Well, it was fun while it lasted, but the Redblacks have shuttered their hopes for a playoff run in the 2023 season. Losing to Montreal in week 17 means that Montreal has now beaten Ottawa three times this season. That means this upcoming week wouldn’t change their status as the most likely second seed in the East behind Toronto even in the event of a loss. At this point the best record Ottawa could finish with is 7-11. Montreal 8-7, and Hamilton 7-8 both have defeated Ottawa three times, meaning wins this weekend clinched a playoff berth for both teams. This has more or less rendered the last three games of the season to glorified preseason games for the Redblacks.
Are the Redblacks Cursed?
The Ottawa Redblacks have won a total of 10 games since their Grey Cup loss in 2018. This includes two three win seasons in 2019, and 2021. They won four games in 2022, and so far they stand at four wins for the 2023 season as well. Ottawa fans have been subjected to more losing seasons than they have winning ones at this point.
Since becoming the Redblacks in 2014, they have appeared in the Grey Cup three times, winning one, and losing two, making a fourth appearance in the playoffs but they didn’t progress past the first round. Of these four seasons, two of them they held an 8-9-1 record but still managed to make the playoffs. This means since 2014, they have endured seven losing seasons, to just two winning seasons, and one cancelled season in the last decade. Currently Ottawa stands 55-98-2, we could see them tally their 100th loss under the Redblacks name this season. Seven games this season have been lost by 8 points or less this season alone, and another nine of those games came in 2022. Three of which came while Bob Dyce was the head coach, this means 10 losses since Dyce took over have been by 8 points or less. Finding a way to close out games is a must going forward.
Week 17 Review
The Redblacks have the unenviable position of trying to defeat a team that they just lost to last week by 17 points. Dustin Crum struggled, and was pulled in favor of back-up Nick Arbuckle late in the game. Completing 25 of 34 passes for 247 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, adding 3 carries for 35 yards left a lot to desire from his performance. Nick Arbuckle completed 7 of 9 passes for 85 yards in limited playing time.
Tyrrell Pigrome continues to be a big factor for the Redblacks despite seeing just 1-2 carries a game, he has scored his 6th rushing touchdown of the year on 37 carries. He has averaged 2.6 yards per carry, I believe he will continue to be involved more often going forward with these last three games being meaningless in the grand scheme of things. This period turns into a de facto evaluation process to see which players belong on the roster for the 2024 season.
Two players that should undoubtedly be back in 2024: Tobias Harris, and Brandin Dandridge. Harris returned 5 kicks in this game averaging 27.6 per return, and had 1 punt return for 10 yards. Dandridge returned 4 punts for 61 yards or over 15 yards per return. Both of these men have played well in the kicking game, which has accounted for making a very short field for the offense several times this season.
Defense Wins, or Loses Games
The Redblacks defense has regressed dramatically in 2023. The change from Mike Benevides to Barron Miles has proven to be a tough one. Players have looked out of position, and the pass rush, which was ferocious last season, hasn’t looked nearly as good this season. What is most concerning about this regression in 2023, is the fact that Miles is a former defensive backs coach. He was brought in with the belief our secondary would get better, instead its only gotten worse so far.
The pass rush has dwindled compared to a 2022 season that saw Lorenzo Mauldin IV voted in as Most Outstanding Defensive Player after 17 sacks. The team as a whole tallied 47 sacks on the season. In 2023, currently they stand at 40 with 3 games to go, but one promising thing that has come from this season, is that Bryce Carter had his breakout season, notching ten sacks with 3 games to go. In 2022 he had just 2.
Prior to the season Carter was on my list of Redblacks players to watch, but at that time even I didn’t believe that Carter would finish the season with double-digit sacks. Impressive performance by the young player whose professional career is truly just starting out.
Brandin Dandridge has had an unbelievable year despite being limited at times due to injury…including this upcoming game. Dandridge has scored three times this season, twice on interceptions, and once on a punt return. He already has a total of 4 interceptions, while adding 867 total yards on kick and punt returns. Harris took over on kick returns, but Dandridge was the primary punt returner all year to this point.
