Friday Ottawa is in town looking for their first win of the year. I do need to put a slight caveat on their 0-3 record though as they have played Winnipeg twice and BC (the 2 top teams in the league so far) and lost by a total of 12 combined points. The RedBlacks are no longer pushovers, they are a competitive team.
Under normal circumstances I would feel pretty confident about a home game against the RedBlacks. However, we are a very beat up team. I have to think that if Rod Black was still commentating he would use the line “it’s the RedBlacks vs. the Black and Blue”. As of writing this it looks like Lafrance, Tuck, and Harty are out. Duke, Marshall, Vaughn and Lauther are question marks and I’m pretty sure Fajardo is being held together with rubber bands, carpenters glue and horse grade pain killers. Fortunately the RedBlacks are in a similar spot. Already ruled out for them are Money Hunter (their best defender so far this season), Frankie Griffin and Patrick Levels (both start outside LBs) and Ucambre Williams (their starting left tackle). Early in the season, the trainers on both teams are earning their meagre salaries.
In what will come as no surprise to anyone, it will be on our defense to carry us. They are both the healthiest and most talented part of our team. The RedBlacks did improve their O-line over the offseason but even a good O-line would be concerned playing our front 4, let alone one missing their starting LT. We should be disruptive upfront once again. No doubt they will try and get the run game going with Powell but given that we are averaging less than 55 rush yards against per game allowed and Ottawa has the #6 run game in the league, I think our front 7 will easily keep it contained. That places things on the shoulders of Jeremiah Masoli. That is a high risk, high reward scenario. When he’s good, he’s among the best QBs in the league. But he’s not good with any degree of consistency and his bad is almost Michael Bishop bad. On one hand Ottawa leads the league with 8 passes over 30 yards (they have played just 3 games) but have managed to turn that into exactly 1 passing TD. Masoli burst into the season with 380 passing yards, in game 2 it dropped to 331, last game it was 168. Jaelin Acklin has been there top threat but if you watched the last game you saw Darvin Adams make a number of sick catches so you need to watch him too. I think Masoli’s preference for pushing the ball deep plays into our defense. Deep passes leave our D-line more time to be disruptive, good luck with that. Also we have opportunistic guys like Marshall and Moncrief who will take advantage of any off target passes. I expect another strong game from the D and another low scoring affair.
Offense, well that’s always an adventure. I planning on writing that defense was probably the strength of the Ottawa team but with 3 defensive starters missing they suddenly become a lot less intimidating. Which is good because we need all the help we can get. Other than Laing, their D-line is nothing special. They have 3 sacks in 3 games. I mean our OL will make them look like all-stars, but by objective standards its not that great a front 4. The strength was the LBs and secondary but with 3 of those starting 8 out there will be opportunity for plays. I’m no rocket surgeon but facing a so-so D-line and with 2 of 3 starting LBs out even I can see that this an opportunity prime for running. Morrow with dashes of Hickson have been our strength and with our receiving depth being tested to the limit we need to lean on them even more. With Evans out, Duke questionable and Moore still in recovery, thank god we have Schaefer-Baker. Good things happen when we get him the ball (no matter how we get it to him). I would guess Ottawa keys on him though (especially if Duke is out) so we will need other receivers (Picton, McInnis, Jones) to step up and make a few plays. We win when we run and don’t turn the ball over. Positive passing plays are a bonus. I expect our offense to act like our defense and do their best to keep the score low.
What is actually concerning me most about the mounting injuries is the amount of Canadian special teamers out. Our coverage has been a liability at the best of times and now we will be down 3 of our top vets in LaFrance, Tuck and Harty. That doesn’t exactly instill confidence. If we can get through this game without our special teams hurting us that will be good enough (talk about lowered expectations). Bob Dyce is a good ST coordinator and you can bet he'll be looking to take advantage of us in this phase.
Beat up and facing a hungry team this certainly has potential for a loss. But I just keep looking at our defense and thinking that they will give us a chance to win any game. Ottawa may be improved from last season, but improving from a test mark of 15% to 50% is “improvement” but doesn’t mean you are good yet. We have been finding ways to win, they have been finding ways to lose. On home turf I’m giving us a slight edge.
Riders by a Picton TD in a fourth quarter comeback.