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  • Reeve Batstone

Hammer Time

Your Toronto Juggernauts did what they do on Friday, again, although the Ticats did their best to make a game of it with a starting rookie QB. In the process the Argos have equalled the 1960 team by opening 5-0. Now they can set their sights on the Argonaut's all time club record of six consecutive wins to open the season. For this you need to go back to 1935 and a season that began with six straight wins only to be followed by three losses and ignominious elimination. The only other time the Argos have opened the season with six straight wins was 102 years ago. It is the only perfect season in the 150 year history of the Argonauts and ended in a 23-0 Grey Cup shutout of Edmonton at Varsity Stadium in 1921.  It's remarkable that the oldest football team in the world, which on average, has won  a Grey Cup just over once per decade has had such a modest opening season club record. As Argos coach Dinwiddie pointed out last week it's only a quarter of the way into the season. It's still very early. 


There have been several CFL teams that have opened the season with longer winning streaks, including the 2005 BC Lions (11 games) and the 1960 Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10), however, only the 1955 Edmonton Eskimos (10), and 1948 Calgary Stampeders (12) went on to win the Grey Cup in these seasons. The Flutie led Argos had a nine-game winning streak in the middle of the 1996 season and a ten-game winning streak in the middle of the 1997 season, both capped off with Grey Cup championships.  Nonetheless, 2023 is shaping up to be a special season with a lot of football still to be played. 


Positives: 

Now to the game vs the Ticats. The Argos reduced their penalties by 9 down to 6 penalties from last week's game. A huge improvement which made a big difference in the game as the Ticats took twice as many (12). Bede made two important tackles on kick coverage and made both his FGs. Kelly had another stellar game completing 74% of his passes and a white hot 138 passer rating. Rookie Ticat QB Taylor Powell turned in  a respectable first game completing 66% for a 76 passer rating. The Argos are money in the red zone. Kurleigh Gittens got more targets and had his best statistical game of the season.


The Argos' defence shut down the Ticats running game only allowing James Butler an average 1.8 yards per carry and forcing the Ticats into second and long. Powell was forced to throw 41 times. Mission accomplished ! Butler must miss the offensive line he had in BC. The backs who have replaced him in BC have been running wild this season. He did not on this night.


Negatives:

The Argos' kick off coverage was poor and Bede had to make a play on the returner twice. If they don't get this fixed Mario Alford is going to feast on them in Halifax. Jeff Reinbold, the TiCats special teams coordinator, schooled the Argos on how to execute a short punt and kick return reverse. He was also too smart to put Casey Sayles out to block on field goal attempts. You may recall that it was Sayles, whose block Robbie Smith defeated, to block Winnipeg's FG and win the Grey Cup. 


Bede missed a convert. 


Kelly made a couple of ill advised throws but did not suffer serious consequences. He looks to be getting better every week but is still making one or two really bad throwing decisions per game. These, so far, have not affected the outcome of the game. TSN has decided that his start is "one for the ages" and that "he is the clear favouritie for East outstanding player" already. He is doing as well as the Argos could realistically have hoped, however, it's a bit over the top to be making those pronouncements just yet. He has been set up for success and is spreading the ball around very well but there is still a long season ahead. Given their outstanding depth, I expect the Argos to get better relative to the rest of the League as the 18 game season wears teams down. As I said before the season, the key will remain the health of their starting QB, Chad Kelly. He has become a wonderfiul redemption story in Toronto.


The Argos are already down to their third string middle linebacker but they are still winning. Nonetheles, they don't have the same depth and experience behind QB1 that they do anywhere else. Keep those fingers crossed. 


Volatile former Argo Chris Edwards was again the best Ticat defender on the field.  Edwards has replaced Simoni Lawrence as the Argos' defensive nemesis on the Ticat roster. The trash talking Lawrence was quiet again on Friday registering just three tackles and no big plays. I thought the Ticats did well to limit the Argos to 112 yards rushing (and got two sacks) which is below the Argos season average. Having said that the Argos O-line opened enough daylight for Ouellette to average of 8.4 yards per carry!


