After winning their first game of the season in Edmonton 16-12 over the Elks, the Ottawa Redblacks have lost two straight. Week one’s battle was also the last time that the Redblacks defence had a takeaway. They have stayed consistent, holding offences to just 59 points in 3 games and only giving up three touchdowns, two being quarterback sneaks but it has been the Redblacks’ offence that has stayed inconsistent, they will need to find something that works for them and run with it moving forward.
The game on Saturday night between the B.C Lions and Ottawa Redblacks was tight until midway through the 4th quarter when Michael Reilly found Jevon Cottoy for a 46 yard touchdown for the Lions. It was 15-12 at the time, the touchdown shifted it to 22-12 and after two rouges from Lions punts it was 24-12, putting the game on ice. Filling in for injured defensive backs Abdul Kanneh, Sherrod Baltimore and Gump Hayes as well as defensive linemen Cleyon Laing, Stansly Maponga and Stefan Charles, starters Justin Howell, Brad Muhammad, Marcus Lewis and Praise Martin-Oguike played very well. Muhammad, Martin-Oguike and Lewis made their CFL debuts and didn’t look new to the game at all. Martin-Oguike made a sack while Muhammad and Lewis combined for 6 tackles in the secondary while veterans on the defence Avery Williams, Don Unamba and Micah Awe combined for 14 and Randall Evans found himself in the backfield as well making a sack, adding to his interception in week one of the 2021 CFL season.
Going back to the inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball, the Redblacks were able to move the ball early in the game, actually generating 63 of offence on the second drive of the game, moving the ball into the redzone for a Lewis Ward field goal. On the drive, receivers Ryan Davis and Nate Behar combined for a total 42 yards of offence while Justin Davis contributed with 14 yards rushing. There were a few other drives similar to that one which showed flashes of what this offence is all about and what they can do but they showed inconsistency moving the football, having trouble sticking with what works and having to settle for 4 field goals, not scoring a single touchdown.
What did work was exactly what worked on the second drive of the game where the Redblacks moved the ball 63 yards. Ryan Davis was able to move the ball, catching the ball 8 times on 11 targets for 70 yards and running the ball for 12 yards on 3 carries, and so was Justin Davis who ran the ball 12 times for 43 yards while hauling in 4 of 7 targets for an additional 14 yards. Nate Behar found his name on the stat sheet as well, catching 5 of 7 targets for 66 yards, making himself a possession receiver for Nichols in the home opener and possibly for the entire season as he played a similar role to RJ Harris who caught just the one pass for 16 yards. Harris is still battling the injury he suffered in Saskatchewan on a DeVonte Dedmon kickoff return which may have limited him in the home opener, and another player that has been limited in the Redblacks offence but should be fed much more outside of special teams is Dedmon. He brings a spark to the offence every single time he touches the football and he continues to prove what he’s able to do, last night he ran the ball twice for 14 yards and caught his sole target for 8 yards. On an 11 yard run on offence he brought light to the Redblacks offence which later kicked a field goal on the drive. Also from Dedmon on special teams was 7 returns, 3 punt returns for 25 yards and 4 kick returns for 117. He averaged 16.4 yards every time he touched the ball during the Redblacks home opener and if there is any offensive systems that include himself, Ryan Davis and Justin Davis being on the field at the same time the Redblacks need to jump on it as soon as possible. These three are electric when they have the ball in their hands and despite Justin Davis’ fumble late in the game during the downpour at TD Place they are able to move the ball to eventually score points. If they are able to feed this trio alongside Nate Behar, and RJ Harris as your possession receivers with sure hands they have proven to be good in those categories and with Anthony Coombs coming back from injury soon this offence should have no problems moving forward in the season.
Another large factor from the offensive side of the ball in Ottawa which the Redblacks will need to do this season is stretching the field. The offence has began to look predictable early on this season. Matt Nichols has had a great completion percentage and having thrown just two interceptions in the first three games of the season he doesn’t look bad my any means however he will need to be more confident in his deep ball. His 42 yard completion to RJ Harris in Saskatchewan remains as the Redblacks longest play of the season, the second longest would be a 21 yard completion to Nate Behar in the home opener on Saturday, and the defences aren’t even at the least bit scared of the Redblacks deep passing game, simply because they know its non existent. If the Redblacks are able to stretch the field some more, the defences will slowly adapt to it and will open up some room for other play opportunities like those explosive runs to Ryan Davis, or DeVonte Dedmon that we saw at TD Place.
Ottawa’s Mike Benevides has done an excellent job with the Redblacks defence, so if Nichols and LaPolice are able to match what he has done on the opposite side of the ball, Ottawa will be looking good moving forward, starting in week 5.
The Redblacks will be playing their first in conference game this Friday at TD Place against the Montreal Alouettes. They play the Alouettes 4 times this season and the Tiger Cats and Argonauts 2 times each. Those are the games that matter the most and if they are able to win the majority of them and excel on all sides, like they have on defence this Ottawa Redblacks team could be in a good spot late in the year.