Redblacks continue to free fall (& nine other thoughts on losing to the Argos)

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

On a beautiful fall evening at BMO Field, the Ottawa Redblacks lost their eighth straight game to the Toronto Argonauts, losing 28-21 in front of 10,368 fans.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Different quarterback, same result. In his first CFL start, Will Arndt didn’t quite look like a third stringer, but he also wasn’t the saviour many in the nation’s capital had hoped he could be. Overall, Arndt had a fairly decent game. He did some good things but also tossed a handful of ill-advised throws that turned into picks.

While Arndt has a long way to go before anyone begins to consider him the future, he did more than enough against the Argos to merit further playing time. Arndt completed 28-of-42 passes (67 percent) to eight different receivers for 288 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

As can be expected from a quarterback making his first pro start, early on Arndt frequently relied on his running backs, checking the ball down on safe (and easy) swing passes. But even if he finished the night with 10 targets towards his running backs, he also was unafraid to push the ball down the field. Evidenced by the fact that he targeted R.J. Harris, Dominique Rhymes and Brad Sinopoli a combined 26 times.

Although Arndt failed to finish the fourth quarter rally, the fact that he got better as the game went on bodes well for Ottawa’s chances of winning another game this calendar year. Despite it only being a single start, it’s quite clear that Arndt gives the Redblacks better odds of a victory than any other quarterback on the team’s roster.

2) On August 20th, head coach Rick Campbell made the decision to shake up his offensive committee by handing play-calling duties to Joe Paopao. Since then, the Redblacks have not only failed to win a game (losing six straight), they’ve also scored more than 20 points exactly once (Friday against the Argos). Coincidence? I think not.

Ottawa’s toothless attack mustered just 123 yards in the first half and finished the night with 310 yards of net offence. The Redblacks averaged 4.8 yards per first down play, converted 11-of-24 second down opportunities (46 percent), possessed the ball for almost 29 minutes and went 2-for-2 in the red zone.

Given that Paopao was managing a quarterback making his first start, it was surprising to see the run game basically ignored. Handing the ball to your running backs just eight times while asking the rookie wetting his feet for the very first time to drop back and throw 42 passes is hardly a recipe for success.

Of Ottawa’s 15 possessions, four resulted in points (two touchdowns and two field goals) and nine lasted five plays or less.

3) Despite being overlooked in terms of rushing the ball, the Canadian duo at running back still found a way to make an impact in the game, being active as check down options for the quarterback.

Brendan Gillanders gained 15 rushing yards on five carries but 45 receiving yards on six catches. Gillanders showed power, a quick burst and an ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Frankly, with his skill set, it’s criminal how little he’s been asked to pitch in on offence this season.

As for Greg Morris, he averaged 12 yards per carry (three rushes for 36 yards) and a single catch for four yards.

Combined, the two Canucks easily replaced the “production” the team was getting from American Mossis Madu, so look for the pair to continue to play down the stretch.

4) With right guard Nolan MacMillan out and on the six-game injured list, the Redblacks were forced to once again shuffle their offensive line. Mark Korte remained at left tackle, Evan Johnson flipped from right tackle to left guard, Alex Mateas continued at centre, Philippe Gagnon filled in for MacMillan and Stephane Nembot finally drew back in at right tackle.

All in the all, the group wasn’t terrible. They gave up a handful of sacks (four) but that’s kind of expected when you ask a rookie quarterback to drop back 42 times. Some of the sacks were on the offensive line for failing to make their blocks. At least one was on the quarterback for holding the ball too long. The hogs up front couldn’t really impose their will on the defence either (as the run game was rarely called upon) but the Redblacks still averaged nearly five yards per carry (4.9).

5) Thanks to a five catch, 70-yard performance, Dominique Rhymes becomes the sixth player in Redblacks’ franchise history to cross the 1,000 receiving yard mark in a season. Joining Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams and Diontae Spencer in the exclusive club.

That said, Rhymes’ 1,000-yard performance rings a bit hollow. Without overlooking how impressive it is to cross the 1,000-yard mark in the CFL, too often Rhymes was a non-factor in games this season, yet finished with a nice stat line thanks to a couple of deep catches in garbage time. Still, the history books don’t ask how, they ask how many, so congratulations to Rhymes for achieving a nice personal milestone.

6) Have yourself a game Kevin Brown. On a night when most players on the defence weren’t noticeable, the third year Indianapolis native was a force. Brown made three tackles, forced a fumble and snuffed out an Argos’ touchdown with a red zone interception.

As for the rest of the defence, Noel Thorpe’s unit made it look easy for Toronto, conceding 4.5 yards per rush and 8.1 per pass. The Argos racked up 28 first downs, 380 yards of net offence, converted 13-of-24 second down opportunities (54 percent) and went 3-for-5 in the red zone. Of Toronto’s 13 possessions, 10 lasted more than five plays.

7) Speaking of having their way with the defence, shout out to SJ Green who not only torched the Redblacks to the tune of 10 catches for 170 yards, but did so in historic fashion. Thanks to his massive performance against Ottawa, Green became the 18th player to join the 10,000-yard receiving club and made his 700th catch in the process. The 34-year-old has shown zero signs of slowing down and with three games left in the season, a seventh 1,000-yard campaign isn’t out of reach.

8) It was good to see Rick Campbell’s aggressiveness pay off thanks to excellent execution from his special teams. The Redblacks caught the Argos napping early in the third quarter with a perfect onside kick and recovered a second late in the fourth quarter to temporarily make things interesting. Full credit to Bob Dyce for having his unit ready when called upon.

Ottawa would’ve pulled off a fake field goal as well if not for a hellacious head shot on defensive end Nigel Romick. Thankfully the ensuing unnecessary roughness flag gave the Redblacks the first down anyways, even if the drive ended on the very next play with an interception.

9) With the loss, the Redblacks drop the season series with the Argos, extend their losing streak to eight games (second longest in franchise history) and are officially eliminated from the playoffs. In reality, Ottawa has been out of playoff contention for weeks but now it’s mathematically set in stone. It was only a matter of time given that Ottawa has now dropped 12 of their last 13 games.

For a team that hasn’t won since August 2, there’s really not much mystery about what ails them. In all three phases of the game, the Redblacks simply lack game changers. Although they have a couple of solid pieces who shine from time to time.

Overall, Campbell’s squad is carrying too many passengers. The off-season promises significant change but for anyone hoping to stick around and be part of the solution going forwards, the next three games loom large. More than even statistical production, the coaching staff will be looking for effort and execution.

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).