The Ottawa Redblacks aren’t done yet.
That’s right Coach Mora, Ottawa is still alive in the playoff hunt, but only just barely. Nearing a point where the worst teams in the league will begin to be eliminated from playoff contention, Ottawa picked up a crucial win against one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot.
Ottawa will need help to get into the playoffs and it started this weekend with BC defeating the Elks so Ottawa is now tied with Edmonton. The four game slide by Montreal has helped, but Hamilton winning 3 of the last four has put them in position to knock Ottawa out of playoff contention simply by keeping pace with Ottawa. Ottawa has to hope that Montreal, Hamilton, or Saskatchewan win no more than 1, or 2 games respectively.
At this point Ottawa has to win out to even have a chance at a playoff spot and even then it will amount to backing into the playoffs with a losing record. With four games remaining for Ottawa, if they win out they would be 8-10. To achieve this feat they play Montreal twice, and Toronto twice, but their saving grace is that they don’t face Toronto until week 19, and then they have a bye week before the second match up in week 21.
Guide to Rooting for Upcoming Weeks
This will give you a basic idea of which teams you should be rooting for to win each week.
Winnipeg vs Toronto Winner Doesnt Matter
Saskatchewan vs BC Root for BC
Calgary vs Hamilton Root for Calgary
BC vs Winnipeg Winner Doesnt Matter
Toronto vs Edmonton Root for Toronto
Hamilton vs Saskatchewan Root for Saskatchewan
BC vs Hamilton Root for BC
Saskatchewan vs Calgary Root for Calgary
Montreal vs Edmonton Root for Edmonton
BC vs Calgary Root For BC
Toronto vs Saskatchewan Root for Toronto
Edmonton vs Winnipeg Root for Winnipeg
Winnipeg vs Calgary Root for Winnipeg
Hamilton vs Montreal Root for Hamilton
End of Season
- Toronto 15-3
- Ottawa 8-10
- Montreal 7-11
- Hamilton 7-11
- Winnipeg 13-5
- BC 13-5
- Saskatchewan 7-11
- Calgary 6-12
- Edmonton 5-13
In this scenario Ottawa leap frogs Montreal and Hamilton to take the second seed in the East while the only threat in the west, Calgary falls a few games short of a crossover. This is arguably the best case scenario for Ottawa moving forward. It’s also very unlikely to happen and our most likely playoff scenario for the Redblacks is Ottawa landing in the 4th seed right behind Hamilton.
Make or Break Games
All of these scenarios fall apart if Ottawa loses a single game to Montreal. Montreal currently 7-7 is set to play the Redblacks in back-to-back games. If Montreal wins either of these games they solidify a playoff spot and increase their chances of being the second seed. The playoffs start now for Ottawa and every game is a lose and miss the playoffs scenario. This next four games could tell us all we need to know about this team.
Even if Ottawa misses the playoffs again in 2023 seeing them win 5 or more games could be considered a massive improvement over the past couple seasons. Looking at the bigger picture, the Redblacks have been far from a bad team. This season has been marred by bad luck since week one, whether it was injuries, or key game changing plays, it’s typically favored Ottawa’s opponent. This is why we saw Ottawa lose seven games by one score. Now obviously his team needs to improve in many areas before it can be considered a true Grey Cup contender in the nine team league.
Biggest Questions to Answer
Is Dustin Crum the long term answer?
So far in my opinion, which may go against popular belief, we haven’t seen enough from Crum to crown him the starter for 2024 without at least making him fight for the job. Currently, Crum has played in 11 games with 10 starts. He’s responsible for 3 of the 4 wins Ottawa currently has. However, he has thrown just 7 touchdowns to 7 Interceptions. He has completed just under 70% of his passes, but when Ottawa nears the red zone they seem to rely strictly on Crum’s legs and not his arm.
Then again when you average over 7 yards per carry, score 9 rushing touchdowns and average 44 yards per game rushing it makes sense why the team looks at him in this manner. However this tells me me they don’t trust him entirely to protect the ball. Since Crum entered the lineup there is no question this offense found the spark it needed for the 2023 season but has he shown enough yet to be the guy in 2024? No not yet.
Who do we build around in 2024 to fix this secondary?
There are only a few pieces of this defense that deserve to be back in any capacity and this list could get smaller over the next four weeks depending on how guys play to finish out the season. If the team does end up eliminated from the playoffs it will be important to monitor guys taking plate off.
Should we retain the head coach and coordinators?
Bob Dyce finds himself in a tough position. On one hand he has already improved on the win-loss record from last season, on the other hand he has also watched his team fail to close out games and fall on the wrong side of 7 one score games. In those 7 games, the Redblacks held the lead in 3 of them going into the fourth quarter.
