Ottawa implodes in blowout loss to Montreal (& 10 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Ottawa Redblacks had a chance to make a resounding statement with their game against the Montreal Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium on Thursday night.

They did, but not in the way R-Nation had hoped.

Instead, last night’s 47-21 beat down showed just how big of a gap exists between where the Redblacks currently are as a team and what a Grey Cup calibre squad looks like.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

1) There’s plenty of blame to go around for last night’s embarrassing loss, but minimal guilt should be assigned to quarterback Dru Brown. The 27-year-old missed on some throws, but rare is the passer who thrives while those around him fail to provide any kind of reliable support.

Brown completed 60 percent of his passes for 292 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but the numbers are deceiving. His receivers had five drops by my count, one of which resulted in the opening drive interception after being popped up. Another came in the end zone and two others killed promising drives on second down.

There was also the issue of some receivers who simply stopped running their routes mid-play, while the offensive line and running back struggled to deal with Montreal’s ferocious pass rush.

What should encourage fans is that Brown stayed aggressive throughout the night, continuing to push the ball down the field. He also did a good job using his legs to navigate collapsing pockets while keeping his eyes down the field. More than once his ability to buy time resulted in big plays.

What needs to improve is the speed at which the ball was snapped. Brown was flagged for time count violations twice and there would have been a third penalty if not for head coach Bob Dyce burning a timeout to prevent it. Sure, Montreal was loud last night, but raucous crowds are a reality of playing on the road and Ottawa — led by their quarterback — must do a better job working around them.

2) No offensive coordinator is going to be successful when they’re handicapped by turnovers, drops, and flags. Tommy Condell is no different.

The Redblacks fell behind quickly and every time it seemed like they had a bit of momentum, something went wrong. Ottawa’s first play resulted in a turnover. The second and third possessions ended on second downs because receivers dropped catchable balls. The fourth and fifth possessions ended in fumbles. At that point, the Redblacks were down 26 and any plans of a balanced attack went out the window.

Montreal’s ultra-aggressive front seven caused havoc and Condell’s attempts to offset it by leaning into the screen game didn’t pay off, which speaks to the Alouettes’ ability to stay disciplined with their assignments and coverages.

At half-time, Ottawa had mustered just four first downs and 86 yards. By the end of the game, those numbers improved to 16 first downs and 318 yards, but don’t read too much into that. With their large lead, the Alouettes understandably let their foot off the gas.

The offence will go back to the drawing board this week, but should really focus on getting out of their own way. Good teams don’t beat themselves and as much as Montreal deserves credit for imposing their will, Ottawa’s sloppy and undisciplined play did them no favours.

3) It’s tough for a running back to make an impact on the game when they aren’t getting many touches, as was the case in Montreal for American back Ryquell Armstead.

Circumstances forced the Redblacks to abandon the run but in a perfect world, you’d still like to see Armstead finish the night with more than six carries. Armstead wound up with 26 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

The 27-year-old caught a few screen passes, but even there his longest gain of the night was just four yards.

4) With the amount of talent and experience Ottawa’s receiving corps boasts, they simply cannot have such poor showings.

Yet again, Justin Hardy was the team’s best receiver, finishing the night with seven catches for 143 yards. He also took a handoff on a sweep for a 16-yard gain.

Dominique Rhymes struggled to get into a rhythm with his quarterback, hauling in just three of six targets for 55 yards. Worse, Rhymes’ first catch didn’t come until the team’s final possession in the first half, which was far from ideal.

As for the rest of the receiving corps, it wasn’t pretty. Jaelon Acklin caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown, but the interception on the first play of the game came when he couldn’t hang onto a pass and popped the ball up. He also stopped running a route in the third quarter right before the end zone, which resulted in Brown’s pass sailing to nobody.

Veteran Bralon Addison had a pair of drive-killing drops, including one in the end zone in the third quarter. DeVonte Dedmon had one pass thrown to him on a screen which was dropped. Canadian rookie Nick Mardner turned both targets that came his way into a pair of catches for 24 yards.

5) It wasn’t a great night for Ottawa’s offensive line, although it could have been much worse. The team conceded three sacks, but given how much heat Montreal brought on nearly every dropback, three sacks on 35 pass attempts isn’t terrible. The only one that will sting is the last one, which came late in the fourth quarter when the Alouettes got to Brown despite only rushing three.

