After crossing the halfway mark of the season, the Ottawa Redblacks find themselves with a 3-7 record, sitting third in their division and outside of the playoffs looking in.
Although they’ve dealt with injuries (currently 14 players are on the six-game injured list) and their defence hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, the majority of the blame for how their 2019 campaign has unfolded falls on their offence.
There’s no sugarcoating just how terrible their offensive attack has been. Any way you slice the numbers, they’re horrific.
The Redblacks have scored the fewest offensive touchdowns in the CFL: 12. That’s an average of 1.2 touchdowns in a three-down game built to enhance scoring. Because of that, it comes as no surprise that Ottawa has generated the fewest first downs (172), put up the second least offensive points (174), has the most two-and-outs (68) and a league-low second down conversion rate of 40.8 per cent.
Somehow the Redblacks have managed to run 576 offensive plays (second most in the league) but boast a league-low 5.3 yards per play. That’s also reflected by the fact that Ottawa has the second most passing attempts (354) but the least explosive plays, with just nine passing traveling 30 or more yards.
So given their offensive woes, what can the Redblacks do to attempt to salvage their season or at the very least, reinvigorate R-Nation as they head down the stretch?
Here are a few bye week possibilities for general manager Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell:
Abolish the committee
Perhaps the most basic and obvious move would be to simply kill the so-called offensive committee. Clearly receivers coach Winston October, quarterbacks coach Joe Paopao and running backs coach Beau Walker are extremely ineffective when working together to craft a game plan.
As the numbers bear out, their collaboration has been an unmitigated disaster and hasn’t shown any spark or growth or hope for the future. Campbell recently shuffled roles on the committee, stripping play-calling duties from October and handing them to Paopao, and flipping positional coaching for Paopao and Walker, but the offence remains just as unproductive.
There’s a reason coaching by committee is nearly unheard of; it doesn’t work.
Clearly there isn’t a magic solution to the problem but until he joined the Eskimos as a scout last week, Marcel Bellefueille, a long-time CFL coach with plenty of experience on the offensive side of the ball, was sitting at home.
It’s unlikely to happen but if Desjardins truly wanted to get aggressive and try to shake things up, he’d look for another former coach like Bellefueille, hire them specifically as an offensive coordinator and bring in a fresh, outside voice during the bye week.
Give the reins to Ardnt
Teammates and coaches can gush about Dominique Davis’ demeanour, work ethic and attitude, but the fact of the matter is he simply hasn’t gotten the job done. His tendency for early back-breaking interceptions has often dug holes the Redblacks haven’t been able to climb out of.
Backup Jonathon Jennings has also failed to impress, despite the numerous opportunities he’s had to showcase his skills.
That’s why putting rookie Will Arndt under centre could make sense.
By handing the reigns to Arndt, at the very least the Redblacks would have ample film to decide if he could potentially be their quarterback of the future. Davis and Jennings aren’t the answer and likely won’t be with the team next season, why not give Arndt a chance to grow, gain experience and show why he deserves to stick around in the nation’s capital?
It’s not like he can do any worse.
Add a veteran receiver
Outside of Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa’s receiving corps is young and unproven.
Players like Dominique Rhymes and R.J. Harris have flashed big play potential, but at this point in their careers, are simply too inconsistent to be counted upon on a weekly basis.
Given the youth in the group, it’s no surprise that Redblack receivers have at times, ran the wrong routes and failed to create separation. With only Sinopoli to key on, defences have been able to effectively neutralize Ottawa’s aerial attack.
The addition of a proven veteran receiver would go a long way to easing Sinopoli’s burden and opening up the field for others.
On the free agent market, there’s players like former Redblack Ernest Jackson, who since being cut by Montreal earlier this year, has been looking for work. There’s also names like Shamawd Chambers and Bakari Grant, both of whom would instantly provide an upgrade with their veteran presence.
If Desjardins was willing to part with an asset, trying to acquire someone like S.J. Green or even Duron Carter (both players on teams that won’t be making the playoffs) would be a slick move.
Bring in a Canadian quarterback
Given the fan apathy and discontent that has been brewing in the nation’s capital since the mass exodus of key offensive pieces in the off-season, one sure-fire way Desjardins could inject a shot of enthusiasm into R-Nation would be to trade for (and play) a Canadian quarterback.
Two candidates for such a trade are Michael O’Connor and Hugo Richard. Both are currently buried on their teams’ respective depth charts (O’Connor with the Argos and Richard with the Als) but handled themselves well in limited pre-season action.
Both earned Vanier Cup titles during prolific USports careers; O’Connor passed for 9,990 yards and 61 touchdowns while Richard had 10,271 yards and 70 touchdowns.
Adding either would instantly draw parallels to the last great Canadian quarterback to wear red and black; Russ Jackson. Adding Richard would also play well with the francophone fan base.
If Desjardins doesn’t want to roll a dice on an unproven rookie quarterback, veteran Brandon Bridge is also available. Bridge hasn’t exactly lit it up during stints with Montreal, Toronto and Saskatchewan, but he fits the mould of the quarterbacks already on Ottawa’s roster; mobile with a big arm.