A talent-deprived opponent, injured playmakers and heavy rainfall are rarely the recipe for an exciting football game and Saturday was sadly no exception, as the B.C. Lions slogged to a 24-12 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks.
Here are my thought on the game.
Back in town
With fans returning to TD Place for the first time since before the pandemic, it was a poetic move by the schedule makers to make sure it was also the return of B.C. Lions head coach Rick Campbell to the city where he helped revive football.
In the end, the result was the same as when he wore plaid. Rick Campbell has been on the sideline for all seven home-openers in Redblacks’ history and he has never lost. Ottawa now has.
“I appreciate this town. Like I said, I’ve lived here so that was the biggest part for me. Once the game got started, I was just focused on the game and getting the win,” Campbell downplayed post-game. “That’s always big to get a win on the road, but I definitely appreciate my time that I had here.”
While he finished his stint in the nation’s capital with a losing record, Campbell is third in Ottawa history with 44 head coaching wins. He took the team to three Grey Cups, winning once. The success of his tenure, particularly in big moments, helped turn R-Nation into one of the league’s best fanbases and TD Place into one of its most vibrant game-day atmospheres.
His unceremonious departure after a 3-15 season in 2019 was the end of one of the most important eras in Ottawa sporting history.
Campbell wasn’t without fault for the way the situation in Ottawa ended, but it would have been extremely difficult for any coach to win with the roster that general manager Marcel Desjardins handed him in 2019. The team’s continued lack of talent two years later shows exactly where the blame should have landed, but instead it was Campbell who left.
The man now in charge of the Lions isn’t one for grudges or payback, but no matter how much he downplayed this win it must have been a little sweeter.
Better safe than sorry
The Redblacks were starting a pair of rookies at corner and a Canadian backup at the field-side halfback spot on Saturday. It was a defence that was practically begging to be tested deep by a dynamic Lions’ receiving corps, but the visitors resisted the temptation and it proved to be smart coaching.
“I didn’t even hear about the changes on the depth chart and the injuries until we landed here in Ottawa. It’s not like we spent the whole week preparing to have these young guys in and to be quite honest with you, they wouldn’t really change how we were going to operate,” quarterback Michael Reilly explained afterwards.
B.C. entered the game with a pair of rookie American tackles in Jarrell Broxton and Kent Perkins, a situation that got worse when Broxton went down and had to be replaced by Canadian David Knevel. It was abundantly clear that the Lions didn’t trust their bookends to take true pass sets right off the bat, and they built their game-plan around making their job easier.
The Lions stressed the run early, using plenty of zone concepts to get the defence moving laterally and open up natural running lanes for Shaq Cooper, who finished with 71 yards on the ground. That set up more Michael Reilly rollouts than they have typically used this season and allowed for a number of quick wide receiver screens.
When they did drop back, fullback David Mackie and big receiver Jevon Cottoy provided the consistent threat of a chip off the edge. All of it got the young tackles comfortable and prevented the Redblacks’ pass rush from truly pinning back their ears. The result was a much better outing from the banged up offensive line.
The downfield passing attack got better as the game went on, but injuries to starters Dominique Rhymes and Lemar Durant, as well as a torrential downpour, kept it from ever really catching fire. That didn’t matter because despite lacking excitement, the Lions executed their strategy to keep the offence running smoothly and grind down the Ottawa defence perfectly.
Against a hampered Matt Nichols and a Redblacks team lacking weapons, that’s all that was needed.
Ode to Cottoy
The Lions suffered some devastating losses in their receiving corps against Ottawa, but they got a career night from Jevon Cottoy in relief that sure makes it look like the young receiver has taken the next step in his development.
Signed as a territorial exemption from the B.C. junior ranks, Cottoy started his entire rookie season in 2019 and had plenty of ups and downs. His massive frame drew NFL interest as a tight end, but he still needed lots of seasoning. The plan was for it to be in a backup role this season, but he certainly made a case for more play-time on Saturday.
Entering the game early in the first, Cottoy led the Lions with five catches for 93 yards and a juggling 46-yard receiving touchdown. His quarterback was quick to add after the game that he should have had another score as well, but Reilly incorrectly opted to handoff on the RPO and settle for a field goal.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 29, 2021
“He’s a guy that we were working really hard to get re-signed here during the off-season because of his potential. He’s a great player, great athlete and just a soft-spoken guy, so it was good to see him have success,” Reilly said of the young pass catcher.
“It’s tough for guys like him and [Jacob] Scarfone to be put into this situation where they’ve got to come in and play meaningful snaps when during the week of practice, they’re not really getting that time. It just shows that they utilized the mental reps.”
I’d love to have a quote here from Cottoy about what the break-out performance meant to him, but unfortunately he was tied up post-game after being selected for “random” drug testing. That’s the way it goes when you surprise everyone like he did.
