Obnoxious offence dooms Redblacks (& 11 other thoughts on losing to the Ticats)

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

On an afternoon when they celebrated Pride all around TD Place, Ottawa’s offence certainly didn’t show any.

For the first time since their inaugural season, the Redblacks have lost four games in a row at home, with the latest defeat coming at the hands of the visiting Ticats by a score of 21-7.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It’s an odd thing to say given how poor Ottawa’s offensive output was, but Dominique Davis’ performance against the Ticats was actually one of his better this season. First off, he didn’t turn the ball over, which is something that’s been a near certainty in other games. Second, he used his legs well, moving around the pocket to extend plays. Third, you could see him go through his reads instead of locking onto a single man and throwing the ball immediately when faced with pressure.

That said, too often Davis’ passes were off-target. He sailed passes high, put them behind receivers, skipped balls into their feet and generally wasn’t in sync with his receiving corps. That is until he went into hurry up mode for the game’s final few drives. Now whether that was a result of his receivers running routes that weren’t five yard slants for the first time all night or due to the fact that the Ticats were in a prevent defence is debatable.

Davis finished the night 20-of-40 for 238 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and was briefly pulled in favour of Jonathan Jennings, who came in and promptly when 2-of-6 for 31 yards.

At this point in the season, Davis’ development as a starting calibre quarterback was supposed to be much further along. And while he has flashed moments of competence, too often he’s been undone with inaccurate throws. But, he’d also look a whole lot better with some more creative play calls and receivers who did more to help out their quarterback. Once again, Dominique Rhymes, Caleb Holley, RJ Harris and Brad Sinopoli all dropped passes that hit them square in the hands.

2) Time to disband the offensive committee. There’s no precedent in football for it being part of a championship formula and now R-Nation can confirm it’s not even part of a .500 formula.

I do feel for receivers coach Winston October, who has been thrust into a situation he didn’t ask for, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of production from the Redblacks’ offence.

Yet again, October, running back coach Joe Paopao and quarterbacks coach Beau Walker failed to orchestrate a single touchdown drive. For those keeping count at home, the Redblacks have mustered a pathetic three touchdowns in their last 77 possessions. Yes, you read that right.

Of Ottawa’s 18 offensive possessions against the Ticats, seven resulted in two-and-outs. 12 drives lasted five plays or less. Three resulted in points (two field goals and a rouge). No surprise then that they yet again lost the time of possession battle, holding onto the ball for just 25 minutes.

If you went only by the box score, you’d think an offence that generated 317 yards of net offence would’ve had a fairly productive game. You’d be wrong. 129 of those yards came on the game’s final three drives, when the Ticats were playing off, content with allowing the Redblacks to generate first downs as long as they stayed out of the end zone.

Even when Ottawa did get close to scoring, they still went 0-for-3 in the red zone. Clearly they learned nothing from last week, because when they found themselves in the same situation, first and goal from the 10, needing to score, they had three straight incompletions and turned the ball over on downs.

The Redblacks were horrific on second down, going 8-for-26 (31 per cent conversion rate), but that’s to be expected when it’s second and 10 and you have your receivers running five yard slants. It’s no wonder Davis couldn’t get into any rhythm when the play calling was as basic as can be.

Most drives started with a shotgun sweep across the formation on first down (resulting in a minimal gain), followed by a short slant pass that was completed short of the sticks. If there was any play-action, I missed it. They called designed roll outs with Davis twice (by count). As for a healthy balance of run to pass calls, forget it. The committee dialled up 46 passes to nine handoffs. So much for balance.

I could go on but I’d be beating a dead horse, but that would be like continually allowing the same committee to call the same vanilla plays. Something has to give. And it needs to change immediately.

3) With John Crockett out, Mossis Madu was back on the field. His nine carries went for 55 yards, but when you consider that 35 of those came on a single play, he actually averaged 2.5 yards per carry. Some of that is on him, but most of that is due to the fact that seven of his nine carries were the exact same shotgun sweep across the back of the line that kept being repeatedly blown up. Madu didn’t do well against the Ticats, but that’s in large part due to the fact that his coaches didn’t put him in a position to have success.

4) As much as the offensive line struggled to open lanes in the ground game, they’ve certainly come a long way in their pass protection. After giving up 14 sacks in their first six games, the group has now conceded just two in their last three. Against the Ticats, the Redblacks dropped back to pass 46 times and gave up just a single sack, and even that was flukey, coming when Jennings tripped over a pancaked defender.

