Redblacks roll over and play dead (& eleven other thoughts on losing to the Lions)

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

In the last game of summer, the Ottawa Redblacks were blown out by the visiting B.C. Lions, losing by a score of 40-7.

The 21,573 members of R-Nation on hand watched the Redblacks lose their sixth consecutive game and fall to 1-6 on the season at TD Place.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) The good thing about the Jonathon Jennings era in the nation’s capital is that if the coaching staff has any sense, it’s over. Since being named the starting quarterback following Dominique Davis’ implosion in Regina in Week 11, Jennings has proven one thing and one thing only; his 5,000-yard season in 2016 was a fluke and he won’t be rediscovering any of that magic soon.

However you slice it, Jennings has been awful for the Redblacks and his performance against the Lions on Saturday night was just another reminder. By half-time Jennings had amassed a whopping 16 passing yards. Thanks to 41- and 43-yard strikes to DeVonte Dedmon and RJ Harris in the third quarter, Jennings managed to inflate his passing total to 121 yards before being pulled. On the night, Jennings went 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) for 121 yards, no touchdowns and a pick.

As has been the case since being named the starter, too often Jennings hesitated to throw the ball down the field and instead settled for check down passes. By the time he decided to try and stretch the field, it was too late. Of the nine drives he led, six resulted in two-and-outs. Only one put points on the board (a field goal).

2) Will Arndt came late in the third quarter and despite some rookie mistakes (tossing an interception that should’ve been thrown away), Arndt looked like everything Jennings wasn’t; decisive and unafraid to stretch the field by throwing up a pass to give his receivers a chance to make a play. Arndt completed 6-of-11 passes for 61 yards and interception in the four drives he was under centre.

Given that the Redblacks are out of playoff contention and playing for the future, handing Arndt the reins from here on out would be wise. Like all young quarterbacks the thing he needs most at this point in his career is playing time and the kind of reps you can’t simulate in practice.

3) I feel like a broken record harping on Ottawa’s offensive committee and Joe Paopao’s play-calling but since general manager Marcel Desjardins refuses to make in-season changes, you’ll have to read about it since I have to watch it.

Paopao’s opening drive wasn’t anything creative or earth-shattering, he simply dialled up run after run after run after run. But it worked, resulting in Ottawa’s longest drive of the night; spanning 10 plays and 68 yards. From there, it was all downhill. In all my years of football I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a CFL team have a worse quarter of offensive football than the Redblacks did in the second quarter against the Lions. Somehow Ottawa ran eight plays for minus six yards in three minutes and 37 seconds of possession. That’s it.

Of Ottawa’s 13 offensive possessions, nine lasted four plays or less. The Redblacks were 0-for-2 in the red zone and 10-of-21 on second down conversions (48 percent). When gifted a turnover from their defence they promptly went two and out. They averaged 5.1 yards per play and finished the night with 251 yards of net offence. For the twelfth game in a row, Ottawa lost the time of possession battle.

Most damningly, for the second week in a row, the Redblacks failed to find the end zone. In their last three games, the Redblacks have been outscored 115 to 25 (the other four points they “scored” during that span were safeties).

Even if he doesn’t hold the title of offensive coordinator, Paopao is the head of Ottawa’s committee and as such, the failure to produce falls squarely on his shoulders. Eventually, there should be consequences.

4) Six of Mossis Madu’s 12 carries came on the game’s opening drive. Afterwards, he was an afterthought in the offence. Still, Madu finished with 57 rushing yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He also made one catch for minus one-yard.

5) Not a banner night for Ottawa’s all-Canadian offensive line. The group came roaring out the gate, but after plowing huge holes in B.C.’s front seven on the opening drive, they failed to pick up a yard on a crucial early third and one. That set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Not only did Alex Mateas and company fail to consistently open up lanes afterwards, they also struggled to keep a clean pocket for the quarterback to step up into. Given the unit’s struggles, it really begs the question as to why American tackle Stephane Nembot was a game day scratch if he was healthy enough to dress.

6) How ineffective was the Redblacks’ receiving corps? RJ Harris had a team-high four catches for 88 yards. The next closest in terms of receptions was Brad Sinopoli’s three catches for 12 yards. In his first action since returning from injury, DeVonte Dedmon snagged two passes; a 41-yard bomb and a one-yard hitch screen that went nowhere fast. Nate Behar hauled in a pair of passes for 15 yards. Dominique Rhymes was targeted seven times but only connected with the quarterbacks once for a gain of 14.

