With a third of the 2019 season in the books, the Ottawa Redblacks boast a 2-4 record and sit third in the East Division, trailing both Montreal and Hamilton.
While there’s still a long way to go before the playoffs, now is as good a time as any to examine what we’ve learned about this year’s Redblacks’ squad.
The QB question is settled
Although he has missed two games due to injury, Dominique Davis is Ottawa’s go-to quarterback. And for better or worse, they’ll sink or swim on his arm.
While Davis hasn’t been lights out, he also hasn’t been terrible. Perhaps most importantly, he’s led the team to a 2-2 record as a starter. His touchdown to interception ratio could use some work (3-7) but the fact that he’s averaging 283 passing yards per game is encouraging.
Furthermore, when you break down Davis’ stats, you find a quarterback who should be able to reliably put points on the board. On pass attempts from 0-9 yards, he’s completing 77.1 per cent of his passes. On attempts from 10-19 yards, he’s at a 53.8 per cent completion rate. On passes of 20-plus yards, he’s at 38.1 per cent and although it may seem low, that’s actually the league average.
Of the 60 offensive possessions Davis has led, only eight have resulted touchdown in drives. That needs to improve if the Redblacks hope to contend but it’s worth noting that his play-calling committee hasn’t done him many favours.
As for Jonathan Jennings, the less said the better. Though there is still time for him to perhaps grow into Ottawa’s system, his numbers after two starts are horrific. Not only is he winless (0-2), he rarely pushes the ball down field. Through two games Jennings has thrown for 170 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions (including a pick-six) and is averaging only 5.2 yards per pass. Of the 33 passes Jennings has attempted this season, just seven were 10-plus yards. Of the 24 possessions he was under centre for, exactly one resulted in a touchdown drive.
Offence by committee isn’t working
When the Redblacks decided to fill the vacancy at the offensive coordinator position when Jamie Elizondo left with a “by-committee approach”, I wrote:
“It’s fine and dandy to say that you’ve got an existing system and playbook and simply need someone to direct the attack, but being a coordinator isn’t recycling the same plays every week. Innovation, tweaking and implementing game plans tailored to exploiting an opposing defence is necessary.
If the Redblacks do indeed go with a “by-committee” approach, it raises a ton of questions. Who’s drawing up plays during the week of practice? Who’s putting together the game plan? Who’s making half-time adjustments? When it comes time for a crucial third down, who has final say on the play call?
Without a clear chain of command, the devil will indeed be in the details.”
Six games into the season, we still don’t know the answers to those questions. Furthermore, it’s clear that however receivers coach Winston October, running backs coach Joe Paopao and quarterbacks coach Beau Walker are dividing the duties of being an offensive coordinator, it isn’t working.
The Redblacks are averaging 21 points per game (seventh in the league). Their 88 offensive possessions have yielded nine touchdowns. The only teams who have gone two-and-out more than the Redblacks are the Bombers and Argos. In three down football, first down production is key; Ottawa has averaged just 4.9 yards per first down play.
Somehow, Ottawa is averaging the second most plays per game in the CFL with 58.2, but a league low 5.2 yards per play. Speaking of league lows, the Redblacks average the worst time of possession of any team in the league at 26 minutes per game.
Obviously none of this is conducive to winning football. It also leads me to my next point.
The defence’s worst enemy is their offence
Nobody is denying that Ottawa’s defence has been terrible. But how high of a standard can you hold a unit to that’s constantly on the field?
That’s not hyperbole either, Noel Thorpe’s defence is on the field for an average of 60.8 plays per game, which is highest in the CFL. In the past three games (against Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal), the Redblacks’ defence has been on the field for an average of 35 minutes. Is it any wonder they’ve allowed 400-plus yards in their past five games?
With that said, the veteran unit needs to be better. When you note that Ottawa is giving up 6.9 yards per first down play, it comes as no surprise to see they’ve only forced 24 two and outs (third fewest in the league).
Furthermore, simple math dictates that if you’re giving up 30.3 points per game and your offence is only scoring 21, you’re coming out on the losing end of most contests.
One way the defence could help their offence is by producing more turnovers. So far, the Redblacks have forced 14 turnovers; two interceptions (a league low) and eight fumble recoveries (a league high).
Lewis Ward is a perfectly programmed robot
Has anyone checked to make sure there isn’t a mechanical machine hidden inside that diminutive frame? Ward has picked up where he left off in the 2018 regular season, nailing all 16 attempts in 2019. His streak of consecutive field goals currently sits at 64 and becomes even more impressive when you consider that this season he is 10-for-10 on kicks from 40-plus yards, 3-for-3 on kicks from 50-plus yards and 4-for-4 on converts. He’s even overcome the loss of his regular long snapper to suspension (so far).
Home isn’t where the heart is
Despite being known for sold out crowds (until this season at least) and a raucous game day atmosphere, heading into the 2019 season, the Redblacks had won just 23 times in 50 home games (regular season and playoffs).
The disturbing trend of struggling to defend their home turf has continued so far this season, with the Redblacks sporting a 1-3 record at TD Place. Why the Redblacks struggle to play well in front of R-Nation remains a mystery, but Ottawa needs to figure out how to take advantage of playing at home sooner rather than later.
Still plenty of time to turn things around
Despite sitting third in the East and three games back of the division lead, nobody in R-Nation should be hitting the panic button quite yet. To begin with, although the Redblacks are 2-4, five of their six games have come against Western opponents.
Given that they haven’t played Hamilton or Toronto yet and still have two games against Montreal, if Ottawa can take care of business in their own division they should be fine. That’s without even getting into the fact that the Argos might be an all-time terrible team or that the Ticats just lost their MOP candidate in Jeremiah Masoli.