The Ottawa Redblacks fell to the visiting Calgary Stampeders by a score of 26-15 in front of 18,251 members of R-Nation at TD Place on Thursday night.
Here are all my thoughts on the game.
1) On the heels of last week’s poor performance in Montreal, rewarding quarterback Nick Arbuckle with another start seemed to be — at best — a dubious decision. Against the Stamps, the 29-year-old hit some nicely timed slants, was off-target on other throws, displayed a lack of mobility, and failed to move the ball with any regularity. In just under two quarters of play, Arbuckle went 12-of-21 for 72 yards and a turnover.
The play that ultimately got him benched was an interception from former Redblack Micah Awe, who clearly baited him into a throw over the middle. The turnover came one play after Ottawa’s defence had injected some life into the stadium with an interception of their own.
The sample size of Arbuckle’s play in Ottawa is big enough; he’s not going to suddenly turn into something new. If Jeremiah Masoli continues to miss time, Arbuckle isn’t the answer under centre as reflected by the six touchdowns to 18 interceptions he’s thrown as a Redblack.
2) Tyrie Adams was far from perfect when he took over for Arbuckle, but the second-year pro did enough that he should be the option if Masoli remains out.
The 26-year-old didn’t hesitate to stretch the field — sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t — but what stood out was his ability to buy time with his legs. Adams’ ability to extend plays resulted in receivers finding holes in the secondary or lanes appearing for him to take off and run through. He finished the night by going 9-of-16 for 104 yards and an interception, along with 19 yards on the ground and the fumbled quarterback sneak that resulted in a Calgary touchdown.
— CFL (@CFL) June 16, 2023
He’ll have to do a better job protecting the ball going forward, but at least with Adams directing the offence it feels like there’s potential for big plays. Fans can cling to the idea that maybe he’ll develop into something special.
3) It was a bit stunning to hear TSN panellist Matt Dunigan state at halftime that he believes Masoli won’t return to the field following the team’s bye week. By all accounts, Masoli is physically healthy and, if that is the case, he will be under immense pressure to return and right the ship.
4) Through two games, Khari Jones’ offence has failed to score a touchdown. They’ve been in the red zone plenty of times — including four separate trips against the Stamps — but have yet to punch the ball across the goal line.
Against Calgary, the ground game was non-existent, mainly because Ottawa chose not to even try and run the ball. After 15 minutes of play, the Redblacks had three rushing yards. At half-time, they had seven. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you only give your running back four carries on the night.
The aversion to the ground game is puzzling when you consider how head coach Bob Dyce is constantly preaching toughness and his desire for his team to impose their will physically on opponents. That’s exactly what running the ball allows you to do. Yet, despite having a first-and-goal from Calgary’s four-yard line on the game’s opening drive, Jones chose to throw it three times in a row. Perhaps things would have gone differently had Arbuckle targeted his #1 receiver, but all three passes went to Canadian Nate Behar instead of Jaelon Acklin.
The real question is, why make Drew Desjarlais the highest-paid lineman in the CFL if you won’t run your 200-pound running back behind him on the goal line?
The Redblacks mustered just 10 first downs as they averaged 5.3 yards per play. Of Ottawa’s 14 possessions, 11 gained less than 14 yards. Eight gained less than five yards.
Jones’ system isn’t broken, but it does need to do a better job of finishing drives, balancing the run-to-pass ratio and getting Acklin — the team’s most dangerous weapon — involved.
5) De’Montre Tuggle made his first CFL start at running back in place of the injured Devonte Williams, but it’s tough to judge his performance given that he only had four carries. Tuggle was somewhat of a factor in the passing game, catching four checkdowns, with 26 of his 30 receiving yards coming after the catch.
The best play from a running back on the night was Jackson Bennett’s rumbling 35-yard kick-off return late in the fourth quarter. For a guy who seems to do good things with the ball in his hands, it would be nice to see him get more opportunities.
6) Justin Hardy turned a team-high 10 targets into six catches for 54 yards. For the second week in a row, Quan Bray caught a deep bomb, hauling in a 50-yard pass from Adams. As for the rest of the receiving corps, Nate Behar made three catches for nine yards, Acklin had two for 13 yards and Savon Scarver had two for five yards.
7) Barron Miles’ defence had a couple of stellar individual performances, but as a group, the unit wasn’t nearly as stout as they were a week ago.
Linebackers Frankie Griffin and Douglas Coleman were everywhere. The former made nine tackles while the latter had five tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and a pass knockdown. Damon Webb was also noticeable for the right seasons, finishing the game with four tackles.
