If the Saskatchewan Roughriders go bombs-away, the Ottawa Redblacks believe their young group of defensive backs can step up.
If the Redblacks want to beat the Roughriders at TD Place stadium on Sunday and move on to the Canadian Football League East Division final a week after that, they’ll need to figure out a way to stop Duron Carter (1,043 receiving yards), Naaman Roosevelt (1,035) and a good supporting cast that includes Bakari Grant (1,033), Chad Owens and Rob Bagg. There’s a pretty good chance the Saskatchewan offensive game plan involves either Kevin Glenn or Brandon Bridge trying to lob passes behind an Ottawa defence that has been occasionally vulnerable.
With so much on the line, Redblacks defensive backs say they’re up to the task.
“We’ve given up some big plays, we need to improve on that,” Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said Friday. “We made a commitment to go with some younger guys, guys like (Corey) Tindal, (Sherrod) Baltimore and (Adrian) James. They’re good players and they’re going to keep getting better and better.”
“We just have to win our 1-on-1s and take care of the deep balls,” Tindal said. “They’re going to come at us. We have to make plays. This is the time for it: playoffs. Keep the ball in front of us. If you don’t score, you don’t win.”
The Redblacks have given up plenty of passing yards this season, an average of 316.6 per game, better only than the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. However, with a tough run defence, they’ve also allowed an average of just 25.1 points per game, third-best in the nine-team CFL.
In their two games against the Roughriders this season, the Redblacks lost 18-17 (blowing a 17-point lead) at home, but rallied to win 33-32 in Regina.
As cornerback Jonathan Rose noted, Redblacks defensive backs get a good tune-up each day, practising against what he called “the best receiving corps in the league.”
“You keep fighting,” Rose said. “Plays are going to be made both ways. You just try to make sure you win more than you lose, and, when you lose, it’s not a touchdown.”
“At the beginning, you let the game come to you,” said safety Antoine Pruneau, the Redblacks’ lone East Division all-star on defence. “You feel out the receiver a bit. When you feel comfortable, that’s when you have to put your foot on the pedal and make some plays.”
While the Redblacks need to pay close attention to the electric Carter, who had 231 yards in catches the last time the teams met, they can’t over-adjust.
“It would be a mistake to put all the focus on him,” Pruneau said. “We’re not going to change the way we play because Duron Carter’s on the field. You can’t be scared? You have to be confident when you’re playing against a guy like him.”
“We don’t put any extra coverage or extra time into that one man,” Rose said. “But, when he’s out there, if he’s on my side, I have to take him out of the play because he might be the first option. If I can take that first option away, we have a better chance of winning that down.”
“JUST ANOTHER GAME:” When asked about Sunday’s game, which will mark his first CFL start at QB, Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris said: “Honestly, it’s another game. I’m not treating it any differently. It’s a football game. There are 12 people on defence and 12 people on offence, so I’m going to treat it the same. The stakes are higher, which makes it more fun. Is it going to be much different than when we’re down 12 points with five minutes left and you need two scores in two drives? I don’t think the intensity is different. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s playoffs, you have to try harder.’ If you have to try harder in the playoffs, are you trying hard to begin with?”
THE QUOTABLES: Asked about costly mistakes that contributed to the Redblacks’ slow start to the 2017 regular season, Harris said: “We shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit. That’s why we started (1-6-1). Obviously, that’s the do-or-die situation of the playoffs. If you shoot yourselves in the foot now, it’s season over. You get to watch the playoffs instead of playing. We got all those out of our system earlier this year, hopefully we don’t do that this week” … Asked about his team getting a chance to play again after two byes in the final three weeks of the regular season, Campbell said: “We’ve only played one football game in a month, so our guys are itching to get on the field. This is a fun time of year. It’s playoff football. The way you win football games doesn’t change, whether it’s the regular season or playoffs.”
NEVER FORGET: At 11:11 a.m. Saturday, the Redblacks will stop whatever they’re doing and observe a moment of silence for Remembrance Day. Said Campbell: “We’ll just be getting done with walk-through and we’ll be recognizing it for sure. I have a ton of respect for all those people who put their lives on the line and the history behind it.”
THE INJURY REPORT: Will Jon Gott shift back to centre, with Alex Mateas moving to right guard on Sunday? Said Campbell: “We haven’t officially made a decision. Alex and Jon can play either position. It comes down to where we think we can communicate the best way, and also it’s a little about the matchup. We’ll talk about that and confirm that (Saturday). Returner/receiver Quincy McDuffie likely won’t be available. Said Campbell: “It doesn’t look like it, but we haven’t ruled him out.”