Redblacks at the 6-game mark

by Cranky Frank Clair

The CFL’s East division race has become a tight one following a 4-game stretch that has seen the Redblacks pick up just one win, and now sit with a record of 3-2-1. This makes it time for reflection and a quick review of our personnel, but first, let’s get right to the point regarding the Toronto game (a 23-20 loss this past Sunday evening). The Redblacks defence was good enough for Ottawa to win. The offence was not. Some have been quick to jump on the playcalling. Others have praised Toronto’s defence. I think Argos defensive coordinator Rich Stubler deserves a lot of credit – he seems to have found the secret sauce for containing Ottawa’s receiving corps. Ottawa’s talent should have still been enough, but it wasn’t.

And I’ll say this with no reservations – Henry Burris wasn’t good enough either. My impression is that he was a guy trying to prove the doubters wrong. Whether Burris was forcing balls into coverage, overthrowing or putting too much zip when a bit of touch was required, he had a bad night. Burris definitely wasn’t making good decisions, and its possible that his mechanics were off due to his finger. We’ll see.

The good news is that Hank is a leader and wore his performance in post-game interviews. I also recall that in 2014, “Bad Hank” didn’t usually appear two games in a row. I think his decision-making will be much better vs. Edmonton. The question is how much of his performance was due to this injury and whether that will be resolved before Saturday.

Ok, now let’s take a quick tour through the field to see how things are going and where they are headed.

Quarterback

Henry Burris (Photo: Scott Grant)

This remains Henry’s team, and like I said, history says that Bad Hank isn’t likely to appear two games in a row. Trevor Harris won’t be available till after the bye week at the earliest. Burris played about as well as Brock Jensen a week ago. The difference being, that was Hank at his worst. I believe that level of play is Brock Jensen’s normal. This team needs wins, it is already hovering barely over the danger zone for hosting a home playoff game. Burris has to step up and find a way to beat an Edmonton defence that is in disarray and then stomp Saskatchewan.

We can worry about Harris and the starting job when the time comes.

Running back

Nic Grigsby (Photo: Scott Grant)

Considering how deep into the big pile of RB resumes GM Marcel Desjardins has had to dig, the running game has been pretty good. I’ve liked Nic Grigsby’s play. Travon Van has a lot of fans and is set to return fairly soon, but I’d like to see the team stick with Grigsby. I much prefer his game. He’s built lower to the ground, hits the hole with far more determination and purpose, and can create a play where there doesn’t seem to be an opening. I was starting to come around on Van before he got injured, but I think Grigsby is better. Van is good enough as a depth back and I like him as a receiver. Van’s trajectory was good before the injury; if he can return to that form, he’ll improve the offence.

Receiver
It’s disconcerting that Stubler seemed able to throw a blanket over them so consistently in Week 6. You have to believe DCs around the league are figuring out the formula, as Toronto’s personnel aren’t so overpowering that their success against Ottawa can be attributed to talent alone. QB performance aside, against Toronto, our offensive performance in the 2nd half came down to the fact that Ottawa’s receivers could not get open.

There has been a lot of criticism of offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo’s playcalling as of late, but I suspect the runs, hitch passes and screens were all that was available. This was compounded by Burris’ limitations. The offence could not stretch out the field, the coverage was good and so the offence was simplified down to runs and short gimmick passes.

Ernest Jackson (Photo: Scott Grant)

Make no mistake though, Ottawa’s receivers are still the class of the league. I’m going to single out Ernest Jackson first. Whenever this team has asked him to deliver, he has done it. Short to mid-range passes when the team really needs a first down seem to be his specialty, and his commitment to blocking makes him a role model for every receiver in the league. Greg Ellingson has had a couple of softer games, but no need to sound the alarm bells yet. Brad Sinopoli continues to defy all logic in how a gangly Canadian SB can outrun and outfight so many defenders to both get receptions and big yards after he makes the catch.

Jake Harty started strong and earned the starting spot, but has not been sharp the past while and had an outright poor game vs. the Argos. If the ratio continues to allow it, it is time to bring Khalil Paden back onto the field.

I have no doubt that Chris Williams will be crushing the souls of opposing defenders and their fans again soon. He was scary-fast on the sole deep pass attempt he saw vs. the Argos.

Offensive line

From left: Jake Silas, Alex Mateas & Jon Gott (Photo: Scott Grant)

This group managed to give 6-7 seconds of great protection on some snaps vs. a Toronto blitz, and be a complete train wreck on other plays. J’Michael Deane needs to stop getting holding penalties or the coaching staff will have an easy decision to sit him once Nolan MacMillan returns (which should be fairly soon). I think SirVincent Rogers has recovered after a couple of outright bad games, so that’s a comfort. Jake Silas is settling into LT very well, and John Gott remains John Gott. Meanwhile, both Mateas and Lauzon-Seguin have been coming along nicely. I was concerned about Mateas after his first couple of starts but he is improving and is part of the reason why Deane really needs to step up his play. Hopefully the treatment Mateas was receiving on the sideline towards the end of the game Sunday isn’t due to anything serious.

Defensive line

Connor Williams (Photo: Scott Grant)

Just when the d-line seemed settled, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon had to go and get injured. He wasn’t exactly making us forget Justin Capicciotti, but he was proving an able replacement and coming into his own. Zack Evans has proven the team was right in letting Keith Shologan go. Connor Williams has been starting due to Moton Hopkins injury, but Williams has played well and it may be hard to sit him once Hopkins returns. They will be see lots of snaps and make a lot of plays regardless of where they sit on the depth chart.

Filling in due to Moton’s injury, UofO grad Ettore Lattanzio has been a very pleasant surprise in the DT rotation. He defies the odds as an undersized Canadian, but he has made some plays and has not been a liability when he’s been rotated in. Aston Whiteside is returning to form after a few weak starts and has shown world-class ability to disrupt throwing lanes and knock down pass attempts.

