Home humiliation has Redblacks fans at breaking point (& 11 other thoughts on Ottawa losing to Toronto)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Not all losses are created equal, and some are much worse than others. This was one of those.

In a game the Ottawa Redblacks simply had to have — for their playoff hopes and for their fans — the effort displayed was pitiful. That’s a strong word to use, but an appropriate one when 42 of the 45 points your opponent scores come off turnovers.

Ottawa’s self-inflected wounds meant that for the second time in three weeks, the Toronto Argonauts waltzed into TD Place and absolutely embarrassed the Redblacks, this time by a score of 45-15.

Here are my thoughts on the ignominious defeat:

1) It’s never a great sign when you get pulled for a poor performance and later put back in, but that’s how the night went for Nick Arbuckle. The 28-year-old quarterback started cold, threw a pair of crushing interceptions and was pulled at half-time, only to be re-inserted back into the game late in the fourth quarter.

Arbuckle had a bad night because he stared down his reads and was wildly off-target on other throws. As has been the case so many times this season, he also was quite content to settle for throws short of the sticks on second downs, hoping his receiver would make someone miss after the catch.

Of the nine drives he led, three ended in turnovers, one in a garage time touchdown and two in field goals.

Since being brought in for the injured Jeremiah Masoli, Arbuckle has been given multiple chances to take the reins of the franchise and settle into the starting quarter role, yet he keeps squandering them.

As current Regina Rams quarterback coach and former CFL quarterback Noah Picton noted on Twitter, if Arbuckle held a Canadian passport, he certainly wouldn’t keep getting opportunities to play.

2) After getting the nod at half-time, second-year pro Caleb Evans entered the game and led six drives before being yanked. One drive resulted in a punt, one in a field goal and three in turnovers.

Of the trio of interceptions thrown by the 24-year-old, two were a result of him trying to force the ball to the league’s leading receiver, Jaelon Acklin. While that’s no excuse, it is understandable. After all, to that point in the game, Ottawa’s game plan had largely ignored the fact that Acklin existed.

The other pick came when Darvin Adams’ failed to squeeze a pass that hit his hands, instead popping it up for Chris Edwards, who made a house call.

More than anything, what the struggles of both Evans and Arbuckle reaffirm is that it doesn’t matter who is under centre for the Redblacks, what matters is that their offensive system as a whole is broken.

Speaking of which…

3) With an extra week to prepare for what was essentially a must-win game, how was THAT what head coach and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice came up with?

It’s not fair to say Ottawa came out flat — their defence was playing hard early — but it is fair to say that yet again, the offence was boring, uninspiring and bland.

Yet again, the Redblacks never got into a rhythm. Yet again, LaPolice’s team failed to stretch the field. Acklin, Adams, and Ryan Davis all boast speed, but all of them rarely ran deep routes. In fact, Ottawa’s first deep shot came when they were down 38-9.

Yet again, LaPolice seemed to forget to scheme targets for the league’s leading receiver until down by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. Having a 1,000-yard receiver in the lineup with just four yards on one target in the third quarter is indefensible.

The final stats look good — Ottawa finished the night with 421 yards of total offence — but nearly all of that came when it didn’t matter.

There are only two stats that matter from the Redblacks’ offence last night. The first is that in the 77 plays they ran, they managed to cross the goal line exactly once. The second is that they turned the ball over seven times, which the Argos converted into six touchdowns.

Which meant that yet again, LaPolice’s offence completely handcuffed his defence, continually setting them up to fail.

What has been evident for weeks — if not months — was painfully obvious last night. LaPolice just isn’t getting it done.

When he was hired, many pundits — myself included — touted Winnipeg’s success as proof of his creativity and a testament the effectiveness of his offensive schemes. But since he’s been come to the nation’s capital, Ottawa’s offensive woes have only been exacerbated, whereas the Bombers haven’t seemed to miss a beat.

In 2021, LaPolice was the chef complaining he had no ingredients to cook with — never mind the fact that the general manager at the time brought in exactly who he wanted. In 2022, he’s the chef who was given everything on a brand new shopping list but still can’t put together a good dish.

The point is, coaching matters. Detailed game-planning and smart play-calling can mask deficiencies and builds belief amongst players and fans in a coach’s system, which in turn, creates buy-in for their leadership style.

But it’s abundantly clear LaPolice has lost the room. Not only is he 6-21 as the Redblacks’ coach, the team has shown no significant growth during his tenure. We’re 27 games into the LaPolice era and R-Nation still doesn’t know what the team’s identity is.

At this point it’s not a question of if he’s back, it’s when he’s gone.

4) On top of the above mentioned issues with the offence, LaPolice’s in-game management is just as puzzling. Every week it seems like there’s something new for fans to complain about.

This week it was the debacle at the end of the half where the Redblacks eschewed a Hail Mary attempt, instead taking a timeout to take a knee, much to the chagrin of the home crowd. There was also the decision to challenge an accidental defensive pass interference in the third quarter.

It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that serving as both the head coach and offensive coordinator is preventing him from doing an effective job of either.

