The Ottawa Redblacks may be the most routinely competitive 3-7 team in recent CFL history, but they are quickly facing a reckoning when it comes to their porous pass defence.
The Redblacks have allowed an average of 326.7 passing yards per game this season — the worst in the CFL by a margin of over 30 yards. They’ve also allowed a whopping 27 completions of over 30 yards, six more than the next-closest team.
While head coach Bob Dyce was quick to praise other aspects of his defence when rehashing last week’s 25-24 loss to Montreal, he couldn’t distract from the problem at hand.
“Our defence does a good job,” Dyce said during an appearance on TSN 1200 this week. “I’ll tell you what, they take the ball away at an alarming rate. They’ve done a fantastic job, they lead the league in takeaways and do a fantastic job against the run but we continue to get exploited by vertical shots at times and the same thing happened near the end of the game. We have to eliminate those.”
With Ottawa leading 24-19 in the final minute of their Week 11 contest, Alouettes’ backup quarterback Caleb Evans was able to find Canadian receiver Hergy Mayala wide open for a 51-yard gain on a critical third-and-four play. That set up the game-winning touchdown run three plays later.
It wasn’t the only busted coverage of the night, as Evans hit first-year standout Austin Mack on a 47-yard shot early in the third quarter to set the stage for Montreal’s first major. In both circumstances, it was the players on the field that erred, not defensive coordinator Barron Miles in the booth.
“It was more a personnel breakdown,” Dyce acknowledged. “We had a missed assignment on the play.”
The Redblacks have been forced to play short-handed in the secondary since day one, with all-star cornerback Money Hunter suffering a torn pectoral in training camp. His preferred replacement, Hakeem Bailey, has also laboured on the six-game injured list, while their best coverage player, Brandin Dandridge, has been out since Week 9.
The expected return of Dandridge this week should provide a significant boost to the secondary, but Dyce does not believe the current personnel issues can be solved with personnel changes.
“The challenge with everything right now is in some ways, you wish it was one guy, in that regard, because it’s easy to replace if someone is making the same mistake more than once,” he remarked.
“But if it’s not that, then let’s say you give up two explosives and it’s two different guys in two different totally different scenarios. There’s always going to be change but if it’s two different people, it’s our job as coaches to correct it and stop those things. And if it’s not one guy, then we have to do a better job of instilling the idea of how important it is that everybody, every man, does his job.”
The Redblacks (3-7) will return to action on Sunday, August 27 when they take on the Edmonton Elks (1-9) at 7:00 p.m. EDT.