Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

In a home opener for the ages, the Ottawa Redblacks hung on and won an offensive shootout 44-41 against Saskatchewan in front of 23,453 rabid members of R-Nation.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) What a difference a week makes. Following a shaky (but resilient) performance in Calgary, many were wondering how Dominique Davis would perform against a Saskatchewan defence that effectively shut down Hamilton in Week 1.

He quickly put any doubts to rest, as he picked apart Saskatchewan’s secondary. Davis was confident and pushed the ball down the field early and often. He finished the game with six completions of 20 or more yards. Most impressively, his ball placement was excellent, as he repeatedly hit receivers in stride.

Davis completed 76.9 per cent of passes to seven different receivers while going 30-of-39 for 354 yards, three touchdowns and most importantly, no turnovers. For the most part, Davis had good protection in the pocket, but when things broke down, he used his legs to get himself out of sticky situations. His subtle shifts to avoid pressure bought him time to step up and drop a dime. He was also great throwing on the run and scrambling for first down yardage when all else failed.

Last game Davis forced throws into coverage; this game he threw the ball away. It’s little things like that which signal growth in a quarterback.

Just as last week’s four-pick performance didn’t mean he should be benched, this week’s strong showing doesn’t mean Davis should be crowned the MOP. Consistency is the name of the game and now that Davis has shown the level he is capable of playing at, the trick will be to stay there.

2) Heck of a game-plan from receivers coach Winston October. Ottawa’s de-facto offensive coordinator kept Saskatchewan’s defence off-balance all night long with a smart mix of run and pass plays. After a few early offensive possessions in which the Redblacks struggled to handle Saskatchewan’s pressure, October used a heavy dose of play-action and designed rollouts to alleviate the rush and get his offence rolling.

Ottawa finished the night with 424 yards of offence, 22 first downs and a 46 per cent conversion rate on second down (12-of-26). October made the most of the turnovers gifted to him by his defence, putting 11 points on the board from turnovers. Out of the Redblacks fifteen possessions, nine resulted in points.

It’s only been two games but nice to see that October doesn’t just use his fullbacks as blockers. Against Calgary JC Beaulieu had a pair of catches, Thursday night against Saskatchewan he had three, including a 23-yard touchdown reception. Incorporating the fullback into his offensive attack gives it an extra dimension that most don’t have.

Any time your offence scores 41 points, you’re doing something right, but if one wanted to nitpick, the Redblacks could have been better in the red zone, where they went 2-for-4. That said, they were still 3-of-3 on second point converts, which are essentially red zone plays too.

3) Mossis Madu had a solid but quiet night. He got plenty of carries (14) but only averaged 3.6 yards per attempt, with his longest rush of the night coming in at 11 yards. He also made three catches but only totalled eight receiving yards. Still, despite his low production, Madu proved to be his slippery self, leaving more than a few defenders grasping at air.

4) The offensive line’s night didn’t start out great, but once their offensive coordinator gave them a boost with some smart play-calling, the Redblacks all-Canadian offensive line improved significantly. Although the group gave up four sacks, two of those were directly a result of Davis simply holding onto the ball too long. They were in tough against a stout Saskatchewan defensive front but still paved the way for 93 rushing yards. Overall, it was a good night for the big boys up front.

5) Full credit to Dominique Rhymes for a massive bounce back performance. Last week, I called him out for making a single catch on six targets. This week, he went off, turning 12 targets into 11 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Rhymes’ performance was that he was so clutch, with six of his eleven receptions moving the chains on second down.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s receiving corps, R.J. Harris and Brad Sinopoli finished the night with five receptions each and 51 and 44 yards respectively. Seth Coate made a single catch but it was a beautiful sideline bomb and Caleb Holley made a pair of catches for 12 yards.

6) Uncharacteristically soft night from Noel Thorpe’s defence. It’s not every day his veteran unit is torched by a green quarterback making his first career start. Any way you slice it, the numbers are ugly. Saskatchewan racked up 454 yards of offence, 26 first downs, averaged 8.6 yards per first down play, converted 52 per cent of their second down attempts and went 4-for-5 in the red zone.

On a night where both defences were pushed around, the difference wound up being a pair of forced fumbles. Danny Mason led the way for the Redblacks with six tackles and a sack before being injured and leaving the game. Jonathan Rose and Chris Randle also made six tackles but the latter had a night to forget. Randle missed a number of tackles, got beat deep repeatedly and was flagged for defensive pass interference in the first quarter.

Thorpe’s defence will have plenty of tape to review but an emphasis will likely be put on situational football. If the defence wants to be counted amongst the league’s elite, it can’t be giving up touchdowns in the last minute of both halves.

7) Much was made of former Redblack William Powell’s return to the nation’s capital but for the most part, his damage was limited. While he did find the end zone, his 11 carries went for 45 yards, but his longest rush of the night went for a gain of nine yards. He also had a costly fumble in the third quarter.

8) The unit has often been overlooked, but special teams gets a massive assist for Thursday night’s win. Not only did you have Lewis Ward providing 18 points by nailing six more field goals to extend his (regular season) streak to 57 straight, but Richie Leone flipped field position all game long, averaging 50.7 yards per punt and chipping in on the scoreboard with two rouges.

On top of that, Ryan Lankford was a threat every time he returned a kick, averaging 21.6 yards per return. A timely forced fumble on punt coverage led to a touchdown and successful two point convert and Sinopoli’s onside kick recovery sealed the win.

9) Let’s talk a bit about Makana Henry. The backup defensive lineman took it upon himself to lean into Dominique Davis as he scrambled out of bounds. Did he step into Davis and absolutely crush him? No. But given that Davis was coming in hot and off-balance from being shoved out of bounds, just by leaning in slightly and making no effort to get out of the way, Henry sent Davis flying. It was reckless, stupid and should, if player safety is to be taken seriously, result in a fine and/or suspension. Fortunately Davis wasn’t injured on the play, but given all the stuff littered among team sidelines (water bottles, helmets, benches, signage, equipment cases, etc.), he was lucky.

10) A new season means new food additions at TD Place. Some of this year’s introductions included a two foot long hotdog and the world’s biggest foam finger. There were issues with each of them though. First off, apparently the novelty hot dogs were sold out before kick off. Secondly, I get that TD is a sponsor but do you really want to add a massive green prop for photos on a night when you play the greenest team and fanbase in the league?

11) Two games does not a season make, but given how little respect the team got from pundits, media and fans alike across the country, it has to feel good to be sitting at 2-0. Regardless of what happens in Saturday’s Ticats-Argos game, Ottawa will remain in first place in the East for another week.

The team’s first bye comes early but gives Rick Campbell and his coaching staff time to correct mistakes and continue to hone their schemes and playbooks. And they’ll need to be ready coming off the bye, because the class of the West looms in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Redblacks will be at home but Winnipeg will be their toughest test to date.

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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).