Expect other teams to blitz Taylor Powell more often than the Argos did. 


Around the league

The Elks v Bombers...sigh. I don't know what there is to say about the Elks which has not been said before. Sadly, I don't think they have hit rock bottom. As bad as they are, the worst may yet to come for the Elks this season. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius is regressing and has absolutely no chemistry with his receivers. When he does deliver the ball accurately his receivers have been making some untimely drops. Cornelius' dispiritied body language also conveys a lack of confidence. The coaching staff need to look closer at his footwork when he is delivering the ball. He is tall and sometimes varies his stride when throwing, This may be part of the solution to his accuracy and consistency problems. 


The longest losing streak to open a CFL season is 14 games by  the Shreveport Pirates in 1994. Shreveport was not required to carry any Canadians on its roster. This record for futility may be in danger. 


The Bomber's O-line is showing cracks this year with some uneven performances. They clearly miss interior lineman Michael Couture and Sukh Chung who have left for BC. The Bomber's hall of fame calibre tackles are not as dominant as they once were. Father time waits for no one. 


And what is with Chris' Jones' comments about his third string QB Tre Ford, calling him out as though he was a reason for their poor season?! Ford has been buried down the depth chart where he would be getting a tiny amount of reps at practice. When not running, Cornelius has been a major liability on the field but a third string quarterback gets called out?! It is in keeping with the treatment Jones gave back up QB Kai Locksley, earlier this season. Nothing like gaslighting young QBs who are not even given a chance to fail on the field. This team has lost its way. Jones cut Locksley after just one play earlier. He is now in Hamilton. You can't make a great QB in a day but you can ruin one. 


Cutting or trading Tre Ford might be the best thing that could happen to him, especially if he went to a team that is capable of developing him. Ford is no panacea for Edmonton but he is much faster than Cornelius and running is the only thing that Cornelius does consistently well. Edmonton has not even developed a wildcat package for Ford. What a waste of talent and a lack of imagination on a team with such a moribund offence. Ford won a game last season but lost his starting job due to injury. He hasn't had a sniff of the field this season. Jones and the organization committed hard money to Cornelius. Don't expect them to retreat on their support. His criticism of Ford was at best gratuitous and a sign of weak leadership. Throwing your backups under the bus is not the way to hold your starters accountable. It's bad for the culture. If you have concerns with a player who is not on the field, have the presence of mind to discuss it in private or trade him, don't use him as a whipping boy and humiliate him in the public square. Don't pretend it's a teaching moment. The Elks are going to continue to decompensate this season and will be on the receiving end of some painful beat downs to come. Very sad for a once great franchise which is being valiantly promoted by Victor Cui in the midst of a train wreck of a season. Chris Jones' contract has reportedly given him golden hancuffs yet there has been little discussion of who among his assistants should be switched out. 


The Sask -Lions game was another great example of why it's so crucial to have two capable and experienced quarterbacks on your roster, Dane Evans stepped in for the injured Vernon Adams and got the job done. While not an especially exciting or well played game (McInnes dropped a certain touchdown) the defences were on point. Much of the reason for the low scoring can be traced to the excellent run defences of both teams. Sask was limited to an average 1.1 yards per carry and BC 2.6 yards per carry despite featuring two of the league's most explosive young running backs in Morrow and Shivers. Both teams were forced into second and long situations throughout the game and the score reflected it. 


As disappointing as the Elks have been on the field of late, Ottawa has been equally as uplifting. We can thank Ottawa and Calgary for delivering the most entertaining games in the CFL for two weeks in a row. Both young guns, Jake Maier and Dustin Crum put on a masterful quarterbacking show sending the game into overtime. Crum completed 79% of his passes and a 126 passer rating while Maier completed 74% also for a stellar 126 passer rating. These two were like a couple of prizefighters going punch for punch. Outstanding entertainment. 


