The good outweighs the bad & 10 other thoughts on the Redblacks beating Montreal

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

For the second week in a row, the Ottawa Redblacks found a way to win a game on the road, this time defeating the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 38-24 at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium on Friday night.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) It was an extremely efficient performance from quarterback Nick Arbuckle. Whether it was using his pump-fake to open space for his receivers, using his legs to maneuver around pressure, or simply hitting his targets in full stride, the 28-year-old oozed confidence and competence when on the field.

Arbuckle finished the game by completing 20-of-31 pass attempts for 313 yards and a touchdown — his first as a Redblack.

More impressive than the stats was that R-Nation saw some real positives in the game. From his willingness to push the ball down the field, to his growing chemistry with Jaelon Acklin, to his ability to string together a series of completions when they really needed a drive — such as the six-play, 105-yard touchdown drive right before the half — and avoid turnovers, Arbuckle is emphatically stating his case to remain the starter.

2) It was definitely one of Paul LaPolice’s better games as a play-caller this season.

Despite not featuring anything overly exotic, Ottawa’s head coach and offensive coordinator ensured Montreal’s defence was kept off-balance with an excellent mix of run and pass calls, sprinkling in some play-action and by dialling up a handful of deep shots. Doing so forced Alouette defenders to play off coverage and created space for Arbuckle to work the middle of the field, something he excels at.

The Redblacks finished the night with 23 first downs and 436 yards of net offence but what really won them the game was their second-down production. Ottawa converted 12-of-23 second-down opportunities — 52 percent — and averaged 9.9 yards per second-down play. That went a long way towards ensuring points got on the board.

Yet for all that went right, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Going two-for-five in the red zone is far from ideal. Turning three turnovers — including an interception that set them up on Montreal’s seven-yard line — into two field goals and a rouge is not good enough.

Furthermore, although the Redblacks did a solid job of getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands, their possessions were either feast or famine. Six of their 12 drives gained eight yards or less, but four gained at least 45 yards and three gained 70+.

We’ve seen LaPolice’s offence put together back-to-back impressive outings before — Caleb Evans shone in Week 8 and 9 against Toronto and Calgary. The trick will be to continue to build positive momentum and not regress.

3) Devonte Williams had his number called early and often on Friday night and responded by turning 15 carries into 72 yards. He also made a pair of catches for 24 yards.

Just like last week, his shifty open-field jukes weren’t the best part of his game, his blocking was. Time after time, Williams did a wonderful job of reading the defence, identifying where the pressure was coming from, and making a block.

4) It’s safe to say Jaelon Acklin is a Nick Arbuckle fan. The Redblacks’ top receiver gave Montreal’s defence fits all game long, turning ten targets into seven catches for 159 yards.

After a handful of games where the 27-year-old didn’t truly factor into the stat sheet, it was evident from the get-go that Ottawa was going to feature him against Montreal, as demonstrated by his 34-yard snag on Arbuckle’s opening pass. From there, he never looked back.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s receiving corps, Darvin Adams made four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown and would have had another if not for an end zone drop. He also left the game with a non-contact injury, although he stayed on the sidelines so, hopefully, it wasn’t too serious.

Ryan Davis had two catches for 27 yards and also dropped a pass in the end zone. DeVonte Dedmon and Nate Behar each recorded two receptions for 10 yards.

5) As much as Arbuckle and Acklin will be praised by fans this week, R-Nation would do well not to forget that their outings were only possible thanks to the contributions of the big men up front.

Against Montreal, Ottawa’s offensive line had their best game of the season. With Randy Richards at left tackle replacing Ucambre Williams due to illness and Hunter Steward, Darius Ciraco, Jacob Ruby and Dino Boyd in their usual spots, the Redblacks were able to not only keep Arbuckle clean — the Alouettes failed to record a sack — but they also paved the way for the team’s second-highest rushing total of 2022 with 124 yards.

The unit’s dominance effectively allowed Ottawa to close out the game with a ten-play, 70-yard drive that took 5:19 off the clock late in the fourth quarter. Paul Charbonneau’s unit looked like a bunch of road graders as they willed the ball a bit closer to the end zone each play.

