Plenty of cause for concern (& 10 other thoughts on Ottawa being blown out by B.C.)

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

More than the scoreboard, the posture of Ottawa’s players late in their Week 6 game told the story succinctly.

They sat slouched on the benches, weary and wearing shellshocked looks on their faces.

In front of a loud crowd of 12,552 at BC Place, the Lions hammered the Redblacks 45-13, thrashing them in all three phases of play.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Dominique Davis’ play didn’t cost the Redblacks the game, but he also failed to do enough to help them win. He had moments where he shined. Ottawa’s second possession he was on fire; making quick reads, throwing darts, scrambling for a first down on a perfectly executed quarterback draw and capping it off with a beautiful 33-yard strike to Ryan Davis for a touchdown.

Unfortunately, that level of play wasn’t maintained for the rest of the contest. With Ottawa trailing by multiple scores for basically the entirety of the night, Davis dropped back 51 times. That led to 30 completions for 333 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was extremely lucky that a handful of other errant passes and poor decisions also weren’t picked off — B.C. defenders had their mitts on four catchable balls.

The pick he did throw couldn’t have come at a worse time. With the Redblacks staging somewhat of a rally to pull within 14, they had the ball on their 20-yard line with 58 seconds left in the half. Given the fact that they were getting the ball to start the second half, any points they put up on that drive would’ve gone a long way towards erasing an opening 30 minutes of play that was a comedy of errors. Instead, Davis seemingly locked onto his first read and was baited into throwing a pick-six. That was as close as Ottawa got to a comeback.

Davis’ arm strength is both his biggest asset and liability as a quarterback. It’s an asset because it allows him to fire passes into tight windows that other quarterbacks might not consider throwing. If the route has been well run and if his placement is good, it’s a completion. It also allows him to seemingly effortlessly stretch the field with long bombs. But it’s a weakness because that same strength that allows him to believe he can squeeze passes into tight windows, allows defenders to jump routes as they know the ball is coming quickly.

As mentioned at the start of this thought, Davis didn’t lose this game for the Redblacks, he just didn’t do enough for them to win either. I believe he should start coming out of the bye week versus the Ticats simply because of his mobility and the fact that he’s shown he can string together scoring drives. He just needs to be more consistent.

2) For multiple weeks now head coach Paul LaPolice has said his offence hadn’t been able to get creative and really get going because they weren’t running enough plays. That certainly was not the case against the Lions, where Ottawa ran a season-high 75 plays.

That did lead to some creativity; there was a direct snap to Ryan Davis on second and short that took advantage of his speed to sweep him to the edge. There was play action and there was plenty of motion. There was a perfectly timed quarterback draw. But even with all that, the Redblacks only averaged 5.5 yards per play.

The final numbers look good on paper, until you remember that Ottawa was chasing the game the entire night so B.C.’s defence played soft at times. They finished the game with 414 yards of offence; 27 first downs and a 45 percent conversion rate on second downs (14-of-31). Of the Redblacks’ 15 offensive possessions, seven resulted in more than 20 yards being gained. Three drives ended in points and another a missed field goal. Four ended with turnovers and five with punts.

There were a number of things that were concerning. 4.6 yards per first down play isn’t very efficient. Dedication to the run game is normally a good thing, but when you’re down two or three scores, consistently calling run plays on first down when your running back hasn’t show any ability to make something happen is simply a wasted play. On the play right before half where Davis threw the pick-six, almost none of the receivers were really stretching the field.

In that situation, given the clock and need for points, it was odd to have so many receivers running short routes. The Redblacks were faced with third and two twice in the fourth quarter and went for it both times, calling the same play both times, with the same result both times. A shotgun handoff to Timothy Flanders that was stuffed leading to a turnover on downs.

3) Flanders was handed the ball 15 times against the Lions and turned that into 40 yards. His 2.7 yards per carry average in Vancouver was a full yard less than his season average of 3.7 yards per carry. It’s not that Flanders doesn’t run hard, because he can when he chooses to — as illustrated below — but his running style seems slow; he doesn’t hit the holes hard and seems to be bouncing around waiting for lanes to develop. That works if your offensive line is very good, Ottawa’s is not. But Flanders could help them out by running more north and south as opposed to east and west.

Flanders’ night can be summarized by two plays. In the second quarter, when the game was still in reach and Ottawa was marching, Flanders was handed the ball on second and six. He ran towards the edge and when it looked like he could lower his shoulder and fall forward for the first down, instead, he allowed himself to be shuffled out of bounds and come up a full two yards short. The ensuing 48-yard field goal was missed and returned for a touchdown by Lucky Whitehead.

In the fourth quarter, Flanders caught a check down pass, one of his four receptions on the evening, and lowered his shoulder, plowing through two Lion defenders for a 17-yard gain. Where was that when Ottawa wasn’t down 29 points?

