The Redblacks had lost all hope for a playoff spot, two weeks ago when they lost to Montreal for a third time this season. Last week was the first of three meaningless games for Ottawa, and they played like the game meant nothing to them. After losing 32-15 in the last game, they would lose 29-3 in the second meeting in two weeks. Now the Redblacks have to face a Toronto team that seems nearly unstoppable.
The hope was that Ottawa would be facing the Argonauts when the games held no meaning to them as well, and perhaps with Toronto playing back-ups, even at quarterback the Redblacks had more of a chance. Well, Cameron Dukes put to bed any thoughts we had of a late season win after performing fairly well in his last two appearances. Against Winnipeg of all teams, Dukes was given the start to keep Chad Kelly from getting injured.
Dukes would attempt 24 passes, completing 17 for 231 yards or 9.6 yards per attempt. He threw one touchdown as well, his only completion to Aj Ouellette. Dukes also ran 4 times for 34 yards for 1 touchdown. He did not lead his team to a win, but he played well enough, that he convinced a lot of people we are looking at a very capable CFL quarterback when called upon. With just two games remaining, the Redblacks should be turning to many younger options on the team to give them more playing time, and keep an eye on the future of the team.
What’s More Important, A Win, or Developing Young Players?
The Redblacks need to go into this game with their mindset clear; is this win important, or should Ottawa simply turn to the younger players on the roster down the stretch to at least find some value in these games? At this rate, 2024 should be Ottawa’s focus, and the first step for 2024 needs to be some serious self scouting. Many things went wrong this year, but some went right, and it’s a matter of determining what steps are needed to continue progressing back toward a playoff team.
With that in mind there are several players that the team should consider simply shutting down for the season
Brandin Dandridge is ruled out this week due to another injury, he has been our best defender by a long shot, and there is nothing these last two games can tell us about Dandridge that we don’t already know. Shut him down for the end of the year, and let him start focusing on getting healthy for 2024. Younger players like Tobias Harris, Lucas Cormier (currently on 1 game injured list), and Skyler Thomas are all options to see more playing time down the stretch. All men are 25 years or younger and need time to develop. They could also look to call up Alijah McGhee who can play a hybrid role as a defensive back/linebacker.
Nigel Romick is also ruled out this week. The Redblacks have three men on the practice squad that could fill this role quite nicely if given the chance. James Hornbuckle, and Aidan John. Aidan John barely touched the field until his final season in school, and is very green, however he got the call up to the active roster for this game. This playing time could be invaluable for him. James Hornbuckle, played in 18 games last season, and registered 5 sacks on the season. He has yet to appear in a game this season, but he should be next in line for playing time at defensive end. During his time at Duke he was only a one year starter, so this playing time could prove invaluable to his development. The mental aspect of the game will not be too much for this former Duke Coach.
On offense I would like to see Keaton Bruggeling get some playing time as well. Addison and Behar have been banged up all season. Why not get one of the youngest WR on the roster some reps? Daniel Oladejo, and Maurice Ffrench are options as well.
In the run game I would love to see more of De’Montre Tuggle who had a 100 yard game earlier this season. I’m not saying start him over Williams, but mix him to some degree especially with Bennett hurt.
All three of their offensive linemen on the practice squad should be looked at for in game reps the rest of the way. Drake Centers, Lucas Lavin, and Roman Warheit all need to continue developing and these games could go a long way toward helping them.
Depth Chart and Injury Report
As I had hoped, it looks like John, McGhee, Bruggeling will get opportunities to get involved over the next few games. This will be interesting to watch, all three players could be long-term contributors to the team after this season if they continue to develop. McGhee in particular is a guy I would keep an eye on. He can play many positions on this defense whether it be safety, cornerback, or even linebaker.
Could the Redblacks Join the Race for Rourke?
Dustin Crum currently has just 7 touchdown passes to 9 interceptions on the season. More concerning is the fact that Crum has played in 16 games this season, and produced touchdown passes in just three games. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown in the last two games, instead putting forth two of his worst performances of the season so far. He was 29 of 47 for 319 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. His ability to run the ball will never be in question after this year in which he already has 87 carries for 655 yards and 9 touchdowns. The question is and will be is this enough to move forward with as the face of the franchise or should they look to draft Kurtis Rourke?
Kurtis Rourke of course is currently at Ohio where he took over the starting job in 2022 after previously splitting time with Armani Rodgers who now plays tight end in the NFL. Starting 23 games from 2020-2022 he came into this season with all CFL eyes on him after his brother’s 2022 CFL performance that led him to the NFL for the 2023 season. Rourke however may be playing too well to miss out on an NFL opportunity in 2024.
