spread the ball around to seven different receivers as he completed 23 of 30 passes (76.7 per cent) for 313 yards, a touchdown and an interception. One of the big knocks on Harris this season has been his inability to connect on the deep ball. That wasn’t an issue against the Eskimos as he had three passes of 30-plus yards. On the night, Harris made just a handful of ill-advised throws and fortunately for Ottawa, only one was picked off.

Overall, Harris was in sync with his receivers and used his feet well, not often scrambling (he ran once for a gain of eight yards), but instead buying time and moving around the pocket. There was also a brief injury scare as a result of one of the many big hits he absorbed. Although he finished the game, the bye week break comes at a welcome time.

2) Offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo called a strong game. Many will bemoan Ottawa’s lack of red zone production (1 of 6) but Elizondo wasn’t the one on the field being flagged. Elizondo’s balanced play calling (26 runs to 30 passes), kept the defence honest and set up the play-action pass. He also wasn’t afraid to mix things up, using motion, screens, draws and shovels passes. His creativity was on full display when offensive lineman Mark Korte, on the field as a blocking tight end, leaked out of the backfield and caught a touchdown pass. It was called back due to a flag but it was well designed.

When not bogged down by sacks or flags, Elizondo was in a groove. Ottawa generated 438 yards of net offence, controlled the ball for over 35 minutes and averaged 8.6 yards per second down play, converting 17 of 29 second down opportunities. Of the Redblacks’ thirteen offensive possessions, Elizondo orchestrated eight scoring drives (seven field goals and a touchdown). Eight of the drives lasted seven or more plays but none was more impressive than the 10 play, 77-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

3) Yet again, William Powell set the tone for the Redblacks’ offence. As always, he rarely went down on first contact and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Powell busted off five runs of 10-plus yards, two of 20-plus yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Powell becomes the first running back in Ottawa to post back to back 1,000 yard rushing seasons since Josh Ranek accomplished the feat with the Renegades. Thanks to his 147-yard rushing performance against the Eskimos, Powell again leads the league in rushing, 113 yards ahead of Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris.

4) Another game, another clutch performance from Brad Sinopoli. Of Sinopoli’s six catches, four moved the chains on second down and he led all receivers with 113 yards. With his big game, Sinopoli reached another career milestone, posting his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Not too shabby for the former Gee-Gee’s quarterback.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, R.J. Harris, Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer all made four catches, for 51, 42 and 89 yards respectively. Have to mention Spencer’s effort in refusing to give up on J.C. Sherritt’s fumble return. Spencer chased Sherritt the length of the field and nearly caught him. Ultimately it was for naught as the play was overturned, but that’s exactly the kind of buy-in and never give up attitude you want to see in your highest paid players.

Lastly, loved the Charlie Brown celebration on Ellingson’s late fourth quarter touchdown. 10 of 10 for creativity.

5) Not the offensive’s finest night. When Harris wasn’t being sacked he was still hit and flushed out of the pocket. Pass protecting against Edmonton’s fierce pass rush was always going to be a tall order, but Kwaku Boateng bullied Ottawa’s offensive line. He amassed three sacks and took their lunch money. Alex Mateas and company need to be better going forward. Sooner rather than later, the sheer number of hits they’re allowing on the quarterback lead to a significant injury. As poor as the line was in pass protection, they were excellent on the ground, opening huge running lanes. The Redblacks finished with 157 yards on the ground, averaging six yards per rush. They also converted every short yardage opportunity, including a third and one gamble with five minutes remaining in the game.

6) Maybe Noel Thorpe’s unit will finally get the respect it deserves. Holding the high flying Eskimo offence to just two touchdowns is no small feat, especially when you consider that coming into the game, Mike Reilly and company had scored 40 touchdowns. It was a collective effort from the defence, as eight different players made at least three tackles. Thorpe’s defence fed off the sold-out crowd’s energy and was opportunistic with sacks and turnovers.

Of Edmonton’s 12 possessions, two resulted in scoring drives, five in punts and four in turnovers (a fumble, an interception and two turnovers on downs).

Coming into the game, Edmonton was the best team in the league at converting on second down. Against the Redblacks, they were held to just 9 of 20 on second down conversions (45 per cent).

7) Rookie Avery Williams has a firm grip on the starting middle linebacker spot, but in his first game back from suspension, veteran Kyries Hebert showed that even in rotational duty, he can make an impact. Hebert had a pair of huge plays on Edmonton’s final two drives; a third-down sack and an end zone knockdown which led to a turnover on downs. When he’s been on the field in 2018, Hebert has come as advertised. The trick for him will be to avoid another bad hit that costs him the rest of the season.

8) Lewis. Freaking. Ward. I’ve been banging his drum for weeks now but what more will he need to do to garner some Most Outstanding Canadian consideration? To me, he’s already a lock for rookie of the year, but it’s not outlandish to say he deserves to be in the conversation for Most Outstanding Canadian. Every week he rewrites the record books. Against Edmonton he was yet again he was perfect, nailing all seven field goals he attempted and bailing out his offence when it stuttered. By making kicks from 27, 32, 20,40, 20, 40 and 22 yards, he passed Paul McCallum and Rene Paredes to move into second all-time with 37 consecutive successful field goals. It’s an incredible accomplishment for any kicker, let alone a Canadian rookie who wasn’t expected to win the job out of training camp.

9) As for the rest of the special teams, after a porous performance in Saskatchewan, Bob Dyce’s kick cover units were much improved. They weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, after all, Martese Jackson averaged 19 yards per punt return, but for the most part, Ottawa won the field position battle. Shout out to Kevin Brown and Nigel Romick who led the way on special teams with two tackles apiece.

10) Have to wonder if a couple of crucial reviews turn out the way they did if the game isn’t played at TD Place. Twice, the home video crew put up freeze frames that aided the refs (and perhaps the Command Centre) in making the right call. The first was a DPI which clearly showed R.J. Harris being held and the second exhibited a shot of Harris’ knee down before he fumbled. Talk about home field advantage.

11) Even though his squad got the win, Rick Campbell has plenty of work to do with his group. The undisciplined play took three first-half touchdowns off the board and frankly the Redblacks were extremely fortunate that their sloppiness didn’t come back to haunt them. Overall, Ottawa was flagged nine times for 105 yards, that’s nearly the length of the field given up in free yardage. They must be better down the stretch.

12) Speaking of Campbell, loved his decision to go for it on 3rd and 1 from Edmonton’s nine-yard line with five minutes left in the game. It was a ballsy gamble to forgo the easy points and instead push on for the touchdown. It turned out to be the right decision as his players rewarded his faith in them by executing well. For a coach that has been accused of being too conservative at times, hopefully, Campbell continues to gamble in the right situations.

13) With the win, the Redblacks head into their final bye week on a high. They’re now 5-3 against Western teams and have beaten everyone in the West at least once (except Calgary of course). With the Ticats losing to B.C., Ottawa currently has a two-game lead atop the East. While they have a bit of breathing room, a home and home with Hamilton remains on the schedule. If the Redblacks earn a split and win any of their other three remaining games (vs Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto), Ottawa will win the division. Yesterday was the first day of fall and this is the time of year when teams hoping to make some noise in the playoffs should be playing their best football. Right now, the Redblacks are.

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).