With Crum under center the Redblacks have gone from dead to deadly. Until recently I had circled the Argos game against Winnipeg on my calendar. I have Ottawa circled now. I would expect Adarius Pickett may be assigned to shadow Crum when that game arrives. 


Ottawa has more than hope now, they have very improbable wins and the confidence that comes with it. The Redblacks are now a handful. In additon to Crum some of their Canadians have played prominient roles in their recent success. These include receiver Nate Behar and running back Ante Milanovic-Litre. Litre bears more than a passing resemblance in running style and hairstryle to AJ Ouellete and both have names of possible French origins and wear number 34. Nontheless, Ouellette attended Ohio University, Litre attended Simon Fraser after graduating from Notre Dame High School in Vancouver. They carry different passports but both run hard and are deceptively fast. Stamps rookies Clark Barnes, and Cole Tucker have done an admirable job of trying to fill in for the injured Jalen Philpott this year. Toronto and Calgary may have the best corps of young Canadian recievers in the league now, with Gittens, Brissett, Nield, and now David Ungerer. It's great to see these Maple Leafs getting targets and making great plays. Wait til Daniel Adeboboye gets the handoff from Andrew Harris next year. He is going to be a dynamic player. 


Touchdown Atlantic

TD Atlantic is back which means we are going to be subjected to more ad nauseum and circuitous discussion of expansion to Halifax. Expansion should replace the Global experiment as the CFL's top priority. The Global experiment was a bad idea, badly executed, and is deeply unpopular with CFL fans who can't understand why the league would dilute its scarce resources on something as fanciful as this when all hands are needed on deck for expansion and promoting the league's games on CBS. CFL fans still have not forgiven the Commissioner for the unpardonable sin of throwing the Canadian game and its players under the bus in his desperate negotiations with the XFL (and collective agreement), a league with no track record. He has betrayed the league's loyal fans and they no longer trust him to protect the unique  Canadian game. These hang like albatrosses around the Commissioners neck. The Commissioner is by all accounts an engaging person with a good sense of humour when off text. Nevertheless, the only way he is going to salvage his legacy is to successfully launch a tenth team. That would make it much easier to quietly wind down the Global experiment himself, or under his successor.


Expansion to Halifax has been debated publicly for 50 years now. Maybe the CFL should pull Genius, from breaking the previously unbroken statistics system, and have them find some owners for an Atlantic team. Is Genius a liability or an asset? I thought it was touted as a value add not a reputational risk. Genius has helped the CFL score an own goal on its game stats. This is an indefensible public relations disaster and the communications around it are not helping. It is a high profile indictment of the league's ability to execute on something that is very basic and was clearly avoidable. JC Abbott provides an excellent analysis of this debacle at 3DownNation. 


The league could be forgiven and this could melt away if they just said,


"Dear CFL fans and media colleagues,  we apologize to our loyal fans for the poor implementation of this new system. You all deserve better. We expect better of ourselves. There have been some challenges which we did not anticipate and things did not go as planned. This is now clear to everyone and together with our partner we are working hard to get them fixed. We hope to have this all sorted by (insert date). This is on us. Thank you for your patience. "  


If you can't be perfect be honest, transparent and just own it. It shows respect and builds trust. CFL fans and the media are not stupid and don't expect perfection from the League office. However, they do care about Canadian football and the fate of its professional league. They won't forget it but they will forgive it. Thats all you need to turn the page and help restore some credibility with your customers. It's not rocket science but it does take a modicum of humility. Humility has its place, especially in a country which is famous for saying sorry. 


Lastly, this week I expect that Saskatchewan will do everything it can to stop the Argos running game and force them into second and long. They had excellent success against BC's capable offensive line. They also sacked BC QBs four times, not counting the disallowed safety.  This will be a good test for the Argos offensive line. Larry Dean is an excellent run stopper and will be following AJ Ouellette everywhere. The Argos defensive line will need to return the favour. Sask can't afford to have Mason Fine facing second and long. It should be a good matchup. 

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