Smothering defence helps Redblacks overcome adversity (& ten other thoughts on beating Calgary)

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Ottawa Redblacks kicked off their 2019 campaign in style with a wild 32-25 comeback win over the defending Grey cup champion Calgary Stampeders.

It wasn’t always pretty but the Redblacks became the first Ottawa team to win at McMahon Stadium since the Renegades accomplished the feat in September 2004 with Kerry Joseph under centre.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Dominique Davis’ play put his team in a hole, and then dug them out of it. His stats aren’t sexy (29-of-44 for 276 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions) but he did enough to earn a win in his second career start.

Davis’ completed 65.9 per cent of his passes as he spread the ball around to seven different receivers. His big arm was on full display but at times he lacked touch. Not all of the four picks are on him (a few were bobbled and popped up) but given how fortunate he was a couple of other errant throws didn’t wind up in Stampeder hands, four is a fair reflection of his night.

To his credit, Davis never got too down and his teammates continued playing hard for him. The ability to not dwell on mistakes and let bad plays linger is a skill, and Davis has it.

Although he needs to be better, ultimately Davis overcame a couple of self-inflected wounds and did what was necessary to get a win in a hostile environment.

2) In his first game acting as an offensive coordinator, receivers coach Winston October did a solid job. His unit put up 32 points, racking up 26 first downs and 399 yards of net offence in the process. Ottawa’s attack was balanced, with 44 passes to 30 runs called.

In two crucial areas, the Redblacks excelled. They converted 19-of-32 (59 per cent) second down opportunities and were 3-for-5 in the red zone. Perhaps most importantly, Ottawa controlled the ball for over 33 minutes, keeping Bo Levi Mitchell off the field for long chunks of time.

There’s room for improvement, after all, only six of Ottawa’s seventeen possessions ended in points, but for a Week 1 performance, Winston gets a passing grade.

3) Strong game from Mossis Madu. He ran hard (at times plowing over defenders) and churned out 112 yards on the ground. That number is a bit deceiving though, as it took Madu 24 carries to get there. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had two runs longer than 10 yards. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching six receptions for 28 yards, with 26 of them coming after the catch.

4) Heading into the game, there was concern the all-Canadian offensive line of Mark Korte, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Nolan MacMillan and Jason Lauzon-Seguin would be overwhelmed. That proved to be utterly false. The big boys up front kept a clean sheet, allowing no sacks on 44 drop backs. They also paved the way for 125 rushing yards and imposed their will in short yardage situations, as evidenced by Davis’ three rushing touchdowns.

Whether the group is as strong as they seemed or whether Calgary’s defensive front seven isn’t what it used to be, remains to be seen. But for one night at least, the Canadians up front dominated.

5) While they won’t make anyone forget Diontae Spencer and Greg Ellingson, RJ Harris and Caleb Holley proved they are capable fill-ins. The duo combined for eleven catches, 137 yards and moved the chains five times on second down. As for Brad Sinopoli, he picked up right where he left off last season, turning 10 targets into seven catches for 75 yards.

One receiver that failed to impress was Dominique Rhymes, who managed to snag only one of the six passes thrown his way. Given the talent stashed on the one-game injured list, it wouldn’t be shocking to see someone else in his spot next week.

6) New season, same stout defence from Noel Thorpe’s unit. Given that the group returned 10-of-12 from last year’s starters, it was no surprise to see the defence impose their will on the Stampeders. Despite being put in some tough situations by their offence, Thorpe’s group had an impressive showing against Calgary. Not only did they limit Bo Levi Mitchell to 275 passing yards, they also gave up just 43 yards on the ground.

Led by four tackle performances from Antoine Pruneau, Corey Tindal and Avery Williams, the Redblacks didn’t concede a point in the second half and limited Calgary to just 8-of-23 (35 per cent) on second down. Of Calgary’s fifteen possessions, eleven ended in punts or turnovers.

7) Thanks to the CFL not carrying over regular season streaks into the playoffs, Lewis Ward’s historic consecutive field goal streak is now up to 51. Ward was perfect in Calgary, nailing kicks from 44, 26 and 30 yards. As for Richie Leone, he punted seven times for 393 yards, with a net average field position flip of 43 yards.

8) Shoutout to special teams players of the game De’Andre Montgomery. Montgomery had a team high two special teams tackles and recovered the fumbled forced by JP Bolduc’s fourth quarter tackle that set the Redblacks up in the red zone.

9) It’s only Week 1, so a bit of sloppiness is to be expected in terms of penalties, but being flagged four times for time count violations is unacceptable. Especially when three of them happen when you’re trying to punt the ball away. It takes a lot to get head coach Rick Campbell steamed but if his sideline demeanour was any indiction, Ottawa won’t be taking any more of those flags next week.

10) With the win, the Redblacks keep pace with the Ticats and sit atop the East Division. While far from perfect, by winning the franchise’s first game in a place where they’ve historically struggled to keep things competitive, the Redblacks have served notice to the league that despite an off-season of departures, they aren’t to be overlooked.

Gritty wins can set the tone for a season, but if Ottawa wants to prove they are true contenders, they’ll need to take care of business against Saskatchewan at home on Thursday.

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).