Redblacks’ season slips away (& 11 other thoughts on losing to the Riders)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

R-Nation could be forgiven for thinking the Renegades franchise was finally re-instated.

Quarterback Kerry Joseph was at the game, Joe Paopao was calling plays and the first pass of the game was a hitch screen.

For the seventh time in the past eight games, the Ottawa Redblacks lost, this time by a score of 40-18 to a Saskatchewan squad that suddenly finds itself in contention for top spot in the West.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It was painful to watch Dominique Davis essentially close the book on his time as a quarterback in the nation’s capital.

When the Redblacks hitched their wagon to Davis in the off-season, there was a strong belief that despite his lack of playing time, he had all the necessary tools to flourish into a starting calibre quarterback. There was the mobility factor, his cannon of an arm and perhaps more importantly, his teammates believed in him.

Ten games into the season, that clearly is no longer the case. Ottawa’s offensive struggles can’t be pinned squarely on his shoulders but his play has done his team no favours. Davis’ tendency to turn the ball over early (and occasionally often), has frequently dug the Redblacks into holes which they’ve failed to climb out of.

Such was the case in Regina, where interceptions on three consecutive drives buried any chance the Redblacks had of being competitive, resulting in 17 first quarter points for the opposition. Davis’ first interception was simply a ball that had no business being thrown.

The second interception also looks terrible because Davis’ pass overthrew a pair of open Redblacks, but given the proximity of the two receivers, something tells me someone ran the wrong route, in which case Davis is exonerated (slightly).

Davis’ last pass of the evening was another completely avoidable interception. He stared down his target the whole way, telegraphing his intention from the snap of the ball. It’s no wonder it was picked off.

Ironically, Davis was pulled despite completing every pass he attempted, half to his team, half to the defence.

There have been times this season when Davis’ play has been unfairly criticized for what was really poor play-calling and receivers who bobbled catchable passes and ran the wrong routes. That was not the case against Saskatchewan. Davis was just plain bad. At the very least, if a quarterback isn’t able to help his team win, he shouldn’t be helping them lose. Davis’ play of late falls into the latter category which is why he likely won’t see the field again for the Redblacks in 2019.

2) As for the man who replaced Davis, Jonathan Jennings’ performance will be remembered in a positive light mainly because he didn’t turn the ball over. His stat line is decent (16-of-26 for 208 yards and a touchdown), but when you remember that 75 of those yards came on a single touchdown bomb, his numbers look much more shoddy. Aside from that one throw, Jennings’ 15 other passes averaged 8.8 yards per pass. Not huge numbers by any stretch.

Jennings has had a number of opportunities to impress this season and has failed to do so in any audition. He’ll likely be under centre when the Redblacks return from their bye week, but if general manager Marcel Desjardins is serious about trying to salvage this season, he’d be better off bringing someone else in. Failing that, giving Will Adrnt a baptism by fire would help sell the fan base on hope for the future.

3) Following last week’s disastrous offensive output, head coach Rick Campbell promised significant offensive changes.

What that actually panned out to was starting the exact same twelve players on offence but striping play-calling duties from receivers coach Winston October and handing them to running back coach Joe Paopao. I lambasted the move because while Paopao is universally beloved by his players, he’s got a proven track record of losing. His first game as Ottawa’s play caller did little to allay my fears.

Unsurprisingly to anyone who watched a down of Renegades football, Paopao’s first play call was a hitch pass. Because of course it was. The Redblacks’ offence finished the night with 282 yards of net offence and averaged just 3.8 yards per second down play. That’s why they went just 7-for-24 (29% per cent on second down conversions).

Of Ottawa’s 18 offensive possessions, only one resulted in a touchdown. 14 of those possessions last four plays or less. The only time Ottawa got into the red zone, they had to settle for a field goal.

For anyone looking for a positive, the Redblacks possessed the ball for nearly 27 minutes, which, well still awful, is slightly better than 25 minutes they had been averaging coming into the game.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter who is handling play calling duties in the nation’s capital because having an offensive committee doesn’t work. There’s a reason why teams don’t have defensive committees or special teams committees or head coach committees. That’s because it’s silly and ineffective. And until the Redblacks actually name a specific offensive coordinator, their offensive woes will continue.

