• Reeve Batstone

Ouch!


I called for Calgary to beat the Argos last week but I didn't see a 29-2 whooping coming. Nevertheless, the Argos wasted another stellar performance by the defence and a sparkling effort by their MLB Henoc Muamba. The offence was MIA. Specifically, the passing game. It was clear that the Stampeders decided to stop the Argos passing game and were willing to give them running lanes to do it. It worked. The teacher (Dickenson) schooled the student (Dinwiddie).


Positives:

The defence was great again. Led by Henoc Muamba they didn't crater even after losing all- stars, McManis, and Shane Ray to injury. Royce Metchie led the team again in tackles with seven. Some of these were well down the field in the run game. Not what you want your safety to have to do.


Ryan Dinwiddie must be ecstatic with the job that Corey Mace is doing. His defence has kept them in every game this year except BC. It’s a commonly held misconception that the Argos went in the tank in 2018 and 2019 because they had lost Ricky Ray. The real problem was the defence, it was the leagues worst and gave up more the 560 points in consecutive seasons. Meanwhile, MBT led the league in TD passes in 2019. Had the Argos defence been just 5th in the league in these seasons, they would have made the playoffs. That’s how much improvement we have seen from the defence. As I have said often, this season, they are championship calibre and it gives them a chance to win every game.


Kurleigh Gittens was his consistent self: rushing, receiving and returning kicks. Robbie Smith added another sack.


Only 5 penalties for 40 yards.


Negatives:

The Argos QBs combined for a record low passing efficiency rating of 31. There are lots of reasons for this, not all on MBT and Kelly. After a moribund first half on offence, there were no substantive adjustments made in the second half. This is a critical failure by the offensive coaching staff and lands squarely on coach Dinwiddie. Not professional grade.


Pick six.


The Argos were outsacked again 2 to 1.


There were untimely drops by the receivers highlighted by two well-thrown, momentum-changing, deep balls from MBT to DaVaris Daniels. These were DD's second and third drops in the last two weeks. MBT can't do it alone.


There were occasions when Calgary was getting pressure and sacks when only rushing three down linemen. These included plays in which Dejon Allen had to contend with former Argo sackmaster, Shawn Lemon, on his own, while the Argos centre and two guard's triple-teamed the Stamps interior lineman. These are either mental or tactical errors.


The Argos are stacked with first round Canadian draft picks on the o line. MacKellar, Nicastro, Richards, Churchill, and now Hunter to name five. Blake was a fourth-round NFL draft pick of Denver’s (which they received for Tim Tebow). Bladek was a second rounder and Giffen a third-round pick who was projected to go much higher. This is a talented and deep bunch. Is the o-line coach getting the best out of them? Blake is 35. Is it reasonable to expect him to be playing out of position at left tackle? Blocking seems to be this team's achilles heel, both on the o-line and on kick and punt returns. 'The Argos will only go as far as their offensive line takes them this year.


You can have the best quarterback and running back in the world but if your o-line isn't strong and well-coordinated, it just won't matter. Part of the Argos' historical folklore is that the Argos lost the 1971 Grey Cup against Calgary because Leon McQuay fumbled the ball late in the game. There was a lot more to it than that. Joe Theismann got sacked six times that day. Why? Because the Argos started 35 and 37-year-old offensive tackles against a formidable defensive front. They could not run the ball. The game was decided before it began. It’s a cautionary tale.


Nevertheless, the sky is not falling, yet. The Argos need to beat Montreal once and get their o-line healthy and the future looks bright in the eastern final. If they lose both remaining games to Montreal, this season may soon come to an ignominious end.


I like their chances of a split avec les Alouettes.


Capital Punishment

Last week I touched on the travails of Ottawa's coach Paul LaPolice. This week the shoe dropped and he was finally let go. Few were surprised. The only thing that I found puzzling is that the REDBLACKS did not give interim head coach, Bob Dyce, a longer runway for what is a de- facto audition for the job. I like that Dyce is going to be given this chance, but it probably should have occurred a few weeks ago. A former receiver at the U of Manitoba, Dyce has been a long-time assistant, including 9 games as interim head coach of Saskatchewan. He was also the OC in Regina. Dyce has paid his dues and has been the STs coach in Ottawa since its last Grey Cup season in 2016. Special teams have been the most consistently good unit for Ottawa over this period. It requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of the esoteric rules of the Canadian game. As a Canadian, he’s also less likely to use the CFL as a stepping stone to the NFL, like ex Argos coaches Chris Jones and Scott Milanovich. Both of whom have exposed the hypocrisy of rules restricting players wanting to return to the NFL at their own discretion. One standard for coaches and management, another for players.


