Redblacks outcoached, again (& 13 other thoughts on Ottawa losing to Winnipeg)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

In any loss, fans will look for the positives.

It’s a natural reaction. When there are signs of growth, hope takes root as fans see those in charge recognizing the same issues as they do and working to improve those weaknesses.

Natural positivity be damned, football fans in the nation’s capital are understandably frustrated this morning. For the second week in a row, their team deserved a better fate but were defeated once again thanks to sloppy play and self-inflicted wounds, this time by a score of 19-12 to the visiting Grey Cup champions.

Most maddening? Many of the things that cost them the victory last week were also responsible for this second defeat.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Isn’t it fun to watch Jeremiah Masoli play football?

For the first time since Henry Burris was under centre, the Redblacks have a quarterback who forces opposing defences to defend every blade of grass because he can put a pass anywhere on the field.

In addition to his big arm, Masoli’s improvisational skills when the pocket breaks down leaves R-Nation holding their breath in awe — and sometimes slight dread. He often makes something from nothing, as demonstrated a couple of times last night, most notably on a nifty shovel pass to his running back that turned a sure-fire sack into a modest positive gain.

The 33-year-old yet again carved up the Bombers’ defence, dropping dimes as he completed 27-of-38 pass attempts for 331 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

With Masoli directing their attack, it’s clear the Redblacks will continue to move the ball, but they’ll need to figure out how to finish drives with touchdowns as opposed to field goals.

2) Just like last week, head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice was able to march his offence up and down the field. Just like last week, touchdowns were hard to come by. And just like last week, there were puzzling play-calls and atrocious clock management that took points off the board.

On one hand, it’s easy to point to the 24 first downs and 394 yards of net offence the Redblacks put up against the Bombers and believe all is well with Ottawa’s attack.

On the other hand, over the two-game series with Winnipeg, LaPolice’s attack — full of talented, dangerous weapons that racked up 825 yards of offence — scored just a single touchdown in 25 possessions; going 0-for-11 on drives and 0-for-4 in the red zone last night.

Their inability to capitalize after turnovers needs to be fixed too. When your defence hands you momentum, it’s criminal to turn around and go two and out.

LaPolice did some good things with how he used play-action and screens and moved the pocket to help offset some of the pressure brought by Winnipeg’s front seven. At the same time, he made some truly bizarre calls.

For example, immediately after Masoli hooked up with Darvin Adams on a 48-yard bomb to bring the ball down to Winnipeg’s 22-yard line, LaPolice dialled up a double-reverse flea-flicker. When you’ve got Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat coming off the edges, you just can’t call such a long-developing play. That’s asking way too much of tackles Ucambre Williams and Dino Boyd. Fans going from cheering a 48-yard completion to watching Masoli take a 14-yard sack is a sure way to deflate a building.

Furthermore, when trailing 13-12 early in the fourth quarter, the Redblacks were facing 3rd and inches on Winnipeg’s 17-yard line. While I completely agree with the decision to go for it — third and inches should be automatic in the CFL — it made zero sense for the offence to rush up to the line in the gusting rain and hurry a quarterback sneak with their QB1. Either Ottawa should have marched out Caleb Evans and their jumbo/heavy short-yardage personnel or they should have let Lewis Ward give them the lead.

Instead, Masoli fumbled, Devonte Williams recovered but apparently didn’t know it was third down since he chose to simply sit on the ball, and following the resulting turnover on downs, Winnipeg marched down the field to score the game-winning points.

3) Speaking of situational awareness, for the second week in a row LaPolice bungled the clock at the end of the first half. Last week, it directly cost the team three points. Don’t forget, Ottawa lost by only two.

In post-game interviews and other media appearances during the week, the coach refused to personally take responsibility for not calling a timeout, saying it was a collective failure and the players should have known that it was situationally appropriate to do so on their own.

Sorry, but that’s not how it works. As the guy on the sidelines, the buck stops with the coach in terms of controlling the clock. Ownership for managing the clock is a coach’s job, not a player’s.