4) Talk about adding insult to injury. John Crockett was held in-check (rushing four times for nine yards), before limping off the field with an apparent shoulder injury in the second quarter.

Canadian Greg Morris replaced him and though he was also contained on the ground (rushing seven times for 28 yards), he made an impact in the passing game, making six receptions for 50 yards, with 41 of those coming after the catch.

If Crockett’s injury is long term, a Canadian backfield duo of Morris and Brendan Gillanders would be intriguing.

5) Not a banner night for the offensive line. Not only did they fail to open up any lanes in the ground game (Ottawa finished the night with just 56 rushing yards), they also gave up three sacks. To be fair, some of that could be due to the shuffle that came about when right tackle Stephane Nembot left the game with an injury. Left guard Evan Johnson kicked out to tackle and 2019 first round pick Alex Fontana drew in for Johnson.

6) Before we dive into talking about Ottawa’s receiving corps, you should know it was the kind of night where a backup running back (Greg Morris), pressed into duty in the second quarter, had more catches than any receiver. In fact, when it comes to running backs, Morris, Crockett and fullback JC Beaulieu combined for more catches than Nate Behar, Caleb Holley, Jacob Scarfone, RJ Harris and Dominique Rhymes COMBINED.

Brad Sinopoli turned ten targets into five receptions for 53 yards. At the very least Jennings seems to find him more often than Davis could. Rhymes finished with four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. No other receiver had more than a single catch. No receiver made more than one second down catch either.

7) Although the defence didn’t have their best game, not sure how much this loss is on them. On paper, it’ll show as 40 points scored against Noel Thorpe’s unit. In reality, Saskatchewan’s opportunistic offence turned five turnovers into 24 points. A defence can only get put in so many bad spots before it breaks.

Although seven of Saskatchewan’s seventeen offensive possessions led to points, only two of those drives went for more than 39 yards.

Saskatchewan went 3-for-3 in the red zone and 10-of-23 on second down (43 per cent conversion rate). Strong performances from Jerod Fernandez and Chris Randle led the way, with seven and six tackles respectively. Randle also knocked down four passes. For someone who struggled early on this season, Randle is certainly playing much better of late.

8) A week after missing his first kick in forever, Lewis Ward is well on his way towards building a new streak. Against Saskatchewan Ward nailed kicks from 36 (twice), 44 and 32 yards out, going a perfect 4-for-4 on the evening.

He wasn’t the only kicker crushing it though, as punter Richie Leone smashed six punts for 306, with an average net field position flip of 45.8, including this beauty.

9) Shoutout to Stefan Logan for moving into fourth all-time in kick return yards. The 38 year old had a great night returning the ball, averaging 22 yards per return. Logan finished the night with 243 return yards.

10) Injuries are no excuse but they must be acknowledged. Heading into the game, the Redblacks already had a league high 14 players on the six-game injured list. They’ve also had other key contributors miss playing time this season (Crockett, Davis, Pruneau, Rhymes, Klassen, etc.).

That’s why it was so worrying to see Avery Ellis, JC Beaulieu, Nigel Romick, Jerod Fernandez, Anthony Cioffi, John Crockett and Stephane Nembot all limp off the field at various points in the evening.

When it rains it pours I guess.

11) With the loss, the Redblacks head into their second bye week on a brutal slide, dropping seven of their last eight games and sitting third in the East Division with a 3-7 record. At this point, the only thing going up in smoke faster than Ottawa’s playoff hopes is the Amazon.

In a perfect world, Campbell uses the bye week for a much needed reset. Perhaps via trade, free agent signing or NFL training camp cut, Desjardins does something do address this clear offensive issues.

With only eight games left in the season, Ottawa is running out of time to make a push. With the Alouettes beating the Argos in Montcon, Ottawa now sits a full two games behind Montreal for second place. At 8-2, they won’t be catching the Ticats.

Despite everything seeming doom and gloom, the Redblacks do control their own fate. Their next three games are against the only teams worse than them, Toronto and BC. Ottawa will need to win all three to cling to any hope of pushing for an unlikely playoff spot but in a league full of wild comebacks, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

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).