Elks elixir does the trick (and 11 other thoughts on the Redblacks’ first win of the season)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Maybe the Ottawa Redblacks should petition the league to host Edmonton more often.

Before Friday night’s 26-7 win over the visiting Elks, the Redblacks’ previous home win came back in September 2021 — also against those Elks.

Here are all my thoughts on Ottawa’s first win at TD Place in 640 days.

1) In his first career start, the 26-year-old Tyrie Adams was extremely effective directing Ottawa’s offence, keeping Edmonton’s defence off-balance with both his arm and legs.

It wasn’t so much that Adams ran frequently — he took off selectively, rushing the ball three times for 31 yards — but it was his ability to extend plays, breaking contain that put enormous pressure on Edmonton’s front seven and secondary.

Adams finished the night by completing 70 percent of his passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. The numbers aren’t stunning but they do reflect good decision making. The ninth different quarterback to start a game for the Redblacks since the departure of Trevor Harris didn’t force anything. If a check down was the best option, that’s what he did. Some might knock a quarterback for making the safe choice but it protected the ball and, more often than not, kept the chains moving.

Although it wasn’t a perfect outing — there were some missed throws and a couple of times, Adams held the ball a split second too long before making a decision — the second-year pro did more than enough to instil confidence that if called upon again, he can rise to the occasion.

Another thing that stood out was the young pivot’s ability to draw defenders offsides with a hard count. It was something noticeable against the Argos in the pre-season and he caught Edmonton more than once last night.

2) Some in R-Nation were caught off-guard by the fact that veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was not ready to return to action following the team’s bye week, but I don’t believe that the club was surprised.

From the start of training camp, the team has never publicly stated a timeline for his return. It’s clear he’s close, and the decision to keep him off the six-game injured list reflects that. It has also allowed him valuable practice reps. I wouldn’t be shocked if Masoli made his season debut next week against Hamilton, but if he remains out another week, the team has to feel confident in Adams’ ability to get the job done.

3) Offensive coordinator Khari Jones put together a masterful game plan. By emphasizing the run, he not only helped protect his young quarterback but laid out a blueprint to use going forwards to help ease his veteran quarterback back into live action, whenever that may be.

Against the Elks, Jones went to the run early and often, sticking with it throughout the game. When it was all said and done, the Redblacks called 30 run plays compared to 20 passes. They racked up 375 yards of offence, averaging 7.1 yards per play, with more than 200 of those yards coming on the ground.

It’s clear that Jones made some tweaks during the bye week, as the ground game contained some wrinkles not previously seen this season. There were lots of wide stretches to the outside, sweeps, misdirection, bootlegs, pulling offensive linemen and packages with fullbacks Ante Milanovic-Litre and Marco Dubois leading the way into the hole. Ottawa’s success on the ground made play-action lethal when it was dialled up.

By moving the pocket with bootlegs and rollouts, Jones played to Adams’ strengths while also putting an incredible amount of pressure on Edmonton’s defence.

Not counting the kneel-downs at the end of each half, the Redblacks had 13 possessions. Seven of those drives generated over 30 yards. Aside from a lull in the third quarter, Ottawa moved the ball with relative ease, converting 10 of their 22 second-down opportunities.

4) It was a heck of a night for Ottawa’s running backs. Both American De’Montre Tuggle and Canadian Jackson Bennett ran hard, displaying great strength, rarely going down on first contact and constantly pushing the pile forward.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

By ensuring both backs got a decent number of carries, the duo was fresh late into the game. Tuggle averaged 7.4 yards per carry, turning his 17 touches into 126 yards and a touchdown. Bennett averaged 5.5 yards per carry, turning his eight carries into 44 yards.

The former Gee-Gee also caught two passes for 24 yards, with 23 of those yards coming after the catch.

5) When a team averages 6.9 yards per carry, it’s a direct result of the offensive line imposing their will. The big men up front for the Redblacks dominated, not only making their initial blocks but frequently getting to the second level and sealing off linebackers and defensive backs. Led by centre Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, Ottawa’s offensive line wore down Edmonton’s defence with their physicality.

