Dim the lights, the end is near (& nine other thoughts on the Redblacks losing to the Lions)

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

A week after being embarrassed at home and vowing to put forth a better effort to maintain some semblance of hope for R-Nation, the Ottawa Redblacks went on the road and lost to the B.C. Lions by a score of 34-19 on Friday night.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) As has been the case multiple times this season, if you only went by Nick Arbuckle’s final stats — 363 yards for a touchdown and an interception — you’d be inclined to believe he had a good game. And while he was much improved from last week’s poor performance that saw him pulled at half-time, the reality is that once again, when the game was in reach, his penchant for check-downs severely limited the offensive attack.

Whether Arbuckle isn’t pushing the ball down the field due to constraints of the system he plays within, or whether it’s due to the conservative manner in which he chooses to play the quarterback position, the fact of the matter is it makes life easier for opposing defences.

Sure, he completed 75 percent of the throws he attempted, but it wasn’t until there were eight minutes remaining in the game — and the team was down three scores — that he attempted a pass longer than 20 yards.

What has become clear in the eight games the 28-year-old has suited up for with the Redblacks is that although he might be a serviceable fill-in, he cannot carry a franchise.

As such, and with the playoffs fainter than the memory of free beads in the upper South Side, general manager Shawn Burke should mandate that the final four games be started by one of Ottawa’s two young quarterback projects; Caleb Evans or Tyrie Adams. Whoever they believe has a brighter future needs the reps, because that playing experience will speed up their development.

2) What can be said about Paul LaPolice’s offence that has not already been said?

Like Arbuckle’s numbers, the final stats are deceiving. Yes, the Redblacks finished with 419 yards of offence — averaging 7.8 yards per play — but 175 of those yards (41 percent) came in the fourth quarter with the game already well out of reach.

The real story of LaPolice’s offence is that, as has been the case most games this season, it lacked rhythm, failed to get the ball into the hands of the team’s best playmakers, failed to stretch the field and was generally vanilla.

Ottawa was just 3-of-17 on second downs, converting 18 percent of those opportunities. Of the 54 plays they ran, only one crossed the goal line, which is why Ottawa was one of four in the red zone.

Just how much are the Redblacks struggling to score right now? Over their last two games, the offence has run 131 plays but mustered just two touchdowns.

It’s not fair to exclusively point to Jaelon Acklin’s lack of involvement as the only reason for the team’s struggles, but it does help paint the picture. Every football team has a receiver deemed to be their #1 guy and every opposing defence spends the week before the game planning how to stop him. Yet it seems like only in Ottawa does that mean the #1 receiver doesn’t become actively targeted until the fourth quarter.

How much that is a result of poor scheming or the quarterback choosing not to throw his way is another question, but if it is the latter, the coach needs to get involved and force the issue.

LaPolice did sprinkle in a few touches for DeVonte Dedmon via shovel passes but the fact remains that in an offence that has struggled to stretch the field or routinely generate any kind of explosive plays, Dedmon has nine offensive touches through five games — seven receptions and two rushes.

As the head coach and offensive coordinator stated numerous times in interviews, getting the ball into Dedmon’s hands is difficult because the defence expects it when he’s on the field, but that does seem like something good play-calling could overcome.

It’s easy to say players need to execute better, but it’s also worth examining if they’ve been put in positions to succeed and if their skills are being maximized.

3) Running back Devonte Williams had a strong game against the Lions, averaging nearly five yards per carry. Unfortunately, he was only given the ball twelve times. He was also busy in the aerial attack, finishing the game with four catches for 35 yards as Arbuckle repeatedly used him as a checkdown outlet.

In a season where the offence has often looked bleak, Williams has been an interesting revelation at the running back position.

4) Filling in for the injured Nate Behar, Tevaun Smith’s first start as an Ottawa Redblack was an impressive debut. The third-year pro and Toronto native turned nine targets into seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

As for the rest of the receiver corps, after spending the majority of the season injured, Justin Hardy was solid in his return to the field, making five catches for 94 yards in the place of Ryan Davis.

Darvin Adams made three catches for 63 yards and had a drop. Acklin – as mentioned above – was an afterthought in Ottawa’s attack. He had two targets through 58 minutes of play, then had three over the game’s final two minutes.

Shaq Johnson was targeted once and made a 21-yard reception.

5) Even with more changes amongst the group, Ottawa’s offensive line had a strong performance in B.C. Uzoma Osuji started at left tackle and more than held his own. For the second week in a row, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon started at centre and again played well.

The offensive line were opening massive holes in the ground game but as the gap on the scoreboard widened, the Redblacks got away from the run. In terms of pass protection, although the group gave up two sacks, both were the result of Arbuckle holding on to the ball too long, as opposed to linemen missing blocks.

6) From the opening drive, Vernon Adams and company let Mike Benevides’ unit know it was going to be a long night. Whether it was on the ground — when the ball carrier was frequently only touched after they had already gained five to six yards — or receivers running wide open in the secondary, the Lions’ attack shredded Ottawa’s defence.

Adams completed 77 percent of the passes he attempted for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions also rushed for another 150 yards on the ground. As has been the case in recent weeks, poor tackling continued to be a problem.

In fact, Ottawa’s defence was so uninspired in their play that it was no surprise to see the Lions convert 14 of their 22 second-down opportunities (64 percent) and go four of five in the red zone.

The lone bright spot was the play of defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin. The 30-year-old Atlanta native made three tackles, knocked down a pass and notched two sacks, pushing his league-leading total to 14. He also moves out of a tie with Justin Capicciotti to become the Redblacks’ single-season sack leader.

7) Like it was for the team in general, it was a ho-hum night for Bob Dyce’s special teams. Kicker Lewis Ward make field goals from 12, 22, 19 and 47 yards out, but was wide left on a 44-yarder. Punter Richie Leone averaged 47.3 yards per punt, but thanks to a combination of Terry Williams’ elusiveness and leaky kick coverage, Ottawa only averaged a net field position flip of 34 yards each time Leone trotted out.

For a nice change of pace, the Lions actually punted the ball to Dedmon, but he wasn’t able to generate much, averaging 12 yards per punt return and 24 per kickoff. The Redblacks most dangerous-looking returner was actually backup Canadian running back Jackson Bennett, who had kickoff returns of 43 and 21 yards.

In terms of kick coverage, it was a full group effort, with six different players making a special teams tackle.

8) Do you think Lions head coach Rick Campbell likes playing his former team? Since asking for — and being granted — his release at the end of the 2019 season, Campbell has gone 4-0 in matchups against the Redblacks.

9) Even if the loss doesn’t technically extinguish playoff hopes, R-Nation can dim the lights and drop the curtains because the 2022 season is all but wrapped up.

Although mathematically there exists a manner in which the Redblacks find themselves in the playoffs, the reality is the team has been flat for weeks and is simply playing out the string.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the nation’s capital who truly believes Ottawa is capable of winning all of their remaining four games, while also believing Montreal will lose four of their final five.

As mentioned last week, despite the fact that OSEG adamantly refuses to address fan concerns in-season, it’s simply a matter if, not when a coaching change is made. A 6-22 record over the last two seasons demands it.

With ten days before the Redblacks visit Montreal for their next game, it’ll be interesting to see if the team decides to get a head start on 2023 by embracing a youth movement, or if they’ll stubbornly continue to do the same things that have gotten them to 3-11, hoping that maybe next week is the time it’ll provide different results.

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).