Well it finally happened, with the Ottawa Redblacks losing their 7th straight game, and Edmonton winning their fourth game in that same stretch of time, Ottawa now sits in sole possession of the worst record in the CFL. At 3-10, they are the only team that hasn’t won 4 or more games yet this season, and to be honest I’m not sure when they will find a fourth win this season. Heading into week 16 they will play the Saskatchewan Roughriders under the Friday Night Lights.
At 6-7 the Roughriders are having a rough season as well, but have every opportunity to change their fortune if they can go on a small run of victories to close out the season. Ottawa could play spoiler, and they should revel in that fact given how their season has progressed. With only 5 games left to finish out their 2023 season, the Redblacks are quickly getting backed into a corner. They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet…but with three teams sitting at that 6-7 record, the Redblacks have to win a minimum of 4 games, AND hope that the eight teams ahead of them in this race begin to lose right away.
Week 16 Preview
The Redblacks have had one major issue as of late; they can not close out games, and they have a knack for losing in the final minutes. At this point the Redblacks have lost seven games by 8 points or less, and had they scored a combined 36 points in these games, they are staring at a 10-3 record. That is an unbelievable fact for Ottawa, who at times has looked like the little brother of the CFL, just waiting to see how they get beat up by their older siblings next.
The Redblacks are nearing a point where they need to just blow this roster up and start over. This will be their fourth straight losing season, and they are headed toward a fourth straight season with four wins or less. Not even Edmonton has been that bad for the last five years. They managed an 8 win season in 2019, a feat Ottawa hasn’t matched since 2018 during a season in which they made it to the Grey Cup only to lose. The latest loss came at the hands of the BC Lions, who nearly allowed Ottawa to beat them.
Heading into the 4th quarter, the Redblacks were firmly in control of this game, up 37-18. BC roared back to life, scoring 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter and walked away with a 41-37 loss. Their seventh game lost by one score or less. I mentioned last week that Ottawa has a frustrating tendency to play up or down to the level of competition in a given game, and we saw in this in full force during week 15.
Inability to Close Out Games
Its ironic to me that the top rushing offense in the league can’t seem to close out a victory without some fluke happening to steal the win just in time. At this rate though, this is Ottawa’s identity now, and its fair to start wondering if there is a curse on this team. I’ve seen teams lose close games before, but 7 games lost by 8 points or less in 16 weeks is an alarming statistic that I don’t expect them to come back from during the 2023 season.
The strangest part about this is that Ottawa has the 4th best scoring offense, and have run the most plays on offense per game by a wide margin, this has led to dominating in the time of possession category, but there is a reason that Louis Ward prior to his injury had attempted 40 field goals, Ottawa has shown they can move the ball between the 20’s all day long with no issue, but there is just something about how Ottawa continues to find ways to miss opportunities, often time converting just one of these mistakes into success in the red-zone would result in a win.
My one complaint in this area is the fact that Ottawa brought in Ante Milanovic-Litre who was supposed to be the back the offense turned to late in games so he could eat up clock by getting the tough yards in the run game. Instead, he has been seldomly used. Despite having just 14 touches, he has scored three times. He needs to be more involved specifically in the fourth quarter as Ottawa tries to finish out a game when they have the lead. He should be seeing around 7-10 carries a game, and I wouldn’t be upset if nearly all of those came in the fourth quarter going forward.
Gas defenses making them chase Dustin Crum, and Devonte Williams all game long, then pound the rock late in games with Milanovic-Litre. That should be the formula every week if Ottawa continues to be such a run heavy offense.
Week 16 Preview
Saskatchewan can be beaten, having scored 275 points, even Ottawa has outscored them by a whopping 37 points. This bodes well for Ottawa, but the Roughriders are also still a tough team. The Redblacks have allowed the most yardage to opponents having topped 5,000 yards allowed this past weekend. That breaks down to over 7 yards a play. Obviously this is the pass defense striking once again, having allowed 4,235 yards total or 325.8 yards per game. This also breaks down to over 10 yards per passing play against a porous secondary that Ottawa must fix sooner rather than later.
