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  • Reeve Batstone

Fair Winds and a Following Sea

Photo: Jim Stillwagon, courtesy Ohio State Football

Another TD Atlantic is in the books and the good ship Argonaut remains undefeated. They have now equalled the 1935 Argonauts but will need to win the Grey Cup to equal the 1921 Argonauts who began 6-0 on their way to an undefeated season and a Grey Cup championship. Their only undefeated season in the team's storied history. The last time the Argonauts had a 7 game winning streak, of any kind, was 2007. A year in which they lost the East final. A reminder that it's not how you start, it's how you finish that matters.

Ben Grant has already summarized the beat down of Saskatchewan well on 3Downnation and with JB on the podcast. The Argos are finding ways to win, in a dominant fashion, even when not all their oars are in the water. The game was never in doubt although Chad Kelly had possibly his worst game of the season completing 62% of his passes for a pedestrian 73 passer rating. It didn't matter, proving, yet again, that timing is everything.

The Argos committed only three penalties! This is a huge improvement for the second most penalized team in the league, and well below their average of 10 penalties per game.

A punt return TD by Leake and a total of 188 return yards on seven punt returns was a fantastic surprise. Meanwhile they contained Mario Alford on kick coverage giving the Argos a big win on special teams. I did not see this coming.

Notably, the Argos did not have a single kick off return in this game thanks to a great defensive performance. Their defensive line is an embarrassment of riches. Long time Argo fans might see some similarities in the play of Jared Brinkman with former Argo all-star interior linemen, Outland trophy winners and College football hall of fame members, Rob Waldrop and Jim Stillwagon. Waldrop and Stillwagon were not tall but were exceptionally quick. Early retirements were the only reasons why these two exceptional Argo tackles have never been inducted into the Canadian football hall of fame. The same could easily be said of former Argo all star Granville Liggins, an undersized all American at Oklahoma who finished an incredible seventh in the Heisman trophy voting as a defensive tackle.

Boris Bede was good on all his FGs and converts. He leads the league with a monstrous 72-yard kick off average. To put this in perspective the Elks kicker Dean Faithfull averages 24 yards less. The next kicker ahead of Faithfull is Marc Legghio of the Ti-Cats who averages 58 yards per kickoff, which is still 14 yards shorter than Bede. Notwithstanding Bede's strength, it does beg the question as to why Faithfull is on the Elks roster with such a modest range, however, that seems to be a pattern with the Elks of late.

The Argos defence out-sacked Saskatchewan's five to one. Jake Dolegala's TD drive was in garbage time, but Saskatchewan may want to give him more playing time. Mason Fine was resilient but was unable to score a major.

Andrew Harris led all rushers with 41 yards on seven carries for a stellar 5.9 yards-per-carry while moving into the top five in league rushing history. The Riders' front seven held AJ Ouellette in check. McManis again led the Argos with eight tackles. Safety Royce Metchie had five. Pickett also had five. All in a day's work for these all-star calibre Boatmen.

Around the league

Obscured by the thick smoke billowing from the tire fire that is the Elks on-field performance this season is the outstanding work that its President, Victor Cui, is doing to promote this beleaguered team. His initiatives to broadcast Elks games in Cree and Punjabi are tremendous and just the kind of forward-thinking the league needs to market its game to untapped fanbases. Cui might be the first one to tell you that these are low-hanging fruit and common sense things to do. Dan Ralph's well-written column "Edmonton Elks forge ambitious future with multilingual broadcasts." appeared recently in the Globe and Mail, a paper that in recent years has paid less attention to the Argonauts. It's well worth reading.

Alberta has the third most people of Punjabi descent in Canada. Ontario and BC have the most. Canada's two fastest growing cities are Brampton, Ontario and Surrey, BC. Both have large Punjabi populations. The Lions and the Argos would benefit significantly from such an outreach strategy. Cui also has plans to broadcast games in Chinese. Similarly, Richmond, BC and Markham, Ontario are home to large populations of people of Chinese ancestry. These are ethnicities that make up the majority of new immigrants to Canada. Cui is prescient. The Lions and Argos, indeed the whole league, needs to double down on this initiative.

The Elks losing streak is now so long that it has become a problem for the league as well. They are just that bad. Notably, Cui inherited Chris Jones when he was hired but has nevertheless supported him throughout with a masterclass in media communications. Last week I said that the Elks' on-field performance had unfortunately not hit rock bottom. At 27-0 they are starting to plumb the depths, but they are still not at the bottom. Believe it or not it can get worse. It's excruciating to watch. It's enough to induce PTSD for those associated with this venerable franchise.

Unfortunately, after two straight weeks of sensational games the CFL slate this week took a step back.

Despite Bo Levi Mitchell doing his best to gift wrap a victory for Ottawa with five interceptions, the Redblacks left it too late and were unable to finish them off. It was painful to see Mitchell sustain an avoidable and serious injury at the end of the game. Despite possessing the best winning percentage in league history, Mitchell has struggled with inconsistency over the last two to three regular seasons, his TD to INT ratio has now flipped. Notwithstanding the dramatic finish, it was sloppy football. Incredibly, late in the first half with the score still just 6-3 one of the TSN commentators described it as an entertaining game. Lets keep it real TSN, only the hardcore fans were still engaged at this point. Neither starting QB had a passer rating higher than 64 which probably tells you all you need to know about the game's entertainment value. Speaking of which, the Commissioner almost did a mea culpa to TSN on the CFL stats fiasco which he ended by suggesting that the CFL is also a technology company. Whoa?! The CFL is in the entertainment business. In today's world technology is ubiquitous and when it doesn't work that's when you have a problem. It's taken for granted that you can deliver data accurately and in a timely manner. Outsourcing your data support needs certainly doesn't make you a technology company.

Meanwhile, former Ti-Cats QB Dane Evans is playing within himself and, so far, has not been a turnover machine in BC. BC is looking brilliant in trading for Evans in the off season QB carousel. Hamilton not so much.

The final game of the week between Calgary and Montreal turned out to be a field goal fest with the difference-maker being Montreal's pick six in the first half. In a weather delayed marathon neither QB had a stellar evening, Maier threw two INTs and put up a dismal 52 passer rating. On the other side, Fajardo ground out the win despite getting pounded, even though Montreal limited the number of sacks allowed to an Alouettes season low of one. Fajardo managed a modest passer rating of 70 largely because he did not throw any INTs again. Montreal owes much of its three wins to Fajardo protecting the ball well. Having said that, both QBs missed wide open receivers that would have put points on the board more than once.

Stanback finally got some running lanes.

Calgary and Jake Maier are really struggling. If they don't catch Saskatchewan in the standings there is a very good chance that for the first time in the history of the CFL, no team from Alberta will make the postseason. Unprecedented times indeed.

Montreal heads to Hamilton in a game for second place next week. The Argos visit Calgary to play a desperate Stamps team at McMahon stadium, which has been a graveyard for the Argos over the years. Let's hope this does not turn out to be a trap game.

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