7) It’s not often you can call a Noel Thorpe coached defence soft, but against B.C., the Redblacks were soft as three-ply. How easy was B.C.’s night? Not only did the Lions average 9.7 yards per first down play, but they also averaged 11.9 yards per second down play. B.C. generated 548 yards of net offence against the Redblacks; 420 in the air and 144 on the ground. The 40 points they hung on the Redblacks were a season-high.

Too often Ottawa’s defence looked lost on the field, failing to recognize what B.C. was doing or barring that, failing to execute Thorpe’s play calls. In the end, it was just too easy for B.C.

Mike Reilly had all day to sit in the pocket and Lion receivers repeatedly found themselves wide open, catching passes without a defender in a 10-yard vicinity. Even when defenders did manage to close on a runner, their tackling was sloppy, as evidenced by B.C.’s 155 yards after contact.

The Redblacks did sack Reilly once and also generated an interception, but it was too little, too late. Anthony Cioffi and Corey Tindal led the way with five tackles each. DeAndre Farris stood out too, but for the wrong reasons. Why he continues to start ahead of Sherrod Baltimore remains a mystery.

8) Lewis Ward reminded the league of his humanity, missing his third kick of the season, this one from 42 yards out. With the miss, Ward’s field goal percentage drops to 91.4, a fantastic number as long as it’s not held up against last season’s near perfect 98.1.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s special teams, when his teammates weren’t negating impressive returns with holds or illegal blocks, Stefan Logan found a way to move into third all-time on the CFL’s kick return list, trailing only Gizmo Williams and Pinball Clemons. Logan’s 10 returns went for 172 yards, a 17.2 yard average kick return.

Special teams tackle of the game goes to Nick McBeath for his third quarter tackle of Ryan Lankford on a kickoff return.

9) September is retro month around the CFL. The league has a line of retro merchandise it’s selling with old logos on shirts and hats. Some teams, like the Argos, have gone a step further and put those old logos (in their case the uber popular boat logo) on their helmets for home games. Others, like Saskatchewan, used retro jerseys (on Labour Day).

Given that OSEG was advertising this home game as retro night, it made sense to assume the Redblacks might do something similar. Especially due to the fact that Rough Rider legend Kaye Vaughan would be on hand to have his number retired and added to the Wall of Fame.

Adding #55 to the wall was well deserved and long overdue (Vaughan played on both sides of the ball during his 12 years in the nation’s capital, being named an all-star six times on offence and four on defence.) Not sure what was up with the lack of video tribute though. I know Vaughan played in the ’60s but the footage exists. Surely it wouldn’t have been that hard to dig and cut something up. Also, from a purely historical and aesthetic point of view, it was pretty lame to see Vaughn trot out in a customized Redblacks jersey on retro night.

The fact that OSEG chose not to unveil a retro jersey for this specific game during a league-wide retro month feels like a huge fail. Given that the season has gone sideways and the fan base is cranky, a tribute to the past in the form of a throwback jersey would’ve gone over extremely well. Even if retro jerseys were unfeasible, it’s hard to understand why retro Rough Rider decals couldn’t have been used on the helmets for this game.

Aside from the putrid play that harkened back to the worst of the Rough Rider and Renegade eras, it’s hard to know what exactly was retro about the so-called “retro game”.

10) Whoops. TSN’s in-game graphics in the first half kept showing Raiders and Rams logos on the field. Getting an early start on their Sunday NFL programming maybe?

11) The 40-7 defeat to B.C. isn’t just another loss, it’s the worst loss in Redblacks’ franchise history. It’s the team’s sixth straight loss and their tenth in the past 11 games.

Rick Campbell’s squad is playing like they’ve checked out. As devastating as losing to Toronto and B.C. (twice) has been to their infinitesimal playoff hopes, it’s been even worse for team morale. When you lose and get blown out by two teams with a combined 5-20 record, it shatters any notion of competitiveness you may have harboured.

And fans aren’t dumb, R-Nation knows the difference between a competitive team on a losing skid and an overmatched one. The 2019 Redblacks aren’t just bad, they’re arguably one of the worst teams in Ottawa’s 130 years of pro football.

Right now, the Redblacks aren’t scoring points, they aren’t stopping anyone from putting up points and they’re out of most games by the end of the first quarter. They’re not entertaining, and they’re not enjoyable to watch.

Frankly, those who continue to pack the stands and tune in deserve to be commended, because they clearly care more than some of the players they’re watching.

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).