This pass defense has slowly gotten worse this season as teams have begun to realize the formula to beating Ottawa is simply to abandon the run and throw the ball all over the field. One saving Grace may be the fact that Saskatchewan has scored the least amount of touchdowns of any team in the league.
Saskatchewan and Ottawa have remarkably similar statistics on offense. Ottawa has run the most offensive plays in the league, Saskatchewan is second. Both offenses have scored 23 touchdowns, and they average the least (Ottawa), and second least yards per play in the league. Saskatchewan is 7th in total offense, while Ottawa is 9th. That’s where the comparisons end.
Ottawa has leaned heavily on the run and they can be found at or near the top of every important list; total rushing yards, rushing attempts, and average yards per rush. Meanwhile Saskatchewan has produced more in the passing game than in its running game. Saskatchewan is built on the passing attack and they will have an advantage in this game due to that fact unless the Redblacks secondary can step up to this test and start building momentum. While coupling with their ball control offense in an effort to limit Saskatchewan’s chances with the ball.
Saskatchewan has allowed the most points in the league by a long shot. Ottawa has allowed the second most points with 351. The Roughriders have allowed 389 or 29.9 points per game while Ottawa has allowed 27. Can Ottawa capitalize on this fact?
Saskatchewan has allowed 40 touchdowns including 35 from opposing offenses, tied with Ottawa for second worst in the league. It’s safe to say these defenses might be the two worst in the league. This could turn into a shout out much like the game against BC last week. A game that ended with 78 combined points on the board.
One area that could make or break this game is the turnover margin. Ottawa has done a solid job of protecting the ball leaving them +4 in turnovers, while Saskatchewan is -7. The Roughriders have struggled with turnovers all year and I have a feeling this will be the game Ottawa finally has a few things fall their way. The Roughriders quarterbacks have thrown 10 interceptions to only 16 touchdowns. This could end up the difference in this game. However they have improved in this facet given the change to Jake Dolegala at quarterback.
With all that being said I expect Saskatchewan abandons the run very early in the game especially against the top rushing defense. The Redblacks will likely continue their run heavy offense against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. Saskatchewan is allowing over 121 rushing yards per game and faces an offense that has imposed its will on opponents to the tune of 131.3 yards per game.
This game truly is a match-up of strength versus weakness on both sides of the ball. Which could make this a blow out game quick if one team starts off hot. It will ultimately come down to which team can step up to the challenge. If Ottawa’s defense can slow down this passing offense at all, their ball control offense could be the “kryptonite” to Saskatchewan’s passing offense or their “Superman”.
The Redblacks have announced four players will miss this game and another three are questionable. It was just two weeks ago I was discussing how Ottawa was finally getting healthy and now after just one game they’re right back to being the MASH unit.
Ottawa will be missing Lewis Ward for the rest of the season. For this game linebacker DeShawn Stevens is out, Jackson Bennett will miss another game, and Wide Receiver Nate Behar will miss another game.
There are two players fighting illness both of which play in the secondary, Douglas Coleman III, and Alonzo Addae are looked to as leaders and could be big losses if they can’t go. Also questionable is Jovan Santos-Knox for an ankle injury. Another huge blow to a decimated defense that needs all hands on deck to stay alive in the playoff race. Perhaps with all the depth concerns Ottawa should bring back Chizi Umunakwe.
A very concerning factor to this game for Ottawa is the change at kicker. Losing Lewis Ward to injury was a huge blow. This man had produced 123 points for Ottawa so far this season but a pectoral injury ended his season. The 31 year old kicker is signed through the 2024 season, so I expect to see him back but he was a large reason for Ottawa’s ability to keep games close.
Betting Odds and Predictions
This game will be broadcast on CFL+ for international viewers at 9 pm ET, and TSN/RDS for Canadian viewers. Per Draftkings.com, the Redblacks are 2 point underdogs in this game. This is a fairly interesting game because on paper this should be a close game, but it feels like a game where two mistake prone teams could throw us all for a loop and create a large deficit. The over under is 45 points, and the money line is +114 for Ottawa.
If I’m a betting man I’m putting my money on the Redblacks to cover the spread and win this game. I have a feeling the opportunistic defense that Ottawa has will capitalize on just enough mistakes by Saskatchewan to win their fourth game of the season by an 8 point margin.
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