Linebacker

David Hinds (Photo: Scott Grant)

This was the one position largely unchanged since last season until Malik Jackson was released this week. This may be a salary cap move necessitated by bringing players off the six-game injury list early (Burris, for starters) or it may be because there are other options. David Hinds has been the starter at weakside LB, and keeping an American CFL vet in a back-up role has been a luxury. Burton De Koning in limited action has shown worthy of being bumped up and getting some snaps. Damaso Muñoz remains one of the underrated players in the league, though I’d like to see him make a few more plays from MLB. Antoine Pruneau has been a force, and his maturity is showing. He has expressed interest in pursuing something in the NFL next year. That is a stretch – his coverage skills aren’t great and there are 500 players like him coming out of US colleges and showing up at combines. Hopefully Ottawa will be able to keep him. It seems that when players fall short in an NFL dream they end up changing CFL teams rather than returning and re-signing. Time will tell.

Secondary

Jermaine Robinson (Photo: Scott Grant)

Something no one saw coming is the number of injuries and changes in DBlock. Jerrell Gavins, Forrest Hightower and Abdul Kanneh have all had to come out. Brandon Sermons, who started for the RedBlacks in the Grey Cup, first lost the starting job in training camp to Jonathan Rose, and now he’s off the team entirely. Meanwhile, Desjardins managed to sign former Montreal CB Mitchell White, who was released by the Als due to salary cap issues. This move by Desjardins could rank up there with his acquisition of Harris in the offseason. White arrived during an injury crunch and will provide the grown-up leadership the exuberant DBlock has lacked since Jovon Johnson left. He’s also an outstanding cover guy – his interception vs. the Argos is only part of the story of how well he played in his RedBlacks debut.

The injuries are troubling, however, and here’s hoping that Rose returns to the form that earned him the starting job out of camp. Meanwhile, Tristan Jackson is a good returner and I hope he devotes his energies there. I’ll leave it at that. Jermaine Robinson was forced to play corner vs. Toronto due to injuries, and he showed why he’s used in a “hammer” role rather than as a cover FS. So much for thoughts of him moving to DB. However, John Boyett came in – something I’ve wanted to see for several weeks now – and was exactly as advertised. He’s fast, reads well and arrives at the ball with attitude and purpose. We can expect JRob to soon have NFL options, so Boyett is a good player to have around.

In general, I haven’t been impressed with this group when it plays zone, though their man coverage remains exceptional.

Special teams
I won’t go too deeply into it but let’s say that we needed Chris Milo to return to form. He hadn’t shown anything since hitting a 55-yard FG vs. Calgary to send that game into overtime. Milo performed as required vs. Toronto which is good news for a team that has had trouble scoring touchdowns lately. Chris Williams took over returning duties vs. the Argos and was no more enthusiastic or effective than he was last season. I have a hard time blaming him, the team needs someone dedicated to the job and that’s been hard to find with Jamill Smith injured.

I’m long overdue to recognize long-snapper Kevin Malcolm. He’s exceptionally good and I don’t think he’s ever gotten the team in trouble, and that’s high praise for an underappreciated and difficult position.

Outlook

Aston Whiteside (Photo: Scott Grant)

Ottawa’s next game, against Edmonton, isn’t quite must-win for the standings, but it could come to define the Redblacks season. A loss will mean a four game winless streak and a lot of question marks about what this group is really made of. A win against Edmonton instantly reverses the slide. It will also be the foundation for a short winning streak heading into their bye week and then the second half of the season. The fact that another Edmonton loss will throw that team into utter disarray is just a bonus.

As always, see you in the southwest corner at TD Place. Follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

All photos courtesy of Scott Grant Photography. Follow Scott on Twitter at @cflphotoarchive.

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Redblacks Waste No Time In Improving

By: Santino Filoso

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Just over 24 hours into free agency and the Redblacks off-season can already be declared a smashing success. Ottawa had some major roster holes to fill following a disappointing 2-16 season and four key signings by GM Marcel Desjardins should go a long way to reassure R-Nation that 2015 will indeed be a much better year on the field for the Redblacks.

The process of overhauling the offence began with the firing of Mike Gibson and the hiring of Jason Maas to replace him, along with a trade that sent LB Jasper Simmons, the Redblacks 2014 MOP (Most Outstanding Player) to Calgary for established veteran WR Maurice Price. The offensive retooling continued yesterday with the signings of a trio of 6 foot plus WRs; Ernest Jackson (International), Brad Sinopoli (National) and Greg Ellingson (International).

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“Once the ball goes up in the air, I’m going to go up and get it,” – Ernest Jackson

The 28 year old, 6’2”, 220 pound Jackson spent the last three season with the BC Lions and had a break out season in 2014, catching 49 passes for 813 yards, 3 TDs, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. The Redblacks got a good look at Jackson up close and personal in Week 16 when he torched Ottawa’s secondary for 195 yards and a TD in the Lions 41-3 blow out win.

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Hmmm, a Canadian QB in Ottawa wearing 12 eh…

R-Nation is already quite familiar with Brad Sinopoli as the 26 year old Peterborough native played QB at the University of Ottawa, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding CIS football player in 2010. After being drafted by the Stampeders in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons as their 3rd string quarterback before making the difficult transition from QB to WR. Last year the 6’4”, 215 pound Sinopoli started 12 games for Calgary, making 20 catches for 197 yards and scoring 2 TDs.

