Through two games of their 18-game CFL regular season, the Ottawa Redblacks have left way too many points on the board; for them, it’s the difference between an 0-2 record that could have been turned upside down to 2-0.
Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns. Missed opportunities. The Redblacks have paid dearly.
It’s not like the Redblacks can’t push the ball downfield — against a very tough Winnipeg defense in 19-17 and 19-12 losses — quarterback Jeremiah Masoli passed for 380 and 331 yards. The big plays or “explosives” are there — Ottawa has six completions of 30 yards or more. But there’s a big difference between scoring touchdowns and setting for field goals. So far this season, Lewis Ward has booted seven field goals, while Ottawa has scored just one touchdown — a 20-yard completion to Shaq Johnson.
In the Red Zone (20 yards and in), the Redblacks have stumbled mightily. It’s something that needs to be fixed. Soon. Especially with the high-flying BC Lions coming to Ottawa for a Thursday night game. In blowout wins over Edmonton and Toronto, the Lions have scored 103 points (with seven passing touchdowns and six more on the ground). Ottawa’s defense won’t crumble like that, but it’s also likely the Redblacks will need to score multiple touchdowns to have a chance to win.
“We’ve had our opportunities,” said Masoli following Tuesday’s practice at TD Place. “It’s nothing we need to throw away the playbook over. It’s just us executing at a higher level and doing some things better. Then, some of those things will go our way and we’ll get some sevens.”
“There are a lot of things we know we could have done better the last two games,” said Johnson. “It’s little things we have to clean up. It’s not anything anybody is doing to us – it just us hurting ourselves in places. That comes with being a new team, little hiccups. The guys are putting in the work each day, coming in early to fix the things that need to be fixed.”
Along with their early offensive outbursts, the Lions have been frugal on defense, allowing just 18 points – that’s an average of nine per game.
“When you play a team that doesn’t give up a lot of points, you have to make sure you get your sevens,” said Redblacks head coach/offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice. “The BC Lions are really good on defence. So you have to get your points when you can.”
Masoli has plenty of talent surrounding him. From being one of the offence’s weaknesses a year ago, the receiving corps is strong with good veteran presence. Jaelon Acklin (220 yards), Nate Behar (141 yards) and Darvin Adams (135 yards), along with Justin Hardy and Johnson, have been impressive.
“We have a great group,” said receivers coach Alex Suber. “Acklin is an edgy guy, he can run past anybody and he’s really got confidence. Hardy’s got every tool. He’s a rookie in this league, but he’s not a rookie in pro football. He’s full-speed every day. He’s got great hands. And he works hard. He’s been around some of the best receivers… Julio Jones… to play the game. I actually played with Darvin in Toronto and he’s the same guy; he’s edgy and he’s a leader. He’s physical, he goes up and gets the ball. He’s just a gritty, all-around really good football player. I think some guys forgot how good he is. We watched some old clips of his from him; the guy has been phenomenal for a long time. Shaq is another good pro; he works hard every day. He’ll take a hitch and go 40 yards at practice. He’s always trying to get better. I tell Nate all the time he hasn’t had the chance to have a career in this league yet; now he does. He embraces the position he’s n. The guy is savvy, one of the most intelligent guys I’ve been around.”
Behind the starters is Ryan Davis (on the six-game injured list), the team’s top rookie since a year ago, and RJ Harris, who has 2,066 yards in catches in three seasons with the Redblacks. That’s the kind of depth that helps a team get through a season without missing a beat.
“We’re excited about our depth,” Suber said. “The best thing about this group is they’re always trying to push each other, trying to get each other better because we all understand the bigger picture. Injuries are going to happen and we want the next man up to be ready to go.”
THE END AROUND: For the Redblacks, there’s not much consolation in a couple of close losses to the back-to-back defending Gray Cup champs. “I guess it’s a bit better to lose by one point than lose by 40,” said Redblacks offensive lineman Hunter Steward. “But a loss is a loss. We’re still 0-2. You can’t get lost in the ‘Yeah, we played well, close game.’ That doesn’t help your record. Learn from the good, learn from the bad. Then go out and get a W.” … There are still plenty of tickets available for Thursday’s 7:30 pm game. The weather forecast suggests there will be plenty of sunshine. The Redblacks are advertising it as a Red Out game. To celebrate Canada Day, and with the Redblacks wearing red jerseys, fans are also encouraged to wear red. There will be live music and a post-game fireworks celebration … RBs William Powell and Brendan Gillanders were full participants at Tuesday’s practice, which means they should be a go for Thursday’s game … In the CFL.ca predictions, two of six (Jamie Nye and Chris O’Leary) pick the Redblacks to beat the Lions … Speaking of CFL.ca, it’s QB Index (power ranking) has Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros at No. 1, followed by BC’s Nathan Rourke, Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell and Masoli.