What Happened To The Redblacks?
They are who we thought they were, or at least who we expected them to be entering the season. Forget about the road win in Calgary week one against all the odds (and stats).
Forget about the week two Thursday night football shootout win against Fajardo and the Riders. Those are just distant memories at this point, but so much of recent Redblacks football feels as though it is at this point.
The Ottawa Redblacks dismantled the Hamilton Tiger-Cats around this time last year, in fact they did it four times throughout the season. Some were methodical beatings, but the final was a pure beatdown.
This past Saturday in Hamilton the Tiger-Cats beat Ottawa 33-12, defeating the Redblacks at Tim Hortons Field for the first time since 2014 in what served as a fitting punctuation to the Redblacks 2019 season.
The week 19 loss in Hamilton served as a great reminder of where the Redblacks have come from, where they are now, and just how much those two things can differ in just a year.
A year ago Trevor Harris was shredding Hamilton up and down the field to the point then Defensive Coordinator Jerry Glanville said leading into the East final, “we’ve done just about everything we can to stop them this year, we have to get a turnover or maybe some luck.”
The Ol’ ball coach sounded pretty hopeless. Maybe he knew what was to come in the East final.
This time around there was no Trevor Harris, nor his 1a replacement Dominique Davis or the potential filled 1b in free agent acquisition Jonathon Jennings. Instead William Arndt got his second career start Saturday as the Redblacks turn the page and begin - rightfully so - evaluating for the future.
Arndt would post the lowest accuracy grade of any CFL quarterback in week 19 while completing just 56% of his pass attempts for 112 yards.
No true CFL fan needs the full history lesson on how the Redblacks got to the point of a third string quarterback being allowed to play out the game despite lack of production in a 3-13 season, so in short here’s how we got here.
Ellingson, Powell, Harris, Spencer, Elizondo.
Football teams are about much more than five people but when four dynamic players and a coordinator with a proven track record of success said goodbye the Redblacks chances of maintaining their recent level of excellence left out the same door.
Ellingson went to Edmonton with Harris where the connection remained strong much of the season while Powell left for Saskatchewan to become the bell cow volume runner the Riders have so craved in recent years.
Both Powell and Ellingson have actually taken on less of a workload (Targeted Touch %) in their new colours, but have been more effective (production grade) than last season in Ottawa while Harris spent his healthy section of the schedule in the lead or battling for it in most statistical passing categories.
Offensive Coordinator Jamie Elizondo left Ottawa for an XFL job in Tampa Bay at the worst possible time putting Head Coach Rick Campbell in a bind few could overcome.
What was left after all the dust settled from Ottawa’s mass exodus?
Now to be fair, there was Mossis Madu and RJ Harris, Dominique Rhymes and Greg Morris, but in reality the only true remnants of consistent playmaking from last season left was Sinopoli whose workload has somehow gone down while remaining on a team desperate to find him touches.
More important is Sinopoli’s production grade dropping off a cliff as his quarterback play has. This is especially true on second down where he is producing a grade of just 43.0 in 2019 after posting a respectable 54.4 grade in the same second down situations just a season ago.
Sinopoli is by no means to blame and he has done everything to keep his head above water in the confusing typhoon of losses, but I believe his 2019 season perfectly encapsulates the struggles Ottawa has faced in 2019.
Because the sport is such a team game and the Redblacks lost so many important pieces Sinopoli is a great micro example of the way football teams operate like an ecosystem with everything connected.
Ottawa can’t run the ball as well so linebackers respect play action less, with less vertical pull from Diontae Spencer and Ellingson there is little to no bubble for Sinopoli to sit in between coverages and the move from Elizondo’s system to the play calling of either Winston October or Joe Paopao has clearly not agreed with his unique national ability.
Here is Sinopoli’s target chart for 2018.
And the same for this season.
Do you see what I mean? The average depth of target for Sinopoli between the hashes this year is just 5.1 yards per attempt, a location he was dominating last year at this time. Ottawa passers have attempted to locate him between the hashes just once all season long beyond ten air yards and most shocking of all, Redblacks QBs are 3/21 (14.2%) when targeting Sinopoli beyond ten air yards on the right half - throwing arm side - of the field.
All of these numbers are connected, unacceptable and yet inevitable after the offseason Ottawa had. Sinopoli and Rick Campbell - amongst others - have suffered from the withdrawals of skill, speed and brains from their beloved organization and now stand with General Manager Marcel Desjardins as the men tasked with re-creating the image of Redblacks football in a new era.
Despite the wild success of the organization in its youngest days, their ability to do so just might determine how fans remember the first ten years of Redblacks football.
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