To a man, everyone on the Ottawa Redblacks’ roster this season has sworn — multiple times — that they love playing for head coach Bob Dyce. To a man, they’ve continually reiterated their belief that they’re better than their record indicates and they could still make a run to the postseason.
In the end, however, the only thing this team proved is that talk is cheap because with their backs against the wall these past two weeks and their playoff fate still somewhat in their control, they put forth back-to-back pathetic efforts. Just like last week, the Redblacks came out flat and stayed that way.
— Baron Von Awesome (@CappyD) October 9, 2023
It’s one thing to go down fighting, but it’s another to appear as disinterested as Ottawa did during Monday’s 29-3 beatdown at Percival Molson Stadium.
Here are my thoughts on the game that ensured Ottawa will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
1) Rookie quarterback Dustin Crum completed only five of 13 pass attempts for 72 yards, though he had little help around him. The offensive line was unable to provide him a consistent pocket, a few receivers dropped well-thrown passes, and the play-calling did little to cater to his strengths or offset Montreal’s heavy pressure.
At times, it seemed like Crum wasn’t making decisions quickly enough, though it can be hard to process things when you’re immediately scrambling to avoid pressure.
The 24-year-old was pulled at the start of the fourth quarter in favour of veteran Nick Arbuckle, who came in, promptly fumbled (which was returned for a touchdown), and proceeded to throw check-downs into the soft zone Montreal played because they were up four touchdowns.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
The @MTLAlouettes keep pouring the gravy on!
— CFL (@CFL) October 9, 2023
2) For the second week in a row, Khari Jones’ offensive attack was awful. After 45 minutes of play, the Redblacks mustered only 97 yards and five first downs. Ottawa punted on their first eight possessions and, were it not for a craven decision to kick a late field goal, would have been shut out on the day (more on that later on).
The Redblacks averaged 2.8 yards on second downs, which was a big reason why they converted just 33 percent of their second down opportunities.
It’s hard to say anything positive about Jones’ offence because his attack still lacks an identity this late in the season. One might argue it’s a run-first approach, but Devonte Williams had just ten carries and Crum, a mobile quarterback by any standard, had zero. It’s hard to remember the last time Crum looked like a threat to take off. Is he nursing an undisclosed injury or has that been coached out of his game?
Why is Jones not moving the pocket to play to Crum’s strengths and allow him to throw on the run? Why does it seem like every second-down pass has receivers running outs just short of the sticks? Where are the slants and intermediate routes working the middle of the field? Where are the crossing routes that opposing teams use to kill Ottawa’s secondary with every week? Why did Jones dial up only one screen to a running back? Why was the team’s leading receiver, Justin Hardy, only targeted twice? Why did the Redblacks’ attack switch to up-tempo only when the game was well out of reach?
Some will argue Jones’ hands are tied because he’s dealing with a rookie quarterback, but in a CFL season that has featured plenty of rookie backups and third-string pivots thrust into action across the country, that excuse seems like a cop out.
3) Barron Miles’ defence started out strong but faded as the game when on, likely a result of being on the field for nearly 38 minutes.
Still, you’re not going to win many games when you allow the opposing quarterback to complete 88 percent of his passes. At one point, Cody Fajardo strung together 16 straight completions. It was often pitch and catch with pass attempts not even being contested as almost half of Fajardo’s 272 passing yards came after the catch.
Montreal wracked up 389 yards of offence, with 126 of those yards coming on the ground. At times, it didn’t even look like Ottawa’s defenders were interested in making a tackle.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) October 9, 2023
There were some excellent individual efforts, specifically from defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Bryce Carter. With Lorenzo Mauldin IV not dressed, the duo stepped up and combined for six tackles, three tackles for a loss, and one sack.
Brandin Dandridge notched an interception that came on a rushed throw after Wakefield applied pressure to Fajardo. However, the defensive back was also burnt badly for failing to play man coverage and instead trying to jump a route that wasn’t thrown.
GIMME THAT 😤@Tysonphilpot hauls in the long ball for the major!
— CFL (@CFL) October 9, 2023
4) For the umpteenth game in a row, Ottawa failed to have anybody in their receiving corps make a game-changing play. For a unit that boasts experience, speed, and size, they sure struggle to make themselves noticeable.
Second-year pro Siaosi Mariner had a team-high four receptions for 45 yards, and that’s only because Arbuckle looked his way on almost every play once he entered the game. Acklin wound up making four catches as well, but his longest gain of the night was good for merely 12 yards. Bralon Addison turned six targets into two receptions for 34 yards and Shaq Evans managed just one catch thanks to a pair of drops.
