Time of possession tells the story for the Redblacks offence amidst current losing streak

Photo credit: The Canadian Press

The Ottawa Redblacks are in the midst of their worst losing streak in five years. The team has lost four straight games and a lack of offensive production has been a major problem. The offence’s biggest hurdle has been sustaining drives.

It goes without saying that keeping offensive drives alive in football is imperative. Not only does it help the Redblacks offence get closer to scoring range, but it also helps the defence retain energy as they get the chance to rest more on the sidelines.

The Redblacks are last in the league in time of possession, even worse than the winless Argonauts. On average, opponents have had eight minutes more per game on offence than Ottawa. Drives are ending prematurely for the Redblacks, which is allowing opponents more opportunities to score points and control the flow of the game.

Ottawa is also averaging the least yards per play on first down (4.9 yards), which in turn has led to them struggling on subsequent second-and-long opportunities. They have the second worst conversion percentage when facing second downs of seven or more yards.

Second down is the ‘money down’. Depending on the success of the play, drives usually either continue or end in a change of possession on the next play.

It is safe to say that Ottawa’s inability to move the ball on first down has led to them facing more difficult second downs. The best way to keep drives alive and stay on the field is not being effective on second down. It is having success on first down so that the offence has to face fewer second downs or, at the very least, that the offence faces short second down opportunities.

Moving the ball effectively on first down will be crucial moving forward for the Redblacks to improve their offensive output and to up their time of possession numbers. With the quarterback position remaining one of the biggest question marks on the roster, it would service the Redblacks to lean more on their run game.

Much has been made of the losses the Redblacks suffered in free agency. Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson chief among so but an often overlooked loss is running back William Powell.

Powell was second in the league in rushing yards in 2018, though he would have likely won the rushing crown if he weren’t rested in the regular season finale. Powell led the CFL in carries of 10 or more yards (41) and was second in carries of 20 or more yards (9).

So far this season, the Redblacks only have a single rush of more than 20 yards and it came from quarterback Dominique Davis. They also have not had a running back score a touchdown all year.

Of course it is not uncommon for quarterbacks to run short-yardage touchdowns in when a team is within a yard or two of the endzone, but it is telling that Redblacks running backs have been unable to punch it in from outside of that. Despite these troubling statistics, a recent shakeup in the starting lineup could bear improvements in the run game.

After a great opening game (24 carries, 112 rushing yards), running back Mossis Madu was subpar in three subsequent starts. The Redblacks made the change to John Crockett.

Crockett received some carries against Montreal a few weeks ago and then got the nod to start in the backfield against Winnipeg and Calgary. The first-year Redblack has showed promise and figures to, at the very least, be the short-term solution at running back for Ottawa.

The 27-year-old from Minnesota spent time with the Green Bay Packers and had training camp stops in Oakland, Baltimore and with the Arizona Hotshots of the now defunct Alliance of American Football.

He is averaging a fantastic 5.7 yards per carry over the three games he has appeared in so far with Ottawa. Crockett is also leading the team with five rushes of 10 or more yards. Even with the Redblacks offensive line struggling as of late, Crockett has shown a physical run style that can grind out tough yardage even without great run blocking in front of him.

Time of possession needs to improve for the Redblacks. The passing game remains a whole other issue but a greater emphasis on the run game can at the very least help keep the Ottawa offence on the field longer.

With Crockett taking over the starting role, Ottawa needs a lot from him. They need him to be effective on first down and they need him to break off the odd big run play to help keep opposing defences honest.  

The impact the Redblacks need from the running back position is a big ask but it may be needed to get them out of their slide. Crockett has show flashes that he may be the man to do it.

The Redblacks will look to halt their losing streak this Friday night when they take on the Alouettes in Montreal.