Monday Mailbag: Ottawa’s weird schedule, are offensive lines getting worse?

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The 3DownNation Monday Mailbag answers questions from readers across the country every week and is back following a brief hiatus.

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We’ve answered a handful of questions below. If your question didn’t get picked, don’t panic — we’ll save it to potentially answer here next week or on the 3DownNation Podcast.

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I am curious about why the Redblacks had a game on a Wednesday followed by a Tuesday game.

Traditionally, games are Thursday through Sunday (with the exception of holiday Mondays), so is it something connected to the 67’s hockey schedule as they basically share the same facility or would it be a TSN thing? Hoping this is a one-time blip in scheduling.

-Karen Ironside

Thanks for the question, Karen.

The CFL is clearly doing everything it can to avoid competing directly with the NFL. They stopped playing on Thursday nights as soon as games got underway down south and they don’t have any more regular season games slated for Sundays.

Every league has scheduling challenges, but the CFL can be especially tough due to shared facilities and its odd number of teams. This year was particularly strange from a scheduling standpoint because the early games all needed to be played out west due to COVID-19 restrictions being tougher in Ontario and Quebec.

Ottawa got the weirdest schedule in the league with two Wednesday games, a Tuesday game, and no matchups against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’d have to go through the schedule again to be sure, but I believe they’re the only team (along with Winnipeg, of course) that doesn’t play every other team at least once.

My understanding is that TSN does not like having midweek games as it’s easy for casual fans to miss a random game on a Tuesday or Wednesday. It can also cause a competitive imbalance with some teams being forced into short weeks before or after playing a midweek game.

Hopefully the 2022 season will be pandemic-free and include a “normal” schedule, but the league will always face some challenges until there’s a tenth team to help balance things out.

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What is with the bad O-line play across the league? B.C., Ottawa, Hamilton, Edmonton, etc. have all had consistently bad O-line play so far.

I get COVID protocols and retirements have delayed making improvements. But with the number of players available from America, why have teams not brought in some quality guys to make an improvement?

Put them in their quarantine and then get them in practice. Teams could already have players ready by now. Teams have been able to bring in players for other positions. Why not O-line?

-Alex Hayes

Thanks for the question, Alex.

Your suggestion that offensive line play has been poor this year inspired me to run some numbers.

There have been 150 sacks over 34 games so far this season, a rate of 4.4 per game. This is not a significant increase over recent years as there were 4.5 sacks per game in 2019, 4.3 in 2018, 4.3 in 2017, and 4.7 in 2016.

Teams have rushed the ball 1,299 times this season for 6,318 yards, an average of 4.9 yards-per-carry. This is a slight decrease from recent seasons with an average of 5.1 in 2019, 5.3 in 2018, 5.2 in 2017, and 5.1 in 2016.

Not having players like Brendon LaBatte, Mike Filer, Alex Mateas, Derek Dennis, and Shane Bergman on the field has certainly hurt offences this year, but problems surrounding the position aren’t exclusive to the CFL.

Do a Google search for “NFL shortage of offensive linemen.” You’ll get a ton of articles about the topic written almost exclusively over the past five years with no single diagnosis.

There simply aren’t that many pro-calibre offensive linemen available, even south of the border. NFL offensive line coach Tom Cable once famously said that he’d rather draft defensive players and covert them to the O-line because at least they won’t have developed bad habits. That’s how little he thinks of O-linemen at the college level.

One thing I feel strongly about is the CFL increasing the amount of contact in practice, at least for players along the line of scrimmage. You can learn to run routes and throw route trees without making contact with another player. Learning to block is a different story.

Player safety is paramount, but generations of blockers hit in practice every day for the full season. I’m not suggesting that the CFL should go back to that, but maybe offensive linemen could handle one day of fully-padded contact per week rather than the zero they get now.