Elks’ offence finally charges & nine other thoughts on beating the Redblacks

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

With a 30-12 win over the Ottawa Redblacks, the Edmonton Elks improve to 3-0 against the East Division and 3-7 on the season. They’re still a long way from being relevant into November, but a victory means a week of breathing a little easier.

Here are some thoughts on the game.

Comeback factor

All three Elks wins have required a ‘comeback’ of some variety but this was the smallest and earliest, as they trailed 12-3 before Kai Locksley scored inside the three-minute warning of the first half. That started a run of 27 unanswered points to further embarrass the suffering Redblacks, who could barely put up resistance to Edmonton’s second-half offence.

Three straight touchdown drives of 69, 75, and 80 yards — taking roughly 19 minutes combined — sealed the game for the Elks. I don’t know if it was a specific directive from Coach Jones but they did an incredible job of milking every second off the clock on the last one. It was well-executed, even if it was painful to watch.

The performance wasn’t all pretty but it’s the first time the Elks have been on the right side of a no-doubter.

About that first half…

Nobody wants to think about it much, so a few quick stats and comments to sum up.

To start off the game, Edmonton threw two passes in their first eight plays. Ottawa threw two in their first ten, resulting in 52 passing yards between the two teams in the first quarter. By comparison, Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke took less than ten minutes to get to 104 yards in the second part of the CFL’s Friday night doubleheader.

The Elks scored once thanks to a nice 20-yard completion to Derel Walker, plus a couple of penalties and yet another pass interference drawn by Kenny Lawler. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s entire offence was Caleb Evans rushing — he had 82 yards and a touchdown in the half — plus one big play where defensive back Treston Decoud was in great coverage position on Darvin Adams but couldn’t manage to get a hand up to the ball, thus allowing a 50-yard completion.

Thankfully the second half offered a little bit more excitement.

Pop-Corn

Taylor Cornelius started one-of-seven for 18 yards and was only three-of-nine for 45 yards at halftime. That meant a dreadful 4.1 yards per play off of 94 total net yards. He was following the pattern I noted last week of rarely throwing from the pocket and not being accurate even when he did.

The contrast between Edmonton’s first and second-half offences was jarring.

The Elks came out in the third quarter and Cornelius was actually making plays from the pocket. He found a series of open receivers and the immediate result was 69 and 75-yard touchdown drives. The biggest highlight was a routine-looking strike to Lawler in space.

Cornelius didn’t have to do much on the third, clock-killing drive, so he was 13-of-18 for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. It wasn’t against a good defence but that’s very respectable production. Mash it with the first half and he finished with a 59-percent completion rate and 209 yards  — still decent for barely throwing in the final 15 minutes — while, most importantly, staying turnover-free.

He only ran once after taking the lead — to convert a second-and-ten — after scrambling four times up to that point. I thought Cornelius chose his spots quite wisely.

He still missed a lot of throws and was helped out by receivers on a couple of occasions, including Walker’s touchdown. Within the span of three plays in the third quarter, he slightly overthrew Walker down the right sideline and overcorrected to underthrow him in virtually the same spot. That meant two misses when his receiver had a step of room.

Promising signs, but as always more consistency is needed.

Heck of a switch-flip

If the offence can do what they did Friday on command, they should do it more often.

A lot of the attention and credit went to the Elks’ offensive line, though I personally didn’t think they were that bad in the first half — aside from when the Redblacks got an early sack with two-man pressure when right tackle Martez Ivey failed to do more than wave at the defender who spun past him.

On review, I noticed multiple good plays from Edmonton in the second half that used a sixth or even seventh man in protection. For example, Steven Nielsen came in as an extra lineman on the Lawler touchdown, which you can re-watch above.

When there isn’t extra help, I think a useful directive to Cornelius might be to ramp up the decisiveness a little bit. As I’ve mentioned before, the question is whether the trade-off might be more turnovers.

O-perable

The Elks offence gets a passing grade, but it wasn’t with flying colours. They did enough on those three second-half drives to win. Edmonton pushed their yards per play from 4.1 up to around 6.1 before slow-playing their way to a 5.6 final mark. On the whole, it was still lacking.

