Redblacks’ collapse a fitting reflection of their season (& nine other thoughts on losing to the Lions)

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, the Ottawa Redblacks found another new way to crush their fans’ spirits, this time blowing a 19-point fourth-quarter lead in spectacular fashion to fall 41-37 to the B.C. Lions in front of a crowd of 20,403 at BC Place.

Here are my thoughts on the Redblacks’ seventh straight loss.

1) In a game that had few positive takeaways for R-Nation, the play of rookie quarterback Dustin Crum was one. The 24-year-old was sharp against the Lions, putting the ball on target and making good reads.

Crum completed 63 percent of his passes for 233 yards and an interception but the completion percentage would have been significantly higher if not for four drops, while the interception came off a ball tipped at the line. He also did an excellent job using his legs to keep the defence off-balance, either by influencing the crashing defensive ends on RPOs (Run-Pass Options) or by scrambling to avoid pressure. Crum rushed the ball nine times for 46 yards and a trio of touchdowns.

With this loss basically eliminating the Redblacks from playoff contention, Ottawa must devote what’s left of this season to bolstering Crum’s development. He’s still raw but he’s shown more than enough to head into 2024 training camp as QB1, and the experience he accumulates in the next five games will be pivotal to his growth.   

Not to mention his exciting style of play can keep R-Nation engaged while the rest of the 2023 campaign plays itself out. The only trick is that he’ll need to avoid taking so many unnecessary hits to ensure he finishes the year healthy.

2) Khari Jones’ offence quietly put together a decent performance — mainly thanks to the effectiveness of the RPO motion incorporated into most plays. Still, his ultra-conservative play-calling in the fourth quarter overshadows everything positive his unit did in the first three quarters.

Often in football, playing it safe is playing to lose. It’s a lesson that Jones and the Redblacks should have learned multiple times this season, but for whatever reason, they haven’t. Several times this year Jones has been handed a slim late lead and an opportunity to seal a victory. Almost always it’s resulted in short possessions that give the ball back to the other team, who promptly march down the field to score.

The Redblacks had six — yes, you read that right, six — possessions in the game’s final 15 minutes. Those drives mustered whopping totals of one, seven, negative ten, seven, negative four, and eight yards respectively. While some of that can be blamed on poor execution (see Justin Hardy’s drop on the second-to-last drive), more of it comes down to poor coaching that featured repetitive and predictable play-calling.

After three quarters of play, Ottawa had generated 314 yards of offence. At the game’s final whistle, the total was 323 yards. Any way you slice it, that’s an appalling output for a team that was supposedly fighting for its life.

What fans can’t know until one of them speaks on it publicly is if Jones is being directed by head coach Bob Dyce to limit the playbook in these late-game situations, or whether he himself has been deciding that this is the best way to try and win games.

Either way, the result is the same: another maddening loss that should have been a victory.

3) A week after putting up 215 total yards, running back Devonte Williams had a strong effort in the first half, before fading over the game’s final 30 minutes.

By halftime, the second-year pro had turned ten carries into 63 yards. He finished the night with 18 carries for 66 yards and was a non-factor in the passing game, catching one dump-off for a gain of eight yards. It wasn’t so much that Williams began playing poorly as it was the defence simply expecting the run and blowing up the plays for losses.

4) The Crum to Justin Hardy connection is real. Hardy turned a game-high 13 targets into eight catches for 114 yards but his late drop on a perfectly thrown deep ball in the game’s final minute will haunt him.

Speaking of drops, Shaq Evans’ seven targets resulted in three receptions as he repeatedly failed to hang onto the ball. Also guilty of a drop was Canadian Nate Behar. Jaelon Acklin finished the night with four catches for 41 yards but continues to be invisible for long stretches of play.

Why did it take until the game’s very final possession for Bralon Addison to get a target? For a guy who was signed to be a difference-maker when healthy, he’s rarely seeing balls come his way.

5) I thought Dino Boyd, Drew Desjarlais, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, Jacob Ruby and rookie Dontae Bull more than held their own against a fierce Lions’ front seven.

While the stat sheet will hold three sacks against them, two came due to Crum trying to extend the play and failing to throw the ball away. Overall, Ottawa’s offensive line did a good job managing the pressure and opening running lanes. At least, until everyone in the stadium knew to expect a run, then things clogged up.

6) When a defence blows a 19-point fourth-quarter lead, it’s hard to highlight the positives. In the name of fairness, I’ll note that Barron Miles’ unit notched three sacks, generated four turnovers — three interceptions and a turnover on downs — and put points on the board thanks to linebacker Douglas Coleman’s fantastic pick-six.

But that’s where the positives end. Damon Webb had an interception, but at best it cancelled out his atrocious attempt at defending one of the Lions’ fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

Speaking of poor coverage, rookie Deandre Lamont has spent time this season at strongside linebacker, halfback, and cornerback yet hasn’t shown the ability to cover at any of them. And yet he was still the team’s first choice to replace the injured Abdul Kanneh. Go figure.

7) For a guy who cut his teeth coaching special teams — and developed his units into arguably the league’s best year after year — head coach Bob Dyce sure makes some inexplicable decisions with regard to those units.

Attempting a 49-yard field goal while up by 10 points with 1:49 left in the game is coaching malpractice, plain and simple. I don’t care that kicker Lewis Ward had already made two kicks from 53 yards out. That’s not the point. What matters is that even if Ward hadn’t pushed the kick wide right, getting three points still means it’s a two-touchdown game.

The risk Ottawa ran was a miss and then having offensive linemen hustling down the field trying to catch the speedy Terry Williams. What happened was entirely predictable, yet totally unnecessary.

All Dyce had to do was have Leone punt the ball deep. Ideally, B.C. would be pinned and have to work the entire length of the field, but even if the ball had rolled through the end zone, a rouge would’ve accomplished the same thing as a successful field goal in making it a more complicated two-score game. The Lions would’ve needed a touchdown, a two-point convert, and a field goal to tie things up.

Instead, Dyce chose to tempt fate and it cost his team dearly. Not for the first time this season, coaching has cost the Redblacks a victory.

8) Amar Doman just gets it.

This is awesome stuff from the Lions owner and every other organization in the league should be stealing from his playbook. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes a strong impression on the next generation of fans by hooking them early. Kudos to Doman for not just getting things right on the field, but off of it too.

9) Do not accept grandiose statements of salvaging the season. With both the Ticats and Elks winning this weekend, the Redblacks are all but mathematically eliminated.

Ottawa’s seventh loss in a row is perhaps the most crushing in a season full of cruel, close losses. For the 12th time in 14 games, the Redblacks came out on the wrong side of a single-score game. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

Fans in the nation’s capital are at their limit. Promises of fixing or turning things around will ring hollow. The fact of the matter is there is nothing that can cure what ills R-Nation short of winning. Whatever it takes, OSEG must get the Redblacks’ organization back to playing winning football. Doing otherwise risks further apathy setting into the fan base, and that’s the kind of rot that can take years to fix.

Up next for the Redblacks is a clash with the Roughriders (6-7) next Friday night.

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).