5) A competent receiving corps goes a long way towards making their quarterback look good. The Redblacks right now don’t have a competent receiving corps. Whether it be drops, or not coming back to the ball on contested catches or spreading out to give Davis options when he’s outside the pocket, Ottawa’s receivers simply aren’t getting it done.

The group as a whole is struggling. No receiver had more than one catch on second down and nobody had more than 23 yards after the catch (YAC). That goes to show how little separation the group is creating. If nobody is creating space, it puts more pressure on the quarterback to force throws into tight windows.

Rhymes led all players with 13 targets, but only five resulted in catches. Holley made five catches as well, but seemed to be the only person in the stadium who didn’t realize his dropped lateral pass resulted in a live ball, which the Ticats promptly scooped up.

After both the coach and GM went on radio and insisted Sinopoli would get more looks, he did, but his nine targets turned into three receptions for 34 yards. That’s not what anyone had in mind.

RJ Harris was targeted six times in his return but had two catches for 22 yards; one in the first quarter and one with 17 seconds left in the game. In his first start of the season, Nate Behar made three catches for 21 yards.

There’s no magic answer for the group, they simply need to be better.

6) Yet again, the defence was stout but ultimately wore down. That’s been the story of the Redblacks season so far. Noel Thorpe’s unit gave up 413 yards, but were again on the field for nearly 35 minutes.

Still, they battled admirably. Of the Ticats 18 drives, nine resulted in two and outs. The Ticats were held to 13-for-30 on second down conversions (43 per cent), went 2-for-6 in the red zone and Ottawa generated three turnovers (two end zone interceptions and a turnover on downs). Most days, that’s enough for the win.

Avery Williams led the way with a game high 12 tackles. Seven other players made at least four tackles. That said, the defence still left a lot of tackles out on the field, as evidenced by Hamilton’s 182 yards after the catch.

7) Outsider linebacker Anthony CIoffi’s name was called repeatedly on Saturday afternoon, but for all the wrong reasons. It was mentioned once for making a tackle (good). Once for an end zone interception (great). Three times for a 15 yard no yards flag while covering a punt (inexcusable). Once for a defensive pass interference call that set up the go-ahead touchdown (less than ideal), and once for a face mask flag (sloppy). Cioffi was single handedly responsible for 89 of Ottawa’s 124 penalty yards. Yikes.

8) Lewis Ward’s incredible streak of consecutive field gaols is over. It will forever sit at 69, which I’m sure is a happy coincidence. Ward’s streak is 30 more than second place and includes kicks that came in all conditions and an incredible 22-for-22 from 40-plus yards. Kudos to R-Nation for showing their appreciation when history came to an end.

After missing his first kick in forever, Ward quickly began a new streak, nailing kicks from 26 and 39 yards out.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s special teams, the newly signed Stefan Logan looked anything but his 38 years of age. He had a few nice returns, although two were brought back by flags. The cover units also did a solid job bottling up Frankie Williams, one of the league’s most dangerous returners.

9) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: TSN needs to ditch the split screen for replays. They continually wait too long to show the replay which results in fans squinting to see live action and missing the replay. For whatever reason, after a play worthy of a replay, the camera rests too long on a guy walking back to the huddle before it starts. If they can’t queue it up fast enough, just skip it or wait until a longer break in play.

10) Yet again, the confines of TD Place provided no advantage to the home team. Despite 23,214 members of R-Nation being on hand, the Redblacks lost again, dropping their home record to 1-4 in 2019. One could argue the home fans were booing more than cheering, but aside from a few opportunistic defensive plays, what reason did they have to make noise?

11) With the loss, the Redblacks find themselves with a 3-6 record at the halfway mark of the season and firmly in third place in the East. Passing the Ticats for first in the division is mathematically possibly but realistically out of reach. From here on out, the Redblacks are in a dogfight with Montreal for a playoff spot, which doesn’t bode well considering they’re already (essentially) two games back. Right now, the Alouettes look like everything Ottawa is not; fast, explosive and playing with a confident swagger. And they just knocked off Calgary in Calgary.

Things don’t get any easier here on out either. Up next for the Redblacks is a trip to Saskatchewan to take on a green group making a push for first in the West.

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).