The Edmonton Elks are still looking for their first win of the 2023 season after dropping a 26-7 decision to the Ottawa Redblacks. Here are my thoughts on the game:
Doege Takes the Helm
After his late-game production against the Argos last week, rookie quarterback Jarret Doege got his first career start in Ottawa. In the first half, only three of his eight drives were anything but a two-and-out. One of those three was an interception on an underthrown ball to Dillon Mitchell.
It was certainly not the start anyone was looking for from the youngster. Doege played more like a pocket passer, which was different from his scrambling the week before and much less successful. The Elks’ receivers didn’t help him either, with numerous drops throughout the game.
There were signs of improvement in the second half, as Doege was able to coordinate something the Elks had not yet done on the road: a scoring drive. After almost 95 minutes of being shut out, Doege found Maurice Ffrench with a beautiful toss for the touchdown. It would be the only points he could muster and two more interceptions in the second half killed a couple of promising drives.
When asked if his quarterback got into a rhythm, head coach Chris Jones was dismissive.
“Didn’t look like it. We scored seven points. Had too many turnovers. Any time you get held to seven points, you could never call it a rhythm.”
Pressed on whether Doege would receive another starting opportunity on a short week, Jones offered no clarity.
“We’ll see. It’s early at this point”.
The Oh-No Line
There is lots of blame to go around during a losing streak, but the offensive line needs to shoulder a fair amount for the current skid.
The group has now surrendered a league-high 16 sacks in four games. They have not been able to open running lanes and, ultimately, that facet of the game has been abandoned. The team’s short-yardage woes have also continued, with two attempts being stopped in this game, one of which was mercifully erased by a borderline offside call on the Ottawa defensive line.
It isn’t about to get better either, as right tackle Josiah St. John left the game in the third quarter. David Foucault was kicked out to left tackle and Martez Ivey moved to the right side. That brought in 2023 third-round draft pick Phil Grohovac to play left guard. He was immediately beaten by veteran Cleyon Laing for the sack.
Chris Jones didn’t directly call out the unit, but inferred the team’s inability to run the football was a major concern.
“We never got in a rhythm as far as getting anything on first-and-10. If we could ever have success on first-and-10, we are a lot better football team.”
With the injury to St. John, Theren Churchill may need to be inserted into the lineup next week. The Stettler, Alberta native was acquired in a trade with the Argos before training camp.
Here, You Take It
The Green and Gold are not doing themselves any favours when it comes to turnovers. With another three interceptions against Ottawa, they now have a league-leading 14 giveaways through four games. The fumble problem did not arise in this game but there needs to be some real focus put on maintaining possession of the football.
Running One Way
I am not sure what has changed for this Chris Jones defence as far as defending against the run. The Argonauts ran for 194 yards last week and Ottawa tallied 205 yards this week. Edmonton is now averaging 164 rushing yards allowed per game — a total of 656 surrendered in four games.
Last year, when middle linebacker Nyles Morgan was in the lineup, the Elks were averaging 88.1 yards per game. To see that almost double has me thinking that the defensive line is not closing their gaps and the linebackers are dropping back more to help the young secondary.
With an unproven QB in Tyrie Adams, Ottawa leaned on their running game and it paid off in spades. De’Montre Tuggle had 126 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. The Elks did not have an answer.
On the other side, The Bros (Kevin Brown and Shannon Brooks) had a combined total of nine rushing attempts for 41 yards. In comparison to how many yards are being given away on the ground, Edmonton is only averaging 57 yards rushing themselves. Ottawa almost put up as many yards in one game as the Elks have in all four combined.
It did seem that the running game was working in the third quarter, when Brown had back-to-back runs of five and seven yards. But the next play was a floating ball that ended up in the hands of Redblacks’ DB Brandin Dandridge. For how high Jones was on the running combo he has on the team, there is a distinct lack of usage.
The Bright Spots
Maurice Ffrench — yes, that is the right spelling — got to see action due to the injury to Geno Lewis. He was the most productive receiver for the Green and Gold, tallying six catches on eight targets for 74 yards and the team’s only touchdown. His ability to get open was on display for a lot of the night and his fight to gain yards after the catch was more than we have seen from anyone on the team this year. Watch for him to grow into this role and play a big part in the offence going forward.
Jake Julien also continues to impress with his punting. Although his average yardage is near the bottom of the league, his hang time continues to be impressive and the placement is getting better with each game. He definitely gets a lot of practice, as the Elks lead the league in punts with 33 through four weeks.
Jones was asked after the game about the 0-4 start and seemed to be left without an answer.
“We certainly would not have predicted we would be 0-4 right now. I feel strongly that we have good players. We’ve got to figure it out and try to do things that they do well.”
The Elks have six days to work on just that before facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders next Thursday night.