Streak-breakers: Redblacks hit rock bottom & ten other thoughts on Ottawa’s loss to Edmonton

Photo: Timothy Matwey/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Ottawa Redblacks went into Commonwealth Stadium Sunday night to take on a 1-9 team in the midst of a 22-game home losing streak and were thoroughly outplayed, falling to the Edmonton Elks by a score of 30-20.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) Dustin Crum isn’t the reason the Redblacks keep losing, but he also isn’t doing anything to help them come up with wins. Whether it’s fair to expect a rookie quarterback to be the difference is another matter matter, but that’s where Ottawa finds itself.

The 24-year-old is playing poised, hanging in the pocket in the face of pressure, making quick reads, putting his throws on target and avoiding turnovers. But what he’s not doing is pushing the ball deep or pressuring defences with his legs the way he was a month ago.

It was another week of pedestrian numbers from Crum: 17-of-26 pass attempts for 172 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. 35 of those yards came on one completion, his lone successful deep ball of the night, but otherwise averaged 5.4 yards per pass attempt. To put that in context, Edmonton’s Tre Ford averaged 17.6.

Four of his five carries came off scrambles as the pocket collapsed and one was a designed draw. Nothing proved very effective though, as Crum finished the night with just 28 yards on the ground.

As much as it would be easy to lay the offence’s woes at the young quarterback’s feet, the reality is he needs more help. From his offensive coordinator, from his receivers and from his offensive line. Nobody is doing enough right now and when an inexperienced pivot isn’t properly supported, wins don’t tend to follow.

2) In theory, the more playing time Crum gets, the better the offence should be. Instead, it seems like Khari Jones’ offence is regressing.

Ottawa converted just 33 percent of their second down opportunities, which continued a month-long trend of ineptitude on second down. Since their current losing streak started in late July, the Redblacks have converted 21 percent, 23 percent, 55 percent and 35 percent of their second down opportunities. If you can’t sustain drives, you need explosive plays to get into the end zone. Ottawa’s getting neither right now.

The one area that has thrived in recent weeks is the ground game. Jones has done a wonderful job keeping defences off-balance with a mix of runs between the tackles and creative sweeps and tosses to the edge.

What may get the Redblacks back on track is Jones finding a way to use that type of creativity to offset the heavy pressure opposing teams dial up against his young quarterback each week.

3) It was a heck of a game from American running back Devonte Williams. The second-year pro carried the ball 12 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and busted off four runs of 10-plus yards.

Williams boasts speed, power and shiftiness, all qualities that allow running backs to thrive on the CFL’s wider field. It seems odd that the Redblacks don’t make more of an effort to get him involved in the passing attack. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that his pass blocking, specifically his blitz pickup, is weak at times.

Canadian Ante Milanovic-Litre was the only other running back to receive a carry on the night, but it was a play doomed before the ball was even snapped. Since being used effectively as a powerful change of pace back against the Stampeders on July 23, Litre has been given four carries through five games. He’s picked up exactly three yards.

This is because every time he’s come into the game, it’s been a short yardage situation with backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome handing him the ball and the entire defence waiting for the inevitable run. Litre is a dangerous weapon, if used properly. Right now, his presence on the field telegraphs what’s coming, which is an indictment on the play calling.

4) After a pair of injury-plagued seasons in which he managed to suit up for just 11 of 32 games, it was good to see Bralon Addison healthy and back on the field. The 29-year-old finished the night with four catches for 27 yards.

As for the rest of Ottawa’s receiving corps, nobody stood out. Whether that’s because the group is struggling to create separation or because they’ve been limited by routes that have them running short patterns is hard to say.

Shaq Evans had the only deep catch of the night, a 35-yarder along the sideline, and finished with three catches for 51 yards.

Jaelon Acklin made four catches for 44 yards while Justin Hardy, the team’s leading receiver, snagged four passes for 31 yards but dropped a crucial two-point conversion that would have pulled Ottawa within a score late in the game.

For the third contest in a row, Canadian receiver Tevaun Smith was held without a catch and failed to record a special teams tackle. Given his lack of contributions, it’ll be interesting to see if Keaton Bruggeling draws back into the lineup. The former Carleton Raven might not be a frequently used weapon in the offence, but Bruggeling contributes well on special teams.

5) The final stats will credit the Redblacks with only giving up one sack, but that doesn’t tell the story of how Ottawa’s offensive line was manhandled when they dropped back to pass. Although Crum was sacked once, he was under siege all night long. The only reason that total isn’t higher is due to his ability to move around the pocket to evade defenders with a handful of passes thrown away.

