Struggles Have Sunk Redblacks in Back-to-Back Losses

Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press

The Redblacks will have to head back to the drawing board this week after losing consecutive games for the first time this season. The offense struggled against both Montreal and BC over the pass two weeks, especially in the pass game.

Now firmly in the second half of the season, each game is crucial in determining playoff positioning. The Ti-Cats have drawn even with Ottawa atop the East division and the Alouettes have looked much improved over the past month. It is hardly the time for an offensive slump. The play of the quarterback in particular, at least according to the statistics, has been a weakness during the two-game losing streak.

Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris completed only 55% of his passes in the two losses, while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. Both games were in reach in the second half but turnovers and missed throws proved costly. Due to his play, Harris was even benched to start the third quarter of the Lions game.

Although there were miscalculations by Harris, including some bad reads and sometimes holding on to the ball for too long, there was consistent pressure in both losses. Protecting Harris and protecting the ball have stood out as significant problems over the two games. Between the losses against the Alouettes and Lions, the Redblacks have committed a combined six turnovers and allowed a whopping nine sacks.

Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said at practice on Tuesday that the sacks given up can partly be attributed to having to play the majority of the game from behind.

“We want to play the game from ahead, we want to protect our quarterback better,” said Campbell. “We want to make some more plays earlier in the game and get the momentum in our favour and we didn’t do that that game.”

It is unclear at this point whether or not there will be a shake-up on the offensive line this week, though the sacks given up the past two weeks cannot be place entirely on the linemen’s shoulders. The offensive strategy for the Redblacks seemed to shy away from quick-developing passing plays (such as screen plays) as well as the run game. More of a focus on quick-developing plays can slow down an opposing pass rush.

William Powell averaged only 13 carries the last two games, despite averaging over five yards a carry. The last time the CFL’s second-leading rusher had gotten less than 13 touches in a single-game was all the way back in week five.

“We have had a couple of doozies of games in terms of not making plays, so we have to go out and rectify that and be better this week,” said Harris.

The slating does not get any easier for the Redblacks this week as they face the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are in the midst of a four-game winning streak. Although they are middle of the pack in terms of points allowed, the Roughrider defense has wreaked havoc this season on opposing quarterbacks.

Saskatchewan leads the league in sacks (29) and has forced the second most interceptions (13) and fumbles (11). Last week against the Blue Bombers in the Banjo Bowl, the Roughriders intercepted five throws and returned two of those for touchdowns.  

The Redblacks got the best of the Riders in their first meeting this season in week two, putting up 459 yards of total offense and crushing them 40-17. But that victory was almost three months ago, back when receiver Duron Carter was not only on the roster, but was starting at defensive back.

The Roughriders have since added former NFL starter Matt Elam and former Redblack Loucheiz Purifoy, who was released by Ottawa on August 6th, to an already stacked defense. Even the man Carter was once tasked to replace, Nick Marshall, has returned from injury and provided an additional defensive weapon for head coach Chris Jones.

In a matchup between two of the league’s most stout defensive units, taking care of the ball for both teams will be imperative. As was the case against the Lions and Alouettes, the Redblacks cannot afford to provide the opposing offense with a short field to capitalize on.

Despite the back-to-back losses, Harris seemed to keep the Redblacks’ season-long journey in perspective at practice this week.

“We have a mission that we are on and that is to have a home playoff game here in November to go to the Grey Cup. We’re in a great position to do that,” said Harris 

The Redblacks will do battle with the Roughriders on Saturday night in Regina.