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Before being injured in 2013, Ellingson was in conversation for CFL Rookie of the Year

QB Henry Burris should already have some level of familiarity with the 6’3”, 197 pound Greg Ellingson as they spent the 2013 season together playing with the Ticats. Ellingson was buried on Hamilton’s depth chart after struggling with injuries for much of the last two seasons, but despite missing time last year, Ellingson still managed decent numbers, making 32 catches for 429 yards.

5
SirVincent Rogers, I knight thee a defender of the R

Not only will the Redblacks now have better players on the receiving end of passes, but the guys throwing them the ball should have more time too, thanks to the addition of the 6’4”, 319 pound SirVincent Rogers. With a pedigree almost as interesting as his name, Rogers spent the last two years protecting Ricky Ray’s blind side. Before coming up to the CFL, Rogers spent 2012 in the AFL, winning the AFL championship and playing offensive line and tight end for the Arizona Rattlers. As a TE he made 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs so maybe when Jason Maas digs into his bag of trick plays we’ll see SirVincent catching some passes at TD Place.

In 2014 the Redblacks had over 45 dropped passes and many were drive and momentum killers. With the addition of Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson through free agency and the acquiring of Price through trade, Ottawa’s receiving corps has seemingly gone from a glaring weakness to a strength. New OL Coach Bryan Chiu now has an extremely large and talented Rogers to work with and their familiarity from their time together in Toronto with the Argos is an added benefit. When you factor in that most of the top prospects in the CFL draft are offensive lineman and that Ottawa holds the #1 overall pick, the two positions that the Redblacks really couldn’t count on last season suddenly look much better.

On another level, as a Redblacks fan you can’t help but smile seeing Desjardins come out of the gate swinging. His aggressiveness in pursuing free agents and improving the team is one that many Ottawa Senators fans wished their GM would show. The contrast between Jeff Hunt and OSEG’s commitment to fielding a winning and competitive team is never more evident than when one looks at the Sens and Eugene Melynk’s cheap ways.

At this point in time I don’t see the Redblacks making any more big signings, other than perhaps a few depth guys, maybe at QB, RB or LB. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa officially lost one of their own free agents when OL Alex “Truckstick” Krausnick signed the Eskimos. One year after being selected by the Redblacks in their expansion draft, Krausnick wasted no time in returning to Edmonton.

Let us know what you think about the Redblacks free agency moves so far in the comments below.

@RedBlackGade

Jason Maas Takes the Offensive Reins

By: Santino Filoso

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Yesterday afternoon, the Ottawa Redblacks held a press conference to formally introduce Jason Maas as the team’s new offensive co-ordinator. Maas’ hiring had been rumoured since the weekend but only became official on Wednesday afternoon.

Maas, a former QB, played 11 seasons in the CFL with the Eskimos, Ticats and Alouettes. Twice he was a finalist for the league’s MOP award and also sports two Grey Cup rings from the 2003 and 2005 seasons. In 2004, Maas established a CFL record with 22 straight completions, a record that still stands to this day. After retiring in May 2011, Maas was quickly hired as a WR coach by the Toronto Argos. In 2013 he was promoted to QB coach and worked closely with Argos QB Ricky Ray.

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By choosing to hire the 39 year old (who is actually 5 months younger than Henry Burris), the Redblacks went with youth and potential over more established candidates such as Paul LaPolice or George Cortez. Here’s Head Coach Rick Campbell’s explanation of the hiring:

“Jason has many qualities that make him a great coach with a bright future.  His positive approach to teaching brings out the best in the players.  His outstanding work ethic and ‘can-do’ attitude are infectious and help to create a winning team atmosphere. He has an outstanding knowledge of the CFL, the game and its players and we know that having him as a member of our staff is going to help our team.”

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Personally, I love this move. Maas is an extremely intelligent guy known for his attention to detail and strong work ethic. The fact that he’s a proven winner and been around a guy like Ricky Ray in the Argos offensive system, one of the best in the league, is a huge positive. Furthermore, Maas has strong relationships with many current players as not too long ago he played with or against them. Those relationships could prove to be beneficial as Ottawa tries to sign free agents.

Though expectations are high, former offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson didn’t exactly leave big shoes to fill. In 2014 the Redblacks averaged 15.4 points a game and only scored a pathetic 24 touchdowns. When pressed for details about the kind of system he’s looking to implement, Maas replied by saying

“It’s not hard to figure what kind of offence I’ll run, I’ve been around some great offensive minds in the CFL, starting with Danny Maciocia and  Scott Milanovich, and the offence we’ll run is very similar to what Scott’s been running in Toronto and what Marc Trestman brought up here.”

How can a member of R-Nation not smile when hearing those words?

@RedBlackGade

P.S. Have to call out TSN1200 for failing to cover the press conference. I get that Ottawa is gripped in Alfie mania but it wouldn’t have killed them to switch gears for a few minutes.

Redblacks Recap: Ottawa goes out with a whimper

By: Santino Filoso

If you look closely, you can count every Argo fan on one hand
If you look closely, you can count every Argo fan on one hand

On Friday night, the Redblacks inaugural season game to an end in the soulless stadium once known as Sky Dome. An Ottawa team playing for nothing but pride took on an Argos squad fighting for their playoff lives in front of the biggest home crowd of the year (roughly 19,000) and two dozen members of R-Nation who made the trek down the 401. Ultimately Toronto jumped out to a quick lead and the Redblacks never recovered. With the loss Ottawa finishes the year with a 2-16 record while the Argos playoff hopes now rest on the outcome of the Montreal/Hamilton game on Saturday.

Pre-game:

– Toronto media felt it fitting to publicly bash the Redblacks and their players, even going so far as to advise the Argos to rest key players and not try hard as they’d win anyways. Said media outlet barely deserves to hold the title of “News” and rhymes with run.

