The Ottawa Redblacks defence was supposed to be their strength this season, but four games in and the unit’s performance has been inconsistent, especially concerning its secondary.
After a surprisingly positive start, the Redblacks have now dropped two straight games. At 2-2, the pre-season criticism of the team has come back in a big way and has been largely focused toward the ineffectiveness of Dom Davis and the Ottawa offence. But it is the performance of the defence as of late that has been the most surprising, particularly in the passing game.
The Redblacks are middle of the pack in terms of overall pass defence but have been trending downwards since a strong Week 1 performance against Calgary.
The team is allowing an average of 9.7 yards per pass attempt to opponents, third-worst in the CFL. Ottawa has also given up over 300 yards passing in three straight games. So, what is working and what isn’t?
The Redblacks’ starting five defensive backs this season have primarily been Jonathan Rose, Sherrod Baltimore, Corey Tindal, Chris Randle and Antoine Pruneau.
The right side of the secondary, consisting of Sherrod Baltimore and Jonathan Rose, has been impressive. Baltimore had a tough time in coverage against the Alouettes last Saturday but has otherwise held his own. Rose, on the other hand, has been playing at an all-star level to start the season. The chemistry and communication built between them have ensured opposing quarterbacks don’t often look to that side of the field.
Unfortunately for Ottawa, the left side of the secondary has been easy pickings. Corey Tindal has been solid the last three seasons at halfback for the Redblacks but newcomer Chris Randle has often been take advantage of at the left boundary corner spot.
His Week 2 performance against Saskatchewan was definitely his low point of the season so far but there have been many times in other games when it is clear that opposing offences are targeting him in man-to-man coverage downfield. Both of these big plays were Chris Randle matchups.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) June 20, 2019
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) June 21, 2019
It was reported on Tuesday that Randle is unlikely to start for the Redblacks this week.
Anchoring the secondary as a whole is Antoine Pruneau. The Canadian has been a leader for the Ottawa Redblacks for years and has a great combination of instincts and closing speed. With the size of a Canadian football field however, the outside corners are more often than not stuck in one-on-one coverage so there is only so much he can help struggling defensive backs.
Injury Issues and the Reworked Starting Lineup
Jonathan Rose missed the last game against Montreal due to injury, forcing backup Randall Evans to start in his place. Evans looked overmatched for much of the game but it won’t be the last chance he gets to start in the Ottawa secondary.
It seems both Rose and Pruneau will be sidelined long-term.
— Tim Baines (@TimCBaines) July 16, 2019
That is two former division all-stars that will be subtracted from a secondary, one that had already been having problems stopping the pass effectively. Replacing Rose will likely be Evans once again. On Tuesday at Redblacks practice, rookies Kishawn McClain (safety) and DeAndre Farris (cornerback) practiced with the starters.
Anthony Cioffi has been awesome at SAM linebacker for Ottawa. However, he played safety at Rutgers University so I wouldn’t completely rule out a short-term positional change for him as well in the coming weeks.
A Look Ahead
The Ottawa Redblacks will need to survive this stretch without their two best defensive backs before they can even think of adjusting their secondary long-term. That means, barring a big roster move, both Randle and Evans will continue to start. If they continue to struggle, don’t be surprised if the defence as a whole does as well.
Ottawa will hit the road this Saturday to take on the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Both Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler tore up the Redblacks defence with ease two weekends ago. Now facing even more adversity than before, Ottawa needs much better performances out of their DBs.
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