Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the Elks are 0-2 against Ottawa

I have taken up the task of writing about… whatever that was.

The Elks barely deserve to be a CFL franchise. The 2021 Redblacks are one of the worst teams in league history, and Edmonton is 0-2 against them. At the very least the team needs to rebrand again because there’s no coming back from that.

A few longer remarks, and then I’m going through the game in short form.

Coach E

The biggest X-factor for Edmonton coming into the season was coaching. Jaime Elizondo was a late hire, officially being named head coach on February 1 when Scott Milanovich left for the NFL. They had an excellent on-paper roster, but how would that translate onto the field?

There is already little faith left in him among fans, and it’s not an unreasonable guess at this point that he may be out of his depth. It would be one thing if we at least saw reliable progress, but we don’t.

The offence routinely looks slow — against mostly the league’s worst defences — and this is multiple games now where it has seemed like the team was totally unready to play. Back to back 14-0 first quarter holes. The game plans are failing completely. Maybe my biggest annoyance is that it’s started to feel like we’re watching a youth game where every player has to be involved and every player has to have fun.

Forget that. Scheme for Greg Ellingson and Derel Walker. Make Ottawa cover them, because I refuse to believe that duo couldn’t match what good offences like B.C. and Montreal have done, like Eugene Lewis and Jake Wieneke posting 120 yards and two touchdowns each a few games ago. Just for the heck of it, try to get both of them 15 targets next week. It can hardly be worse than the team’s 3.6 yards per play in the first half if not for the 77-yard bomb.

And please note, probably Edmonton’s best five minute stretch was after the punt return touchdown and it started with two straight completions to Walker, who they promptly forgot about again. After two targets in the first half Ellingson had six catches on six targets for 122 yards and a touchdown just in the second half. He would’ve had a second touchdown had Cornelius not badly underthrown a still-completed deep ball.

For all of Jason Maas’s faults in Edmonton, including a similar irrational love of sideways passing, he knew how to get the ball to his best playmakers. You’re paying them for a reason.

Elizondo needs to look back at what has made Walker so successful in the past. Simplify if you have to. Of receivers with at least 10 targets, SlotbackLabs gives Walker an average depth of target of 9.2 yards, good for 17th in the league through Week 8, and that drops to 9.0 and 23rd after Tuesday. I’ve watched him his whole career, and I would be shocked if it’s ever been that low. It’s not just about targets, but efficient targets.

The second half offence showed signs of life. They put up 17 points and a good batch of drives — total coincidence, I’m sure, that Ellingson was often featured — but were starting from too far back and ultimately doomed by a couple of rookie mistakes.

Taylor Cornelius

He’s at his best when he’s rolling and throwing on the run. I conjectured it before he took a snap against Winnipeg and nothing has changed my mind. He is very good at improvising, as seen on an early completion to Walker negated by a phantom hold and on all three of his touchdowns (but especially to Ellingson):

He also made a couple of nice plays from the pocket, most notably a 22-yard strike to Ellingson on second down at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, he had a nasty underthrow trend as well as a couple of serious blunders.

Too many of his throws bounced well short of the intended target, which TSN’s Jim Barker attributed to sloppy lower body work at halftime. And after the above mentioned strike he failed to see two wide open Elks, including Ellingson, instead locking in on a corner route to Mike Jones which fell victim to a back-cheating defensive back who read Cornelius. Turn that play positive and it’s suddenly a real game despite everything else.

Jones has been one of the bright spots this season relative to his role. Very sad that he only got one target, on the interception.

Cornelius also took a hilariously bad intentional grounding, scrambling well but waiting until far too late to throw it away and taking a 13-yard loss, though fortunately Sean Whyte ensured there was no lasting harm done. And his closing interception simply didn’t have enough on it as he was about to get hit.

There’s enough there to keep working with him, but he’s looked raw enough that I might lean towards giving Dakota Prukop the next non-Harris start.

