• Reeve Batstone

An Offensive Identity


Photo: Ben Grant


Wow, if yesterday’s matchup wasn’t a reminder of the importance of special teams and strong quarterback play in the Canadian game, I don’t know what is (more on that later).


Four out of five times, a team that has committed three more turnovers than its opponent, will lose.


In a sloppy but entertaining game the Argos managed to overcome five turnovers to come back and win against an outmanned but gritty Rider team at home. It’s the first time in years that the Argos have swept the Riders (enjoy it). They continue to win while not playing their best football, which is a good sign.


Last week I predicted a Rider victory with Fajardo at the helm (he wasn’t). I also said MBT would need to play his best game of the season for the Argos to win (he did) and that they would need to get Harris and Banks 25+ combined touches (they did). The Argos earned this win but tried hard at times to give it away.


Positives

Harris, Harris, Harris with a little Kurleigh Gittens consistency sprinkled in on offence. MBT only made one costly mistake all game (an unhurried INT) but had a sizzling 111 QB passer rating.


Andrew Harris found holes where there weren’t any visible. He carried the Argos literally and figuratively. Twenty-six carries for 143 years at 35 years old behind a makeshift offensive line against Saskatchewan at home is something special. He is making an early season statement for the East’s Most Outstanding Player nomination. Notwithstanding the Argos stellar defence, he is their MVP so far. It’s not close. He is their offensive identity now. I love that Dinwiddie has figured that out and is committing to the run. It makes MBT and the entire offence more successful and consistent. Just got to fix the short yardage plays.


The Argos have had a plethora of excellent breakaway backs over the years: Dick Shatto, Dave Raimey, Leon McQuay, Anthony Davis, Terry Metcalf, Gill Fenerty, Ricky Williams, Michael Jenkins and John Avery to name a few. Astonishingly, only Jenkins ever led the league in rushing. Andrew Harris is not a threat to go coast to coast but his rising tide lifts the entire Argo boat. In the history of the Argos, only Bill Symons comes close to him in terms of consistency and durability.


A timely punt return from Speedy B when the Argos needed it most.


Kurleigh Gittens continues to catch everything thrown his way. Most consistent Argo receiver game in and game out.


Great team defence again although tough to objectively measure a performance without Cody Fajardo playing for Riders. The Argos have a championship caliber defence.


Negatives

Harris had 33 touches (including 7 receptions) and Speedy Banks one touch! I sound like a broken record but Banks needs to get the ball more often in space. You saw what happened when he got to return a punt. Harris can’t be getting 33 touches again or he will be watching from the sidelines. It’s just too many touches for a 35-year-old in an 18-game schedule. Ottawa will be designing their entire defensive game plan next week to stop Harris. It would be a good time to introduce some load management for their franchise player.


The short yardage game has to be sorted out. You can’t hand the ball to Harris six yards deep in the backfield from shot gun and not expect the Rider’s defence to have a team meeting on him. It takes too long and there is too much time for the defence to close. It’s not a draw (which has been working well) and fooled no one.


Special teams continues to be a box of chocolates. They gave up a long return TD and Dinwiddie was under withering criticism for trying a 61-yard field goal. Too easy to pile on him here. Boris Bede averaged 73 yards per kickoff yesterday. He has a monster leg but is an enigma kicking FGs and converts inside 40 yards. The chances of Bede hitting a FG from 61 are probably not much lower than one from 41. The closer a kicker is to the goalposts the more pressure there is to make the kick. This seems to apply to Bede. If Bede made the field goal, Dinwiddie would have been hailed for his gutsy coaching decision. Having said all that, from a risk reward point of view, it was the wrong decision. Kudos to Bede for his valiant attempt to tackle Alford on the return. He shed his blocks and made an impressive attempt to knock him into touch.


If I needed someone to kick a walk-off field goal inside 50 yards Bede would not be my first choice (I would choose Rene Paredes or Sean Whyte). If I needed someone to kick one longer than 50 yards, I would choose Bede. Witness Redblacks’ Lewis Ward coming up short on his 53-yard attempt to beat the Ticats. I’m sure they would have loved to turn to Bede on that kick.


Like Worthy, Alford is a returner who has lit it up after being released by the Argos. The Argos have an excellent roster yet continue to shoot blanks on kick returns. The special teams coordination needs to be reviewed. You can’t win a championship in the Canadian game without stellar special teams play.


For another week the shotgun snaps were not professional grade and potentially catastrophic. If it happens again its on the coaching. These kinds of plays can be coach killers if they continue.


Speaking of coaching, Markeith Ambles needs to be taught not to take his eyes off the ball and to look it in before running. It happened twice yesterday. They barely avoided a pick six the wrong way. MBT delivered the ball on target. His guys have to catch them or at least make sure no one else does. A great looking player but this hole in his game is a big one and needs to be fixed fast.


The Argos as a team had too many penalties yesterday, ten for 110 yards is undisciplined and worrisome. Several on special teams! Penalties and turnovers are the fastest way to lose a game. The Argos managed to somehow overcome both. You can’t do that against a team that hasn’t been hammered by covid.


Final Thoughts

I was intrigued to see that Winnipeg announced that they had turned a $2.1 million profit last year, this in spite of Covid and a reduced schedule. Impressive. The Bombers continue to lead the league in many ways. Their Canadian heavy coaching and management is the best in the league and it shows on and off the field.


Two of the best coaches in CFL history were special teams coordinators before becoming head coaches, Marv Levy and Mike O’Shea. Craig Dickenson is another. Special teams require attention to detail and a deep understanding of the Canadian game.


You may recall that community owned teams have a historically higher winning percentage than privately owned ones, Argos history being one illustration. They make a long-term commitment to Canadian football. Winnipeg is a great example of that. Winnipeg also stuck with O’Shea in his early years when things weren’t going so well. Are you listening Montreal?


While Dinwiddie was a stretch hire who leap frogged other young but more qualified candidates like Mark Kilam and Mark Washington the Argos need to support him for at least another season. Three points make a trend. Next year will be his third season. His honeymoon period continues while he wins. The Argonauts‘ management has certainly set him up for success. Given his inexperience coming in to the Head Coach role they certainly must have expected that he would be on a steep learning curve punctuated by some painful rookie mistakes. Winning papers over a lot of problems but I think the Argos should have no illusions about theirs as they were on full display yesterday. Let’s see how they adjust against an improving Redblacks team desperate for their first win.


The Argos will have no excuses for not beating Ottawa at home. To add drama, they are likely to face their former QB Nick Arbuckle at some point in the game.