And still, it’s as if nothing was learned from last week’s loss.

Yet again, Ottawa had the ball and was driving in the last minute of the first half. This time, they were on the edge of field goal range, Winnipeg’s 50-yard line. Yet again, they had a timeout in hand and 11 seconds left on the clock.

Did they come away with Lewis Ward attempting a 57-yard field goal? No. Did they call a timeout to stop the clock giving them, at worst, two more plays to make it a shorter attempt? No. Did they instead settle for a Hail Mary attempt that was fortunate not to be picked off? Yes.

It’s baffling that a veteran coach has failed at something so basic as properly using his timeouts to end a half in consecutive weeks.

4) I feel awful for Canadian running back and former Ottawa Gee-Gee Jackson Bennett. His family and friends were excited about the home opener, as reflected by the fact that nearly half of an entire section on the lower South Side was sporting his jersey. Instead of seeing him make plays, they watched him stand around on the sidelines, as he landed on the one-game injured list this week. Hopefully, he’s back in action after the team’s bye.

5) With Bennett and Brendan Gillanders on the one-game injured list and the 34-year-old William Powell on the shelf with an Achilles injury, the only back dressed for the game was Devonte Williams.

The rookie American has a nice burst and an ability to make defenders miss in space, but I’m not sure his shifty running style is ideal for pounding the ball between the tackles in the rain.

Williams finished the night with 12 carries for 85 yards and three catches for three yards.

Another thing that should be mentioned is that Williams was instrumental in helping pick up the blitz, making several key blocks to buy Masoli time to step into throws.

6) Carleton product Nate Behar must have known that Brad Sinopoli was in the building on Friday because he did a hell of a good impression, turning his seven targets over the middle into seven tough catches for 91 yards.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Adams was targeted six times but only managed to haul in a pair of passes for 64 yards. Jaelon Acklin made seven catches for 77 yards but I was almost equally impressed with his downfield run blocking as I was with his hands.

Ex-NFLer Justin Hardy also made seven catches, including a few acrobatic highlight reel snags. Finally, Shaq Johnson hauled in the Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half, but his three other targets fell incomplete.

7) It’s only the second game of the season, but the Redblacks have already achieved something that they failed to do throughout the entirety of the 2021 campaign: starting the same group of players along the offensive line in consecutive weeks.

Once again, from left to right, they lined up with American Ucambre Williams at left tackle, Canadians Hunter Steward, Darius Ciraco and Jacob Ruby in the interior and American Dino Boyd at right tackle.

Although the group gave up more sacks (three) than last week, they fared well overall considering the Bombers’ defence got a huge boost with defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat returning to the lineup. He’s just as, if not more, disruptive than Jefferson.

8) Mike Benevides’ defence had a good game, notching sacks, pressuring Collaros to throw before he was ready and generating turnovers. However, when the team needed a stop, the defence failed to come up with one.

The positive is that of the Bombers’ eleven offensive possessions, seven went for less than 25 yards.

The negative was that after playing lights out for 29 minutes of the opening half, the Bombers were allowed to drive down the field and score a touchdown in the dying seconds.

Worse still, following a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, the Bombers were once again able to drive the length of the field, going 10 plays and 89 yards while chewing 5:50 off the clock and scoring the game-winning points.

Linebacker Frankie Griffin balled out — noticeably playing hard to the very final whistle — finishing with a game-high eight tackles. As for the rest of the defence, Avery Williams made six tackles, Money Hunter had five and an interception, and defensive linemen Lorenzo Mauldin and Tre Hornbuckle each recorded a sack.

9) After an early miss, Lewis Ward was money, finishing the night with field goals of 27, 37, 32 and 38 yards.

Punter Richie Leone was less than stellar, shanking an early kick and finishing with a net average positional flip of just 34.7 yards per punt. The strong winds and wet weather were clearly a factor.

