Paul LaPolice’s seat heats up & 12 other thoughts on the Redblacks losing to the Lions

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

For an organization that nailed every aspect of the offseason, it’s suddenly uncomfortably warm in the nation’s capital — and I’m not talking about the summer weather.

The Ottawa Redblacks were coming off a bye. The B.C. Lions were travelling across the country on a short week, missing star receiver Bryan Burnham. And yet for the 16th time in their last 18 home games, the Redblacks lost at TD Place, falling by a score of 34-31 to the visiting Lions.

1) Considering how sharp he’d looked in his first two starts against a tough Bombers’ defence, it was surprising to see Jeremiah Masoli complete 50 percent of his passes against B.C.

Despite having fairly solid protection, the 33-year-old finished with 159 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. For whatever reason, Masoli rarely pushed the ball down the field but when he did, he found success.

A couple of passes knocked down by defensive linemen and a few drops by receivers didn’t do him any favours either.

2) With an extra week to study and prepare for his opponent, that’s what head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice came up with for a game plan?

Ottawa managed 17 first downs and mustered just 239 yards of offence, averaging 4.7 yards per play.

Watching the game it was difficult to decipher exactly what the Redblacks were trying to do. There wasn’t a commitment to the run game, despite averaging a healthy 5.5 yards per carry, as they only handed off the ball eleven times. The Redblacks weren’t trying to stretch the field either, although when they did take deep shots, holes were found in the Lions’ secondary.

First down production was crucial as Ottawa converted six-of-six opportunities on second and less than three, but on second and more than seven, they went 3-for-15.

At times, the play-calling showed a lack of feel for the game flow. Case in point, immediately after Masoli plunged in on a quarterback sneak to put the Redblacks up 20-14, wunderkind Nathan Rourke threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead.

On the ensuing possession, backed up on their own 16-yard line, LaPolice dialled up a hitch pass and then a running back draw resulting in a quick two-and-out — a huge momentum killer.

Of Ottawa’s 15 possessions, eight were two and outs and 10 gained less than 20 yards. If not for a pair of interceptions setting them up inside’s B.C.’s 20-yard line, they likely score 14 less and a one-score loss becomes a blowout. The glass-half-full way to look at that is at least the Redblacks made the most of those opportunities, turning three of four red-zone trips into touchdowns.

Last year the go-to refrain was that the Redblacks weren’t successful because Marcel Desjardins failed to stock the team with talent, never mind that many of Desjardins’ personnel decisions were at the behest of his coach. What’s the excuse now?

General manager Shawn Burke has stocked the shelves. Ottawa has weapons. Ottawa has a veteran quarterback. Yet Ottawa’s offence remains sporadic. And I don’t buy the needing time for chemistry excuse, because they looked fine against Winnipeg.

Coming off the bye, playing at home against a tired, banged-up team, they were somehow worse. The two ways to look at it: LaPolice has been unable to maximize the talent at his disposal or he’s played the best two defences in the league. Both things can be true but the time for excuses is over.

You are what your record says you are. This season, LaPolice is 0-3. Since coming to the nation’s capital he’s 3-14. All-time as a head coach he’s 19-42.

Three games into the season is much too early to seriously consider firing the bench boss but LaPolice needs to get his squad into the win column, immediately.

3) I was skeptical of the William Powell signing. My skepticism only increased when he didn’t practice during training camp due to an Achilles injury.

But his first start of the season was productive. He looked spry, shifty, and ran hard. On top of averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Powell was an asset in the passing game thanks to his effective blocking in picking up the blitz.

In addition to his 55 yards and one touchdown on the ground, he made one catch for seven yards.

4) The Masoli to Jaelon Acklin connection suddenly went ice cold in this one. That’s not to say Masoli stopped looking his way — Acklin had a game-high nine targets — but the two never seemed to be on the same page and managed to connect just three times for 24 yards.

Darvin Adams led all Redblacks receivers with five catches for 92 yards, averaging 18.4 yards per reception.

Overall, the receiving corps struggled to create separation from the Lions’ defenders. The late scratch of Justin Hardy was less than ideal but if he’s out any significant period of time, look for R.J. Harris to draw in.

5) Coming into the game, the thing I was paying the most attention to on the offensive line was Randy Richards making his first start of the season at right tackle, replacing the injured Dino Boyd.

But once things got underway, it was clear that Richards would be fine and that the real story in the trenches was centre Darius Ciraco’s struggles to cleanly snap the ball.