– Teams pay tribute to Canada’s fallen soldiers with poppy decals on each player’s helmet

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– The Redblacks come out for their warmups wearing their Signature Looks instead of their normal white road uniforms

– After three botched coin flip attempts, the Redblacks finally win the toss and chose to receive

1st Quarter:

– Ottawa opens with a trick play as Roy Finch (#19) laterals across the field to Antoine Pruneau (#6) who picks up 31 yards on the return

pruneaureturn

– Despite starting on their own 46, the Redblacks quickly go two and out after a short Jeremiah Johnson (#27) run, an offside penalty and an overthrow

– Brandyn Thompson (#25) blows up Toronto RB Steve Slaton as he reaches for an over throw, but the Argos made it look easy as back up QB Trevor Harris picks apart the Redblacks secondary. Soft coverage + weak tackling = an Argo touchdown

Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts
BOOM!

-Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) wipes out his own first down catch by starting the play offside and on the next play Henry Burris (#1) panics in the pocket and tosses a pass right into Argo DL Tristan Okpalaugo’s hands who returns it to Ottawa’s 3 yard line. Burris 14th pick of the year might also be his worst pass of the season

– Chad Owens converts one play later with a 3 yard TD pass, Argos led 14-0 after 7 minutes of play

– Danny “Boy” O’Brien (#9) enters the game and hands off to Johnson for a 10 yard gain, but that’s quickly wiped out by a holding call on Jon “Dangerbeard” Gott (#63)

– Following an incompletion and Scott Macdonell (#83) 6 yard catch, Brett Maher (#3) punts for Ottawa

– The Argos drive down the field but Abdul Kanneh (#14) intercepts a deep ball in the end zone for a touchback

– Redblacks do nothing on offence going two and out for the 4th time in the quarter

2nd Quarter:

– Swayze Waters 39 yard FG makes it 17-0

– A promising drive that starts with a 19 yard romp from Johnson and a  6 yard catch from Macdonell ends when O’Brien is sacked on second down

Johnson was a threat, both times OC Mike Gibson decided to give him the ball
Johnson was a threat, both times OC Mike Gibson decided to give him the ball

– Chad Owens has an impressive 7 yard loss on the punt return

– The Redblacks’ defence flex their muscles and force a quick two and out

– A one yard loss on a run by Johnson and an O’Brien pass aimed at the top of the CN Tower Skypod leads to another two and out

– Ottawa’s defence bends but doesn’t break, eventually forcing a punt

– Showing off a lack of arm strength, O’Brien’s slow toss across the length of the field is picked off

obrien
Not exactly what the coaches were hoping for

– After a Keith “I Like Hittin’ People” Shologan’s (#74) 2nd down sack, the Argos settle for a 22 yard FG

– Teams trade two and outs as both offences forgo the run and toss incompletions

– With 55 seconds left, O’Brien strings together his longest drive of the day, hitting Wallce “Boom or Bust” Miles (84), Macdonell and Finch for gains of 6, 10 and 10 yards. The half ends with a flag for unnecessary roughness on the Argos

Half-time:

R-Nation decides drinking socially won’t do and breaks out the heavy stuff because stats don’t lie

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U, G, L, Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you UGLY!

3rd Quarter:

– The Redblacks break the shutout when Maher’s 63 yard kick off is downed in the end zone for a single

– The Argos move the chains once before being forced to punt

– Different QB = same result as Burris re-enters the game but goes nowhere fast with an incompletion and sack

– Harris picks apart the secondary for a few easy first downs though the Argos are eventually forced to punt

– Burris puts together a few completions hitting Miles on back to back plays for gains of 11 and 12 yards, and newcomer Eddie Poole (#8) for a 9 yard gain. Burris also uses his legs to scramble for a 10 yard gain as the pocket collapses but the drive stalls when an open Matt Carter (#85) drops a deep pass. Maher’s punt sails 54 yards through the end zone for a rouge

burris

– The Redblacks defense continues to do it’s part with yet another two and out

4th Quarter:

– Ottawa finally enters Toronto’s red zone when Poole makes a great adjustment to haul in a  to a 42 yard bomb. A few plays later the refs miss a blatant face mask and following two straight incomplete end zone passes the Redblacks settle for a 22 yard FG

– The Argos answer with a 45 yard FG of their own to take a 23-5 lead

After an incredible first half, Harris cooled off
After an incredible first half, Harris cooled off

– On second down Burris is sacked for 10 yard loss so once again Ottawa punts

– Giving the Argos nothing, the defence forces another Argo two and out

The defence was much improved in the 2nd half
The defence was much improved in the 2nd half

– With 4:23 left in the game and O’Brien comes in at QB for the Redblacks

– Khalil Paden (#13) makes a great adjustment (and a few Argos miss) on a 77 yard catch and run, the longest play of Ottawa’s season. The great field position is wasted when O’Brien’s pass on 3rd down falls incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs

Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts

– Argos go two and out

– Jamill Smith (#15)  fields the punt and decides to run backwards which predictably leads to a huge loss

– O’Brien’s 3rd down pass skips off the turf causing another turnover on downs

– The players on the defensive side of the ball look angry as they continue to punish Argonaut players with big hits and force a two and out

– Time expires as O’Brien alternates between throwing to nobody and hitting Patrick Lavoie (#81) for short gains

Final score: 23-5 for the team named after a band of mythic Greek heros

Key Stats:

O’Brien went 13 of 25 for 161 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

Burris went 7 of 13 for 94 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

Johnson had 2 carries for 19 yards

Paden made 2 catches for 89 yards

Justin Capicciotti (#93) made 5 tackles and 1 sack

Maher punted 9 times for 395 yards

Closing Thoughts:

The Redblacks season came to an end with a game that epitomized all of the things that have plagued the team this season; poor QB play, unoriginal play calling, untimely flags and a defence that bent but didn’t break. Leading up to the game, Head Coach Rick Campbell had talked of wanting to give O’Brien a good number of reps to see how he’d react and I think it’s safe to say he was at best, disappointing. O’Brien struggled all night, making a number of bad throws and tossing an ugly interception that seemed to show a lack of arm strength. Worse, he appeared to crumble in the face of pressure, often running backwards as he threw the ball out of bounds. That being  said, Burris wasn’t much better as he also threw an ugly interception but the only time the Redblacks strung together any kind of drive was with him under centre. Johnson and Finch ran hard, all FOUR times they were called up to run the ball. Yet again, OC Mike Gibson completely abandoned the run game, proving that without a doubt he should be the first person out the door when the team starts handing out pink slips. The offensive line had a terrible game, failing to protect either of the QBs, getting manhandled by Toronto’s front 7 and failing to pick up the blitz. In terms of WRs Paden had one beautiful catch and run and Poole looked very fast, though his QBs rarely had time to get him the ball. Macdonell showed some flashes early but after the first quarter never got any more playing time. Henry², Ottawa’s leading WR, was invisible, completly disappearing and rarely getting a look. I think it’s safe to safe that the position with the highest turnover in the off-season will be the WR group, as too many guys simply didn’t get it done. I know I’ve harped it him a lot, but it’s because he’s deserved it, once again Gibson’s play calling set the team up for failure. When your offensive line is struggling you need to adapt your calls and help them out, by calling quick passes with shorter drops and by pounding the rock. Calling 4 runs in a game is criminal, especially when guys like Johnson and Finch had proven to be highly effective downhill runners. Gibson’s vanilla offence was on fully display in the red zone, as he called the exact same corner fade route three times, and every time it was either over thrown or broken up. Why not a screen, or a draw, or a quick slant?

If there’s anything to take solace in after this frustrating season, it’s the Redblacks’ defence. On another night that the offence was a no show, the players on the defensive side of the ball recovered from a weak opening half to limit the Argos to a single FG in the final 30 minutes of play. Damaso Munoz (#45), Thompson and Capicciotti lead the way with 5 tackles each though guys like Jasper Simmons (#31) and Pruneau also looked strong. The biggest issue for the defence in the first half was that they simply couldn’t get any kind of pressure on Harris, allowing him to sit back and torch a secondary who had one of it’s weaker games. From a fans perspective is was nice to see the defence throwing some crushing hits and playing angry, it really stood out in contrast to an offence that never showed any sense of urgency. Going forward there’s a number of strong pieces for the team to build around and if defences do win championships then the Redblacks are headed in the right direction.

Ottawa’s special teams tonight were spectacular. Maher made the field goals he was supposed to and punted well. Great special teams coverage on the league’s most dangerous returner, ChadOwens, meant that for the majority of the night Ottawa won the field position battle. The opening play lateral to Pruneau was well executed and a throwback to the successful tricks plays used so effectively earlier this season. Smith really struggled on punt return, too often going backwards and giving up a ton of yards in a vain attempt to look for an opening, by this point in the year he should know better.

The Redblacks closed out their season with a whimper, barely putting up a fight against a desperate Argo team. Apparently numerous players read the reports from the Toronto media bashing them yet that emotion clearly didn’t carry over into the game as this one was out of reach early in the first quarter. Though the Redblacks season can be described as nothing but a disappointment, the future seems bright with many building blocks already in place. Guys like Scott Macdonell, Antoine Pruneau, Jasper Simmons, and Justin Capicciotti are poised to have big roles going forward. The real MOP this season was Ottawa’s fans, who sold out 9 straight home games, packing TD Place with 24,000+ despite their team’s record. The support will carry over to next season but expectations will be raised, the team cannot hide behind the expansion label going forwards. GM Marcel Desjardins figures to be busy this off-season addressing weaknesses such as the offensive line and the WR corps and perhaps adding a few QBs to the mix. Who do you think the Redblacks should target in FA and in the draft?

@RedBlackGade

Ranking the CFL’s Signature Looks

By: Santino Filoso

Sig·na·ture (ˈsignəCHər,-ˌCHo͝or/)

noun

  1. a person’s name written in a distinctive way as a form of identification

The CFL in conjunction with Reebok recently released a brand new line of 3rd jerseys. This new “Signature Look” line has been mainly met with scorn and criticism even though they’re not all bad. In fact, we here at Defend the R took it upon ourselves to conduct a thorough analysis of each team’s new getups and rank them for you! Factors that went into our decision included visual appeal, style, fan interaction, use of team colours, how the uniforms looked in person vs being photoshopped/enhanced and ties to team history. Without further ado, here are the rankings:

9) The Saskatchewan GREENWHITES

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Though we are a fan run, independent blog, we here at Defend the R were privileged to sit in on Saskatchewan’s meeting with Reebok’s creative team. Here’s the *actual* transcript of how it went down.

Reebok: Thanks for coming today everyone, before we begin I’d just like to-

Saskatchewan: Green

Reebok: Uh, yes, okay, as I was saying-

Saskatchewan: Green

Reebok: Okay, maybe I’ll just give you the floor

Saskatchewan: Green, green, green

Reebok: Hmmm, alright, we can work with that, how about 50 shades of green?

Saskatchewan: GREEN!

Reebok: Why don’t we break for lunch?

Saskatchewan: Did you say watermelon!?

Reebok: I’m sensing a theme here….

All kidding aside, these uniforms are a complete mess. If every shade of green was meant to be sewn together on a piece of fabric, Martha Stewart would’ve done it already. The helmets a look like watermelons which is an ode to the fans who wear them in the stands and the “Rider Nation” tag inside the collar is a nice touch. The GREENWHITES also deserve praise for breaking new ground as the first and only team in pro sports history to feature a tramp stamp on their jersey.