5) As has been the case many times this season, Acklin finished the game with a respectable stat line — five catches for 56 yards — but the fact of the matter is that the league’s leading receiver (who also boasts nine catches of 30-plus yards and five 100-yard games) was only truly targeted and featured with the game well out of reach.

Canadian Nate Behar led all receivers with nine catches for 119 yards. Ryan Davis turned a game-high 14 targets into ten catches for 87 yards. Darvin Adams had two catches for 36 yards and after giving multiple interviews in which the team assured fans they were working hard to use DeVonte Dedmon’s game-breaking explosiveness to provide a jolt to the offence, the dangerous returner had one target and one catch for five yards.

6) With veteran Darius Ciraco on the one game injured list, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon — Ottawa’s second-round pick from the 2022 draft — made his first career start at centre on Saturday night. It can be called a success for one reason: he was unremarkable. That’s all you can ask for from a rookie offensive lineman. He didn’t screw up a snap and he didn’t miss a block or allow anyone to blast through the A gap unimpeded. All in all it was a very solid debut at centre for the Rouge et Or product.

7) Mike Benevides’ defence did what they could to limit the Argo attack, but when the offence turns the ball over seven times, it’s going to be a long day for the defence. It bears repeating: 42 of Toronto’s 45 points came off of turnovers.

With that said, it’s not as if Ottawa’s defence played perfect football either. McLeod Bethel-Thompson was sacked twice and hit on a handful of other throws, but for the majority of the night he had a clean pocket to step up into, which is reflected by the fact that he completed 72 per cent of this passes.

Poor tackling technique continues to plague the unit as well. Although the majority of Ottawa’s defenders wrap up when they get to the ball carrier, a handful of players such as Abdul Kanneh (who did have a nice end zone interception) and Alonzo Addae, are frequently guilty of trying to go for the knockout hit — and bouncing off the ball carrier — as opposed to using proper tackling technique.

Photo: Scott Grant

Middle linebacker Avery Williams led all Redblacks defenders with seven tackles and a knockdown, but he’ll be ruing this missed tackle on third down which would have resulted in a turnover on downs.

8) Although he didn’t start the year off on the best foot, Lewis Ward has rebounded nicely in recent weeks, making 12 of his last 13 attempts. Against Toronto, Ward nailed kicks from 31, 35 and 36 yards out.

As for the rest of Bob Dyce’s special teams, after getting just seven opportunities through three games to return kicks thanks to teams constantly kicking away from him, Dedmon had six returns against Toronto. He averaged 8.5 yards per punt return, 23 yards per kickoff return and on the field goal the Argos pushed wide, ran 19 yards before fumbling and losing possession.

Veteran Antoine Pruneau led the way on kick coverage with a pair of special teams tackles.

9) What’s the mood of the fan base after 361 days without a home win and the organization has lost 21 of their last 22 home games?

Screenshot via TSN

The anger and frustration in R-Nation seemed to reach a boiling point last night and I’m honestly not sure if OSEG truly understands the depths of it.

The fact that over 18,000 people came out despite how poor the team has been at TD Place in recent years is incredible and a testament to just how strong of a fanbase R-Nation really is. And yet, even the strongest foundations will crumble it chipped away at for long enough.

With the Ottawa Senators rising and Redblacks plummeting, OSEG is running a real risk in terms of becoming an afterthought as to where people in Ottawa allocate their sports entertainment dollars.

It’s obviously anecdotal but I’ve never had so many people I know with season tickets tell me they aren’t renewing. Not to mention how frequent posts like this are becoming.

10) That’s why the longer Mark Goudie and OSEG continue to stand firm on their decision not to make an in-season coaching change, the longer they will bleed fans, and therefore money.

Firing your head coach — who also happens to be your offensive coordinator – isn’t a recipe for sustained success, but at the same time, neither is what the Redblacks have been doing since 2020.

Platitudes of “Trust the process,” “Keep the faith,” and “Flip the script” ring hollow.

The process has made the team a laughingstock. Faith has long been abandoned and the script is chicken scratch — it doesn’t matter what angle you view it from, it’s still illegible.

The band-aid should have been ripped off weeks ago and the cold reality is making a significant change now won’t save Ottawa’s season.

They’ve fallen too far behind and there’s simply too much ground to make up. But at the very least, it lets fans know their boos and shouts of frustration aren’t falling on deaf ears.

Making a change now, along with following the Edmonton Elks’ lead and making it extremely appealing for season ticket holders to come back with frozen or discounted rates, is the only hope the organization has of avoiding a mass exodus.

11) With the loss, Ottawa drops to 3-10 and is effectively eliminated from playoff contention. While technically they could still sneak in, it would require the Redblacks to win out and Montreal to lose four of their five remaining games. Even the most risky gambler isn’t putting a cent on those odds.

Up next is a trip to Vancouver, a place where Ottawa last won in October 2017. Given that the playoffs are no longer a serious consideration, it’ll be interesting to see how the team manages their roster. Is it time for someone like quarterback Tyrie Adams to get a look?

Will general manager Shawn Burke get a head start on scouting some of his practice roster players and young Canadians by ensuring they get extended reps of live action, or will the Redblacks continue to roll with most of the same lineup that has carried them to where they are now?

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).