I’d argue there’s been three position groups that failed the Redblacks this season, with the receivers and secondary being two of the three. As for the other…
5) It was another grim outing for the Redblacks’ offensive line. Left guard Drew Desjarlais’ absence obviously loomed large, figuratively and literally, but it wasn’t his replacement Hunter Stewart who dragged the line down, it was the team’s tackles. Dino Boyd had an awful game at left tackle, not only in terms of blocking but also for his bonehead after-the-whistle penalty that killed an early promising drive.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) October 9, 2023
2023 first overall pick Dontae Bull continued to experience rookie growing pains at right tackle but when he’s exposed, it’s ugly.
The @MTLAlouettes keep gobbling up QBs in the backfield 🦃
— CFL (@CFL) October 9, 2023
At six-foot-seven and 326 pounds, Bull is clearly a mauler in the run game, but his footwork needs to be better to improve his win rate in pass protection. As a tackle going up against opposing team’s speed rushers, size doesn’t always matter so much as mobility.
After conceding five sacks to Montreal, the Redblacks have now given up a league-leading 58 on the season.
6) It was a whale of a game from punter Richie Leone, the busiest member of the team on the day. He punted ten times for 499 yards, averaging a flip of 39.1 yards per punt. Ottawa’s kick coverage was led by Canadian linebacker Adam Auclair, who finished the night with three special teams tackles.
Michael Domagala was only called upon once and split the uprights from 21 yards out.
7) I hated everything about Ottawa’s field goal, even if it accounted for the team’s only points.
Facing third-and-two from Montreal’s 14-yard line and down 26 points with 6:35 remaining in the game, Bob Dyce chose to send out his field goal unit.
The kindest interpretation is that taking the points made it a three-score game — three touchdowns with three successful two-point converts — and that Dyce truly thought his team was capable of completing the comeback.
Another interpretation is that he was concerned with the optics of being shut out and sought to avoid being the first Ottawa team to be blanked since the Rough Riders were beaten 31-0 by the Blue Bombers on Sept. 24, 1988.
Either way, choosing not to try to convert on third-and-two in that situation sent a terrible message to the offence. How can say you wanted to cut the deficit to three touchdowns when you didn’t believe your offence could pick up two yards?
In a season full of questionable decisions by Ottawa’s rookie head coach, this was quite another.
8) If you don’t think players are frustrated, think again. For a team that was generally well-disciplined this season, the Redblacks were sloppy and frankly stupid on a number of fouls they committed against the Alouettes. The after-the-whistle fouls in particular were indefensible.
Ottawa was flagged 11 times for 121 yards, including four misconducts. More than once those flags kept Montreal drives alive.
9) Before the season started, OSEG chose to offer a road trip to this game as a perk to season-ticket holders who renewed their seats early last off-season.
Even that was somewhat botched when it was revealed midweek that the vehicles making the trip to and from Montreal were school buses, not coach buses. I spoke to a number of fans who either chose not to go, or who decided to drive themselves since the school buses weren’t scheduled to stop for bathroom breaks.
In the end, 13 buses made the trip but you have to think this was another self-inflicted wound ownership could have avoided. Given that season ticket holders are the lifeblood of any fan base, and given how terrible the on-field product has been in recent years, surely it would have made sense to go the extra mile and ensure fans travelled in comfort. Perhaps it would have taken a bit of the sting out of the result as well.
10) There will be plenty of time for post-mortems in coming weeks, but for now, the reality is R-Nation has to come to terms with another year of finishing outside of the playoffs.
That the Redblacks have failed to beat a single East Division opponent is astounding. The fact that at one point Dyce had this team at 3-3 before it dropped nine of its next ten games defies explanation.
For now, two games remain on the schedule. Both are against a Toronto Argonauts team that will be looking to balance making history vs. staying healthy for the East Final. The games will be meaningless from an Ottawa perspective, but should be valuable in terms of helping general manager Shawn Burke determine who should be part of this team going forward.
After the loss, head coach Bob Dyce wouldn’t completely commit to starting Crum next week, but if the Redblacks have even the tiniest bit of belief in him, he should be given these games to continue his development.
Otherwise, Ottawa should start Tyrrell Pigrome to see what they have in him. Nick Arbuckle should only see the field in case of injury, because it would be impossible to justify playing the veteran over youth.