- Free Agency
By the time you are reading this I am somewhere in Peru getting ready to climb Machu Picchu. It’s one of those bucket list sorts of adventures I am so lucky to be able to do. I imagine much will have been written and read about Duron Carter actually getting to play for the Argonauts and the Edmonton/Calgary and Winnipeg/Saskatchewan sequels.
It is a fairly good bet that the first game of the unofficial start of the second half of the CFL season will have fallen through the cracks. To be honest, the 26-14 win by the BC Lions over the Ottawa REDBLACKS was the sort of aesthetic nightmare that probably deserves to be forgotten about sooner rather than later.
However, if you go full mid-nineteenth century California gold prospector, there are several important nuggets that can be panned from this game.
Before we get to the actual game, let’s give a round of applause to Coach Wally Buono and Chris Rainey for keeping it civil right before kickoff. TSN caught Buono coming up to the CFL leader in combined yardage, greeting him with a “Good to see you Mr. Rainey” as the two shook hands and looked rather friendly to one another. But when you put it in context that a fully healthy Rainey was benched for this game, the tableau suddenly becomes far more awkward. There is no way I would have handled this situation so maturely. If I was Buono I would have gone total coward and have avoided Rainey altogether. On the flip side, if I was Rainey, I’m fairly sure I would have pulled a “talk to the hand because the face don’t wanna listen” like I was a 19-year-old guest on The Maury Povich Show.
My biggest takeaway from this game is something feels wrong with Trevor Harris. Of course every member of the REDBLACKS offence and the coaching staff must take their share of the blame, but his first half against the Lions was just about the ugliest I have ever seen him play. Yes, Harris has had some stinkers against Calgary, but so has every other CFL quarterback against the Stampeders’ defence. The Lions came into this game with a statistically below average defence yet looked like world beaters in the first 30 minutes. I have been a supporter of Harris for years. I have defended him on radio and yes, I have used the dreaded ‘E’ word, ‘elite’, to describe him, but the guy I saw on Friday night did not resemble the Harris that I believe has the ability to win Ottawa a Grey Cup.
On both of Harris’ interceptions the Lions had six players on the rush and Trevor certainly felt heat, but that doesn’t tell the full story of those turnovers. On the first quarter pick by Winston Rose, Harris had nearly three seconds to pass as it was his own lineman that hit him, not a Lions defender. Harris tried to throw the ball away but was not in a position to be able to summon the sort of strength to get the ball safely to the sidelines; instead his throw allowed for a fairly easy interception. The second pick, by Anthony Thompson saw Harris contend with more direct pressure in his face, but he had enough time to throw the ball away instead of forcing a dangerous pass over the middle right into the hands of Thompson. Yes, the Lions pass rush deserves credit for making Harris uncomfortable, but both turnovers could have been avoided.
Speaking of turnovers, Harris realistically could have had five at the end of the half. Late in the first quarter, Harris, trying to go deep to RJ Harris, hung his pass up far too long, allowing Thompson more than enough time to come over from the middle of the field for a sure interception that he promptly dropped. In the second quarter, a quick hitch screen pass to Greg Ellingson almost ended as a pick-six if not for Anthony Orange’s inability to hold on to what should have been Orange’s second touchdown of his career. Finally, my hipster pick for a Harris throw that could have been a pick was his final pass of the first half that was into triple coverage. Woof!
I know this may sound like I’m picking on Trevor, but this is a quarterback who has shown plenty of stretches where he looks like an MOP candidate. Before the game, Milt Stegall from TSN spoke about how there was more pressure on Harris than any other player on the field and that Harris needs to show a greater degree of consistency. I was thinking about Stegall’s statement upon the conclusion of the REDBLACKS loss to the Lions. After putting together a 4-1 stretch (with the one loss being that crazy McLeod Bethel-Thompson led Argonauts comeback win) where Harris averaged over 360 yards with five touchdowns and only two interceptions, Ottawa has now lost to the worst team in both the Eastern and Western Division.
I have my fingers crossed that the narrative on Harris and his 2018 season looks far different when I get back from Peru. I will be returning to the land of Tim Horton right around the conclusion of Ottawa’s Week 15 clash with the Edmonton Eskimos. For the good of the East Division, I’m hoping for the All-Star version of Harris. The final couple weeks of the season has Ottawa and Hamilton playing back-to-back games that should decide who wins the East. I imagine I’m not the only one that wants to see Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris each playing at the top of their games in those contests.
A couple other notable moments from that game:
1. Sometimes it takes an injury for you to appreciate just how good a player is. The difference in offensive line play for the Lions without starting centre Cody Husband who injured his leg on the first play was staggering. I felt bad watching backup Chris Greaves getting dominated by George Uko, or all the bad shotgun snaps that put his quarterback in a precarious position and more often than not ruined any chance for points. I will credit Greaves for sticking it out and getting better as the game wore on. His snapping was not an issue during the Lions’ critical late-game touchdown drive that took over three minutes, cost Ottawa to burn two of their timeouts and turned a one-score game into a 26-14 deficit with under two minutes to go.
2. While other writers (the smarter ones) will highlight the three sacks by Odell Willis, who still possesses excellent closing speed, I want to applaud Willis for attempting that sneaky trip tackle on William Powell in the second quarter. Sure, technically the focus should be the fact that the refs caught Willis’ trip. I, on the other hand, was amazed about how he was able to bring down hard-running Powell on what looked like such an innocuous move by Willis.