R-Nation has come to expect perfection — or something close to it — from Bob Dyce’s unit, so it was beyond weird to see Adam Auclair kill any chance of a final comeback drive by running into the punter at the end of the game.

It was doubly odd because it’s not like he was laying out for the block, he just seemed to have a brain fart.

10) The flag on Auclair that ended the game was part of a larger pattern of reckless and sloppy behaviour from the Redblacks as a whole. Ottawa was flagged 10 times for 96 yards, with four of those flags being 15-yarders that extended Blue Bomber drives.

To be completely fair, some of the calls were awful. An unnecessary roughness flag on Hunter for doing nothing more than making a hard defensive hit to break up a pass was essentially the Command Centre gifting Winnipeg with a field goal. The worst part of the call was that it was painfully obvious that Hunter let up, turning his body away from the receiver and contact.

Also, if the Command Centre can buzz down to change an offside to a procedure — as they did in the second quarter — surely it can call down to say the 15-yard facemask on Griffin — which also led to a field goal — was nothing more than a hand on a collar?

Not a banner night from the zebras by any stretch.

11) It might not have been a sell-out, but the fact that 22,185 fans still showed up on Friday is a testament to R-Nation because this team continues to be inexplicably terrible at home.

In fact, since losing the 2018 Grey Cup, the Redblacks have gone 2-15 while playing in front of their own fans. The team’s last two home wins came on September 28, 2021, and before that, June 20, 2019.

That said, if there were ever a game they were going to win, it should have been this one. Ottawa is a CFL-best 4-1-2 in home openers since 2014. Alas, it was not to be.

Further adding to the disappointment of their on-the-field performance is that either OSEG or TD Place has made the incomprehensible decision to — without warning or any prior communication — ban fans from bringing in flags. To be clear, there was nothing new about these flags. They were the same ones that fans have been bringing into the stadium for years.

Yet, according to multiple Twitter reports, numerous members of R-Nation were accosted and had their flags seized, while others were kicked out of the game.

This seems to have occurred on the South Side, which, of course, is home to the Southsiders. You might have heard of them, those die-hards who have been showing up with paint on their faces and waving flags since 1980. You might have seen them, those fans that the team and league love to use in photos to market the game-day experience.

Now, perhaps this was simply the result of overzealous security working their first game but if this is indeed a new policy, it’s an indefensible position for the organization to take.

People having flags — ESPECIALLY on the South Side — has never been an issue and it certainly didn’t become one during COVID when everyone was at home.

Hopefully, the team does the right thing, issues an apology, returns the confiscated flags and common sense prevails.

12) Congratulations to all the new Hall of Fame inductees. Their careers and contributions to the game were legendary and their accomplishments will now live on in immortality.

It’s a shame that whoever sets the schedule for these things decided the very best time to hold this ceremony was on a Friday night during a regular-season game.

Why not make it an event and treat it with the regality it deserves? Why not make a huge production and have TSN carry the show live, complete with highlight packages, snazzy graphics and induction speeches from those going into the Hall? This could be done during the pre-season, like in the NFL.

Think of how many members of R-Nation would have made the trip down to Hamilton for the weekend if they had had the opportunity to be a part of the event. Hell, even OSEG President & CEO Mark Goudie had to miss his team’s home opener to attend. That alone should be a red flag for the league.

13) With the loss, the Redblacks drop to 0-2. The glass-half-full perspective is that they were always in tough with a home-and-home versus the defending Grey Cup champions and that they could have won both games. The glass-half-empty perspective is that, given how quickly the newly assembled talent has gelled, the only reason they aren’t 2-0 is because of coaching errors.

There are no moral victories in football and the season is long, but R-Nation has reached its limit of being patient and applauding good efforts that come up short. This roster is too talented to settle for losses and excuses.

LaPolice and his staff must use the bye week to ensure that the Redblacks get out of their own way and get into the win column when B.C. visits town on June 30th.

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).