6) Yes, Mike Benevides’ unit was gashed on the ground — surrendering 9.1 yards per carry is brutal for a unit that prides itself on their physical play — yet even that blemish isn’t enough to dull the shine of Ottawa’s defensive performance. Mainly because if you’re giving up chunks of yardage, you better be taking the ball away too. And the Redblacks did.

Led by a game-high six tackles from birthday boy Avery Williams and another monster night from defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin -= who notched five tackles, two sacks and knocked down a pass before exiting with a shoulder injury — the Redblacks shut down the Alouettes’ attack for long stretches of the night.

11 of Montreal’s 14 drives gained two first downs or less. Trevor Harris completed 75 percent of his passes but only for 256 yards and, most importantly, he was picked off twice, with Abdul Kanneh and Ranthony Texada on the receiving end of a pair of his passes.

A week after having a hat trick, former Carleton Raven Kene Oneyka continued to find ways onto the stat sheet, making two tackles, a sack, forcing a fumble, recovering another and snuffing out an onside kick attempt.

There were several big hits delivered throughout the night but the hit of the game goes to Dan Basambombo for his special teams tackle in the fourth quarter. Woof.

7) By dressing Global kicker Jose Maltos, it felt like Ottawa’s coaching staff was sending a message to Lewis Ward. Heading into last night’s game, the typically reliable Ward was connecting on just 78 percent of his field goal attempts, a career-low.

So how did he respond? By having a birthday to remember (it was also his cake day) and nailing all five of his attempts. Ward made kicks from 19, 14, 32, 15 and 38 yards out.

As for the other half of Ottawa’s kicking game, punter Richie Leone didn’t quite live up to the high standards R-Nation has come to expect from him. Leone averaged just 37.4 yards of field position flip per punt, mainly because two of his five punts ended in rouges, and another was penalized for going straight out of bounds. It wasn’t an awful outing by any stretch, but Leone’s frustration was evident as TSN’s microphones caught him colourfully expressing his feelings a few times after his kicks rolled into the end zone.

8) It must have been a bit of a frustrating night for kick returner DeVonte Dedmon. For the second week in a row, the opposing team did all they could to avoid the ball falling into his hands. The one punt he was able to return cleanly went for 13 yards.

Perhaps having Terry Williams — who has been dangerous in his own right this season — dressed over Ryan Davis would create a bit more of a pick-your-poison choice. Montreal seemed perfectly content to kick to Davis, who finished the game with three returns for 10 yards.

9) Apparently, I’m not the only one that finds this weird.

With three minutes left in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, the official league Twitter account had posted exactly three times since half-time. Two were pictures. One was a catch. 34 points were scored over the game’s final 30 minutes and there were two turnovers. None of it was tweeted out.

I get that this is nitpicking but Twitter is free marketing. Short clips are constantly going viral and given that the CFL offers plenty of exciting plays that are seemingly tailor-made for internet sharing, shouldn’t every single one of those be shared?

After all, even though not every Canadian has TSN, we all have internet access, so why not potentially entice those people to check out your product? If someone only followed the league on Twitter, they could be forgiven for a) forgetting a game was taking place or b) thinking nothing of interest was happening.

For a league that somehow still doesn’t have an app in 2022 or stats on their website for anything pre-2004 — despite boasting 109 years of rich history — it seems like another avoidable marketing fail.

Perhaps they’re just waiting for their partners at Genius Sports to let them know they should be doing it.

10) Don’t look now but the Redblacks might be the hottest team in the East Division.

After going 3-2 over their past five games, Ottawa has suddenly vaulted right back into the mix for a playoff spot. Thanks to their third road win of the year, depending on how things play out on Labour Day, the Redblacks could finally find themselves out of the division’s basement.

The improving vibes around the team are palpable but their biggest test of the season will be next Saturday afternoon’s game against the Argos at TD Place. Ottawa will be looking to do something it has yet to achieve this season — win at home.

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).