Montreal Alouettes v Saskatchewan Roughriders
You can get your own GREENWHITE tramp stamp tattooed for free after every home win!

8) Winnipeg Blue Bombers

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Traditional team colours, who needs’em? Not the Bombers faithful, at least to management’s thinking. Ditching their beloved golden threads, the Bombers instead embraced their inner warrior by sporting the US Military’s Arctic camouflage. There’s not a lot to like if you’re a Bomber fan, as even the helmet looks like the after splatter of a flock of seagulls. It’s as if Reebok mixed up their Toronto and Winnipeg files with this look being the bastard love child. Last time I checked the team without gold and wearing double blue was based in Toronto. Maybe these uniforms will prove to be a stroke of genius late in the season as the team will blend in and disappear into the snowy weather. When even your players struggle to appear enthusiastic, you know you’ve missed the mark.

Jason Vega isn't impressed
Jason Vega isn’t impressed

7) The Toronto Argonauts

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What do you get when you cross Alvin the Chipmunk’s trademarked A with the Tennessee Titan’s road uniforms?  The Argos’ new signature look of course! Don’t get me wrong, I love me some powdered blue but the layout is simply all wrong. The best part of this look is the helmet, which looks crisp and clean.

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6) The Hamilton Tiger Cats

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Raise your hand if you thought these garbage bag grey uniforms would be ready in time. The Ticat’s new look features charcoal grey to incorporate the smog from the factory smoke stacks surrounding Tim Horton’s field. The yellow reflector numbers are a nice touch as they will help fans keep track of their favourite players through the haze of still settling construction dust. Much like the Argos, the best part of these looks are the helmets with the faded tiger logo on one side and the player number on the other.

If your pet tiger is looking this grey, take him to the vet ASAP!
If your pet tiger is looking this grey, take him to the vet ASAP!

5) The Montreal Alouettes

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The Als stuck to their traditional colours by going with grey and silver on their futuristic looking new uniforms. Going back to their roots, the Alouettes chose to honour the first French Canadian Bombing unit in the Air Force, the 425 Squadron, who were nicknamed the ’’Alouettes”. Renown for their toughness and bravery, the 425 Squad was the inspiration when Montreal chose it’s team name in 1946. The only real knock on this look that for whatever reason the team and league have released very few pictures, so it’s really hard to judge just how good the complete product is or what the helmets really look like. One thing that does stand out is that the feather sleeve design looks like snowflakes. The Als decided to only use MTL on the front because it’s a) unilingual so they avoid any problems with Quebec’s strict language police and b) it saves space.

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It’s 425, not 4225!

4) The Edmonton Eskimos

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The Eskimos stuck to the KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple) philosophy with their new look and I can appreciate that. The Eskimos kept to what they and their fans know, the green and gold colour scheme and in so doing created something that both traditionalists and younger fans can enjoy. While the enormous double Es might not be the prettiest thing to look at, keep in mind that these are supposed to be signature looks, so who can fault the Eskimos for putting their signature front and centre? Stitching the lyrics to part of their fight song inside the collar is a subtle touch that links these jerseys to the team’s storied history

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“The Green & Gold is bold”

3) The BC Lions

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Jumping the gun on the rest of the league, BC actually released their signature jerseys last year, only they called them their “Premier Look”. The bane of sports announcers league wide, these sharp uniforms boast a gun metal look that is perfectly offset by the safety pylon orange outlining their black numbers. Though some complain the numbers are hard to read who cares, unless you’re playing the Redblacks, Ticats or Stampeders, you’ll be the only team on the field in all black! The Leos didn’t mess with a good thing by leaving the paw decal on the side of the helmet untouched.

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Sorry Bighill, you’re #3 actually

2) The Ottawa Redblacks

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A wise man once said that once you go plaid you’re always glad and boy was he ever right. From Day One the Redblacks have embraced Ottawa’s lumber history and considering that our mascot is an axe wielding (though kid friendly) lumberjack, it was only a matter of time before plaid worked its way onto our uniforms. It’s called a Canadian tuxedo for a reason and we here in the Nation’s Capital choose to embrace stereotypes. The Redblacks signature look definitely puts the red in Redblacks. The checkered helmet is the crown jewel of this uniform (literally), though it’s a bit strange to see an Ottawa helmet without the white iconic R on it. But to be fair to Reebok, it probably didn’t mesh well with the plaid since everyone knows that the only thing that goes with plaid is more plaid. The one thing holding this look back from top spot is the big white looking (but actually silver) saw blade on the front, it just screams out of place. Not to mention the fact that it has an uncanny resemblance to a Dr. Seuss character.

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Long lost cousins?

 

1)  The Calgary Stampeders

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The Stamps must really love the Redblacks home uniforms, because their signature look is almost exactly the same. This NRA approved uniform sports a pair of revolvers on the shoulders and gloves; a tribute to the Wild West or a reflection of the city’s gang violence? What vaults this look ahead of all the rest is Calgary’s new helmet. The bitumen black front of the helmet fades away to red and is highlighted by speed lines and a chrome horse logo. Like the GREENWHITES , Ticats, and Esks, the Stamps also have an engraving stitched on their collar, but theirs is in Latin. It doesn’t matter that nobody on the team could tell you what “Quidquid Requiritur,” means (Whatever It Takes), having a dead language on your jersey simply makes you cool.

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Will you buy your team’s new jersey? How would you rank’em? Be sure to leave a comment and let us know!

@RedBlackGade

Game #3; TD Place Comes to Life as the Redblacks Edge the Argos

By: Santino Filoso

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On Friday night, after 3177 days (but who’s counting), CFL football returned to Ottawa with a roar. R-Nation unleashed nine years of pent up energy as the Redblacks survived a tight 18-17 defensive battle to get their 1st win of the season and 1st win at home in dramatic fashion.

