Redblacks snap skid with ugly win (& 11 other thoughts on beating Montreal)

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

It took until overtime, but thanks to timely plays on special teams and defence, the Ottawa Redblacks fought back to beat the Montreal Alouettes 30-27.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It wasn’t quite Jonathon Jennings level of terrible, but Dominque Davis’ return to the field was hardly what many in R-Nation were hoping for. Most of the game, Davis didn’t seem to be on the same page as his receivers, as numerous passes fell to the ground well short, high or away from his intended targets. Although he did seem to get better late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, too often Davis’ throws were off-target.

Another thing Davis must address this week in practice is the snap exchange. Three times he seemed unprepared for the ball when it came to him, fumbling once.

Davis finished the night with 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He completed 58.8 per cent of his passes to seven different receivers and scrambled twice for six yards. To be fair, Davis’ teammates could’ve done more to help him out. The first interception came about as a result of Julian Feoli-Gudino failing to catch a ball that hit him square in the hands. J.C. Beaulieu, Noel Thomas and Brad Sinopoli also dropped catchable balls.

2) Perhaps Davis would’ve had a better game if not for the vanilla play-calling dialled up by Ottawa’s offensive committee. Receivers coach Winston October, running backs coach Joe Paopao and quarterback coach Beau Walker rarely showed any type of creativity. Nearly all runs came on first down and were directly up the gut; no sweeps, no mis-direction, no counters.

General manager Marcel Desjardins has repeatedly gone on Ottawa radio and pined for his mobile quarterbacks to use their legs more often to extend plays. Perhaps his offensive committee should take heed and work a few rollouts and play-action passes into the playbook as well.

The Redblacks finished the night with 241 yards of net offence, averaging just 4.3 yards per play. They converted 42 per cent of second down opportunities (10-of-24) and were once again slaughtered in time of possession, holding onto the ball for slightly more than 23 minutes. That comes as no surprise since Ottawa can’t sustain drives. Of their 17 offensive possessions, fourteen lasted three plays or less. That’s nightmare fuel.

Short of bringing in an outside hire to actually be given the title and full time duties of being offensive coordinator, there doesn’t seem to be any solution in sight.

3) Another solid outing for running back John Crockett who turned 16 carries into 71 yards. That’s an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Not bad when you’re only given the ball on first down and have to run the same play straight up the gut all game long. Crockett busted off two runs of 10-plus yards and continues to look like one of the only game-changers the Redblacks possess on offence.

4) Rough night for the offensive line. Not only did centre Alex Mateas have a handful of bad snaps that killed drives (one was high, two others came before the quarterback was expecting them), right tackle Jason Lauzon-Séguin was exposed. Lauzon-Séguin whiffed on a number of blocks, was flagged twice for unnecessary roughness and got hurt in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field. The all-Canadian offensive line experiment has provided the Redblacks with some roster flexibility but isn’t always great at pass protection or opening lanes for the ground game.

5) On paper, the Redblacks boast a speedy receiving corps with the likes of Dominique Rhymes, Noel Thomas, Caleb Holley and Julian Feoli-Gudino. In reality, nearly all struggle to create separation or do anything with the ball after the catch. Thomas had five catches for 43 yards, but only 15 yards after the catch, which was still more than anyone else on the team. Rhymes made four catches for 42 yards, including three on second down to move the chains. All but one of Holley’s four catches came on the game’s final two drives. As for Feoli-Gudino, his five targets resulted in two catches for 11 yards making it hard to justify his starting role.

6) Even though Brad Sinopoli had his second touchdown in as many games, he continues to be criminally underused.

It’s hard to say whether that falls on Davis for not looking his way more often or the offensive committee for not calling plays with him as the main read. All I know is that Sinopoli is a key offensive cog that can be leaned on to sustain drives. He should never go entire quarters between catches as he did against Montreal. Sinopoli’s stat line of three catches for 21 yards, with only a single yard after the catch and a lone second down reception would be unthinkable in previous seasons.

7) Another game, another whale of an effort from Noel Thorpe’s defence. Despite yet again being on the field for over 36 minutes, Ottawa’s defence did an excellent job of stifling Montreal’s attack.

Not only did the defence limit the damage following the offence’s four turnovers to 13 points, they also gave them the ball back late to allow the game-tying drive and sealed things in overtime with an opportunistic turnover.

Led by huge performances from Michael Wakefield (three tackles, two knockdowns and an interception) and Avery Williams (seven tackles), the Redblacks’ defence held Montreal to 4.1 yards per first down play and a 36 per cent conversion rate on second down (10-of-28) and nine points in the second half and overtime. Of Montreal’s 18 possessions, eight resulted in two and outs.

8) The Redblacks had no offence to speak of in the first half, yet went into the break trailing by three thanks to the heroic return efforts of DeVonte Dedmon. Dedmon was the spark Ottawa needed, becoming the first player in Ottawa pro football history to produce two returns for touchdowns in the same game. In 130 years of football in the nation’s capital, no Rough Rider, Renegade or Redblack had ever achieved that feat.

As electrifying as Dedmon’s 111-yard kickoff return was, his 95-yard punt return touchdown was flat out amazing. It was pure will and determination. By my count seven different Alouettes got a hand on him.

Talk about a play of the year candidate.

Dedmon finished the night with a franchise record 377 return yards and looked like a threat to take it to the house every time the ball was in his hands. It’ll be interesting to see if Dedmon gets an expanded role in the offence as a deep threat, or if the Redblacks will choose to have him focus exclusively on returning.

9) As for the rest of Ottawa’s special teams, Lewis Ward’s streak of consecutive field goals now sits at 67. Ward was good from 46, 29 and 15 yards. Pressure clearly doesn’t faze Ward, as the game-tying and game-winning kicks split the uprights straight down the middle.

Shoutout to Nigel Romick and Brendan Gillanders who set the tone on kick coverage with three special teams tackles apiece.

10) It won’t really be a topic of conversation this week because of the win, but the Redblacks took too many penalties against Montreal, being flagged nine times for 91 yards. They were fortunate that the drives they extended and the field position they cost themselves didn’t wind up hurting them more.

11) Ottawa won’t get any style points for the win but it counts all the same in the standings. By earning their seventh straight road win in Montreal, the Redblacks improve their record to 3-4 and make up some ground in the division.

While it wasn’t a must-win game by any stretch, it was absolutely a needed-to-win. Not just for their playoff hopes (losing would’ve meant the Alouettes took the season series), but also for morale. Snapping a four-game losing streak, even if in an ugly, unconvincing manner, should go a long way towards rejuvenating player and fan enthusiasm. Now the question becomes if they can build on it. Up next is a trip to Edmonton to get reacquainted with Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson and a number of other one-time Redblacks.

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).