Crumming up clutch (& 10 other thoughts on the Redblacks winning in Calgary)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Too often in recent years, R-Nation has watched their team’s offence waste a strong defensive effort. Dustin Crum flipped the script on Sunday night in Calgary as the offence carried to the Redblacks to thrilling 43-41 overtime victory in front of 21,226 fans at McMahon Stadium.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

1) For the second week in a row, quarterback Dustin Crum came up clutch. With the Redblacks trailing 32-28 late in the fourth quarter, the 24-year-old calmly marched his team downfield, converted on a key third down to keep the drive alive, and hung in the pocket to throw a touchdown pass to put his team ahead with a 1:21 second remaining. He also completed every pass he attempted in overtime.

Crum’s ability to rise to the moment is impressive. Where other inexperienced quarterbacks might have wilted in the face of pressure, he’s repeatedly made good, smart decisions.

Yet again, Crum’s mobility caused headaches for the opposing defence. On numerous run-pass options (RPOs), Calgary’s defence had to cheat to make sure they weren’t burned by Crum tucking and running the ball. Although he finished the night with nine carries for 63 yards, the real reason Ottawa won the game is because of what Crum did with his arm.

The rookie completed 79 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Time after time, Crum took what the defence gave him. Most impressive was his ability to keep his eyes downfield as he moved around the pocket to avoid pressure. He hung on to the ball too long at times, taking five sacks, but also avoided turning it over.

What Sunday night’s performance revealed is that Crum isn’t just a flash in the pan. He’s got the tools to be an effective quarterback and he’s growing more comfortable in the offence each week. The trick now will be ensuring that as he uses his legs, be it to extend plays or scramble, he protects himself. He took some hellacious hits from the Stampeders.

2) Offensive coordinator Khari Jones did an excellent job once again of keeping his offence balanced, calling 31 runs to 29 passes. Ottawa had strong production on first down, averaging 7.4 yards per play, which is why they did so well on second down, converting 54 percent of their second down opportunities.

Since Crum has taken over the starting job, Jones has done a masterful job tailoring his playbook to his young quarterback’s strengths. The RPOs and read-option plays Ottawa frequently calls put pressure on the defence, forcing them to make quick reads and decide how they should commit to defending the play.

Jones should also be commended for not getting overly conservative with his play calls. Looking around the league, you can see a number of teams that “dumb things down” for their young quarterbacks and restrict what they allow them to do. That’s not the case in the nation’s capital.

3) I love how the Redblacks used Canadian running back Ante Milanovic-Litre against his former team. It’s not just the fact that Litre was used as a change of pace back, but rather when he was used. When Ottawa went for it on third down in the fourth quarter, Litre was handed the ball. Again in overtime when the Redblacks needed a touchdown, it was Litre’s number that was called. The power back finished the game with seven carries for 35 yards and two touchdowns.

American Devonte Williams also ran hard and had 10 carries for 57 yards along with a pair of catches for 14 yards. I can’t remember the last time I saw a back use the spin move as effectively as Williams does. When he busts that out in the open field, defenders are left grasping at air.

4) For the second week in a row, Canadian Nate Behar was his quarterback’s favourite target. Crum looked Behar’s way ten times, resulting in eight catches for 81 yards, one touchdown, and the game-winning two point convert. Talk about clutch.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Justin Hardy made seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, with 56 of those yards coming after the catch. Jaelon Acklin hauled in five passes for 60 yards and Siaosi Mariner made one catch for eight yards.

As a group, Ottawa’s receivers deserve praise for their run blocking against the Stamps. Obviously much of the run game is about how the offensive line plays, but having pass catchers who aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty and who can set the edge make the ground game much more productive.

5) The Redblacks’ offensive line did a lot of things right against Calgary, but they also can be much better. In terms of the ground game, any time the team rushes for 184 yards, it’s because the big boys up front dominated. That’s perhaps best reflected in the fact that backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome finished the night with five carries for 29 yards on what were primarily sneaks.

In terms of their pass protection, giving up five sacks is never good, but there are some caveats to consider. Calgary’s pass rush is fierce — last game they notched seven sacks — and it can be hard to hold blocks for a mobile quarterback. Linemen have their back to the quarterback, so there are times they inevitably end up directing their man to where the quarterback has unexpectedly scrambled. Still, two of the sacks given up were directly the result of missed assignments from right guard Jacob Ruby and right tackle Zack Pelehos.

6) Barron Miles’ defence did a couple of things right. The group notched three sacks, recovered a fumble, picked off two passes, and forced a turnover on downs. They completely shut down Calgary’s ground game, limiting the Stamps to just 38 rushing yards. Calgary couldn’t run the ball but the problem was they didn’t need to.

This is because Jake Maier threw for a career high 450 passing yards, torching Ottawa’s secondary all game long. Not only did Maier throw touchdown passes of 54, 33, and 95 yards, he repeatedly killed the Redblacks by pushing the ball down the field for big chunk plays with ease.

After being picked off by Brandin Dandridge, Maier worked the opposite side of the field, targeting rookie defensive back Deandre Lamont. It seems safe to say Lamont won’t enjoy reviewing the game film because more than once he let his receiver blow by him for huge gains. Given the rookie’s struggles, it was surprising that Sherrod Baltimore didn’t get more reps. The veteran was dressed but didn’t get much playing time.

Damon Webb had a team-high seven tackles and a sack. Veteran defensive back Abdul Kanneh continued to make his presence felt with four tackles, while Canadian Adam Auclair notched four tackles in his second start at middle linebacker.

Defensive lineman Michael Wakefield had two tackles and a sack. Lorenzo Mauldin IV made a tackle that resulted in a turnover on downs and recovered a fumble, which wasn’t bad for a guy who looked like he might miss significant time after being carted off the field at the end of practice on Thursday.

7) Dandridge might just be the Redblacks’ most important player. For the second week in a row, the 26-year-old had a pick six. It was his third interception of the year and his third touchdown as he also scored one earlier this year on a punt return.

In addition to putting points on the board, Dandridge made a tackle and had two knockdowns against the Stamps, including one that broke up a two point conversion attempt.

Given his playmaking skills — he’s got two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble to credit his season — at some point, the question needs to be asked if it makes sense to continue using him as the team’s primary punt returner.

One on hand, he’s clearly an explosive player capable of flipping field position in an instant and a threat to take kicks to the house. On the other, given his importance to the defence, do you really want him being hit every kick return? It’s a tough dilemma for head coach Bob Dyce and his coaching staff.

8) Overall, it wasn’t a great night for Ottawa’s special teams. The positive was Lewis Ward nailing all of his kicks, including two field goals and three converts. The negatives were that despite Richie Leone averaging 52.4 yards per punt, the average net yardage was just 34.6 yards due to poor kick coverage.

Calgary returner Tommylee Lewis slashed through the Redblacks’ coverage units to the tune of 17.8 yards per punt return. Calgary also blocked a punt.

9) Ottawa’s home uniforms looked sharp on the road. It was a gorgeous uniform matchup against Calgary’s red home look that worked mainly because the Stamps wore white pants. Ottawa’s white road uniform simply looks too much like a Calgary uniform, which will hopefully be addressed at some point in the future.

10) Bob Dyce’s seventh career coaching win moved Ottawa to .500 and to second place in the East Division. Following an 0-2 start, the Redblacks have rallied and won three of their past four games. The win was just Ottawa’s third in 16 matchups against Calgary since 2014, and snapped a Stampeders’ streak of four straight wins.

Next up for Dyce’s squad is an important home matchup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night at TD Place. The Redblacks will be looking to continue stacking wins and putting a firmer grip on second place in the division.

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).