Pre-Game:

– Ottawa was buzzing all week but the vibe around the city really started to peak Friday morning with the CFL, City Hall, Senators, former players and even bus drivers getting in on the action

– Fans arrive at TD Place via bus, boat, bike and car with varying degrees of traffic

– The Trews serenade “tailgating” Redblacks fans hanging out beside the Aberdeen Pavilion

– Legendary Rough Rider Tony Gabriel runs around the field to amp up the crowd

From the way he ran around on the field, Tony looks like he could still lace them up and play
It was awesome to see Gabriel back on a CFL field

– PA announcer Mike Sutherland introduces the Redblacks but nobody feels the need to tell the players milling about inside the helmet to come out, leading to an awkward few minutes of expectation, like that feeling you get when you go to hug someone and they turn their head to the same side

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Eventually the defense came out but the offense was missing until late in the game

 

– A military jet flys over the stadium twice, because doing it just once is how the Argos score TDs

1st Quarter:

– Argos receiving the opening kick off and proceed to march down the field with a variety of short passes. DB Jerell Gavins (#24) makes a great defensive play to break up an end zone pass intended for Argos WR John Childs.

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– The first points in TD Place history come off the right foot of Swayze “Point Blank” Waters as he nails a 36 yard FG

– Aided by a roughing the passer flag and a few strong runs from Chevon Walker (#29), the Redblacks get into field goal range and kicker Brett Maher hits a 26 yard FG

– WR Kierrie Johnson (#10) gets behind the Argos secondary, Burris spots him and delivers a perfect deep ball that hits him in the hands, unfortunately the pass is dropped and the Redblacks miss out on a sure touchdown

– Redblacks are forced to punt following a Burris sack

– Argos RB Steve Slaton rumbles for 14 yards to end the quarter, TD Place announcer calls him Steve Sultan for the first but definitely not last time of the evening

2nd Quarter:

– Swayze “Road House” Waters punts 65 yards for a rouge

– Carlton Mitchell (#88) goes over the middle and gets absolutely blasted by Dwight Anderson who is flagged for unnecessary roughness. The hit looks clean in the sense that Anderson never makes contact with Mitchell’s head but the zebra man has spoken, +15 yards to the Redblacks

– Brett “I Can Do It All” Maher fakes the punt on 3rd and 10, scrambling 15 yards for a 1st down

– Long catches by Johnson and Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) bring the Redblacks to the Argos 23; Maher makes a 30 yard FG

– Ray completes a 45 yard pass but is sacked on the next play by new Dad (make sure you say congrats!) Justin Capicciotti (#93)

– Swayze “Dirty Dancing” Waters makes a 40 yard FG

– The Redblacks offensive line plays dodgeball with the Argos’ defensive one which results in Burris getting sacked

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– With 2:38 left the Redblacks string together a series of 1st downs thanks to runs by Burris and Walker and catches by Henry² and Johnson

– Maher’s 22 yard FG closes out the half and gives the Redblacks a half-time lead for the third consecutive game

Half-time:

– The Redblacks pay tribute to their past by retiring and honouring former Rough Rider greats Tony Golab, Jim Coode, Bobby Simpson, Gerry Organ, Whit Tucker, Moe “The Toe” Racine, Ronnie Stewart and Russ Jackson. It was a special moment for the guys who were on hand and for the families represnting those who coudn’t be.

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The Redblacks’ retired numbers reflect Ottawa’s storied CFL history

3rd Quarter:

– Redblacks receive the ball to start the 2nd half but quickly go two and out following another Burris sack

– Jovon Johnson (#2) recovers a fumble giving the Redblacks the ball, unfortunately they can’t get any points off the turnover

– Tristan Okpalaugo gets a hat-trick of sacks on Burris, getting to him for the 3rd time

– Brandyn Thompson (#25) picks off Ricky Ray

– Burris hits Dobson Collins (#80) on back to back plays for gains of 15 and 16 yards

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– Following a Matt Carter (#85) catch, Maher makes another FG, this time from 32 yards out

– T.J. Hill (#21) blows by the Argos offensive line to sack Ray

4th Quarter:

– Ray throws a 20 yard pass to Darvin Adams, hitting him in stride in the back of the end zone

– Walker sweeps through the Argos defense, weaving 28 yards between would be tacklers

– Thomas DeMarco (#17) punts 20 yards (yes you read that right) when the drive stalls at the Argos 51

– Brandon Lang (#91) bull rushes his way to Ray, sacking him for a 7 yard loss

– Maher makes a 48 yard FG with 5:08 left in the game giving the Redblacks a slim 15-14 lead

– Swayze “Red Dawn” Waters makes a 47 yard FG with 1:33 left in the game giving the Argos a slim 17-15 lead

– After scrambling for a short gain, Burris hits Johnson for a 43 yard completion on 2nd and 10, moving the ball all the way down to the Argos 21 yard line, also known as field goal range

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Kierrie Johnson moves the Redblacks into field goal range and atones for his drop earlier in the game

– Maher is money from 23 yards out, giving the Redblacks a 18-17 lead with 28 seconds left in the game

– Jasper Simmons (#31) seals the deal by picking off a visibly frustrated Ray to end the game

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– Eardrums rupture from the frenzied wall of noise being produced by R-Nation, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN!

