Redblacks fail to clinch (& ten others thoughts on losing to the Bombers)

Sometimes, the bye week comes at exactly the wrong time.

Once again, that seems to be the case for the Ottawa Redblacks, who, after putting together back to back impressive wins over Saskatchewan and Edmonton, came out flat and despite a furious fourth-quarter rally, fell 40-32 in overtime to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Since 2014, the Redblacks are 4-7 following a bye week.

Ottawa was outplayed in every phase of the game but also did themselves no favours by extending drives and wiping out positive plays with flag after flag.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Trevor Harris certainly did his part. Ottawa’s pivot went 33-of-45 (73.3 per cent) for 349 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while spreading the ball around to seven different receivers. Despite facing heavy pressure, Harris offset Winnipeg’s pass rush by making quick decisions and using his feet effectively to extend plays and move the pocket when necessary.

It was Harris’ ninth 300 yard game of the season yet if there is one area he can still improve upon, it is his ability to push the ball downfield. On the night, only two of Harris’ 45 passes went for gains of over 20 yards. There’s something to be said for getting the ball into your play-makers hands as quickly as possible, but stretching the field and keeping the defence honest is also important.

2) Although some in R-Nation may quibble with certain play calls, offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo called a decent game. Elizondo was able to coax 437 net yards of offence out of a unit that was repeatedly handicapped by penalties and an offensive line that was simply outmatched by their defensive counterparts.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Elizondo was at his best. The Redblacks strung together two straight touchdown drives and were in a position to make it a third before a fumble ended the game.

As always, there’s room for improvement; despite averaging 7.5 yards per second down play, the Redblacks only converted 12-of-26 second down opportunities (46 per cent). They were also just 2-of-4 in the red zone (50 per cent). Finally, eight of Ottawa’s thirteen possessions lasted six plays or less.

3) William Powell’s final stat line is impressive, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that Ottawa’s lead back didn’t exactly have his way with Winnipeg’s defence. Despite finishing with 95 rushing yards on 14 carries, 48 of those yards came on a single first-quarter run. Subtracting that, Powell had 47 yards on 13 carries, meaning he averaged 3.6 yards per rush for most of the night. The Bombers also limited Powell’s damage as a receiver, holding him to just two catches for 26 yards (although one was a touchdown).

4) Jon Gott’s return to the lineup in place of the injured Nolan MacMillan failed to spark or change much of anything about Ottawa’s offensive line play. The men in the trenches were dominated by Winnipeg’s front seven and if not for Harris’ quick throws and mobility, would have given up more than the four sacks they did. I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll say it again. Ottawa’s main issue on the offensive line isn’t the play of their interior, but rather the edges. Too often the tackles (SirVincent Rogers and Jason Lauzon-Séguin) are beat clean. The Redblacks inability to provide their quarterback with a clean pocket is playing with fire and sooner rather than later they will get burned.

5) Brad Sinopoli looked sick after fumbling in overtime but if not for his efforts, the game isn’t even tied at that point. Sinopoli led all receivers with 14 targets, making 10 catches for 88 yards. The other Bud, Greg Ellingson, was Ottawa’s second-leading receiver, with eight catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Ellingson was clutch in the fourth quarter, coming up with grabs on third down and on a two-point conversion.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s receiving corps, nice to see Julian Feoli-Gudino finally contribute. Feoli-Gudino had his best game of the season against his former team, making four catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Diontae Spencer made six catches for 54 yards and R.J. Harris two for 14 yards.

6) Noel Thorpe’s defence hasn’t been pushed around often this season, but against the Bombers the Redblacks simply couldn’t get off the field. Winnipeg scored on each of their first six possessions and finished the night with nine scoring drives on fourteen possessions. The Bombers moved the ball on the ground, allowing Andrew Harris to rush for 132 yards, and in the air, Matt Nichols completed 75 per cent of his passes. Winnipeg also killed Ottawa on second down, moving the chains 62 per cent of the time (going 18-for-29 on second down conversions).

Even though he remains behind Avery Williams on the depth chart, Kyries Hebert led all players with ten tackles. Other defensive standouts were Corey Tindal (nine tackles) and Danny Mason (four tackles a knockdown).

Overall, shoddy tackling was an issue. Too often players took poor angles and failed to wrap up. Jonathan Rose in particular was a repeat offender.

7) Huge congratulations to rookie Canadian kicker Lewis Ward for breaking the CFL record for most consecutive field goals. Since missing a kick in the season opener, Ward has made 40 consecutive field goals, passing Rene Paredes’ previous mark of 39. It’s worth mentioning that technically, Paredes’ streak has an asterisk, since his 30th kick was actually blocked, but at the time, CFL rules didn’t count blocked kicks as a failed attempt.

Ward is now 43-of-44 (97.7 per cent) on field goals and 12-of-13 on converts this season. He deserves to be in contention for not just Most Outstanding Rookie but also Most Outstanding Canadian.

8) Any time you lose in overtime, you can point to a handful of plays that could have changed the outcome. For the Redblacks, the 174 penalty yards they gave up on 12 flags are an obvious place to start. Rick Campbell’s squad was sloppy and undisciplined and ultimately wound up paying the price. At this time of year, it’s inexcusable to be so careless.

9) Pity that such a great game wasn’t played in front of a sold out crowd. Strange to see just over 21,000 on hand for the game. The weather, although a bit chilly, was normal for a fall evening and with a strong opponent in town and a chance to clinch a playoff spot, there was plenty on the line. The late season run to the playoffs often brings about some of the most exciting and entertaining games, hopefully, R-Nation packs TD Place and provides a true home field advantage down the stretch.

10) With the loss, the Redblacks fumble away a golden opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. They also fail to create further separation from Hamilton, who now sit just a single win back for top spot in the East. With an 8-6 record, the East Division will likely come down to a home and home against the Ticats in two weeks time. But first, the Redblacks must prepare for a tough road game in Edmonton, against an Eskimo team that will be fighting for their own playoff berth.

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).