As Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”
R-Nation can be forgiven for believing that perhaps this home game was the one that would finally end 347 days of ineptitude. Really, they should have known better. Shame on them for believing otherwise.
But shame on Paul LaPolice’s squad as well because once again, following a pair of strong offensive performances — and wins — the Ottawa Redblacks reverted to the crude and uninspired football they’ve displayed for the majority of the season.
And shame on OSEG for continuing to sit pat and make no significant changes, seemingly content to let another season slip away, fan apathy and anger be damned. Because following their latest defeat — this time a 24-19 loss by the visiting Toronto Argonauts — there is plenty of both to go around.
Here are all my thoughts on the game:
1) The stats don’t tell the real story of Nick Arbuckle’s first start for Ottawa at TD Place. The 65 percent completion rate — 26-of-40 — for 290 yards and an interception looks decent enough, but those numbers were inflated by a fourth-quarter rally.
In fact, for the majority of the game, the 28-year-old was wildly inaccurate. There were overthrows — one of which resulted in an interception. There were underthrows — one of which should have been a walk-in touchdown. There were off-target throws — one that which was a dropped pick-six.
— CFL (@CFL) September 10, 2022
Then there was the decision to throw to the flats on second-and-10 on Toronto’s 35-yard line with 1:18 left in the game and down by five, resulting in a four-yard loss.
Overall, Arbuckle’s penchant for settling for throws short of the first-down marker did the offence no favours as it repeatedly handicapped drives.
Arbuckle was far from the efficient pivot R-Nation watched in Montreal last week but he also didn’t get a ton of help. He had multiple throws hit receivers in their hands — in stride — only to be dropped. And the play-calling was once again, mostly vanilla.
Speaking of which…
2) For whatever reason, it seems like head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice cannot call three consecutive good games.
Just like after Caleb Evans shone in Week 8 and 9 against Toronto and Calgary, then delivered a dud, Arbuckle did the same against the Argos following impressive outings against the Elks and Alouettes.
As has been the case so many times this season, the Redblacks simply took too long to get anything going. After the first quarter, Ottawa had 20 yards. At half-time, they had 103. Things picked up towards the end of the third quarter and over the game’s final 15 minutes but for long stretches, LaPolice’s offence had no rhythm.
What seemed to turn the tide and breathe some life into the offence was getting the league’s leading receiver, Jaelon Acklin, involved. Somehow, he wasn’t even targeted until the middle of the second quarter and his first reception of the game came with 18 seconds left in the third. Why it takes so long to get Ottawa’s most explosive and dangerous weapon involved in the attack continues to defy explanation, just as it has so many other times this season.
Even when the Redblacks did muster something positive — for example, their lone explosive play, a 43-yard catch and run by Darvin Adams to set Ottawa up inside the red zone — LaPolice demonstrated a complete lack of feel for the flow of the game. Right when R-Nation was finally coming alive, he dialled up back-to-back run plays that led to a field goal attempt. It was just the latest example of play-calling following a huge gain that only succeeded in sucking the life out of the drive.
The Redblacks finished the game with 22 first downs and 386 yards of offence but were only one-for-three in the red zone. If you’re looking for a difference in a five-point loss, that’s a major one.
3) Devonte Williams is going to need to spend some time in the ice bath. The rookie American back was Ottawa’s workhorse, garnering touches on 20 of the 59 plays the Redblacks ran.
13 of his 14 handoffs came on first down. While that’s somewhat to be expected, it’s not like there was a ton of variety when it came to the runs themselves. Almost everything was right between the tackles and into the teeth of the defence.
Still, Williams averaged 5.7 yards per carry and finished with 80 rushing yards. He also proved to be a valuable outlet for his quarterback, with six catches for 30 yards.
4) In the first half, it was evident that LaPolice and Arbuckle were making an effort to get the ball into the hands of receiver Ryan Davis. He was targeted five times, but it resulted in zero completions. All five of his catches came in the second half and he finished with 48 yards.
Some will say it’s easy to criticize that decision in hindsight, but it’s also easy to criticize that decision with a bit of foresight. Acklin was coming off a season-high 159-yard outing against Montreal. Why did he not get any of those early looks?
Although Acklin finished the game with five receptions for 62 yards — putting him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career — it was too little, too late. Acklin is Ottawa’s best receiver. He should not be waiting 45 minutes for the ball to come his way.
As for the rest of the receiving corps, Nate Behar made six gritty catches working the middle of the field for a team-high 76 yards. Darvin Adams made three catches for 68 yards, yet had another drive-killing drop on second down. Shaq Johnson was targeted once — on third-and-14 with the game on the line — and dropped the pass that would have moved the sticks and kept the drive alive.