Looking Forward to a Brighter Future
The good news is the suffering, at least for this season is nearly over with three more games to go this season. The Redblacks will again play Montreal this upcoming week, after just losing a crucial game to them a week ago in TD Place. This time Ottawa has to travel to Percival Molson Memorial Stadium and face the Alouettes in their house. Ironically, Montreal has actually been better on the road this year than at home producing a 3-4 record at home, and 5-3 on the road. Could the Redblacks sneak a win out of this week?
The truth is, last week’s game should have been a blow-out in Montreal’s favor. The Redblacks were intercepted twice, lost three fumbles, AND punted 7 times in this game. Their offense mustered 15 points, and saw Nick Arbuckle enter the game late. I expect they reinsert Dustin Crum in the lineup given that he is healthy and didn’t appear on the injury report. They simply inserted the veteran to try and salvage a lost game, and season. Ultimately losing by 17 when you turn the ball over five times, and punt it seven times is somewhat impressive.
This was the first week the Redblacks actually allowed another team to run on them, and this could be a large reason why the game stayed as close as it did despite the amount of giveaways by Ottawa. William Stanback is a name to watch for another big game this weekend if we can’t slow him down, expect Cody Fajardo not to be tested. Montreal has no issue relying on the run game to win games, and they know Fajardo has a tendency to produce turnovers. Which is exactly why the Redblacks need to get back to basics, and force this team to throw the ball on them. They have to stop William Stanback in this game, and take away the play action pass.
Fajardo has just 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and has yet to light the world on fire in any one game. If I am Ottawa, even with my woes in the secondary, I am daring this team to throw the ball against my defense, and selling out against William Stanback and that rushing attack.
Offensively, We Must Get Creative
The Redblacks went so far away from what has brought them success this season they wound up with a 3-1 pass to run ratio. Throwing 42 times, to just 13 carries they produced 332 yards through the air, and just 71 on the ground. Ottawa watched as Montreal controlled the flow of the game and imposed their will on their defense. Ottawa needs to come out and play their game against Montreal.
Run the ball down their throats with Crum, Williams, and Milanovic-Litre. Set up the play action pass more often on second down, and give Crum more RPO style plays. Protect Crum, and give him more time to throw by using the screen game, and short to intermediate passing game to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and safely. Crum was sacked 5 times last week, and hit many more before he left the game late, if we a similar pattern in this game, we will see Ottawa add another loss to their record.
This is a game I would expect Justin Hardy to have a big game. He has proven to be a possession style receiver for the Redblacks, being used in that short passing game. Through 15 games he has 74 receptions for 792 yards or just over 10 yards per reception. He is the perfect player to get more involved in this game. Move him around the formation, and get him in motion here and there to give him a clean release, and let him rack up the yards after the catch as he does.
Given their practice status on Friday I fully expect Bralon Addison, Nigel Romick, Brandin Dandridge, and Lorenzo Mauldin to miss this game. There is no reason to risk their long term viability for a meaningless game when its a chance to incorporate more young players in these roles for this game.
Heading into this game the Redblacks are understandably 6 point underdogs, at -110 odds. The over/under is 47.5 points, and the money line is +220 for Ottawa, and -270 for Montreal in this game. These odds seem spot on to me, although I believe this game will end up in another double digit loss. At this point there is no reason for Ottawa to play many of their veterans late into the game. They truly should be approaching this as a preseason game, getting reps for younger players to see what they have for the future. With Ottawa’s playoff hopes done, and Montreal heading to the playoffs this game could amount to a tune-up game before playoff run for the Alouettes.
Montreal 28-18 Ottawa
If you’re a fan of the CFL check out my personal CFL content. We recently had on two players that you may recognize from the Redblacks and Alouettes in LB Chizi Umunakwe, and RB Shane Simpson.
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