When a team gives up six sacks in a game, it’s natural to blame the offensive line.
Last Friday in a 26-14 loss to the BC Lions in Vancouver, Ottawa Redblacks starting quarterback Trevor Harris and backup Dominique Davis had little time to get the offence going as the hosts found numerous ways to get to the two pivots. But don’t expect either QB to start handing out criticism.
Harris, who played the majority of the game and was intercepted twice, shouldered some of the responsibility after the Redblacks (6-5) lost their second in a row.
“When things like that happen, it’s easy to point the finger and say they gave up six sacks. Well, what if I held up the ball too long?” Harris said after practice on Tuesday as the team started to prepare for Saturday’s game in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-4).
“It’s one of those things that we need to take a look at the film, we need to disperse the blame amongst ourselves because we’re a unit and that’s what we’re going to do and so I take my part of the responsibility in this. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to avoid pressure and make sure I’m being smart with the football, getting rid of the football to help out our O line and getting rid of the ball quicker, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do and fix where we feel we have some weaknesses.”
Offensive line coach John McDonnell understands people will want to criticize his unit, but says there are a lot more factors involved.
“Everyone has to do their specific football assignment and sometimes protection always focuses on one aspect, but there’s more to it than just the offensive line, it’s the whole scheme of things,” McDonnell said. “Regardless, we still have to do more, we still have to be better and we’ll still continue to work at it.”
The Redblacks made a significant change to their offensive line in mid-August when veteran Jon Gott, who never missed a game when healthy in his five years with Ottawa, was scratched in favour of Evan Johnson. Gott has not played since and while both head coach Rick Campbell and McDonnell say he will play again, it doesn’t appear it will be this week.
Ottawa quarterbacks were sacked 14 times with Gott in the lineup in the first eight games. In the three games he hasn’t played, they’ve gone down 10 times. Whether Gott’s presence is a factor is open to debate.
“Jon’s done a great job for us this whole year and even these last few weeks of being a team guy and working really hard,” Campbell said. “We are fortunate that we have a lot of Canadian O-line depth, him included, so we’ll always look to dress whatever five we think is best for that week and he’s a guy I know is going to end up playing for us again this year. We’ll just see when that is.”
The Redblacks managed just one point in the first half against the Lions, and part of the problem was they were never able to sustain any long drives, something they did regularly earlier in the season.
Ottawa’s longest drive in the first half was seven plays. In the third quarter, the Redblacks scored their only touchdown on a drive of 10 plays and a field goal on a march with nine plays.
“The games where we’ve been in rhythm, we’ve sustained those drives, we’ve kept our defence off the field, we finished with points,” Harris said. “We’ve got to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers to all the guys that are in there for us. We’ve got to utilize their strengths and as a unit we need to make sure we’re executing properly.”
Ottawa has lost sole possession of first in the East, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have charged into a tie for top spot at 6-5.
“The good thing is we approach every game like it’s a huge challenge,” offensive lineman Alex Mateas said. “We’re ready to come back, shed the old game and get after a new one. I don’t think about the losses. There’s too much to worry about with making calls and blocking the guys in front of you so it’s almost nice to get lost in your assignment and kind of forget about that.”