During 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 a 0-2 record that could have been turned upside down to 2-0.
Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns. Missed opportunities. The Red Blacks have paid dearly.
It’s not that the Redblacks can’t push the ball to the field — against a very tough defense from Winnipeg in the 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 settling for field goals. So far, Lewis Ward has scored seven field goals this season, while Ottawa has scored just one touchdown — a 20-yard completion for Shaq Johnson.
In the Red Zone (20 meters and beyond), the Red Blacks stumbled enormously. 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 victories 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 that the Redblacks will need to score multiple touchdowns to have a chance of winning.
“We had our chances,” Masoli said after Tuesday’s practice at TD Place. “It’s not something we need to throw the script over. It’s just us performing 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 that we know we could have done better in the last two games,” Johnson said. “It’s little things that we have to clean up. It’s not something that someone does to us – it’s just that we hurt ourselves in some places. That comes with being a new team, minor hiccups. The guys are working every day and come early to fix the things that need fixing.”
In addition to their early offensive outbursts, the Lions have been frugal on defense, scoring just 18 points – that’s an average of nine per game.
“If you’re playing against a team that isn’t handing in a lot of points, you have to make sure you get your sevens,” said Redblacks head coach/offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. “The BC Lions are very good on defense. So you have to get your points if you can.”
Masoli has a lot of talent around him. From a year ago one of the weaknesses of the offense, the receiving corps is strong with a good veteran presence. Jaelon Acklin (220 yards), Nate Behar (141 yards) and Darvin Adams (135 yards), along with Justin Hardy and Johnson, were impressive.
“We have a great group,” said receiver coach Alex Suber. “Acklin is an edgy man, he can run past anyone and he is really confident. Hardy has all the tools. He is a rookie in this league, but not a rookie in professional football. He is at full speed every day. He has great hands. And he works hard. He has 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 is tense and he is a leader. He’s physical, he goes up and gets the ball. He’s just a rough, all round really good footballer. I think some guys have forgotten how good he is. We watched some old clips of him; the guy has been phenomenal for a long time. Shaq is another good pro; he works hard every day. He will take a hitch and go 40 meters during practice. He’s always trying to get better. I tell Nate all the time that he hasn’t had a chance to build a career in this league yet; now he does. He embraces the position that he is. The man is smart, one of the most intelligent guys I’ve seen.”
Behind the starters are Ryan Davis (on the six-game injured list), the team’s top rookie from 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 that they’re always trying to push each other, trying to make each other better, because we all understand the bigger picture. There will be injuries and we want the next man to be ready to go.”
THE END AROUND: For the Redblacks, there’s not much consolation in a few close losses to the back-to-back defending Gray Cup champions. “I think it’s a bit better to lose by one point than to lose by 40,” said Redblacks offensive lineman Hunter Steward. “But a loss is a loss. We are still 0-2. You can’t get lost in the ‘Yes, we played well, close game’. That won’t help your record. Learn from the good, learn from the bad. Then go outside and grab a W.” … There are still plenty of tickets available for Thursday’s game at 7.30 pm. The weather forecast indicates that there will be plenty of sun. The Redblacks advertise 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 firecrackers party after the game… RBs William Powell and Brendan Gillanders were full participants in Tuesday’s practice, meaning they have to go do Thursday’s game… In CFL.ca’s predictions, two out of six (Jamie Nye and Chris O’Leary) pick the Redblacks to beat the Lions… Speaking of CFL.ca, the QB Index (power ranking) has Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros at number 1 followed by Nathan Rourke of BC, Bo Levi Mitchell and Masoli of Calgary.