 Final score: 18-17 for the Redblacks

Key Stats: 

– Burris went 17 of 30 for 216 yards, 0 TDs or INTs

– Walker had 12 carries for 60 yards

– Johnson had 6 catches for 91 yards

– Maher went 6/6 and averaged over 50 yards a punt

– 5 sacks for the Redblacks defense

Closing Thoughts:

On a historic night in Ottawa, the Redblacks won in dramatic fashion, sending the sellout crowd home happy and breaking in TD Place the right way. There were some bumps along the way, but in the end a win’s a win and this one was a long time coming. Offensively the Redblacks woes continued; Burris was under heavy pressure all night and it’s unrealistic to expect him to thrive and be accurate when he’s constantly throwing off his back foot, the offensive line must be better. Additionally receivers continue to have drops in key moments and struggle to create separation. It was good to see Kierrie Johnson redeem himself with the late catch.

“God gave me another opportunity,” said Johnson. “I messed up on the first one, I was wide open. I think everybody and their  momma saw that one.So my teammates told me I was going to have another opportunity. I kept faith. I saw that ball coming to me, and I said I’ve got to make that play, no matter what. It wasn’t an easy catch. I saw the ball, I knew I had to catch it.. I don’t care what’s the situation, I had to catch it.”

Running back Chevon Walker continues to be a home run threat and seemingly every time the ball is in his hands he has a chance to take it to the house. One area that the offensive isn’t struggling in is with turnovers. as the Redblacks have done a marvelous job protecting the football so far this season.

Defensively the Redblacks continued their trend of bending but not breaking. They piled up another 5 sacks and harassed Ray all night long, generating two interceptions and a fumble. Players swarmed to the ball and made good strong tackles. Specials team coverage tightened up and prevented the Argos getting any long gains.

Without a doubt the player of the game was kicker Brett Maher, who was perfect kicking and who thumped punts deep into Argos territory throughout the game.

“It’s a great night,” said Maher. “If you’re a kicker and you don’t want to be in that situation, you’re probably not going to thrive. My whole career, I’ve kicked a bunch of field goals and never hit a game-winner, never even tried one.” 

 

The Big Three tonight
The Big Three tonight

The Redblacks next game will be on Saturday night in Hamilton where they’ll look to build off this win before returning back to TD Place to host Saskatchewan on August 2nd. See you at the game!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via CFL.ca, Roman Romanovich, Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun

CFL Mascots 101: What they didn’t tell you in the media guide

By: Santino Filoso

Welcome to Defend the R’s first annual (and completely unbiased) CFL Mascot Power Rankings. We’ve got the inside scoop on all the things left off the mascot scouting report. If you thought you knew everything about these cuddly mascots, prepare to be surprised!

THE EAST:

4) Jason (Toronto)

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Jason brings up the rear in what can only be described as an extremely weak mascot division. This cartoony Argonaut suffers from multiple personality disorder. He carries a sword, wears a futuristic space helmet, only has three fingers and looks like he’s been trying to pinch a loaf since the start of the Trojan War. Jason needs to seek professional help. And if you’re an Argos fan, please encourage him to get it next time you see him fishing on Lake Ontario.

3) T.C. and Stripes (Hamilton)

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T.C. and Stripes, the love children of Tony the Tiger and Tigger, are the tamed pussy cats who can be found patrolling the Hamilton sidelines. T.C. , which cleverly stands for Tiger Cat (man, they got some thinkers in Steeltown), has been leading purrs of “Oskee Wee Wee” since the mid 80’s. Sadly, this feline’s best days are behind him and like John Henry giving way to the steam-powered hammer, it’s only a matter of time before Stripes (get it — tigers have stripes!) replaces him.

2) Touché and Blitz (Montreal)

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These identical unilingual twin birds representing the Als are a stretch at number two but by default they can’t rank any lower. Like junkies searching for their next hit (of worms), these birds have been known to draw flags for illegally entering the field. Lastly (and most worryingly), though they claim to be birds, Touché and Blitz have never been spotted airborne, leading many to question their true nature.

1) Big Joe Mufferaw/Grand Jos

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The gem of the East division’s mascots, this dashing lumberjack can do it all; whether it’s chopping down trees, exterminating rodents (he’s looking at you, Gainer), bird hunting, or causing French language controversies, Joe’s the man for the job. When he’s not being serenaded by R-Nation at TD Place, Joe can be found log running down the Rideau Canal or in Mattawa, where his winter home is.

THE WEST:

5) Gainer the Gopher (Saskatchewan)

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Though Alberta has successfully and meticulously prevented rats from entering the province, their watermelon hat-wearing neighbours to the east have fully embraced rodents – even selecting one to represent their fabled name-stealing team. Gainer, which is an anagram of Regina, struggles when trying to count to 12, and has two cousins named Leonard and Goof (seriously) who sometimes make watching the Green Riders lose a family affair.

4) Leo the Lion (BC)

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Leo is a lion who tragically can’t roar. When he’s not meowing to pump the crowd up, you can find the feline practicing ballet and avoiding Ralph.

3) Punter and Nanook (Edmonton)

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They say opposites attract, and boy oh boy is that ever true when it comes to the Eskimo Empire. You can’t expect a lot out of your offense when one of your mascots is a ‘roid raged football named Punter. The yin to Punter’s yang is Nanook, a polar bear who moved South to avoid the melting Arctic ice floes and because he heard so many good things about the sushi in the West Edmonton Mall.

2) Buzz and Boomer (Winnipeg)

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Ever since they flew the coop in Chicken Run, these poultry have been living large. The loveable duo never stop hatching plans to entertain the Winnipeg faithful because they know their team won’t.

1) Ralph the Dog (Calgary)

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You have to give respect where respect is due, and despite always looking like he just woke up, Ralph deserves all the praise he gets. As the CFL’s first and oldest mascot, Ralph has been eating Eskimo pies, chicken Alouette and gopher gumbo long before any of the other mascots showed up. Despite showing his age, this pooch is still top-dog in the West.

Where do you rank ’em? Let us know in the comments below!

 @RedBlackGade