After the first two weeks of the 2021 CFL season the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders have settled in as the favourites to win the Grey Cup and are found at 1 and 2 in the CFL’s power rankings while the Ottawa Redblacks who quote by 3DownNation’s Josh Smith “could legitimately go winless.” yet sit at 1-0 are at 9 in the power rankings. Ever since the Redblacks lost Trevor Harris, William Powell, Greg Ellingson, Rico Murray and Sir Vincent Rogers in the 2019-19 free agency period the league has doubted them. Nobody except for R-Nation and the Redblacks had faith that they would be able to look past the losses in free agency and rebuild the look of the team on the run. To a certain extent, yes the Ottawa Redblacks failed to rebound from what they lost in that free agency period, but that was in the 2019 CFL season. Since then, the team has completely changed their look. The coaching staff, the backfield, the receiving core, the offensive line the defence and hey even the jerseys have changed and there is no reason why their record can change too. In the beginning of their bounce back from the 3-15 season in 2019 Matt Nichols brings his 1-0 Ottawa Redblacks to Saskatchewan to kickoff against the 2-0 Roughriders in a big test for the Redblacks.
Many would have thought that the biggest test would have come in week one against the Edmonton Elks, considering it was the first game with the new look however the Redblacks’ offence weren’t able to move the ball like they would have wanted to. They showed potential on multiple occasions, eventually moving the ball 127 yards, 71 in the air and 56 on the ground but it was on the defensive side of the ball where the Ottawa Redblacks proved themselves the most. They sacked Trevor Harris 3 times and intercepted him 3 times as well, one of which went for an Abdul Kanneh touchdown, really making their presence felt, especially in the pass game, shutting down Harris on a number of plays. One thing that the Redblacks should prepare for moving into the game this Saturday in Saskatchewan on the defensive side of the ball would be stopping the run game. Former Redblacks running back William Powell is found on the Roughriders side of the field with 132 rushing yards in the first two games of the season, coming off of a game which he had 107 yards of offence alongside Cody Fajardo’s 66 rushing yards and rushing touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger Cats so after Ottawa gave up 89 rushing yards to Edmonton’s James Wilder Jr, it will be crucial to keep the Powell and Fajardo duo from running away with the win. They will also want to create pressure on Fajardo. He’s only been sacked 4 times to start out the season and the Roughriders offensive line has done a fantastic job in keeping him on his feet, however like every quarterback once Fajardo gets hit enough times and senses the pressure he will feel the urge to run or throw the ball faster than he should. This could cause some interceptions and incompletions for the Redblacks defence and get them back to a similar position as they were when they played the Elks in week one; if the Redblacks defence continues to play like they did against Edmonton and the offence matches that efficiency they will be a hard team to beat.
How can the offence match the efficiency that the Redblacks defence has? Well they need to start the game hot. Moving the ball well early on in the game can transition into early success and can give them the advantage over the Roughriders. The Roughriders have done a good job defending the run game, giving up just 20 yards in their latest game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats to Sean Thomas-Erlington, meanwhile the Redblacks’ Timothy Flanders ran for just 39 yards in the season opener. If the Redblacks can establish the run game early, call for explosive run plays where Flanders can accelerate off of the handoff they can then open up their offence. The Roughriders are yet to see a good run game. Their week one matchup consisted mostly of passes, having had a large lead, up to 30-plus points at one point in the game so if Flanders is able to run the ball efficiently on the Saskatchewan that could expose their defence and help the Redblacks offence. Once they’re able to open their offence up some more, Ottawa can experiment more with the abilities that Ryan Davis, Anthony Coombs and DeVonte Dedmon have. In week one Coombs didn’t see much of the field having dealt with an injury and Dedmon was mainly on special teams, returning kicks for a total 111 yards but Ryan Davis provided a well needed spark to the offence every time he touched the ball so if they are willing to do so, having that trio on the field throughout the game, either all at once or on a rotation could benefit the Redblacks offence. It adds another level of versatility to the offence. They are able to do anything from jet sweeps to double passes with the group of slot receivers. Each of them provide the ability to catch and run the ball, breakaway for a long run and depending if you need them to do so they are also able to receive handoffs and play out of the backfield. In the season opener Davis caught 6 of 7 targets for 33 yards and ran the ball once for an additional 6 yards, also being the owner of the longest offensive play for the Redblacks on a 15 yard catch on a crossing route and in Saskatchewan’s first few games they were faced by a few similar players as Davis, Dedmon and Coombs.
Against the B.C Lions in week one they were faced against speed receiver Lucky Whitehead who caught 5 of 8 targets for 136 yards and a 75 yard receiving touchdown. Then against the Tiger Cats they played Brandon Banks and Papi White who combined for 72 yards on 9 offensive touches. Hamilton also had some success using both Banks and White in the backfield or on jet sweeps so that may be something coach LaPolice points out while watching film. If LaPolice does indeed use that offensive trio and are able to run the ball well early in the game the other options like number one receiver RJ Harris who is often open on hook, crossing, in and corner routes, Daniel Petermann who can catch the short throws and turn them into big gains and Jordan Smallwood who at 6-foot-2 can catch the deep ball.
Outside of that, the Redblacks have proven to be able to win with their defence and their special teams unit which will be crucial moving forward, especially for their week three matchup.
The Ottawa Redblacks will kickoff against the Roughriders on Saturday at 7:00 eastern. They will look to improve to 2-0 early on in the season and if they do so they will be first in the east.