As well as the group played in the run game, they were also strong in pass protection, allowing just a single sack, which was more of a result of Adams failing to get rid of the ball on time than it was a result of a missed assignment.

6) Adams did an excellent job of spreading the ball around, as reflected by the fact that eight different players finished the game with a catch. Justin Hardy led the way with three, while Jaelon Acklin and Siaosi Mariner each made two.

The reception of the night goes to fullback/receiver Marco Dubois, whose 54-yard scamper resulted in his first career regular season touchdown.

7) What a night for Barron Miles’ defence. To put it plainly, the group dominated. Of the Elks’ 14 possessions, nine ended in punts, three in interceptions, one in a turnover on downs, and one in a touchdown.

Overall, Edmonton mustered 253 yards of offence, with the majority of those yards coming with the game already out of reach. Although it was technically a two-score game into the third quarter, given how stout Ottawa’s defence played, it felt like much more.

As we have seen repeatedly this season, the Redblacks shut down the opponent’s run game, limiting Edmonton to just 3.8 yards per carry. The group also amassed four sacks and rushed countless other throws thanks to their relentless pass rush.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

In terms of individual standout performances, they were many. Hakeem Bailey had a team-high six tackles along with a knockdown. He also nearly had an interception. Douglas Coleman made five tackles, a knockdown, an interception, and forced a couple of incompletions as a result of some hellacious hitting. Frankie Griffin had four tackles and a knockdown. Damon Webb had a tackle, knockdown, and an interception. And Brandin Dandridge made a pair of tackles, a knockdown, and had an interception — in addition to his special team exploits, which I’ll get to in a minute.

8) It’s easy to take special teams for granted when they’re as good as Ottawa’s are, but it’s worth noting just how reliable the unit is. The leaky kick coverage that plagued the team throughout the preseason and start of the regular season has vanished. In its place is a smothering, disciplined coverage unit that limited Edmonton to just 4.8 yards per punt return.

Lewis Ward went four-for-four on his field goals, splitting the uprights from 35, 50, 15 and 41 yards out. Richie Leone punted seven times, averaging a field positional flip of 39 yards per punt. He also perfectly executed a surprise onside kick.

The call was brilliant from head coach Bob Dyce and R-Nation has to love seeing that type of aggression from their coaching staff. However, an illegal interference flag wiped out the successful recovery. Next time, Deandre Lamont needs to improve his acting skills. If he gave off a bit more of an “I can’t believe I’m finding myself in the path of an Elk” and less of an “I’m here to block you” vibe, the refs likely don’t throw a flag.

9) Losing returner DeVonte Dedmon for the season is a big blow — he underwent successful surgery on Friday morning — but if Brandin Dandridge can keep looking like he did against the Elks, Ottawa’s return game might not be in dire straits.

Each time Dandridge fielded a kick, he looked like a threat to take it all the way. His eight punt returns resulted in 102 yards, with the longest being a brilliant 34-yard run.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

10) After watching their team lose 13 consecutive games in the friendly confines of Lansdowne — not to mention 24 of the past 26 — it had to be a massive relief for the announced crowd of 18,145 on hand to finally witness a win. Despite not being close to a sellout, those on hand were as loud, passionate and engaged as ever. Here’s hoping the victory can be a springboard to even bigger crowds.

11) With the win, the Redblacks improved their record to 1-2 and move into third place in the East Division. Some might attempt to detract from the victory by pointing out that it came against an Edmonton squad that looks like the league’s worst team, but nobody in Ottawa cares about that.

The win was a full team effort, with the Redblacks looking sharp in all three phases of the game. Furthermore, it’s provided the team with a formula it can use going forwards to start stacking wins. The fact that the home losing streak was put to bed is the cherry on top.

Up next for Dyce’s squad is a trip down to Hamilton to take on the winless Ticats.

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).