Redblacks discover new way to lose (& 11 other thoughts on falling just short to the Ticats)

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Yet again, the Redblacks lost a game they should have won.

Early in the season, R-Nation could take some measure of solace following close losses in the fact that those games were played against Western juggernauts, but Ottawa’s 25-23 defeat in front of 20,411 fans at Tim Hortons Field was different.

Not only was it their first game against a divisional opponent — resulting in a ‘four-point’ defeat — it was against a Hamilton squad that’s arguably looked like the worst team in the league.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on the game:

1) On his 24th birthday, Caleb Evans had a couple of great throws and a couple of others that were on the other end of the spectrum. Making his first start of the 2022 season in place of the injured Jeremiah Masoli, Evans completed 18-of-30 passes (60 percent) for 203 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. One pick came off a tipped pass while the other was the result of a deep ball that had a bit too much air under it.

In addition to moving the ball with his arm, the second-year pro was incredibly effective when using his legs, amassing 62 yards on eight rushes with a long of 26 and two majors.

With the recently traded for Nick Arbuckle waiting in the wings, it remains to be seen if head coach Paul LaPolice deems Evans’ performance worthy of earning him a second consecutive start.

2) Something has to give with LaPolice’s offence.

274 yards of net offence is awful, even moreso when you take into account that it was spread out across 19 offensive possessions. 15 of those drives went for 15 yards or less with Ottawa averaging 4.6 yards per first down (for reference, Hamilton averaged 8.2).

Despite the many talented receivers on their roster, the Redblacks’ attack is predictable and ineffective. Too often first downs are runs up the gut or hitch passes to the flats. Too often second downs feature pass catchers running routes short of the yardsticks.

How has Darvin Adams gone two weeks without a catch? Why was the speedy Terry Williams targeted just twice? Why didn’t they continue to let Evans use his legs with read-option in the second half?

Perhaps nothing encapsulated the lack of imagination with the play-calling more than the Redblacks’ second to last possession. After Hakeem Bailey seemingly iced the game with a goal-line interception, Ottawa got the ball back with one minute and 45 seconds left in the game.

Although Evans was averaging 7.8 yards per rush — Hamilton’s defence has been torn apart by mobile quarterbacks this season — and despite Jaelon Acklin having his way with Hamilton’s secondary, LaPolice dialled up the same run play twice in a row, and a two-and-out ensued. Given another opportunity, the Ticats made the most of it.

3) In another stat that speaks to how poorly the offence is playing right now, the teams that have committed fewer turnovers have gone 17-3 in the CFL this year. Ottawa forced five turnovers in Hamilton and finished plus-three in the turnover department. Yet they lost, meaning the Redblacks find themselves on the wrong side of that lopsided statistic.

4) It wasn’t a banner performance from running back William Powell but it’s not like he had much space to work with. Too often when he was handed the ball it was for a run right up the middle into the teeth of the Ticats’ defence. Powell averaged 2.2 yards per carry with 13 touches for 28 yards and had two catches for seven yards.

5) Acklin made sure to remind his old team of what they let walk out the door this past February. The Western Illinois product was unstoppable, making six catches for 118 yards and one touchdown. Four of those catches moved the chains on second down. Some of the routes he ran were simply disrespectful. Exhibit A:

On his touchdown catch, Acklin was lined up in the slot — the position he played last year — and not out wide, where Ottawa has used him for the majority of this season.

As for the rest of the receiving group, Adams’ two targets resulted in no catches. Canadian Nate Behar made five catches for 40 yards. R.J. Harris had three for 29 yards. Williams and Shaq Johnson made one catch each, for seven and two yards respectively.

6) With the return of Ucambre Williams and Hunter Stewart solidifying the left side of the offensive line, the big men up front had a decent game.

The positive was the pass protection with 30 drop-backs resulting in only three sacks and the push they got in short-yardage situations to move the chains and score touchdowns.

The bad was the lack of running lanes against a mediocre Ticats’ defence.

7) There’s no denying Mike Benevides’ defensive unit is opportunistic.

But what they have yet to be this season is clutch. Every time Ottawa could really use a stop, the other team has been able to march the field for a touchdown.

It happened in the last minute of the first half.

It happened in the last minute of the second half.

It’s one thing to play hard and generate turnovers, but there’s also a lot to be said for coming up with the routine, timely stop.

Defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin continues to build off his strong start to the season. Against his former team, he made four tackles, notched two sacks, knocked a pass down and recovered a fumble.

Even when Mauldin fails to get to the quarterback for the sack, he still routinely gets penetration.

Others who stood out for the right reasons were linebacker Avery Williams with eight tackles and a sack, Bailey with five tackles, a forced fumble and a goal-line interception, and Canadian Adam Auclair with five tackles and two knockdowns.

8) Steven Dunbar Jr.’s second quarter catch has to be the CFL’s catch of the year so far, right?

Look at that extension — just beautiful.

You’ve gotta feel for Ranthony Texada though. Nobody likes to be posterized but at least he can sleep well knowing there’s literally no way he could have played it any better.

9) It’s not fair to pin the loss squarely on special teams, but the six points Lewis Ward didn’t add to the scoreboard loomed large following the two-point loss. It was uncharacteristic to see Ward go one-for-three on field goal attempts, but his misses were from 50 and 54 yards out, and that final kick was so close.

Richie Leone was a busy man, punting 11 times for 536 yards, but finished with a net average of 31.2 yards. That’s a little deceiving though since it’s not like Leone was out-kicking his coverage, rather those racing down the field to cover kicks failed to stay in their lanes and take smart angles. They also missed a bunch of tackles. It’s never good when your punter finishes the game with the most special teams tackles (three in this case).

It wasn’t all bad, though. Antoine Pruneau recovered a fumble and Marco Dubois’ hustle led to the turf monster tripping up Lawerence Woods.

It’s only a matter of time before Williams makes a house call. Every week it seems like he’s a block or step away.

10) After being penalized 21 times in their previous two games, it was a positive change to see the Redblacks pull off the rare flag-free game. It’s not often the refs avoid tossing even a single piece of laundry for a team, so kudos to Ottawa for keeping a clean sheet.

11) With the loss, the Redblacks drop to 0-5 on the season and sit in last place in the East.

It’s a short week and to be frank, the season is on the brink. Yes, technically they’re only a game out of a playoff spot, but the real danger the Redblacks face is that many in R-Nation are close to checking out. A loss to the visiting Alouettes this week will mean there’s a real risk that apathy will set in. R-Nation has forgotten what winning feels like.

Football is a results-oriented business and despite the infusion of a massive amount of excitement into the fan base this off-season with numerous big-name signings, that hype has been squandered.

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).