4) After a scary looking fall where he landed on his head, Ryan Davis returned to the game and finished the night with five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. In his second start of the year, Anthony Coombs looked shifty and explosive, turning 13 targets into eight receptions and 82 yards. Nate Behar made five catches for 61 yards, with two of them moving the chains, as we’ve come to expect. R.J. Harris had a quiet night four catches for 36 yards, but his most notable play came in the second quarter when he dropped a beautifully thrown deep ball that Davis could not have placed more perfectly. It hit him right in the hands and would’ve been a gain of at least 40 yards.

5) A shuffled offensive line — Juwann Bushell-Beatty replaced Tyler Catalina and Jamar McGloster replaced Na’Ty Rodgers — looked decent early on versus the Lions. But Bushell-Beatty exited with an injury which meant Mark Korte kicked out to tackle and Andrew Pickett came in at centre. The group was never quite as good after that. Ottawa was lucky to avoid further injuries in the trenches, as they had no other offensive linemen dressed.

Frankly, the Redblacks have played with fire when it comes to their game day rosters all season long. They’ve always dressed only one running back, which burned them in Week 2 when Flanders went down and primary kick returner DeVonte Dedmon was called upon to take handoffs. They’ve also never dressed more than six offensive linemen. I fully understand that special teams are important, but does it really make sense to have nine linebackers dressed, especially when it’s the same three out there every defensive series, if it means no depth at running back or offensive line?

6) A week after Mike Benevides’ defence had 51 points dropped on them by Montreal, the Lions carved his unit up just as effortlessly. Blown coverages, sloppy tackling and a complete lack of pressure on Michael Reilly in the pocket meant B.C. had it easy. At times, it was embarrassing to watch multiple defenders fail to make a routine tackle.

The Lions’ first three drives resulted in touchdowns. Reilly completed his first 10 attempts in a row because he had time to write a book on throwing touchdowns every time he dropped back to pass — it was literally pitch and catch.

Reilly’s strong performance — 22-of-26 for 319 yards with four touchdowns and one interception — was reflective of the Lions offensive dominance as a whole. B.C. came into the game averaging a CFL-best 7.5 yards per first down play and a 40.7 percent conversion rate on second down. Against the Redblacks they averaged 9.4 yards per first down play and had a 53 percent conversion rate on second down.

It wasn’t just that the Lions were putting up points, it’s how they were doing it that was so demoralizing. Every other drive it seemed like Reilly was hitting explosive plays.

It’s quite clear that the secondary is acutely feeling the sting of not having Abdul Kanneh and Sherrod Baltimore out on the field. For the second week in a row, rookies Marcus Lewis and Brad Muhammad were repeatedly victimized by the opposing quarterback.

Through the first three games of the year, Ottawa’s defence kept them in games. The last two weeks, the dams have burst and they’ve been unable to stop anything. Benevides will use the bye week to focus on fundamentals and hope the extra rest brings back some healthy bodies.

7) The tone for this game was set right off the opening kickoff when Chris Rainey caught the ball and scampered for 53 yards down the sidelines. He only failed to score because punter Richie Leone took a great angle to force him out of bounds.

Speaking of Leone, he was a busy man. In addition to preventing a touchdown, he threw a 29-yard pass to Randal Evans on a punt fake in the second quarter to keep a drive alive. He had to contend with a pair of poor long snaps from Frederic Chagnon, including one that skipped off the turf. His five punts averaged 49.2 yards per kick, the coverage units weren’t at their best and the total field position flip of Leone’s punts was 39.6 yards.

Poor kick coverage was the theme of the night, as Lewis Ward’s second miss of the season — a 48 yarder — proved costly when Whitehead returned it 119 yards for a touchdown.

Backup linebacker Shaheed Salmon had two special teams tackles which on its own isn’t much to write home about, but what is worth mentioning is that on both hits he arrived angry, causing the type of collision that makes you flinch at home on your couch.

8) Neat to see the different ways teams are choosing to show their appreciation for season ticket holders who stuck with them during the pandemic. In Ottawa, it’s a legacy wall (aka a giant buzzsaw with members’ names). In B.C., its autographed jerseys with a commemorative patch.

9) Must be something special in that West Coast water. During his time with the Redblacks, Rick Campbell was 4-10 following bye weeks, including ending his career with Ottawa on a five game post-bye losing streak. Quite clearly he’s figured it out now though.

10) With their fourth straight loss, the Redblacks are firmly entrenched as last in the East Division but also in the overall league standings. A quick glance around the CFL will show that most teams are competitive on any given night and that although the season is a quarter gone, you could make an argument for any team outside of the nation’s capital as being playoff bound.

Right now the Redblacks look demotivated as a group. They can’t string together consistent performances from all three units. If the defence dominates, the offence can’t move the ball. If the offence is moving the ball, the defence is a sieve. Special teams can typically be counted upon to be stout, but they aren’t without their blemishes either.

Nobody expected perfection from this Ottawa squad but on the heels of two blowout losses, the mood in the fan base is ugly. Putting the bye week to good use to come out of it with their right foot forward will be essential, not only towards salvaging what’s left of the season but in keeping R-Nation engaged.

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).