A difficult start to the season isn’t about to get any easier for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Ottawa (0-2-1) begins a stretch of three games in 11 days Friday night in Edmonton. What’s more, the defending Grey Cup champions have dropped two straight and face an unbeaten Eskimos team (2-0) coming off a bye.
Ottawa returns home to host the Montreal Alouettes next Wednesday before heading to Toronto on July 24. When taking the Redblacks’ 26-25 home loss to the Argonauts on July 8 into consideration, the squad will have played four times within 16 days when it leaves BMO Field.
That’s a physically demanding stretch for any team, let alone one still searching for its first win. Not that Ottawa has been badly outplayed, as the two losses being by a combined five points.
But the condensed schedule robs the Redblacks of practice time and the ability to systematically fix what’s gone wrong so far.
Offensively, Ottawa leads the CFL in net yards (415.3 per game) and is second overall in scoring (31.7 points). But the Redblacks are tied with Winnipeg for most turnovers (six) and quarterback Trevor Harris has been sacked nine times.
Still, Harris enters action tied with Saskatchewan’s Kevin Glenn for most TD passes (seven) and second in passing yards (1,095). Greg Ellingson is the CFL’s leading receiver (25 catches, 369 yards, one TD) while Canadian slotback Brad Sinopoli (21 catches, 266 yards, one touchdown) stands fifth.
Edmonton’s defence is ranked first against the pass (215 yards per game) and second in fewest yards allowed (313.5). However, the Eskimos are allowing a league-worst 118 yards rushing per game.
That could be something Ottawa’s offence — which is ranked fourth overall in rushing, 84.7 yards per game — could try to exploit. But the Redblacks have allowed 100 points (33.3 per game) and are ranked eighth in yards allowed (414.3 per game).
And that’s part of what makes it hard to overlook a rested Edmonton team playing at home.
Toronto Argonauts at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Thursday night)
Toronto (2-1) will be minus one of its top offensive threats as receiver DeVir Posey (19 catches, 280 yards, two TDs) went on the six-game injured list this week. The Argos still have the CFL’s top passer in Ricky Ray (1,199 yards) and its second-ranked receiver in S.J. Green (10 catches, 367 yards, one TD). Linebacker Victor Butler (seven sacks, two forced fumbles) anchors a solid Argos defence that will present a challenge for Winnipeg (1-1). But the Bombers should still be smarting from last week’s 29-10 home loss to Calgary and anxious for redemption before the Investors Group Field faithful.
Calgary Stampeders at Montreal Alouettes (Friday night)
Calgary (2-0-1) is unbeaten on the road this season with a win and tie. The Stampeders outscored Winnipeg 20-0 in the second half to register a 29-10 victory at Investors Group Field. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had two interceptions but still threw for 332 yards and a TD while Maleki Harris registered an important pick-six in the third quarter. Since opening the season with a one-point win over Saskatchewan, Montreal (1-2) has dropped two straight, including a 23-16 home decision last week to B.C. Offensively, the Alouettes are averaging just 17.3 points per game.
B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Saturday night)
It’s been a rough start for Hamilton (0-2), which this week lost defensive back Will Hill to a one-game suspension for contacting an official in last week’s 37-20 loss to Saskatchewan. The Ticats have scored just 23 offensive points and are ranked last in net yards (208 per game). Quarterback Zach Collaros has thrown for just 431 yards and one TD in two games. B.C. (2-1) has reeled off two straight road wins as linebacker Solomon Elimimian had 15 tackles last week in Montreal. Jonathon Jennings has 853 passing yards but is also the CFL’s top-rushing quarterback (87 yards, 5.4-yard average).
Last week: 3-1.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press