For Redblacks, 'good football players' not playing good enough

Chris Randle is called for pass interference on Shaq Evans in the first half as the Ottawa Redblacks take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in CFL action at TD Place in Ottawa, June 20, 2019. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia

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Through the turmoil and frustration of a string of games where the Ottawa Redblacks have won just once in their past eight outings, there is still the sentiment that, “We have good football players, good people.”

As true as that may be — the “good football players and good people” have to figure out a way to become a “good football team.” Or the Redblacks — for the first time since their 2014 expansion season — will miss the playoffs. Right now, what fans are seeing out of the 2019 Redblacks — an offence that was plug-your-nose bad through the first 15 minutes of a 40-18 thumping at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday — isn’t good enough. Not even close.

In Regina — the Redblacks, stunningly coughed up three first-quarter interceptions. Dominique Davis, in his first season as a starting CFL quarterback, was yanked from the game by coach Rick Campbell after throwing for just 23 yards. He actually completed all six of his passes — but three of the receivers were wearing green jerseys. Davis’ replacement Jonathon Jennings completed 16-of-26 passes for 208 yards — including a 75-yard touchdown connection with Dominique Rhymes. It was probably enough to earn him a start when the Redblacks return to the field.

Dominique Davis throws a pass in the first half as the Ottawa Redblacks take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in CFL action at TD Place in Ottawa. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia

“There are a lot of things that are tough,” said Redblacks defensive back Antoine Pruneau. “We don’t want to start the game like that. We work really hard to make this a good team and it doesn’t seem to be working right now. I don’t know what the answer is. It gets tougher and tougher, but one thing for sure — this team is not going to stop trying. That’s the kind of people we have in this organization, we’re going to work hard to find ways to get it done.”

The truth is the Redblacks are getting it done in two areas — special teams and defence — but that offence, oh my God.

Asked after Saturday’s game who his starting quarterback would be in two weeks in a home game against Toronto — the Redblacks have a bye week to try and figure things out — Campbell said: “There’s no reason to have to make any decisions tonight. I’m going to make sure we play whoever gives us the best chance to win is all I’ll say about that.”

RNation has to be growing impatient with a team that on the offensive side of the ball keeps taking step backwards instead of pushing ahead. Sure, there were some signs of life against the Riders, but you never really had the feeling that Ottawa was going to win the game — even though they were down just nine at one point.

“Saskatchewan deserves all the credit, but you can’t let a team off the hook — you spot them 17 points and try to dig your way out,” said Campbell. “I think we were doing that and it was a ballgame — the score looks worse because I go for it on third down in our own end. I do that because I’m in the business of trying to win, not trying to make the score look good. So it got skewed a bit. I actually have some hope — we’re showing flashes of things. There’s reason to believe we can grow from this.”

Growth would be good. The question is can the Redblacks do it with the players currently on the roster?

With an injury list that’s already quite long, offensive lineman Stephane Nembot and running back John Crockett left Saturday’s game and didn’t return.

“We have a long list of injuries so this is a much-needed bye week,” said Campbell. “It’ll be good for everybody to step back and take a deep breath. We have eight (games) to go (in the regular season), we have to keep working at solving things.”

Davis, who was pulled from the game with five minutes left in the first quarter, was asked if he would have liked to stay in and try to rally his team back from a 17-0 deficit. Davis said: “Absolutely. But I trust Coach Campbell’s decision. I just have to roll with the punches.”

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Marcus Sayles attempts to break up a pass attempt to the Ottawa Redblacks’ Brad Sinopoli on Friday, July 19, 2019. Chris Procaylo / Postmedia

“Honestly I felt like we were still in the game,” said Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli, who was targeted with 10 passes and caught five of them for 53 yards. “It’s CFL football and there’s always a chance. It was only a two-score game. Even when it was a three-score game, that’s not that far out of reach — we’ve done that before many times. There wasn’t panic or anything. You can only get it back one play at a time and that’s what we tried to do.”

Asked how his team can find consistency on the offensive side of the ball, Sinopoli said: “If we had the exact answer, we would already have fixed it. It’s something we’re struggling with right now.”

Earlier in the week, the Redblacks gave offensive play calling duties to Joe Paopao. And the team simplified the playbook to try and light a fire, find a spark. But Paopao can’t throw the ball, he can’t catch it and he can’t run the pass routes — and those are areas in which the Redblacks are lagging.

“It’s a natural reaction to have an initial sense of frustration,” said offensive lineman Alex Mateas. “Momentum is very important in this game, especially on the road. Respect to (the Riders), but we definitely have to be better, we have to come out stronger.”

On a team that’s built around character, the players are holding on in unity. But it has to be tough watching a season start to slide away.

“I’m sure (the offence) knows better than me what they have to work on,” said Pruneau. “I feel like I have a lot of things I have to work on myself so I can’t comment on what’s going on offensively.”



Offence D

Certainly it was a failing grade in the first quarter. But the Redblacks clawed back a bit and did a few good things offensively. Greg Morris, filling in for Crockett at running back, had 28 yards rushing on seven carries and another 50 yards on six catches. Dominique Rhymes caught a beauty of a Jonathon Jennings pass for a 75-yard touchdown. But three interceptions by Dominique Davis? Yikes.

Defence C+

The crazy thing about giving up 40 points is the defence wasn’t bad. Former Redblacks running back William Powell rushed for 70 yards on 11 carries, with two touchdowns, to lead the Riders. QB Cody Fajardo had 241 yards passing, with a nice touchdown catch by Naaman Roosevelt.

Special Teams B

Lewis Ward was good on all four of his field goal attempts, but missed a convert. Richie Leone showed a big leg, averaging 50.8 on his punts, with a nice net of 45.8. Stef Logan had a nice punt return of 54 yards late in the game.



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