This past week he managed to complete 20 of 32 passes for 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, rushing 9 times for 26 yards and 1 touchdown. So far this season in five games he has completed just under 65% of his passes for 909 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions that both came in the same game. He has also displayed mobility at times, rushing for 8 touchdowns and 746 yards in his career. Between his performance in 2022, and the games he has played this season, his stock has sky rocketed. He has started 16 games during this stretch and managed NFL caliber numbers: 320 completions on 472 attempts 4,156 yards, 33 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, with 101 carries for 382 yards and 5 touchdowns. IF he does end up in the CFL, the Redblacks would be foolish to pass on the chance to draft him.
The Redblacks in back to back seasons have selected offensive linemen with their first round picks, but they also passed on Tre Ford in the 2022 draft choosing to select Zack Pelehos instead. It’s taken the better part of two seasons for him to get into the starting lineup, but when he did, he gave Edmonton the spark they needed to get their first home win in years. He has changed the fortunes of that Elks squad and could have done the same for the Redblacks the last two seasons after we lost Masoli to injury. Passing on the chance to select another franchise altering quarterback talent in just three seasons would certainly raise some eyebrows. Especially if Ottawa ends this season with the number two pick, and Rourke’s rights fall to Ottawa after Edmonton passes. This scenario would essentially erase any wrongdoing by passing on Ford.
Redblacks Open Up Four Roster Spots
Ottawa has decided to move on from four of their practice roster members.
The surprising thing about these moves, is all four of these guys are younger players who are still very early on in their careers. If Ottawa is cutting any players right now, they should be aging veterans they don’t intend to retain into the 2024 season, not the younger players who could continue to develop for the last three weeks of the season.
Keys to this Week’s Game
The Redblacks need to go into this game prepared to be more creative than they have been all season long to this point. Reach deep into the bag of tricks for this Toronto game. The Argonauts will most likely not play Chad Kelly the entire game, but as mentioned before Cameron Dukes is no slouch either. Even if Toronto shuts down many of their starters, this game isn’t going to be an easy win. Toronto is 8-0 against the division this season, and could end up 10-0 depending on how their final two games against Ottawa go.
Toronto’s offense leads the league in points per game with 33 on average, the Redblacks however find themselves averaging just over 20 points per game near the bottom of the league. What does bode well for the Redblacks is how they score their points. The Redblacks like to control the tempo of the game by incorporating a run heavy approach. An approach that should in theory limit offensive drives for Toronto, and potentially keep some points off the board.
That is if they can manage to run against the best run defense in the league for Toronto. This season the Argonauts have allowed just 79.6 yards per game, that’s a stellar number no matter the circumstances. They did face the second least rushing attempts, but still managed the league’s lowest rushing yard per carry average. Devonte Williams certainly has his work cut out for him. With only one other running back dressed for this game, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Tyrell Pigrome be more involved in the run game this week.
No Aj Ouellette
Toronto has opted to sit Ouellette for this game, however if you’re looking for some large drop off in the run game without him, you might be surprised to see the kind of performance his back-ups have managed this season.
Penciled in as the starter for Toronto is Deonta McMahon who has appeared in just 4 games this season. He has however averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and added value as a receiver as well with 7 receptions. They will also have Daniel Adeboboye has averaged 5.5 yards per carry so far this year, and Javon Leake has also averaged 4.75 yards per carry. The Argos have plenty of talent left to carry this rushing game the rest of the way, while allowing younger players to see actual live game reps before what should be another deep playoff run.
The Redblacks need to be able to slow down the rushing attack if they expect to win this game. Allowing a bunch of depth pieces to run all over you after being one of the top rushing defenses all season long would be an embarrassing way to end the season.
It looks like Ottawa won’t see Cam Phillips or Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in this game. The big question will be how long does Chad Kelly stay in the game?
Betting Odds and Predictions
According to FanDuel.com this week’s game has Ottawa as an 8.5 point underdog. I wonder how much bettors are considering that Toronto will be sitting some of their starters in this game. However, Ottawa has done nothing to quell concerns that this will be a blow out loss for them after losing in bad fashion to Montreal in back-to-back weeks. The money line is +320 for Ottawa, and -400 for Toronto. The over/under is 48.5 at -110 odds either way.
If I was a betting man in this game I would be looking at taking the under, and I believe Toronto will barely cover this spread. I believe Toronto’s offense will be slightly slowed by not playing several starters, but they will still come near scoring 30 points in this game. Ottawa should be able to score in this game, but I don’t know that the Redblacks offense can keep pace with Toronto’s if this turns into a shoot out of any sort.
Toronto Wins 24-14
Check out my recent interview with two current CFL Free Agents, including former Ottawa Redblacks Linebacker Chizi Umunakwe.
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