If one man should face the wrath of ownership after this season it should be Barron Miles. His unit has been spectacularly bad in the fourth quarter of many games. In the last three games alone, they allowed 54 points in the fourth quarter alone. This has been an issue all season long and it has been something the team can’t overcome in many losses. If the defense could simply step up and prevent a one score in the fourth quarter of each game.
Injury Report/Depth Chart
Week 17 Preview
The reality of our situation is the above scenario is highly unlikely. Ottawa will be lucky to finish above fourth in the division for the first time since 2018. That doesn’t mean they can’t finish strong, and show promise heading into 2024. This will be crucial in the team’s evaluation of their head coach, his staff as well as their roster.
As it stands Montreal is 2-0 versus the Redblacks this season. In those games the Redblacks lost by a combined 8 points, and in these two games Ottawa’s Quarterbacks combined for 307 yards, 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. It’s clear both of these games were lost based on the signal caller’s inability to find the end-zone through the air.
Ottawa Must Find Their Passing Game
If Ottawa truly wants to win this game and stay in the playoff hunt, the kid gloves need to come off of Dustin Crum. It’s time to let the man off his leash and see what he can do. I understand he has been turnover prone, but if the alternative is losing while playing too conservatively what are we truly gaining here?
The fact is if the team doesn’t allow Crum to go out and play more loose moving forward they’re not only hindering his development, they’re hindering their own evaluation of him as a player which could set this franchise back yet another year. By the end of 2023 it’s extremely important that the team has a clear picture of their quarterback position and how they will move forward. If Crum isn’t the guy now, will another full season of starting truly change anything or will it just create a fifth straight losing season? Many will say the way Khari Jones has called plays is to protect Crum and allow him to develop confidence, I argue that false confidence is worse than outright failing, and being forced to learn from those failures.
Devonte Williams is a Key to Victory
Over the past three games during a stretch that has seen Ottawa score 97 points, Williams has been the engine propelling this offense forward. With 462 total yards, Williams has done his damage as a runner and receiver for Ottawa. He has established him as the Bell-cow back despite his size and it has directly translated to an offensive explosion recently.
While Williams is the clear lead back, that isn’t to say our other runners, namely Ante Milanovic-Litre shouldn’t be involved more often. His ability in short yardage and goal to go situations is well documented and his workload thus far has been concerning at best. Brought in to be the number 2 back behind Williams but to see him only amass 14 carries for 39 yards, and not be utilized as a receiver at all in that time is frustrating.
Montreal might be the perfect defense to get both of these guys going against. They are sitting in 7th place in terms of average yards per carry allowed with 5.7 yards. Consider that they will face the best rushing attack in the league it could prove to be overmatched in this game.
Offensive Line Injuries
With all the attrition on the offensive line the situation is looking fairly dire currently. The Redblacks only dressed six offensive linemen and one of those is Eric Starczala who has been on and off the team several times this season. The relative inexperience of this line is somewhat concerning and they will need to keep pace despite these injuries to find victory in this game. Currently the only team in the league that has allowed more sacks is Montreal. Which brings me to my next point:
Defensive Line Needs to Get to Fajardo
With Montreal allowing 50 sacks so far this season, if there is a game for this unit to get back on track this is the one. Currently Ottawa has collected just 37 sacks placing them in the middle of the pack overall. However one player whose drop off hasn’t gone unnoticed is Lorenzo Mauldin IV. He was voted CFL DPOY in 2022 after 16 sacks, and was regarded as a building block for this defense this year. So far he has just 5 sacks this season and hasn’t produced pressure at the rate he did last season to this point.
The ironic part of this drop off is the fact that this defense has forced teams to abandon the run and become one dimensional. If that’s the case our sack numbers should be up not down. Miles needs to get creative with his blitzes, stunts, and other factors to produce pressure on Cody Fajardo to throw him off his game. Fajardo stands fifth in passing yards, and touchdowns currently despite missing time. The big thing to watch is that Fajardo is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt which cannot be allowed this weekend. If you pressure Fajardo he will turn the ball over as evidenced by his 10 interceptions this year.
Betting Odds for this game per SportsBookWire.com have the Redblacks as the 2.5 point underdogs which is showing me they really dug into the past two games and saw there isn’t the gap in talent between these teams that some may assume by looking at the record. The money line is -130 for Montreal, and +110 for Ottawa. Our over/under is set at 47.5 points.
If I was a betting man, I would be taking the over in this game with two inept defenses, and picking Ottawa against the spread. With their last loss by one point I like their chances against a team that has shown its flaws all year.
Ottawa 32-28 Montreal
This entire Ottawa team should be put on notice, no one’s job is safe and that’s a precedent that needs to be noticed by players and coaches alike. At this point it seems like it might be time for a full ground up rebuild, because so far retooling each season has resulted in four losing seasons in a row. Considering that Ottawa has just two winning seasons since changing its name nearly a decade ago, the status quo is no longer acceptable.
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