It’s frustrating to watch a group that run blocks so well struggle so mightily to protect the passer. In his second career start, Dontae Bull was fairly solid, though he had his hands full at times with Jacob Plamondon and Jake Ceresna.

6) Barron Miles’ defence didn’t do anything well against the Elks. Ottawa’s defence didn’t stop the run, giving up 163 yards on the ground, didn’t stop the pass, allowing an opposing quarterback to set a new career-high passing total for the second straight week, and failed to record a takeaway, despite being the best team in the league at generating them.

Edmonton’s offence thoroughly dominated the Redblacks’ defence. Tre Ford completed 87 percent of his passes for 317 yards and a touchdown. Four of his passes were explosive plays that resulted in gains of 30-plus yards. He also killed Ottawa on the ground, repeatedly breaking contain and juking defenders for huge gains. Ford finished the night with 10 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Of the Elks’ ten possessions, seven gained at least 34 yards and four gained more than 60 yards. Edmonton racked up 469 total yards while averaging 8.8 yards per play.

Poor play from the secondary continues to be a problem. As has been the case all too often, Edmonton receivers were frequently running wide open. Things have gotten so bad that I don’t remember the last time a receiver made a contested catch against this secondary. And if you think I’m exaggerating, know that of the 317 yards Edmonton threw for, 136 of them came after the catch.

The thing driving fans insane is that despite the group consistently being exploited for huge gains, there’s been no significant personnel changes. Week after week, the majority of the same players are out there being victimized once again. Obviously, it’s impossible to make wholesale changes at a position group, but something has to give. Maybe it means the addition of fresh faces in the form of NFL cuts or Miles significantly overhauling his scheme to something easier to understand.

If you’re looking for positives, the linebacking corps was stellar. Douglas Coleman notched six tackles and a sack in his first game back from injury, while Jovan Santos-Knox made 10 tackles and a sack and Adam Auclair finished with six tackles.

7) If there’s one player fans in Ottawa can count on week in and week out, it’s kicker Lewis Ward. The 30-year-old split the uprights from 46 and 53 yards out but missed from the 35, right as TSN commentator Matt Dunigan was singing his praises as the most accurate kicker in CFL history. As Dunigan was speaking, you could feel the jinx forming.

Punter Richie Leone hammered the ball, punting five times for 277 yards. Not only did Leone average 42.4 net yards per punt, he also got on the scoreboard thanks to a 74-yard punt that rolled through the end zone for a rouge.

I hated the decision to use Brandin Dandridge as punter returner in his first game back from injury. Dandridge has been Ottawa’s most impactful defender this season, and while you can’t say him performing double duty led to his injury, you can’t discount the toll those extra hits take on a player.

Given the state of the Redblacks’ secondary, helping ensure Dandridge remains healthy should outweigh any potential gains from having him return kicks. Especially since Tobias Harris was on the game day roster anyways. If he’s dressed and not returning kicks, what’s the point?

8) Unless you’ve got a legitimate reason to hate their team, you have to be happy for Edmonton snapping their 22-game home losing streak. That kind of black cloud hanging around a franchise does the league no favours. With that said, R-Nation definitely won’t appreciate having their team forever associated with that bit of history.

9) Speaking of history, despite it only being a handful of seasons since the Elks changed their name, Ottawa is the answer to a couple of key trivia questions. The Redblacks were the first team to ever beat the Elks (in their inaugural game with their new moniker) and now they’re the team that helped end their home losing streak.

10) With the loss, head coach Bob Dyce’s squad extends its losing streak to five games and officially earns the title of worst team in the league. Unlike nearly all of their other games this season, this contest was never close. Don’t let the final score fool you, the Redblacks were down multiple scores all night, failing to both move the ball with any regularity or putting up much resistance when Edmonton had possession.

The 2023 Redblacks are a team that still hasn’t figured out who they are. Through 11 games, they’ve had exactly one 100-yard receiving performance and one 100-yard rushing performance from a running back. And they are yet to have a 300-yard passer, despite using four different quarterbacks.

Defensively, they are typically stout against the run and opportunistic with their turnovers, yet their secondary is beyond porous and they have repeatedly failed to close out games.

Ottawa is heading into the bye week with a 3-8 record. To make the playoffs, Dyce will likely need to coax his team to at least eight wins, meaning the Redblacks would need to win five of their final seven games.

The only thing Ottawa has going for them is that of those seven games, five are against East Division teams. In theory, everything is still up for grabs, but if the Redblacks want R-Nation to believe, they need to come out of the bye playing with a fire and purpose that has been lacking so far this year.

Losing to the Ticats on Sept. 8 would mean another wasted season.

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).