On a cool night in the Nation’s Capital, the Ottawa Redblacks closed out their regular season with a whimper, falling 33-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. With the division already locked up, the “B squad” fielded by the Redblacks was playing for pride and jobs. Here are all my thoughts on the game:
1) Leading up to the game, Head Coach Rick Campbell said despite having nothing to play for, the Redblacks would be lining up and trying to win against the Bombers. But the reality is, this game was about ensuring the team would be as healthy as possible for Nov. 20th’s East Final. That’s why Burris, Harris, Madu, Gott, Ellingson, Jackson, Sinopoli, Criner, Pruneau, Evans, Hopkins, Lattanzio, Gavins, Kanneh and Milo were either completely held out of the game, or given extremely limited reps. By resting so many starters, Campbell had a chance to play 2nd stringers and guys usually regulated to the practice roster, which in turn gave him a look into the future and an idea of how certain players were developing. And while I don’t doubt Campbell would’ve liked to end the regular season on a winning note, by rotating his QBs it became apparent he was more interested in evaluating what he had in Danny O’Brien and Brock Jensen. As a result of letting Jensen play the 1st and 4th quarters and giving O’Brien the 2nd and 3rd ones, the game had a pre-season feel to it.
2) So how were the Redblacks’ QBs? In a word, disappointing. After three seasons on Ottawa’s roster, it doesn’t seem like Danny O’Brien has progressed at all. Much like the other times he’s stepped on the field, for the majority of the night, his passes were short check downs or off target. O’Brien finished the night 10/22 (45%) for 133 yards and an INT, but it’s worth noting that 52 of those yards came on a single deep throw to Jamill Smith. O’Brien’s other good pass was knocked down by a goalpost. O’Brien’s 10 possessions resulted in 5 punts, 1 turnover and 10 points. As for Jensen, after showing so much promise in a narrow loss on the road to Saskatchewan, he looked extremely hesitant to throw the ball. The offensive line did a good job providing him time to make his reads, but Jensen was still sacked twice, both times a result of hanging onto the ball way too long. Jensen went 5/7 (71%) for 39 yards but his 6 possessions failed to put any points on the board.
3) It’s worth wondering why Campbell chose to rotate his QBs at all. This could have been a real opportunity for Jensen to gain some confidence and build upon the strong showing he had in Saskatchewan. A solid night from Jensen could have either shown the Redblacks that he is indeed capable of backing up Harris whenever Burris retires, or boosted his trade value. Instead, neither Jensen nor O’Brien got into a rhythm or distinguished themselves. If you’re GM Marcel Desjardins, do you really feel comfortable with either one of them as your #2 guy down the road?
4) Though Mossis Madu might be firmly entrenched as Ottawa’s starting running back, Travon Van did everything he could with his 15 carries to show Campbell that he too is capable of being the lead back. Van averaged 6.4 yards per carry and finished the night with 96 yards. His ability to cut on a dime and to explode through contact often left defenders grasping air.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) November 5, 2016
5) Despite the precautions taken by the coaching staff to avoid injuries, the Redblacks continued their string of bad luck when OL Jason Lauzon-Séguin went down in the 3rd quarter. Ottawa can ill afford to lose their rookie of the year as Lauzon-Séguin has started 13 of the 14 games he’s played in. After playing at both guard positions and left tackle, Lauzon-Séguin had settled nicely into the right tackle position. Once he left the game, J’Micheal Deane moved into his spot and 5th round draft Randy Beardy entered at LG. It’s also worth mentioning that after playing the 1st quarter, Jon Gott was pulled in favour of Alex Mateas, who held his own at centre.
6) Who is Cleyon Laing? The 6′ 3″, 280 pound Edmonton native is the guy who commands double teams yet still collapses the pocket, as was evidenced in the 4th quarter by his near sack of Nichols that would have resulted in a safety. He’s also the guy with a reputation of late hits, as is reflected by his 30 yards in penalties on the night; one flag for roughing the passer, the other for unnecessary roughness. GM Marcel Desjardins knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Laing and though his lack of discipline can be an issue, overall, Desjardins has to be happy that Laing came exactly as advertised.
7) There was no rain or lightning at TD Place last night, but there was a ton of thunder. The first boom dropped when DB Keelan Johnson blew up Rory Kohlert along the sidelines. The second was courtesy of the diminutive Jamill Smith who hammered TJ Heath following an O’Brien interception. The third hit of the night came from LS Tanner Doll who snapped the ball perfectly (as he normally does) and hustled down field to blow up Quincy McDuffie and force a fumble.
8) Ottawa’s defence was far from spectacular, but one area where they excelled was in the red zone. Winnipeg had a 1st down inside the 20 yard line 7 times but only managed 2 touchdowns in those possessions. On a night when the defence gave up an average of 7.7 yards per play, it was impressive to see how the unit bent but refused to break.
9) Speaking of the defence, DBs Mitchell White and Jonathon Rose were fantastic in coverage but the highlight of the night in the secondary belongs to Nick Taylor, who made the most of a fortunate bounce and weaved his way to the end zone.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 4, 2016
10) Another home game = another sold out TD Place. By filling the stadium with 24,432 fans on Friday night, the Redblacks officially sold out every home game this season. Though fans haven’t always had much to cheer about this year, with Ottawa only winning twice in nine tries, R-Nation deserves a round of applause for continuing to support their team. As per the Redblacks’ website, in the 30 games since the CFL returned to Ottawa, 710,000 tickets have been sold. So much for all the naysayers who claimed the team would fold within three years eh?
11) By dropping this game to the Bombers, the 2016 Ottawa Redblacks became the first team in the CFL’s 104 year history to win their division with a losing record. But before it becomes a rallying cry for those looking to abolish the divisions, let’s get one thing clear. The Redblacks are not your average sub .500 team. This season Ottawa played in an astounding 4 overtime games, going 1-2-1 in them. They also had four other single score losses. If not for a couple of bad breaks, this team could have a much better record. Furthermore, this is simply a down year in the East because of subpar quarterbacking in Montreal and Toronto. Even Hamilton had to make due without the services of Zach Collaros for long stretches of the season. Let’s not forget that the East had three 10 win teams as recently as last year. Ultimately, if the Redblacks win on Nov. 20th, their 8-9-1 record becomes a footnote in history, not a focal point.
12) R-Nation will have to wait another week to find out if it will be the Ticats or the Eskimos traveling to Lansdowne on Nov. 20th. Both teams present challenges but there’s a small part of me that wants to see a Grey Cup rematch in the East Final. That being said, considering how beat up the Ticats are, they might present Ottawa’s best chance to advance to the Grey Cup for the second year in a row. Either way, Rick Campbell and his staff have two full weeks to prep his squad and his players have a ton of time to get healthy. The Redblacks have been wildly inconsistent this year but if they put forth a complete 60 minute effort on Nov. 20th, they could be right back where they want to be, regardless of who their opponent is.