As a whole, Ottawa’s defence struggled to wrap up when closing on the ball carrier and was caught more than once with busted coverages. Both issues resulted in big plays at inopportune times and meant the Stampeders converted 41 percent of their second-down opportunities, extending drives and increasing fatigue.
15 of the Stampeders’ 26 points came off turnovers, but the Redblacks still allowed 389 yards of offence. The lone turnover generated — an Adam Auclair interception caused by Lorenzo Mauldin collapsing the pocket — wound up meaningless as the defence was back on the field literally the next play.
🏈 À VOIR | Une première interception dans la @CFL pour Adam Auclair… quel spectacle!! Wow!
— Rouge et Or (@rougeetor) June 16, 2023
8) After struggling for weeks, the Redblacks’ kick coverage was finally back to the high standard R-Nation has come to expect. Calgary returner Peyton Logan had no space to breathe, as evidenced by the 1.2 yards he averaged on punt returns and 10 yards per kickoff return. Linebacker Gary Johnson Jr. led the way with two excellent special teams tackles.
As for the rest of the special teams, Richie Leone boomed eight punts for an average field position flip of 42.7 yards. Lewis Ward made kicks from 13 and 21 yards out but pushed his 45-yard attempt at the end of the third quarter wide left.
Returner DeVonte Dedmon left the game with an injury and was seen on the sidelines using a sling. Defensive back Brandin Dandridge took over the majority of return duties and electrified TD Place when he took a punt to the house in the final minute of the first half.
— CFL (@CFL) June 16, 2023
9) It remains beyond embarrassing that two weeks into the regular season, the CFL cannot provide stats to fans, media, its broadcast partners or bettors — an audience they’ve been quite open about chasing. The fact that the league is pushing fans to play fantasy football and bet on their product, while also making it nearly impossible to find basic information on players and teams, is pathetic.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced this week that the league should have working stats by the end of June. Can you imagine if the NHL/NFL/NBA/MLB/MLS didn’t offer anyone stats for the first four weeks of play? They’d be skewered, and rightly so.
The CFL had all off-season plus a month of training camp to sort this out. The fact that they didn’t is a huge red flag for their partnership with Genius Sports.
10) For a market that has typically had good crowds even when the team has struggled to win and score points, last night’s announced attendance of 18,251 on a perfect June night is concerning. OSEG knows they have work to do, CEO Mark Goudie said as much in a radio interview this week.
The Redblacks as a franchise are at an inflection point. R-Nation remains a passionate fan base and Ottawa continues to be a strong football town, but if they can’t win at Lansdowne, at the bare minimum they have to provide fans with the feeling that their money is being well spent. In recent times, that just hasn’t been the case.
Since 2019, the Redblacks have played at home 26 times. They’ve only scored more than 20 points — a low bar by CFL standards — in nine of those games. Worse still, they’ve only won twice. Last night’s loss was Ottawa’s 13th defeat in a row at home. At some point, fan anguish will turn to apathy, which nobody wants to see happen.
11) I loved seeing Dave Thelen, Gene Gaines, and Greg Marshall honoured for their careers with the Rough Riders by having their names added to the Wall of Honour. I also like the new location of the wall behind the east end zone, given that it’s in a spot which will provide it plenty of TV time, reminding viewers across the country of Ottawa’s rich CFL history.
What I’m not a fan of is how the wall itself is designed. Instead of huge individual plaques, each name is printed onto a single tarp. The same goes for Grey Cup wins. Given that the wall is dealing with legendary careers and the most iconic wins in the city’s history, something bigger, more durable and frankly, less flimsy looking, would be more appropriate.
Honouring the past
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) June 16, 2023
12) Calgary seems to be Ottawa’s kryptonite, as they’ve now won seven of their last eight meetings with the Redblacks, and avoided losing in the nation’s capital since 2015 –although they did tie twice.
With the loss, the Redblacks head into their first bye week at 0-2. It’s hard not to rue the multiple self-inflicted wounds the team has given itself over the past two weeks. If some of their league-high ten turnovers don’t happen or if any of their six red zone trips are cashed in, they could be sitting at 2-0.
Being winless two weeks into the season isn’t a death knell by any means, but what it has done is turn up the pressure on everyone in the organization. Especially on veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Had the team been able to win one of these first two games, fans might have cut him some slack if he looked rusty. But now, R-Nation will be expecting him to be a complete difference-maker with every snap he takes – despite being away from the game for nearly a year when the Edmonton Elks come to town on June 30th.
A benefit of the early week off is that it provides Dyce and his staff plenty of opportunity to dissect film. Despite strong individual efforts in all three phases of the game, adjustments will be needed to get things back on track.