De-ffffffffffence

I say Edmonton has a tremendously talented roster, yet many of the players — in particular on defence — committed errors you would expect from high school players. Derrick Moncrief jumped himself out of his shoes on Ottawa’s early trick play, followed immediately by Trumaine Washington leaving Ryan Davis 10 yards open in the end zone for the first touchdown. That was far from the first time a Redblack was left wide open.

The second Redblacks touchdown is becoming an alarmingly repetitive occurrence — multiple missed tackles as the ball carrier earns extra yards, then extra yards, then somehow a score. A few plays later even Jonathon Mincy, one of the league’s premier cornerbacks, was caught standing and watching as RJ Harris ran past him and made a 44-yard catch. Oh good, the first quarter is over.

Compound all of that with a bizarre lack of pressure that failed to force errors and earned only one sack. Their one defence is they started on a lot of short fields, mostly due to dreadful special teams play.

Even so, allowing 27 offensive points to Ottawa and their rookiest of rookie quarterbacks is unthinkable. This is a unit that held Michael Reilly, Lucky Whitehead, and the Lions to 128 passing yards a few weeks ago. Like the offence, a better second half was not enough to overcome major errors.

There is more patience for them and Noel Thorpe given their higher demonstrated ceiling and greater consistency, but little time to get back in a groove.

The boss

In his time as general manager, Brock Sunderland has never been slow to take a big swing to fix a problem. He’s already signed Moncrief mid-season. Frankly, the playoff picture is bleak enough that the season may not be salvageable. One of Montreal, Saskatchewan, and B.C. needs to lose multiple games they shouldn’t on top of Edmonton winning several they shouldn’t.

I don’t know if or when he’ll start feeling heat. As good as he’s been at acquiring quality players, clearly the organization is lacking in top to bottom cohesion and, you know, winning.

UPFIELD

I’ve never seen a team struggle so badly on second down and 0-3 yards. One second and one involved Shai Ross catching a pass on the line of scrimmage and — he’s far from the only receiver to do this — continue running sideways until he was tackled for a zero-yard gain.

I’ll point out, coaches always talk about getting into second and manageable. You still have to, ahem, convert them. If you can’t, you might as well aim for 10 yards on first down.

Derel Walker is an Elk

Maybe, I don’t know. Four targets? Tevaun Smith had nine. Backup running back Walter Fletcher also had four for a total of minus one yard? Inexcusable.

Six-foot-five

A couple people have made a big deal about Taylor Cornelius’s height. Someone might need to tell backup centre Tyler Higby that the quarterback is only six-foot-five because he managed to snap one way over Cornelius’s head. And Cornelius actually did very well to recover and throw it away.

I believe it was also Higby who, as Cornelius was successfully escaping pressure, ran into his quarterback and caused a hideous fourth quarter sack.

Un-pre-dictable!

Why yes, I did have DeVonte Dedmon in fantasy. Best returner against worst cover teams.

Edmonton’s best field position was starting from their own 43 yard line. Ottawa started in Elks territory four times meaningfully and twice more in the dying minutes.

Other specials

Sean Whyte was perfect when aiming at the uprights, making a 48-yard field goal and three converts. I’m sure he’d like a redo on the onside kick attempt that was too deep to be realistically recoverable. Hugh O’Neill had a couple of great punts and a couple of not great punts. Terry Williams continues to be quiet which is one of the bigger indictments of Edmonton’s special teams, because we know it’s not the returner’s fault.

Who is Caleb Evans?

I don’t know, but Edmonton let him complete 68 percent of his passes 15-of-22 for 191 yards and three touchdowns, plus seven rushes for 59 yards.

I was told there would be turnovers

The Redblacks have committed 19 turnovers this year. In two games against Edmonton? Zero.

Was anything good?

Ask me after Saskatchewan/Calgary finishes.

Haha, but seriously.

So my other football team is the New York Jets (it’s Ricky Ray’s fault). They lost 26-0 on Sunday and that was a better result than this.

What’s next?

Winnipeg. And then Winnipeg again. Fun! I’m gonna go have a cupcake.

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