Redblacks find winning formula (& 10 other thoughts on beating the Argos)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

It only took seven weeks, but the Ottawa Redblacks finally figured out how to win.

After overcoming a slow start, the Redblacks scored 17 unanswered points to beat the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 23-13 in front of 10,277 fans at BMO Field.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

1) For the second week in a row, Caleb Evans played just about as perfect a game as one could reasonably expect from a young quarterback.

The second-year pro started a bit slow — he completed four of his first seven attempts for 69 yards — but went on to complete 20 of his next 22 throws for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also added another 31 yards on the ground and avoided committing any turnovers.

Evans was decisive throughout the game, went through his reads quickly and hit his receivers in stride. He didn’t get flustered when the pocket collapsed, moving around defenders until a receiver pops open. On key drives — such as at the end of the first half — he consistently made clutch throws to march the ball down the field and later, chew the clock to seal the win.

He’s not Jeremiah Masoli but if Evans can maintain — or even improve upon — the level of play he has demonstrated these past two weeks, the Redblacks will be in every game until their franchise quarterback returns.

2) You can’t talk about a quarterback having success without giving credit where it’s due. It’s one thing to execute but players need to be put in positions to succeed by their coaches. And even though the offence has sputtered for much of the season, head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice seems to be settling into a groove and finding a formula that works for his sophomore quarterback.

Despite struggling out of the gate against the Argos — they only mustered six first downs over the game’s opening 30 minutes — the Redblacks rebounded brilliantly in the second half. Much of that was due to LaPolice’s balanced play-calling, as Ottawa finished the game with 27 runs to 29 passes. That balance made the Redblacks’ frequent use of play-action deadly.

A week after putting up season-highs in points and yardage, the Redblacks had another strong showing in Toronto. They generated 373 yards, 23 first downs and averaged 7.4 yards per second down play, which is why they had a 52 percent conversion rate on second down opportunities.

Still, there remains room to improve. Darvin Adams and Terry Williams are two of the team’s most explosive weapons yet combined they finished the game with a single target. Seven of Ottawa’s 12 drives lasted five plays or less. That said, three of their best — and longest — drives came in the second half when they were most needed.

Overall, LaPolice’s offence seems to be trending in the right direction, which, combined with Evans’ continued growth, bodes well for Ottawa’s ability to put points on the board.

3) Using a running back tandem of American William Powell and Canadian Jackson Bennett to split the workload in Toronto proved to be effective.

Not only did the duo keep each other fresh, but their different running styles were also a nice compliment to the offence and kept Toronto’s defence off balance. Whereas Powell is more of a shifty runner, Bennett is more of a power back, looking to initiate contact as opposed to dancing around it.

Powell had 11 carries for 50 yards and made a catch for five yards. He also threw a couple of crucial lead blocks on QB draws. Bennett’s eight carries went for 31 yards and his two catches were good for 13 yards. Both did a good job of picking up the blitz in pass protection as well.

4) Don’t look now but Jaelon Acklin is taking flight. For the third consecutive game, he finished with 100-plus receiving yards. The current CFL receiving yardage leader turned ten targets into seven catches for 144 yards and a touchdown on Sunday afternoon. Most impressively, 70 of those yards came after the catch and four of his receptions moved the chains on second down.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Carleton Ravens alum Nate Behar continued to grind out the tough yards over the middle, hauling in four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.

In his first action of the 2022 campaign, sophomore receiver Ryan Davis caught six passes for 41 yards. Canadian Shaq Johnson made two receptions for 33 yards and Darvin Adams turned his lone target into a 12-yard gain.

5) There was a lot to like from the offensive line’s performance. For the third consecutive week, Ottawa started the same group of linemen — Ucambre Williams, Hunter Stewart, Darius Ciraco, Jacob Ruby and Dino Boyd.

Even though the group conceded three sacks, more often than not they provided a clean pocket for Evans to step up into, or at the very least, were able to flush their guys to the outside, providing Evans with scrambling lanes.

Short yardage situations were never in doubt either, which hasn’t always been the case this season. An average of 4.2 yards per rush left a bit to be desired, but as this group continues to gel and play more snaps together, they will only improve.

6) A week after their worst showing of the season, Mike Benevides’ defence was back to their typical formidable form.

Not only did they frequently pressure the quarterback — resulting in a handful of rushed throws and four sacks — but they also generated a pair of turnovers and utterly bottled up the run game.

Fresh off being the first Canadian to cross the 10,000-yard career rushing mark, Andrew Harris had no space at all. His nine carries went for 19 yards, averaging merely 1.9 yards per carry.

Although the Argos moved the ball fairly easily at times, only three of their 12 drives ended in points. Most importantly, none of their second half possessions were productive. Over the game’s final 30 minutes, Toronto’s drives ended in a fumble, three punts and a turnover on downs.

To get an idea of how effectively Ottawa employed the “bend but don’t break” strategy, the Argos never snapped the ball inside of Ottawa’s 29-yard line. It should be acknowledged that the Redblacks were fortunate to have a couple of catchable balls dropped, but given how little ball luck they’ve gotten this season, they were due to get some breaks.

In his first game since being injured in Week 2, defensive back Abdul Kanneh led the way with seven tackles. Defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin was only credited with a single sack, but he consistently collapsed the pocket. He also forced a timely fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Patrick Levels.

Linebackers Avery Williams and Adam Auclair combined to make 11 tackles.

7) The Redblacks got a clinical performance from Bob Dyce’s special teams units. Lewis Ward was perfect, nailing field goals from 46, 31, and 21 yards out, while punter Richie Leone hammered six punts for 276 yards, and his hefty hang times provided his cover units plenty of time to get downfield, resulting in an average of 46.5 net yards per punt.

Speaking of the kick coverage, shoutout to veteran Antoine Pruneau. Despite being held off the stat sheet, the 32-year-old was pivotal in setting the edge and consistently forcing Toronto’s returners to cut back into the middle of the field. Ty Cranston led the way with a pair of special teams tackles but it was a group effort as demonstrated by the fact that the always dangerous Brandon Banks managed negative-three yards on his four returns, with his longest gain of the night going for just five yards.

8) Congratulations to those in R-Nation who made the trek down the 416 to support an 0-6 underdog team that was expected to lose again. Instead, those diehard fans were rewarded by witnessing the team’s first — and long overdue — win of 2022.

9) Can we please get more Sunday CFL football? I’d never suggest competing head-to-head with the NFL once it starts up, but there’s no reason why the league can’t have games every Sunday in June, July, and August.

An easy swap would be to pivot Thursday games to Sundays. Not only is Thursday typically poorly attended — it’s hard to get off work in time for some, plus the likelihood of having to work the following day limits tailgating and/or post-game shenanigans — it’s not exactly a huge draw on television either, normally being the lowest drawing game of the week.

Not only do Sunday games allow campers and those at cottages a chance to watch if they’re back at home, but it also ropes in more casual football fans since so many NFL fans are already programmed to expect (and watch) games on Sundays.

10) Thanks to the dismal state of the East Division, Ottawa’s first win in Toronto since 2016 means the Redblacks are right back in the thick of the playoff race.

Up next is a Friday night home date with a well-coached and deep Calgary team, followed by a home-and-home series with the Elks. But after their Alberta phase concludes, seven of the Redblacks’ final eight games are against divisional opponents.

All that’s to say this squad still very much controls their own destiny. It won’t be easy, but if LaPolice can get his team to stick to the winning formula — effective quarterback play combined with an opportunistic defence and smothering special teams — there’s no reason the Redblacks can’t start stacking wins.

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).