Got away with one
Success in football is equal parts talent and luck, and the Lions got an early break in Ottawa that helped propel them to victory.
After the Redblacks drove the field in the first quarter, Matt Nichols’ end zone pass to Charone Peake fell incomplete and forced a chip shot field goal. On the play, rookie corner Jalon Edwards-Cooper got away with a bit of a bump and faceguard that helped disrupt the connection. It could have been called pass interference but it wasn’t, and Paul LaPolice elected not to challenge.
In a low-scoring game, those four points made a difference and helped stall Ottawa’s momentum. Better to be lucky than good, I guess.
Nice guys finish last
Sometimes doing the right thing blows up in your face, just ask the Ottawa Redblacks when it comes to Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams.
Born and raised south of the border, Williams was about to sign with the Redblacks as an American when they discovered his mother was a Canadian citizen. Ottawa did their duty, informing the exciting young prospect that he could improve his career hopes if he didn’t sign with them and instead applied for Canadian citizenship and the CFL draft. Williams walked away and I’m sure they’ll wonder what could have happened had they not got to chatting on that day for many years to come.
Adding insult to injury, the Redblacks still could have got their man with the first overall pick in the 2020 CFL Draft, but they traded it to Calgary for the rights to quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who they proceeded to nickel and dime out of town. The Lions were the beneficiaries, trading up with the Stamps to acquire Ottawa’s pick and the potentially generational talent.
“I was here when he came here to Ottawa as an American linebacker and then found out his mom was born in Toronto. He became Canadian, he was patient and we were really excited to get him in the draft,” Rick Campbell said of the Lions young standout.
“He’s really a CFL-type linebacker in that he’s really quick and can literally go sideline to sideline. We feel lucky to have him”
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 29, 2021
“He’s so fast and he’s slippery. Most important, he listens and he takes the coaching from his players and his coaches very well,” veteran TJ Lee added. “It’s showing on the field.”
Williams’ first game in Ottawa was everything they might have hoped for had he been wearing a different jersey. He finished with eight tackles and an impressive interception that showed off his special athleticism. But he did it for B.C. and that’s got to sting just a little bit.
The B.C. Lions defence gave up some yardage underneath to the Redblacks, but it never seemed like they were threatened by their opponent. As halfback TJ Lee explained post-game, it was because Ottawa did exactly what they expected them to.
“When we watched film, we saw their first down tendencies and things that they like to do,” he said. “They like to establish a rhythm and based on their offensive coordinator’s play-calling, we know on first down they like to get Matt Nichols a rhythm throw or do some type of trick play. Then on second down, it’s a lot of stick routes. We anticipated it and we came out and did what you’re supposed to do.”
I don’t know if Ottawa has the talent to change that formula up at all, but seeing your whole offence reduced to two sentences has got to be concerning for R-Nation.
Red and black, not black and blue
It wasn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but I once again felt extremely underwhelmed by B.C.’s defensive line.
Ottawa’s offensive line is one of the league’s worst units right now but I don’t think Matt Nichols is going to be particularly sore tomorrow based on what the Lions were able to do up front. There were some pressures and a couple sacks, but not much in the way of meaningful hits on the quarterback.
Some of that is because Ottawa gets the ball out quick, but the rest comes down to inconsistency from the B.C. defensive line. The team is currently looking at options to get a sixth American pass rusher on the roster and it can’t come soon enough because this team needs more juice.
If there was one negative takeaway from Saturday’s win, it might be that it is time to get concerned about the B.C. Lions special teams units.
They’ve finally squared away the kicking game with Jimmy Camacho, but they soundly lost the field position battle against Ottawa. DeVonte Dedmon had a pair of nice returns that came down to poor tackling and lax lane discipline, while Chris Rainey had almost no space to work with on the Lions’ returns.
Rainey looked like his much younger self in training camp and has shown some flashes on offence this season, but it hasn’t translated as a returner. He’s well down the league list when it comes to average yardage on both punts and kickoffs, and looked a lot less dangerous this week.
Whether the issue is scheme, execution, or the returner itself, improvement needs to made in the game’s third phase and Don Yanowsky needs to do it quickly.
Stifle a yawn
Somehow I’ve managed to stretch 2,000 words out of this game because I am nothing if not long-winded and self-important, but it really wasn’t a contest worth all that typing. Like too many CFL games the past few weeks, it verged on dreadfully boring.
I think we all expected some sloppy play and poor games after a year away from the sport and no preseason, but I for one figured the ship would be righted by Week 4. It hasn’t been and offences continue to operate at a snail’s pace. Even a lover of defensive football has to admit it’s gotten a bit dry.
Time is unfortunately the only cure for this issue and offences will get their chemistry back eventually, but boy do I hope it happens soon.