Redblacks’ dim playoff hopes blown away in loss to Argos (& nine other thoughts)

The coaching staff wore retro Rough Rider logos on their shirts but the team on the field played like the Renegades.

For the fourth straight time, the Ottawa Redblacks lost coming off a bye week, this time falling at home in a must-win situation against the Argos by a score of 46-17.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) During the bye week, GM Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell had a number of things they could’ve done to improve their offence. The only thing they wound up doing was handing the reins to Jonathon Jennings, due to the simple fact that he was not named Dominique Davis.

If you judge Jennings’ performance against the Argos solely based on his numbers, they actually aren’t that bad. Jennings completed 33-of-42 passes (78 percent) for 327 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

But what those numbers don’t reflect is how hesitant Jennings was to push the ball downfield. In fact, only three of his 33 passes went for gains of 20 or more yards. By my conservative count, a dozen of Jennings’ passes were short swing passes into the flats.

Too often Jennings was content to check the ball down, even in situations where it made no sense to do so. Often on second and long Jennings dumped the ball off for a small gain well short of the first down marker. Even on third and 11 in the fourth quarter, when trailing by 22 points, Jennings threw a three-yard completion.

Furthermore, he missed a handful of opportunities to put points on the board. First there was the first quarter end zone interception. Then came overthrowing a wide open Dominique Rhymes for what would’ve been touchdown. Finally there was an overthrown ball to Mossis Madu that would’ve been another touchdown.

Whether it’s due to coaching or because he’s trigger shy, if Jennings is to remain under centre he needs to do a better job of stretching the field instead of settling for the easy check down option that the defence will always provide.

2) The offensive committee led by Joe Paopao had the entire bye week to come up with ways to improve Ottawa’s last ranked offence. While they did some things right (introducing the occasional play-action pass, moving the pocket with rollouts once in awhile), more often than not it was the same un-inspired scheme R-Nation has been forced to watch all season long.

The key issues that have plagued the Redblacks all year yet again reared their ugly head against Toronto.

The offence converted just 9-of-22 second down opportunities (41 percent). The run to pass ratio was a staggering 10 to 49. They had five turnovers (three fumbles, an interception and a turnover on downs). They failed to capitalize when the defence forced a takeaway (turning a fumble and two interceptions into just seven points). They went 1-for-4 in the red zone. They were outscored 28-4 in the second half. Of their 17 offensive possessions, just one resulted in a touchdown. Nine of those possessions lasted four plays or less.

Given that everyone with a pair of eyes can see Ottawa’s offensive committee isn’t working, it’s hard to understand why Desjardins refuses to make significant and structural changes. The ideal time would’ve been during the bye week but with that behind him, it’s hard to say if R-Nation should expect anything other the status quo for the rest of 2019.

3) With John Crockett landing on the six-game injured list, ball carrying duties fell to Mossis Madu. Madu’s number was rarely called and when it was, he didn’t do much, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. But as an option in the passing game, nobody on the offence saw more targets than Madu. Jennings looked Madu’s way 14 times, and they connected for 12 receptions and 83 yards, with 80 of those coming after the catch.

4) With right tackle Stephane Nembot missing the game due to injury, the Redblacks shuffled their offensive line, returning to an all-Canadian group. Mark Korte remained at left tackle, Philippe Gagnon saw his first action of the season at left guard, Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan were at their usual positions and Evan Johnson kicked out to right tackle.

Despite giving up three sacks, the group played well. Given that Ottawa’s quarterbacks dropped back 49 times to pass, conceding only three sacks is commendable. They didn’t open many lanes in the ground game but weren’t given too many opportunities to do so either. Still, when the Redblacks did run the ball they averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

5) It was one of the better games this season from Ottawa’s receiving corps but that’s not really saying much. Dominique Rhymes and Brad Sinopoli led the way with eight catches apiece and 98 and 63 yards respectively. Sinopoli hauled in his third touchdown of the season but also had a costly third quarter fumble.

As for everyone else, both Nate Behar and Jerminic Smith caught everything thrown their way, combining for eight catches and 101 yards. RJ Harris continues to underwhelm, turning six targets into two catches for 26 yards. Jacob Scarfone caught one pass for one yard.

6) Another game another 400-plus yards allowed by Noel Thorpe’s defence. Led by strong performances from Justin Howell and DeAndre Ferris, the Redblacks’ defence did some good things.

They forced three turnovers, knocked down five passes and harassed McLeod Bethel-Thompson often, sacking him three times.

Yet for the second game in a row, they allowed a team to put up more than 40 points on them. They couldn’t stop the Argos in the red zone, as Toronto went 3-for-4. They struggled to get off the field on second down, allowing the Argos to convert 57 percent of their second down opportunities (13-of-23). Five of Toronto’s drives lasted seven plays or more. There were too many missed tackles.

And this week, the defence can’t even blame it on being on the field for too long either. The Argos possessed the ball for “just” 31 minutes, a full five minutes less than they are normally on the field for.

7) Classy move by the Redblacks to recognize Lewis Ward’s historic streak of 69 consecutive field goals with a custom painting. Speaking of Ward, he reminded everyone he was human again, missing a kick for the second time this season but also connecting on 45, 16 and 42 yard field goals.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s special teams, Richie Leone shanked a punt in the second quarter but still wound up with a 44 yard net average on the day. The 38 year old Stefan Logan continues to prove that age is just a number, averaging 12 yards per punt return and 22 per kick off return. He also had a nice return touchdown if you ignore the five flags it drew. Shoutout to Nigel Romick for the hit of the game while covering a kick in the first half.

8) Ottawa really can’t catch a break. Coming into the game they had a league-high fifteen players on the six-game injured list. Canadian safety Antoine Pruneau was hurt on the game’s opening kickoff, left briefly, returned and left the game again before the first quarter ended. Pruneau spent the rest of the game on the sidelines wearing a boot and on crutches. Nate Behar also limped off the field late in the fourth quarter.

9) So where do the Redblacks go from here? With the loss, they drop to 3-8 on the season; three games back of the Alouettes and six games back of the Ticats. As a crossover team is nearly a certainty, the Redblacks dim playoff hopes are now on life support. When you can’t beat a one-win team at home, in a must-win game, coming off a bye, even the most optimistic fan needs to realize that making the playoffs are a pipe dream.

The 2019 Redblacks aren’t an unlucky team losing close games, they’re a team running a horrific offensive scheme with players who would be backups on any other squad. They’re a team that looks worse than they did in their expansion season six years ago but one where the coach and GM seem to insist it’s really not that bad because the players are working hard.

The most difficult part of the whole situation is that there’s not much that can be done at this point of the year.

Firing Campbell makes no sense because when given a real coaching staff and reliable players, he’s shown he’s capable of repeatedly leading his team to Grey Cup appearances.

Firing the GM doesn’t help matters either, but he should be held accountable for his role in the off-season decisions that were made which resulted in this mess.

Abolishing the offensive committee would be a solid first step towards placating fans but if Desjardins couldn’t find an offensive coordinator in May, he certainly won’t find one in September.

Cutting players sends a message but those sent packing will in turn be replaced by younger players who will need to go through growing pains.

Ultimately the Redblacks as an organization need to take a week-by-week approach. Fans might not like it but perhaps R-Nation’s surly mood could be improved if someone in the organization gave a public mea culpa, admitted mistakes were made and stated a plan to use the rest of the season to build for the future.

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