All year long, the Ottawa Redblacks have been looking for revenge. And on November 20th, they’ll finally have a chance to best the visiting Edmonton Eskimos in a do or die game. Winning won’t erase the pain of last season’s Grey Cup loss or eliminate the bitterness that exists between the two franchises, but it would send the Redblacks back to the Grey Cup for the second consecutive year. So here’s seven things Ottawa must do to beat the Eskimos on Sunday.
1) Avoid the bye week blues
Following both of their regular season bye weeks, the Redblacks wound up getting absolutely pasted, losing 43-19 to the Alouettes and 48-23 to the Stampeders. Given that the Redblacks’ starters haven’t played since clinching the East Division on Oct. 29th, the danger of rust setting in is real. In an attempt to avoid coming out flat, Head Coach Rick Campbell chose not to treat last week’s bye week like a normal one, instead keeping his team in town and holding daily practices. Given how banged up Ottawa’s roster has been, the extra time off should’ve been a boon, but time will tell if it was detrimental.
2) Take advantage of home cooking
It’s no secret that Ottawa has struggled at home this year, compiling a brutal 2-6-1 record. This time around, the Redblacks will need to take full advantage of another sold out, raucous crowd. When the Eskimos visited town on August 6th, it might have been the loudest home game of the season and this Sunday promises to be no different (especially since the Redblacks are giving out 20,000 cowbells). Defensive coordinator Mark Nelson’s unit must make the most of the ruckus roaring down from the stands to help disguise blitz packages and stunts to maximize confusion along the Eskimo offensive line.
3) Win the trenches
Football games are often marketed as a head to head matchup between opposing QBs, but what the East Final really boils down to is a 60 minute tooth and nail battle between Tommie Draheim, J’Micheal Deane, Jon Gott, Nolan MacMillan and Jason Lauzon-Séguin vs Almondo Sewell, Odell Willis, Phillip Hunt, Eddie Steele and Marcus Howard. Edmonton’s defensive line is fierce and boasts a ton of experience whereas the Redblacks offensive line has been in a constant state of shuffle. Draheim and Séguin in particular will need to have strong games to help establish the run and keep Burris upright.
4) Stop the run
If the Redblacks hold any hope of beating Edmonton, they must contain the Eskimo’s ground game. In the regular season Edmonton was the 2nd best team in the CFL at running the ball, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 103.7 per game. Anchored by Matt O’Donnell, Edmonton’s offensive line will look to open up holes in an Ottawa defence that only conceded 78.3 yards per game on the ground. With Reilly banged up, the Eskimos will look to lean on their running game and let John White build off last week’s 160 yard, 2 TD performance. The addition of Cleyon Laing should help clog up those running lanes and fortunately for the Redblacks, even when Laing and guys like Zack Evans are rotated out, they’ll be replaced by backups like Ettore Lattanzio, who has proven to be extremely disruptive in limited reps.
5) Spread the ball around
Even without Chris Williams in the lineup, Ottawa boasts the deepest receiving corps in the CFL. Led by Eastern MOP nominee Ernest Jackson, QB Henry Burris has numerous weapons as his disposal. For tough catches over the middle, he can look for Jackson or Brad Sinopoli, both of whom excel at getting YAC (yards after catch). Khalil Paden and Juron Criner weren’t full time starters throughout the year but have proven capable when called upon. That said, Ottawa’s biggest threat might be the same guy who was the hero in last year’s East Final, Greg Ellingson. In two games against Edmonton this season, Ellingson hauled in 11 passes for 217 yards. Might he have another 2nd and 25 moment in him?
6) Test Reilly’s Rep
Mike Reilly is often lauded for his toughness, and deservedly so. That’s why all signs point to him playing despite not managing to finish last week’s contest against the Ticats. While he’ll likely be under centre, Reilly is nowhere close to healthy, as evidenced by the Eskimos signing Thomas DeMarco. As such, the Redblacks need to make Reilly prove once again he’s as tough as they come by hitting him at every opportunity they get. Each time Reilly scrambles or hangs onto the ball for an extra few seconds to make a pass, the Redblacks defence needs to reintroduce themselves to him. The key for Ottawa’ defence will be walking the fine line between making their presence felt but avoiding late or low hits that lead to flags.
7) Complete the hat trick
It’s hard enough to beat the same team twice in a season, let alone one with a head coach that has intimate knowledge of your schemes and tendencies. Rick Campbell and his staff will have to be careful not to overthink things as they go against Jason Maas and try to beat the Eskimos for a third straight time. Luckily for the Redblacks, they don’t have to look far for inspiration, as just last year they swept the Ticats in the regular season before beating them in the East Final.
8) Make it rain wood cookies
Last November the Edmonton Eskimos convinced the CFL to ban the Redblacks from bringing their log and saw cutters to the Grey Cup, as in their words “It provided an unfair advantage”. With the game set in Ottawa, the Redblacks will need a huge effort from every member of the Algonquin Loggersports Team in order to maximize the competitive edge it will provide the players on the field. Like a river runner in the 1800s, the Redblacks need to ride the log cutter’s momentum as they saw each wood cookie off with extra enthusiasm.
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