The Redblacks winners of 3 of their last 5 games, were defeated this past weekend by the Toronto Argonauts. This CFL season has been a toss-up in nearly every game that Winnipeg isn’t taking part in. This game was no different. At the end of July, Ottawa was able to defeat Toronto 23-13, this past weekend they fell to the Argos 24-19. What Changed?
A Rollercoaster of a Season for Ottawa
Ottawa Redblacks fans came into the 2022 season believing their team had a real chance to compete for the Grey Cup. Unfortunately nearly immediately they lost starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to an injury caused by now-released Garrett Marino. Marino went on to showcase just how dirty of a player he is on several more occasions as the season went on. Finally this past week he was released, something that should have happened months ago.
Losers of 6 straight to open the season the Redblacks were forced to make some moves trying to get themselves back on the right path. In mid-July, it became apparent that the team was losing faith in incumbent starter Caleb Evans who was reinserted into the lineup after the Masoli injury. This led to a trade to acquire Nick Arbuckle who had not played well in Edmonton. Playing in 5 games for the Elks, he completed 74 of 119 passes for 892 yards 2 touchdowns to 8 interceptions.
Next, they added four names to the scouting department. The most well-known of the bunch is Ron Selesky who is best known for his time in the XFL, and AAF. He along with Rick Worman, Nadia Doucoure, and Todd Worley was also brought in. Selesky and Worman both bring with them an extensive knowledge of the American game having been affiliated with Spring Football in the past. Worman is a former CFL quarterback and a coach bringing a unique perspective to the team. Nadia Doucoure was the first ever female coach for the Carleton Ravens in 2021. She then went on to aid Ottawa early in training camp. Now she adds an official title.
Momentum Starts to Swing
Ottawa began to rebound by the end of July winning their first game. They would go on to win 3 of the next 5. This has brought their record to 3-8 heading into the week 14 match-up with the Argos. It looked as though the Redblacks were finally headed in the right direction. After a convincing 38-24 win against Montreal last weekend, optimism was building that Ottawa could turn around this nightmare season.
That was until Toronto came back to town. They may have only won the game by 5 points but they never gave up the lead throughout the game. After taking a 10-point lead in the first quarter they were able to continue to score each quarter piling on the points and staying ahead of Ottawa. The Redblacks to their credit staged an impressive comeback in the final quarter of the game.
Down 24-9 heading into the fourth quarter of the game, Ottawa had no choice but to start scoring if they had any hopes of winning the game. Score they did, twice in fact. This brought the game within one touchdown. It was interesting to once again see how the quarterbacks were deployed with Caleb Evans the back-up, but also scoring the touchdown late in the game despite only 3 touches all game long.
Ultimately a timely turnover on the next possession by Toronto led to Ottawa adding another 3 points to their score. The next two drives didn’t get the job done for the Redblacks. Both of which ended with a turnover on downs following a series of batted passes. By the time the final whistle blew, the game sat at 24-19 with Argos on top, but Ottawa had scored 10 points unanswered in the fourth quarter as they attempted to fight for a victory.
Looking Deeper Into the Losses
The Redblacks now sit at 3-9 which places them firmly in last place. Toronto has quickly started to separate from the pack now sitting at 7-5. As it stands they are the only team in the East with a winning record. While the West division features 3 teams with 8 wins or more. This season has shown us that the crossover playoff team is a smart format move by the CFL, and one that I think other leagues should adopt. In my mind, it should be normal to watch the best teams go to the playoffs regardless of divisional breakdown.
In the first two losses of the season, Ottawa fell to the best team in the league right now, Winnipeg, by a combined 9 points. After their bye week, they lose by 3 to BC. Two weeks later they take Hamilton to the final whistle and lose by just 2 points. Immediately following this loss, they face Montreal, and the two teams combine to score 73 total points. However, Ottawa loses by just seven points.
Top that off with the most recent 5-point loss, and all of a sudden of the nine losses that Ottawa has, six were lost by seven points or less. More importantly, they have not been blown out all season long. Their most lopsided loss came at the hands of Edmonton when they were defeated 30-12.
Little Changes Could Yield Big Dividends
The thing about this small margin of error in these games is it points to the fact that with some minor changes, Ottawa should have all the pieces they need to close out this season with a winning streak. One of these few changes needed was in the running game. Defensively some adjustments were needed as well. When in doubt get back to basics, run the ball, protect your quarterback and play defense.
Run Game Help Needed Apply Within
Devonte Williams is a guy who was heavily involved in the two close games with Winnipeg. He put up 21 carries for 118 yards, adding 4 receptions for 4 yards as well.
Following those two games, he was placed on the injured list, and later on the practice roster. It wasn’t until the loss to Edmonton that he was involved in the offense again. Before this, it had been the William Powell and Jackson Bennett show. Since that Elks game, he has seen an uptick in touches, and Ottawa has seen an uptick in winning…He was targeted 18 times over the four games since his return which resulted in 15 receptions for 82 yards.
It was in the run game that he made the biggest difference. Racking up 48 carries 230 yards in just four games. He hasn’t scored yet, but that can be deceiving when you consider Ottawa likes to lean on the quarterback sneak with athletic quarterbacks like Caleb Evans. This added boon to the run game and the outlet for the passing attack has been a dramatic improvement and directly contributed to the Redblacks winning back-to-back games.
Against the Alouettes in week 13, Williams fell just shy of 100 yards of total offense with 72 yards rushing and 24 yards through the air on just 17 touches. I expect the offense to find momentum with Williams back in the lineup.
The Defense has finally found its headhunter with defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin. Through just 12 games he has 12 sacks, having collected two in the most recent loss to Toronto. While his performance has been crucial to the defensive front, Ottawa needs to find a running mate for Mauldin going forward. Interior lineman Davon Coleman has also produced four sacks but he is second on the team currently. Whether the player is already on the roster or, a free agent still on the market this need has to be addressed.
In the secondary, it’s been the “Money” Hunter show. He already has collected a career-high three interceptions with weeks left to play. He is ironically on pace for a career-low in tackles though. This is another position I believe needs to be sorted out. The team needs to find some complimentary pieces in the secondary that can step up and help create turnovers.
Perhaps it’s time to promote Edris Jean-Alphonse from the practice squad. Having spent a global draft pick on the elite athlete he has been learning for 14 weeks from the bench. Now it’s time to unleash the rookie and give him some live reps in-game. At this point in the season it’s make or break and sitting at 4th place in the East what is there to lose?
Winning at Home a Must
Rarely do we see a team that boasts zero wins in their home stadium. However, with 6 home games at TD Place Stadium, the Redblacks are 0-6. Currently, they are 3-3 on the road. This is a development that needs to be a point of focus for many reasons. Not least of which, the future of head coach Paul LaPolice who to this point has won just 6 games since taking over in Ottawa.
There is one thing for head coaches of the CFL that is immensely important and that is winning at home. This is more significant than it would be in most leagues because a majority of the revenue produced by these teams is ticket sales. No fans in the stands, no money to be made. So far through 26 games…1 home victory under Coach LaPolice. This is not sustainable for the team, or the coaching staff.
Paul LaPolice is not a stranger to the cruel realities of professional football. He likely is well aware that with each loss his seat is getting warmer and warmer. The big question here is how much credit does ownership lay on injuries?
Full coverage of the 2022 season on CFL News Hub.