Deja Vu All Over Again
Photo: Courtesy Toronto Argonauts (Nelson Campana)
Would the real Toronto Argonauts please stand up?! Again, this season, we saw two games in one. The first half offence was painful to watch, the second half a glimpse of the team that the Argos have the potential to become for 60 minutes. There were a lot of positives and win is a win but the game didn't clarify their offensive identity.
MBT climbed back above 100 in his passing efficiency (103). Banks had 5 touches which is good, 7 or more would be better. His 14-yard end around was a refreshing call and chipped away at a predictable running game. They averaged 4.3 yards per rush and limited the Ticats to 3.2 yards per carry. Loved the misdirection on Bank's carry. Keep the defence guessing and run away from the Ticats’ all- star tackles, Wynn and Johnson. If you can't dominate on the LOS, you simply cannot afford to be predictable and run into the strength of the opponent's defence. Running regularly at perennial all-stars is a recipe for two and outs.
They also flipped the script on the turnover battle and won it 4 to 1 as well as out sacking the Ticats 4 to 2! Great to see the D line have a bounce back game with two sacks from Shane Ray. Ben Barlow, whoa?! Where did he come from?! Four tackles and 1 sack in his second game...give this man more playing time. His impressive second half tackle in short yardage prevented a first down. More from #95 svp.
The secondary was on fire again with three INTs, all from Jamal Peters. His pick six was instinctual as he jumped the route all the way to the end zone. High risk, high reward. One of his INTs was the direct result of pressure by the D line on Evans. The twin towers on the corners, Peters and McFadden are playing as good as any in the league right now. Maurice Carnell had 7 tackles; however, this may have been because the Ticats were deliberately attacking him due to his inexperience.
As good as their secondary is playing the heart of this championship defence is still the linebacking corps. McManis continues to be a tackling machine with 11 and Edwards had seven.
If I had to choose East defensive all stars on the Argos at mid season, I would choose McManis, Edwards, Peters, McFadden and Oakman. Honorable mention to Ray and Muamba.
The receivers got much better separation this week in comparison to the last game in Hamilton. This was especially true of Ambles and Banks. It makes a huge difference to MBT who is then afforded a margin of error and can play pitch and catch. Banks was the immediate beneficiary of Ciante Evans not dressing for Hamilton. He was previously all over Banks like a coat of paint. Simoni Lawrence, the Argos biggest nemesis over the last decade was also on the injured list. These were two huge tailwinds for the good ship.
Damonte Coxie showed some promise.
Bede was a perfect again on field goals (3 for 3).
Only 21 minutes of possession thanks to a moribund offence for almost all of the first half. MBT overthrew a mid range route again. Part of the problem is his inconsistent footwork. He sometimes does not follow through with his right leg when delivering the ball. There are three possible reasons for this. One, there is no room to follow through with a D lineman in your face; two, a relentless pressure fools you into thinking there won't be any room to step up, and; three, the QB gets lazy in his fundamentals. We saw the third occur last week when Bo Levi Mitchell sprayed the ball all over the field and threw himself into a back up role. Mitchell did this without any pressure. If the Argos makeshift o line could afford MBT the kind of time that Mitchell got MBT and the Argos fan base would think they had died and gone to heaven. As it is MBT keeps getting up and is the only starting QB in the league who has started every game. He is one tough hombre. Look for the overthrows to diminish when Rogers returns, he is very tall and tougher to overthrow on the intermediate routes, which have been MBT's occasional Achilles heel. He needs to get the ball out early enough that his only overthrows are on the deep balls. They are too often behind the receiver.
Seven penalties for 90 yards isn't devastating but 5 or fewer would be much better. Composure wins again.
I picked the Argos on Friday and I'm sticking with the Ticats at Tim Horton's next week not because the Argos can't win it but the Ticats have to win at home on Labour Day. Some high-profile jobs will become less secure if they lose. The Argos are playing with house money on Labour Day. An Argo win would essentially eliminate Hamilton from the race for first place. A loss and they split the season series.
Around the League
The Green Riders declared a $3.9 million dollar profit for 2021 last week. Impressive results for a season still hampered by the pandemic. Their financial results for 2022 may top $10 million with the Grey Cup in Regina this year.
Speaking of the Riders they are often described as TSN's best draw for viewership. I say not so fast, the numbers published weekly from TSN certainly show the Riders audience at the top, however, if you add in its Quebec affiliate RDS, and its reportedly average audience of 200,000 then the Alouettes generally are at or near the top among all Canadians. Watch out twitter when Gary Stern does the math. Canada’s team!? Vive les Alouettes libre!
More TSN: Matt Dunigan has established himself as not only an engaging panelist but a very good colour commentator. His knowledgeable but folksy delivery makes him the John Madden of the CFL.
The CFL office receives plenty of criticism for its lack of transparency, confusing communications and propensity for taking the easy money instead of following an effective long -term strategy to grow the game in Canada. Much of this is justified. Nevertheless, the league deserves to be credited when they do something right. The league's decision to ban Johnny Manziel is one such decision and it’s looking more and more prescient by the day. Its hard not to look south of the border at the mess that the Cleveland Browns and NFL have made for themselves with DeShaun Watson and compare it to the Johnny Manziel soap opera north of the border. The CFL and the Alouettes desperately wanted Manziel to succeed and do the things that Nathan Rourke has been doing until his unfortunate injury. Nonetheless, the CFL had the courage to confront the difficult truth and make the right decision to cut the cord cleanly.
The Browns and the NFL have been unable, or unwilling, to do so with Watson. His smarmy equivocations are making this worse by the day. Watson got an 11-game suspension, which is only a handful of games more than the suspension that Chris Edwards was levied for mixing it up with some Ticats fans. These transgressions are nowhere near equivalence. Meanwhile the Cleveland Browns are looking even worse than the NFL. They are a pathetic joke. In this comparison the CFL looks like the professional league and the NFL, and at least one of its teams, is looking like craven, tone deaf, amateurs. Kudos to the beleaguered CFL office for taking the road less travelled.
Nice to see former Argo and well travelled QB, Nick Arbuckle, get his first win this season. Let’s hope he gets some respect and support in the nation's capital. He has earned the chance.
Finally, and surprisingly, the devastating injury to Nathan Rourke has not yet put the spotlight on his playing time with the Lions and the dubious judgment of Rick Campbell in playing him for too long after the score was out of hand. Prior to the Sask game Campbell developed a bad habit of keeping Rourke in games deep into the 4th quarter, games whose outcome had long been decided by hugely lopsided scores. His foolish insistence on leaving Rourke in the game long after the game had been decided caught up with them in Regina. Well into the fourth quarter he left Rourke in the game with an 18-point lead and facing a back up quarterback with almost no experience. Hindsight is 20-20 but his failure in risk assessment may have cost the Lions a Grey Cup. Campbell has done a masterful job of rejuvenating the Lions on the field but this lapse of judgment was a profoundly costly one.