Last week I also called out the Miami Dolphins and the NFL for their reckless disregard for the health of Tua Tagovailoa by allowing him to return to play after suffering an obvious concussion. He exhibited what is known as gross motor instability (ie., he stumbled, and needed the assistance from his teammates to keep from falling down). It didn't take a neurologist to see he had suffered a serious concussion. Anyone could see it plain as day. I described the lethal risk of second impact syndrome. Concussions aren't injuries that heal overnight. They are cumulative brain damage.


Things went from bad to worse only four days later when the Dolphins irresponsibly started Tua against the Bengals and he was concussed again. This time, he exhibited what is known as fencing posture. It was one of the most obscene and disgusting sights I have seen on a playing field or surface. If you have seen the game, or can stomach the replay, you will know what I'm talking about. When a person experiences an impact that is strong enough to cause a traumatic brain injury (concussion) their arms often go into an unnatural position. This position--forearms extended or flexed, is known as the fencing position and can last for several seconds after the concussion.


It was an epic failure by the team, its head coach, the NFL and its player's association. Head coach Mike McDaniel played the role of fool, and lied when he said Tua suffered a back injury. He should not be allowed to hide behind his inexperience and should be fired. He has been a head coach for four games but been around the game his whole life. The Dolphin's GM or ownership should also step up and take responsibility. They are banking on the media giving the rookie coach a pass. The Dolphins should lose their next first round draft choice. The NFLPA should also have intervened before Thursday and is now complicit in spite of any grandstanding about an investigation. An NFLPA investigation is too little, too late, and not independent. It’s spin, guardian behaviour, and an effort to limit damage to its reputation.


The root problem here is that the team, its coaches, medical staff, NFL and player's association are in a clear, unequivocal, conflict of interest. The team and its coaches are doing everything they can to win, the players are under pressure to play and the NFL wants the best players on the field to draw viewers and attention to the games. These problems can be fixed overnight by putting these decisions into the hands of an independent third party, advised by medical experts. The NFL will never allow this to happen, they will not give up control. Their lack of ethics has now put on full display, the serious danger inherent in playing football for all to see. This has long term implications for participation in the game of football, its future, and the NFL's business model. People involved with football at all levels, and in Canada, should be outraged by the hypocrisy and damage to football that the NFL has done this past week.


Concussions are endemic in Rugby too, and in Australia they are all over the news due to some high-profile cases of CTE. Last June, World Rugby, instituted a rule that a player cannot return to play for at least 12 days after a diagnosed concussion. Meanwhile the Dolphins obfuscated and told the public that Tua had a back injury because they did not want him ruled out for their game v the Bengals four days later. This wasn't incompetence, it was intentional. The medical problem is that while symptoms may disappear after a concussion the brain swelling may not yet have gone down and there may be residual damage to the brain, which may take months to heal. This is why Dr. Rowena Mobbs, a neurologist, specialist in concussion and dementia, and Director of the Australian CTE Biobank recommends that someone with a diagnosed concussion should not return to play for at least 30 days. The CFL, NFL and NHL need to take notice.


To be fair the NFL does deserve credit for accepting that head injuries and football are related and that CTE is a disease. The CFL and NHL have not. Coincidentally, the CFL and NHL share a Board member, Larry Tanenbaum. Hmm.


Finally, the NFL has been advocating to the IOC for flag football to be included in the Olympics. It is also pushing for flag football to be added to women's sports in the NCAA. Why? Because the NFL is terrified of losing its audience for tackle football due to the chill created by traumatic brain injury. The NFL has been going hard on promoting flag football as a means to normalize the "healthiness" of its brand and broaden the participation in "football." This includes marketing in Canada under the nose of the CFL. While the CFL sleeps the NFL has set a goal of establishing 250 flag football leagues across Canada with 100,000 youth players within three years! The CFL needs to wake up and smell the coffee. The NFL is eating the CFL's lunch in its own kitchen. Meanwhile, Football Canada and the CFLPA are gamely trying to do what the CFL should be doing and launched their own flag football initiative. Instead, the CFL continues to invest in its Global Initiative which is producing a plethora of kickers and punters from countries that have never heard of them and probably don't care. This is akin to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. No lucrative TV or streaming contracts are coming as a consequence of its Global strategy, but ratings on TSN are dropping 8-10% per year. The CFL needs to keep its eye on the ball.


Notwithstanding the NFLs’ indefensible missteps there is objective and hopeful evidence that the Canadian game is a safer brand of Football, and may guide the future sustainability of the tackle game. More on that in a future blog.