Redblacks’ bye week blues continue (& 12 other thoughts on losing to the Bombers)

On a summer night that turned out to be perfect for football, the Ottawa Redblacks couldn’t overcome their self-inflicted wounds, falling 29-14 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before 20,429 fans at TD Place.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It wasn’t Dominique Davis’ finest performance, but he also didn’t get much help from his teammates or coaching staff. Davis averaged 11.4 yards per pass, hit five different receivers and went 21-of-36 for 236 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions against arguably the league’s toughest defence.

At times, Davis seemed to struggle to see the field, which may have been due in large part to the fact he barely had time to corral the snap on most plays before he was dodging defenders. It also didn’t help that when he did deliver an accurate throw, it was often dropped.

Winnipeg did an excellent job of playing disciplined and keeping Davis in the pocket, limiting his mobility, which is why it would’ve been nice to see more designed roll-outs and play-action calls.

All in all, Davis was far from perfect, but this loss doesn’t fall solely on his shoulders. And while some may be tempted to call for backup Jonathan Jennings, they’d do well to remember that in four career starts, this was Davis’ first loss as a starter.

2) Receivers coach Winston October did his quarterback zero favours against a stout defence with his vanilla play-calling. Although the Bombers are strong against the run, it doesn’t mean the ground game should be abandoned, which it clearly was. October called 36 passes to seven running plays. That lack of balance is why the Redblacks barely possessed the ball (having it for just under 21 minutes) and failed to sustain drives.

Ottawa finished the night with just 236 yards of net offence, averaged 4.8 yards per play, never had a drive even enter the red zone and converted only 6-of-19 second down opportunities (32 per cent). Ottawa had eleven offensive possessions, just two resulted in scoring plays and both were field goals.

Given that his offensive line was under siege, it was surprising to see October fail to take advantage of Davis’ mobility with pre-designed roll-outs or play-action passes. When you’ve got a mobile quarterback that’s accurate throwing on the run, you need to use him.

3) In terms of the ground game, there is much Madu about nothing. Mossis was called upon six times and averaged three yards per carry. He was also a non-factor in the passing game, finishing with zero catches. At this rate, you have to wonder how much longer John Crockett sits on the practice squad.

4) Up to Friday night’s game, Ottawa’s all-Canadian offensive line experiment had been a resounding success. And while it’s perhaps unfair to declare it a failure after one poor performance, it’s undeniable that losing right tackle Jason Lauzon-Séguin resulted in a much weaker group. The resulting shuffle saw 2019 first-round pick Alex Fontana slot in at left guard and Evan Johnson kick out to replace Lauzon-Séguin. Winnipeg’s front seven bullied the Redblacks’ offensive line, who failed to both provide a clean pocket for Davis or open run lanes. Going forward, they must be better with or without Lauzon-Séguin.

5) Poor night for the receiving corps in general. RJ Harris and Dominique Rhymes led the way with six catches apiece and 87 and 58 yards respectively. Canadian Julian Feoli-Gudino got his first start of the year and responded by catching all four passes thrown his way for 42 yards. Caleb Holley finished the night with four catches as well, but also had two inexcusable drive-killing drops and a terribly timed fumble.

As for last season’s Most Outstanding Canadian, Brad Sinopoli, he was MIA. Davis looked his way only a handful of times and he finished the night with a single catch for eight yards.

6) Noel Thorpe’s defence was pushed around by the Bombers but it’s hard to fault them given the fact that they were on the field for nearly 40 minutes on a humid summer night. The defence conceded an average of 6.9 yards per play and allowed Winnipeg to convert 15-of-27 second down opportunities (56 per cent).

The unit was put in some tough spots (such as starting on their own four-yard line following a muffed punt), but too often they made mental mistakes. Whether it was blown coverage on the game’s opening possession allowing an 82-yard touchdown strike. Or George Uko and Michael Wakefield being flagged for roughing the passer with unnecessary late hits on second down to keep drives alive. The repeated mistakes cost the defence.

It wasn’t all terrible though. Of Winnipeg’s 14 offensive possessions, 10 picked up two or less first downs. Sherrod Baltimore forced a fumble that turned into a 39-yard touchdown for Jonathan Rose. Anthony Cioffi had a pick, Avery Williams was everywhere, finishing with a game high eight tackles and Antoine Pruneau had the hit of the night, separating Lucky Whitehead from the ball with a jarring shoulder late in the fourth quarter.

Thorpe’s defence has a lot of room for improvement, but given how often they were on the field against the Bombers, this week’s performance should be taken with a grain of salt.

7) By nailing 53 and 42 yard kicks, Lewis Ward extends his consecutive field goal streak to 59 in a row. Watching Ward make good on field goal attempts has become so routine that it’s easy to lose sight of just how incredible this streak is. As for the other half of the kicking game, Richie Leone was his regular dependable self, punting six times for 311 yards, with an average field position flip of 42.5 yards.

8) It’s not a Redblacks related note per se, but hats off to Winnipeg’s Michael Miller, who finished the night with seven special teams tackles. That ties a CFL record currently held by former Ottawa Rough Rider and Renegade Darren Joseph, who also made seven special teams tackles against the Argos in 2003.

9) Inexcusable brain fart from Ryan Lankford by failing to secure a punt near his own end zone, the Redblacks were down a single score and it was the middle of the fourth quarter. As a five year veteran and someone with previous return experience, Lankford has to be aware of the situation. By allowing the ball to sit on the turf and casually watch it bounce around, Lankford gave Justin Medlock plenty of time to run down the field and make a heads up play to recover the ball deep in Ottawa territory. The ensuing Bomber touchdown effectively put the game away.

10) Given their uninspired effort, you’d never know the Redblacks were a team coming off a bye. Ottawa started out slow and never recovered. They played undisciplined and sloppy, being flagged 10 times and repeatedly extending drives for Winnipeg or wiping out their own positive plays (such was the case with Holley’s offensive pass interference). With the loss, head coach Rick Campbell’s lifetime record coming off a bye drops to 4-8. Obviously a new approach is needed because whatever the Redblacks are doing now clearly isn’t working.

11) With just 20,429 members of R-Nation on hand, this game goes down as the worst attendance in Redblacks’ franchise history. For whatever reason, the second home game of the season has often been less than a sellout and in 2015 and 2018 were the lowest attendances of the season. There were a few extenuating circumstances; Bluesfest music festival is in full swing, a thunderstorm advisory was in place (for good reason) until 45 minutes before kickoff and it was 39 degrees with the humidity for most of the day. Still, it should set off warning bells in the league’s Toronto office to see a franchise that’s often held up as one that does an excellent job connecting with that coveted younger demographic four thousand short of a sellout on a Friday night.

12) One game doesn’t make a season, but R-Nation should hope this contest was an anomaly and not a sign of things to come.

Campbell has a week to prepare his team for a big rebound game against Montreal. It’s not a must win by any stretch, but an impressive outing would go a long way towards placating any worried fans and create some separation in the standings. Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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