Upon Further Review: The 2019 Redblacks
Updated: Jan 29
WAIT! Come back Ottawa football fan.
Yes, you. The one who clicked this because you thought it might be interesting but immediately regretted doing so because it brought about flashbacks of what was easily the sourest season of Redblacks football in their short, successful history.
YOU are exactly the person who needs this article. No because you don’t know what you were watching last summer or because it will make you feel better about 2019.
No, you need this article because it will help you understand how Ottawa got to today with a new Head Coach in Paul LaPolice - more on him later - and suddenly aggressive front office
We begin this weekly series diving face first into the aspects which defined the 2019 season from the bottom up. The Redblacks were that bottom and for Ottawa football fans it felt like rock bottom even through the rarest of week one victories to kick off the proceedings.
A road win, in Calgary no less despite having your starting quarterback throw four interceptions. The result was spectacular, the process was a sign of things to come for Dominique Davis who was named the 1A to Jonathon Jennings 1B in 2019 training camp.
After a sensational home performance against the Riders, Davis’ game fell off a cliff as Ottawa tried to identify who they were offensively. What they quickly became was a dramatically underwhelming group attempting to find their footing in all three phases of the game, especially on offence.
As Davis faltered Ottawa turned to Jennings, but the play-calling and body language suggested a lack of belief. Combine that with some injuries, a lacklustre running game and adapting to a new scheme after Offensive Coordinator Jamie Elizondo pulled the plug on short notice and you get a recipe for a football free fall.
To understand how Ottawa went from the 2018 Grey Cup in Edmonton to a country kilometre from the 2019 playoffs you have to look back long before kickoff in Calgary.
In free agency Trevor Harris departed for Edmonton along with REC Greg Ellingson and OL SirVincent Rogers while Diontae Spencer went on to the NFL’s Denver Broncos and running back William Powell leapt at the chance to play leading man for the Riders.
Trevor Harris took a lot with him to Edmonton. Anything from friends and teammates to hope and the ability to move the ball away from Ottawa’s goal line, you name it, Harris took it West.
What happened on February 12th, 2019 is unheard of in recent CFL memory. Not only did the Redblacks lose known commodities, they lost a whopping 74.6% of their offensive targets, AND the man pulling the trigger.
One would assume the Redblacks were primed for a setback season if they were unable to fill those empty roster spots.
They tried with a multitude of small names stepping into larger roles than previously asked in a CFL setting, but the void was too large, and everyone took a step back including native son Brad Sinopoli as Ellingson and Powell went on to improve their game changing ways in new colours.
For Sinopoli specifically the realities of his new surroundings were stunning. Fresh off a record year for Canadian catches in a system perfectly tailored to his primarily underneath route running and timing, the Peterborough, Ontario native saw personal numbers decline in almost every category imaginable. A stark reminder that a receiver is often only as good as his quarterback, coach, scheme and vice versa.
All the ways Sinopoli was affected were the trickle down of February 12th, 2019.
The Redblacks lost Elizondo’s tempo offence with Harris’ quick release. They lost the vertical push of Spencer and Ellingson which restricted the underneath zone Sinopoli used so effectively to set records in 2018 and they lost a consistent running threat in Powell who allowed Sinopoli to fly freely to the flats off play-action.
Just take a look at the 2018 Redblacks offensive profile vs. this season and you will understand how different those two groups were equipped and subsequently performed.
Perhaps the most damning number for Sinopoli at the heart off all this inefficiency was his 2nd down impact grade - which is calculated by adding targeted touch percentage to production grade.
It dropped from 75.7 to 60.5.
That can’t be understated. It a base metric that tells us how much love you are getting (targeted touch percentage) and how effective your targets are at moving the football or scoring points (production grade).
THAT, is all the bad.
It’s over I promise, but I believe Ottawa fans should actually embrace the pain of 2019. Not unlike devastating natural disasters sometimes in great loss there comes extreme renewal and a fresh sense of direction.
That certainly appears to be the case for the Redblacks after adding Paul LaPolice as Head Coach and trading for the early negotiating rights to former Stampeders QB Nick Arbuckle.
In Arbuckle the Redblacks traded a first round flopping of selections and third round CFL draft pick for the chance to go on a date, see the town and discover if there are any mutual interests.
Arbuckle has been to town, seen the sights decided to hold off on signing for now. Before you criticize his decision as you wish for your Redblacks to rapidly solve every issue of 2019 consider this..
Wouldn’t you want to be a free agent in Arbuckle’s position?
Undrafted to the NFL, two years as a backup in Canada then all of a sudden the hottest commodity on an aging free agent quarterback market.
He has earned the chance to decide where he spends the next few years regardless of the message Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins sent by acquiring his expiring rights and I fully expect Arbuckle to field offers up to and on February 11th when free agency opens officially.
If LaPolice and Desjardins get their man all will be right - for now - in Ottawa. If not Matt Nichols or even Zach Collaros are still viable options, but Ottawa fans need to realize it runs much deeper than just a quarterback. In LaPolice you have an opened minded veteran of the CFL who can design schemes and oversee the organization at a level that should help return - at the least - the offence to relevancy relatively quickly.
Just look at what LaPolice did in Winnipeg last season as Offensive Coordinator.
Is Ottawa’s roster where Winnipeg’s 2019 group was? Will the 2020 Redblacks take on the exact same style and identity of the unique Bombers Grey Cup run?
The obvious answer is no, but with LaPolice whatever form the Redblacks take is sure to be an upgrade especially if one of the marquee free agent quarterback names decided to commit to restoring winning football to the nations capital.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, now serving as TSN 1150 Hamilton morning show host, voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and CFL.ca analyst