Ottawa Redblacks Control East, but Inconsistency is Troubling

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The Ottawa Redblacks 28-15 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday along with the Tiger-Cats stunning last-second loss to the B.C. Lions has put Ottawa firmly in the driver’s seat.

The Details

With five games remaining the Redblacks need to win two games to clinch the division. One of those wins must come against Hamilton on either October 19 or 27 as the two teams play a home-and-home.

Ottawa also hosts Winnipeg and Toronto and travels to Edmonton, where they hope to travel to again in the last week of November.

Fifteen weeks into the season the Redblacks have been a picture of inconsistency. In Week 10 the Redblacks made a statement by dismantling the high-flying, at the time, Winnipeg Blue Bombers 44-21. The Redblacks rode into their second bye week on a huge high with some stating that they had arrived in the upper echelon of the league.

The momentum did not survive the break as they stumbled against both Montreal and B.C.  A percentage of the fanbase called for heads to roll on Bank street after these losses. Strong wins over Edmonton and Saskatchewan muted those voices.

Where are the Touchdowns?

To be fair, Ottawa’s defence has been consistent and stifling for the entire season. The offence has been a work in progress and Saturday’s game was no different. The Redblacks were able to easily move the ball up to the red zone but struggled in scoring touchdowns due to both penalty and scheme.

Here is a look at the red zone drives that resulted in field goals.

1st Quarter

Drive #1 – started on Ottawa 45, 1st-and-goal from Edmonton 16

William Powell runs for 4 yards against a six-man gap cancellation front from the Eskimos. Edmonton expects a run, but Powell almost breaks it before being corralled by three Eskimos. The Redblacks run a beautiful stacked route with Greg Ellingson and J.C. Beaulieu for the touchdown but a hands to the face penalty by right tackle Jason Lauzon-Sequin brings it back.

On 2nd-and-16, Trevor Harris checks the ball down to Powell as the Eskimos cover down deep and take away all options. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt makes a great open field tackle after a two-yard gain. Harris had no other option, Edmonton made a great defensive play.

2nd Quarter

Drive #5 – started on Edmonton 47, 1st-and-goal from the Eskimos five.

An illegal block downfield by Brad Sinopoli takes away a touchdown from offensive lineman Marl Korte who lined up as an eligible wingback and caught a dump pass to the flats. The problem was not with Sinopoli, but Korte who gets overly anxious and runs the route past the line of scrimmage.

On 1st-and-goal from the 15, Harris is sacked by Kwaku Boateng on an inside stunt when Edmonton sends four against Ottawa’s tight right empty set. Harris double clutches the ball and can’t get away. Harris throws an interception on 2nd-and-goal from the 20.

The Eskimos dropped eight into coverage. The Redblacks play into it with a tight right, single back protection with four receivers into the field and the boundary empty. This allows Edmonton to play off the boundary side and nickel linebacker Chris Edwards drops underneath a curl route by Sinopoli. A quick look at the film shows speedster Diontae Spencer matched up with linebacker Aaron Grymes in the middle of the field with the whole boundary side open for a fade. Harris locks in, gets happy feet and doesn’t look off the second level.

Drive #6 – started on Ottawa 49, 1st-and-goal from the Eskimos eight.

After a three-yard run from Powell from the Edmonton eight-yard line, Harris is sacked by Boateng, again. On this 2nd down play, the Eskimos run a five-man front send six in cover-zero. The corner jumps the quick route and J.C. Sherritt spies Harris.  Powell picks up the safety but the left side of the Ottawa O-line is quickly overcome. The zero-blitz continues to haunt the Redblacks.

3rd Quarter

Drive #8 – started on Ottawa 31, 1st-and-goal from the Edmonton 15.

Powell breaks a few tackles for a six-yard gain. Harris is sacked on 2nd-and-4 after Almondo Sewell victimizes left guard Evan Johnson with an inside-out move from a four-man rush. The Eskimos drop two linebackers to spy Powell and Harris and then play bump and run on the three-by-two receiver set.

The Redblacks allow the Eskimos to hang around in a game that Ottawa dominated in almost every way. To be a threat the Redblacks must take advantage of their opportunities. They must reassess their schematic approach to cover-zero in the red zone. Opposing defences will continue to play cover-zero until Ottawa shows an ability to overcome it.

Final Words

The season is a marathon and fans get bogged down in the minutia of each win and loss. As the weather turns the Redblacks have started to build a balanced attack which bodes well for the unpredictable nature of November football. The Redblacks have been making a concerted attempt to get the ball to William Powell. They have stuck with him to grind down the defence even when not having initial success. The past few weeks have shown a change in their tendencies.

Redblacks Rush % Week 9-15

Vs. Week Pass attempts Rush attempts Rush % Result
Montreal 9 55 22 28 W
Winnipeg 10 40 15 27 W
Montreal 12 46 11 19 L
BC 13 27 18 40 L
Saskatchewan 14 27 18 40 W
Edmonton 15 30 26 46 W


The Ottawa Redblacks have every opportunity to be the eastern representative in the 106th Grey Cup. The next five weeks will tell if they jump at the chance.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images