It’s concerning that Cornelius keeps having trouble connecting with Walker, despite his touchdown. After a one-of-six outing last week, Walker caught three of his eight targets for 36 yards against the Redblacks. Lawler needs more consistent support from his fellow receivers; nobody else earned more than three targets nor more than two catches.

Edmonton’s running game continues to be very tame, as well. They averaged roughly four yards a carry, with Ante Milanovic-Litre doing most of the work — he had 13 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown. They need to get above a five-yard average to satisfy their head coach and even higher to be genuinely effective.

D-bateable

Edmonton’s defence was frustrating at times but in general, they stood up well against Ottawa’s offence. The question is how much of their success was from the Redblacks’ own incompetence.

Evans was held to 111 passing yards and the Ottawa offence had just 12 first downs before he got replaced late in the fourth quarter. Interestingly, he didn’t run at all in six third-quarter plays; his ground game was the one thing that gave the Elks fits.

There were plenty of missed tackles throughout the game but the Redblacks never consistently got going, though they did deserve more than 12 points given a rough kicking night from Lewis Ward. In general, the Elks managed to avoid significant breakdowns.

It seemed like Ottawa bounced between five and six yards per play, and they finished at 5.3. That’s comparable to Edmonton, but clearly lacking the sequence of productive passing plays and much-needed touchdown drives that the green and gold put together several times. The Redblacks’ six second-half plays with Evans earned a total of six yards, plus a ten-yard illegal contact bonus on a play they took a sack.

Evans only had three attempts beyond seven yards downfield: 48 yards to Adams, plus 12 and 16 yards to Nate Behar. He didn’t seem to have the patience to hold out for more, though it’s also surprising there wasn’t more insistence on it from Ottawa’s coaches coming out of a bye week.

The lack of a real passing threat makes a defence’s job a lot easier, and the Elks have not demonstrated sound coverage often this season. They had a good read on their opponent and his slow decisions on Friday.

I know that guy

Former Elk Nick Arbuckle went 7-of-13 for 85 yards in six minutes of garbage time. Included in that is one risky throw against a blitz and a gross drop by Adams on a well-placed ball that would’ve converted a third-and-23. Redblacks fans can expect more of the accuracy and good timing he’s shown hints of in two relief appearances.

Paul LaPolice can no longer deny that Arbuckle deserves more playing time at a time in the schedule where the drama is maximized.

Two complaints

I didn’t like the command centre picking up a first-quarter offside flag against Edmonton.

We frequently see that that type of flag being thrown can impact the play, especially a quarterback’s decision if they think they have a free shot, so it doesn’t make sense to pretend it didn’t happen. If Evans had thrown a deep attempt and been intercepted, the consequences of the nixed flag would have been much higher than they were after missing a two-yard checkdown.

The league also needs to get a handle on the amount of time wasted between plays. Every so often, there’s an egregious case, such as in the fourth quarter on Friday. The Elks ran a four-second sneak with 8:02 left and the next play wasn’t snapped until 7:07. That’s about 50 seconds of run-off in between and Locksley called for the snap with nine seconds still on the play clock.

Other Positives

– Sergio Castillo missed one convert but made three more, as well as a 52-yard field goal.

– Lawler deserves an extra bit of praise. He caught five of seven targets for 81 yards and a touchdown, plus drew the previously mentioned interference flag.

– Walker had a very energetic celebration after scoring his first touchdown since September 20, 2019.

– Chris Jones once again elected to punt from his endzone and got a great result. The Elks downed returner Terry Williams at their 52-yard line and Lewis Ward ultimately missed a 47-yard field goal. Somewhat oddly, Duron Carter conceded a single — one would think you could comfortably return a miss from that distance.

– New addition Dillon Mitchell broke one big return. It didn’t count due to a penalty, but it was still enough to excite Elks fans.

Next

Ottawa is in Edmonton for a rematch next Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Despite this week’s result, it could go either way. We’ll see just how strong the home curse is.

Mike Ludwig enjoys math, chess, and football, all of which are kind of related. He lives in Edmonton and does not endorse Rod Black's metaphors. Follow him on twitter at @CityOfChamps14.