5) Mike Benevides’ defence wasn’t dominant, but they did enough to deserve a better fate.
Although McLeod Bethel-Thompson completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 365 yards, much of that came as a result of chunk plays due to poor tackling.
— CFL (@CFL) September 10, 2022
Certain defenders on the Redblacks tend to favour launching themselves at opponents shoulder first — see Abdul Kanneh and Alonzo Addae — which doesn’t bode well when the initial impact isn’t heavy enough to knock the ball carrier off their feet. Others — see Frankie Griffin and Patrick Levels — favour wrapping up as opposed to hockey-style hits.
Can you guess which style tends to result in 150 yards after the catch?
While Toronto had some success moving the ball through the air, Benevides’ unit rendered the run game a non-factor, holding the Argos to just 43 yards on the ground.
Of Toronto’s 14 possessions, nine gained 27 yards or less. Furthermore, when the Redblacks needed a stop at the end of the game, the defence made sure their offence got the ball back. Normally, that’s a winning contribution.
The newly signed Brandon Dandridge finished with a game-high ten tackles, as Toronto chose to repeatedly test him by throwing and running his way.
Defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin notched three tackles and a pair of sacks, increasing his league-leading total and matching the Redblacks franchise single-season record of 12 held by Justin Capicciotti.
6) Percentage-wise kicker Lewis Ward had a decent game, making kicks from 48, 47, 35 and 31 yards, but his 28-yard miss in the third quarter loomed large late in the game.
Had Ward made that kick, Ottawa trails by two points, not five, and only needs a field goal to win the game.
Both of Ottawa’s final drives resulted in a turnover on downs while in field goal range.
So while the loss can’t be pinned squarely on Ward’s shoulders, his career-low 81.6 percent success rate this season isn’t helping much either.
As for Ottawa’s other kicker, punter Richie Leone crushed five punts for 250 yards, averaging a 43.8-yard field position flip each time the ball sailed off his boot. Backup Canadian safety Ty Cranston led the way with two special teams tackles.
7) It is disappointing but understandable that teams utterly refuse to kick to DeVonte Dedmon. The dangerous returner never had an opportunity to field a punt on Saturday but his 57-yard missed field goal return brought R-Nation to their feet.
While you can’t blame teams for doing all they can to avoid putting the ball in his hands, it does rob the Redblacks of one of their biggest playmakers and the league of a handful of dazzling plays each week.
8) I’m not sure I can say anything I haven’t said before, but the Redblacks have to win at home. The team is 1-20 in their last 21 games at TD Place and haven’t won in front of R-Nation in almost a year.
Despite being 0-5 heading into tonight’s game, 21,673 faithful fans flocked to the stadium, hoping this might be the day the curse/voodoo/malediction/hex/jinx was lifted.
Instead, they were treated to a perfect afternoon weather-wise that was tainted by another mostly poor showing by the team they were hoping to cheer on to victory.
As much as R-Nation is widely acknowledged to be a die-hard, strong fanbase, at some point, OSEG should be concerned that the perceived lack of value and entertainment will come home to roost. Especially since they continue to preach patience while doing little else.
9) I railed on this last week, but for the second Redblacks’ game in the row, the CFL’s official Twitter account seemed to forget the game was taking place. Following a tweet of the score at half-time, it took 50 minutes for anything else to be posted. How does this keep happening? Again I ask, what kind of message does that project?
Furthermore, there is a separate CFL on TSN Twitter account, which tweeted nothing at all during the Redblacks/Argos game. Remind me again, which network was broadcasting the game?
Twitter is the perfect medium to capture the attention of that elusive younger generation the league claims to crave. Tweeting out highlights of plays is the very minimum they can do. They have to be better.
10) With the loss, LaPolice’s squad dropped to 3-9 on the year and with two-thirds of the season gone, Ottawa is back in the basement of the East division, below even the Ticats.
On one hand, being 1-6 in single games means there’s perhaps some hope that the team can pop off a series of wins over their last six games to sneak into the playoffs.
On the other hand, what has the team shown — specifically on offence — that offers optimism going forward? Every time it seems like they might have turned the corner, the following week they’re back to square one.
The Redblacks head into their final bye week realistically needing to win five of their final six games to make the playoffs. Thanks to their consistently inconsistent play, their margin for error is gone.
Mathematically, Ottawa continues to control their own fate, which is exactly why R-Nation should be worried.