Zack Pelehos started at right tackle, replacing Dontae Bull, and more than held his own. Centre Cyrille Hogan-Saindon had a few uncharacteristically bad snaps, sending the ball toward Brown before his quarterback was ready. Crowd noise seemed to be a factor, which is something the centre and quarterback will need to sort out.

For the most part, the offensive line did well to keep pressure to the outside and provide lanes for Brown to step up into, which he did. However, not being able to establish the run and pound the ball on the ground limited the group’s effectiveness.

6) When they sit down to watch the game film, Barron Miles’ defence won’t see anything they like. The group was pushed around on the ground and shredded through the air. In fact, the only reason Cody Fajardo didn’t have a 400-yard passing game was because he was pulled before the final whistle.

That’s no exaggeration either. Ottawa failed to record a sack, interception or fumble and allowed Montreal to average 8.1 yards per first down play and 7.8 yards per second down play. The Alouettes converted 64 percent of their second down opportunities (16-of-25) which makes sense when you consider that nine of their 14 possessions resulted in points; five touchdowns and four field goals.

Furthermore, to emphasize how much Montreal’s offence truly did whatever they wanted, six of their drives gained at least 50 yards, and the Redblacks gave up five explosive plays — which the CFL defines as a run longer than 20 yards or a pass longer than 30 yards. Montreal also went four-for-five in the red zone.

The Redblacks utterly failed to make Fajardo uncomfortable in the pocket, which was a factor in allowing him to pick apart Ottawa’s secondary. That said, certain players were exposed time after time.

Veteran Money Hunter, in particular, had a rough game. Not only did he give up two huge deep balls, horribly misplaying one and being burned on the other, but he was also flagged twice — once for defensive pass interference in the end zone and again for a boneheaded misconduct penalty following a turnover on downs as he shoved a Montreal player while walking off the field. To make things worse, Hunter was injured making a tackle in the third quarter and was spotted wearing a shoulder brace after the game.

If you want a silver lining, linebacker Adarius Pickett made seven tackles and 20 of Montreal’s 47 points came off of turnovers — although I’d argue that with the way the game unfolded, they probably would’ve scored them anyway.

7) On a night where everything seemed to go wrong, at least R-Nation can rewatch DeVonte Dedmon’s 101-yard kickoff return on a loop.

What an electric player.

Dedmon was the lone bright spot of Ottawa’s special teams, as in addition to his sixth career return touchdown, he averaged 10.7 yards per punt return and 42.8 per kickoff return.

8) As for the rest of the Redblacks’ special teams, it was bleak.

A week after making all three field goals and both converts he attempted, Lewis Ward connected on field goals from 26 and 34 yards out but missed from 29. The ball spun the wrong way when his foot connected with it, as the laces were facing him.

Puzzlingly, both of TSN’s play-by-play guys repeatedly said Ward missed two field goals and kept implying that those missed kicks were somehow a factor when Ottawa was down 29 points with under five minutes left in the game. Surely there were better things — that weren’t factually incorrect — to focus on?

Richie Leone punted five times and averaged 48.6 yards per punt but due to porous kick coverage, the average field flip was just 33.4 yards. In terms of kick coverage, rookie American linebacker Davion Taylor led the way with three special teams tackles.

9) Coming into this game, it was thought that Bob Dyce’s squad could use this game as a measuring stick. A week after beating one of last year’s Grey Cup participants, they had an opportunity to do the same to the reigning champs. Instead, the Redblacks came up woefully short.

It wasn’t that the effort wasn’t there, it just seemed like Ottawa was outclassed and overwhelmed in every phase of the game. When things went wrong, errors compounded and spiralled out of control. The Alouettes deserve full marks for coming out and playing aggressive football on both sides of the ball. They punched the Redblacks in the mouth and Ottawa seemingly had no answer.

10) Just as last week’s win shouldn’t have prompted overreactions from R-Nation, I’d caution the same with this loss. It was ugly, depressing and all too familiar given how the past four seasons have unfolded, but it’s still only one defeat in the team’s second of 18 games.

To me, how the team reacts to this loss will truly set the tone for the 2024 season. If Ottawa takes care of business at home next Sunday night against the visiting Hamilton Ticats — or at the very least plays them close until the final whistle — then R-Nation can breathe a sigh of relief. Another blowout loss would be a very bad sign indeed.

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).