Every centre will have bad snaps — they are human after all — and reading a defence, calling out the protection, snapping the ball and making blocks is asking a lot of a single player on any given down.

But when the centre continually skips shotgun snaps off the turf, there’s a real issue that needs solving. It’s not as if the Ticats’ 2018 Most Outstanding Rookie suddenly forgot how to perform a basic task, but clearly, something rattled him and he needs to get his mind right ASAP.

So much has to go right for any play in football to be successful and the only player who touches the ball every single down is the centre. When he messes up, the odds of the play succeeding immediately plummet.

6) Given that his defence gave up 496 yards of offence and 34 points, it’s strange to say that Mike Benevides’ unit played fairly well, but it’s true. For most of the game, the defence did enough to keep things within reach.

The problem is that Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke is the real deal and when a player is that good, you can’t really stop him. You’re just trying to limit the damage.

Although Rourke threw for 359 yards, ran for another 87 and was responsible for three touchdowns, the Redblacks did have moments where they made him look human. A couple of aggressive blitzes led to a pair of picks by Money Hunter, directly leading to the offence scoring 14 points.

Hunter’s big night continued when he recovered — knocked out of bounds — a fumble forced by Justin Howell.

Of the 12 games played this CFL season before this one, the team that won the turnover battle had been victorious 10 times. Thanks to their defence’s efforts, the Redblacks finished the game with a plus-three turnover margin, yet they lost.

Linebacker Avery Williams had a game-high seven tackles but will rue whiffing on James Butler at the goal line.

In his 50th career game, Sherrod Baltimore stood out not only for his five tackles but for his sticky coverage. Every time his man made a catch, it was contested and immediately resulted in a tackle.

Even though eight of the Lions’ 14 possessions — not counting their kneel-downs at the end of the halves — resulted in 21 yards or less, too often B.C. was able to move the chains because of an inability to pressure Rourke, who used the extra time to find receivers popping open or scramble for first downs.

One area the defence dominated was on the ground. James Butler averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and was frequently hit as soon as he took the handoff.

7) Lewis Ward was perfect in terms of field goals, nailing kicks from 35, 28 and 37 yards but he did miss a point-after attempt. Punter Richie Leone had another stellar game, smashing nine punts for 425 yards. Thanks to some excellent directional kicking, Leone gave his cover unit plenty of time to get down the field and corral B.C.’s dangerous returners. It meant that each punt resulted in an average field position flip of 41.9 yards.

Shoutout to Dan Basambombo for laying a pair of hellacious hits. The stats crew somehow missed him because his name doesn’t appear on the official stats sheet, but No. 44 made a couple of huge special teams tackles. Canadians Antoine Pruneau and Justin Howell also each had a pair of special teams tackles.

8) He’s no DeVonte Dedmon but Terry Williams is doing his best to make R-Nation forget about losing their star return man to the Miami Dolphins.

Against the Lions, Williams had his best game of the season returning kicks, averaging 14.3 yards per punt return and 25.8 per kickoff. He continually set up Ottawa with excellent starting field position, yet too often the offence failed to take advantage.

9) Undisciplined play is doing the Redblacks zero favours. Last time they took the field against Winnipeg, Ottawa was flagged 10 times. Against the Lions, LaPolice’s team was penalized another 13 times for 140 yards. If you’re looking for differences in a three-point game, there’s one.

Four flags were on the offence, two on the defence and seven on special teams.

Well-coached teams aren’t sloppy. Right now, Ottawa is very sloppy.

10) You have to feel for the 20,132 fans on hand to witness yet another Redblacks’ home loss. It’s hard to fathom how a team can consistently find new ways to disappoint and underwhelm when playing in the confines of their home stadium.

While some might say being nearly 4,000 fans short of a sellout is a result of fan discontent, I’d chalk it more up to the fact that on Canada Day weekend, people tend to hit the cottages and get out of town.

R-Nation is nothing if not faithful, which is why they’ll continue to show out in strong numbers despite the fact that the team has now lost 16 of the last 18 games they’ve played at TD Place.

11) Classy move by OSEG to honour some of those who have worked the hardest to keep the city safe during the pandemic.

12) Even if being 0-3 isn’t ideal, Ottawa’s saving grace is that the rest of the East Division has been just as terrible so far. As things currently stand, the Redblacks are only one single win out of first place.

With that said, things don’t get any easier next week with a trip to Regina.

R-Nation is tired of moral victories, good efforts and excuses for coming up just short. It’s time for the Redblacks to win a game, period. Style points be damned, if the organization is serious about wanting to contend this season, they cannot fall to 0-4.

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).