Photo: Courtesy Toronto Argonauts (Nelson Campana)
Last week I said the Ti-Cats would handle the Argonauts. I was half right, they handled them in the first half. It was really two games in one but I was relieved to be quite wrong about the second half.
The Maple Leafs:
Kudos to Coach Ryan Dinwiddie for having the courage and faith in his players to start five Canadian Offensive linemen (the “Maple Leafs”). You may recall that last week I suggested that the Argos give Shane Richards a shot at tackle, his natural position. I can’t remember the last time the Argonauts fielded an entirely Canadian offensive line and listed 10 Canadians in their starting lineup (3 more than required). The “Maple Leafs” struggled mightily in the first half but fortunately, while he might not be the best quarterback in the league, MBT is the toughest and was able to survive their mistakes in pass protection. He took some monstrous hits but kept getting back up. The O-line’s run blocking wasn’t much better leaving Andrew Harris searching for holes and run lanes that just weren’t there. Add to this was the fact that they were facing two of the best interior defensive linemen in the league in former Argo Dylan Wynn and Micah Johnson, two perennial All-Stars, and you are in for a tough night. These two guys are a load. Together with Ted Laurent and Simoni Lawrence, they were all over Harris.
Forced to pass in second and long situations, MBT managed to avoid throwing any interceptions while being sacked three times in the first half, under relentless pressure. At half time, the Argos coaches must have applied the metaphorical defibrillator to the team, and its offence infusing them with life that they did not show in the first half.
MBT had a passer rating of over 100 for the third consecutive game. It may surprise his detractors to know that his passing efficiency rating has only dipped below 95 once this year, it was 59 v BC. He did not throw an interception v Hamilton and he has put the Argonauts in the position to win every game with the exception of the BC blow out. He’s not setting the league on fire but he’s playing consistent, relatively, error-free football. He still needs to get the ball away faster and has made easy to intercept, unhurried throws which, fortunately, were dropped early in the last two games.
The offensive line improved its communication at half time and provided good pass protection for MBT in the second half. Apart from allowing a pass to hit his pads, pop up in the air, and kill a potential touchdown drive, Eric Rogers made some key catches in his return to the lineup. He also made some nice blocks including standing up Simoni Lawrence.
The kick cover teams were excellent including a key punt block for a touchdown. The defence was stellar again and contributed a touchdown on an interception pick six. The offence picked it up in the second half but it was the defence and special teams that eventually won the game.
Wynton McManis had another all-star outing with ten tackles and one forced fumble. Robert Priester had six tackles. Cam Phillips also had another strong game catching the ball.
One important measure of quality coaching is how a head coach adjusts when things are not going according to plan (badly). In the eastern final last year, the Argos head coach and Chris Jones were caught in the headlights in the second half when they had no answer for Dane Evans. It was great to see on Saturday that the coaches made successful adjustments at half time after having a terrible first half. For young coaches this is exactly the kind of improvement that management should be watching for. The Argonauts had only four penalties on Saturday. One on offence, one on defence and two on special teams. That is a big improvement which reflects well on the coaches and the players. Chris Edwards kept his powder dry and made the pick six. Composure is for winners.
The offensive line really struggled to get any kind of push for the run game and Andrew Harris. Considering its makeshift lineup and the fact that three of them were starting in positions that are uncommon for them, it might be expected. One guard is a rookie. Acute growing pains in the first half became a dull ache in the second.
I would still like to see more draws called and maybe some two back sets to make the running game less predictable. It’s clear that the book is out on stopping the Argos offence and that opposing defences are going to stack the box in an effort to stop the Andrew Harris running game at all costs. They intend to force the Argonauts to beat them by passing on second and long. Harris had only 14 carries and one reception for 15 touches. Banks had but one reception coming off the bench. That’s not enough touches for their playmakers for the Argo offence to win the game, without a lot of help, which is exactly what they got.
More bad snaps in shotgun and on one field goal attempt. Haggerty did a great job of fielding one off the ground and pinning it well for Bede. Bede still missed it. He has a very strong leg (averaged 77 yards on kick offs) and probably could kick it from 44 even without a run up. Bede also needs to land his kick offs around the five-yard line. When they land in the end zone and go out the opponent gets the field position without giving up the points. Kick it high and make them return it.
The Argo defence failed to register a sack against a makeshift Ti-Cat offensive line.
Why was Andrew Harris still in the game after it was decided? Rick Campbell made a worse decision later Saturday, keeping Lion’s wunderkind, Nathan Rourke, in the game long after the destruction of the Elks had reached the point of no return. Not smart decision-making on Campbell’s part. It was also a lost opportunity to give their backup Michael O’Connor some meaningful reps.
You may have read, sports reporter, Steve Simmons’ nonsensical tweet last week calling for the firing of Coach Dinwiddie and his replacement with Pinball Clemons or Jim Barker. Everybody is entitled to their opinion but calling for someone’s firing is a serious matter. To do so, in the mainstream media, without a shred of evidence or justification provided is not very professional. Steve Simmons is usually better than that. This is not an opinion from a blowhard blogger like me but a seasoned reporter who is paid to get it right. It was very strange. What was his motivation?
His suggestion that Pinball Clemons or Jim Barker should replace him was almost as ridiculous. Nobody believes that Pinball rolls like that (he hired Dinwiddie when the Argos were a complete shambles) and Jim Barker is now 65 and has a head coach winning percentage of .403 which is not a solution to anyone’s problems at the moment. Dinwiddie is in his second season, has his team in first place again, and has a career winning percentage so far of .620! If management wants a better record than that they need to deliver him two healthy all-star caliber tackles.
Dinwiddie has lots to learn but almost no head coaches in Argos history have started this well. It would be complete folly to fire him when his best years are probably yet to come. For some perspective, Hall of Fame quarterback and coach, Ron Lancaster, had a winning percentage of .125 in his first two seasons as a head coach before going on to win Grey Cups as coach of two separate teams. Mike O’Shea’s was .333 in his first two years in Winnipeg.
Speaking of young coaches, congratulations to the Stampeder’s Mark Kilam on his first win as a head coach, albeit interim. A win is a win. In the world of diversity this may be of historical significance, as the first win by a professional football head coach who I believe is of Sikh ancestry. Considering the huge role that South Asian Canadians now have in supporting and leading amateur football in Canada, and Kilam’s outstanding credentials, this is probably long overdue. On a similar note of celebration, congratulations to Farhan Lalji on his 25 years at TSN. He also founded the New Westminster Hyacks football program 20 years ago and is a much-respected member of the amateur coaching community in BC. Farhan deserves to be in the conversation as a candidate for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (CFHOF), Builder’s category, as does the late, Jab Sidhoo, one of the founders of the Lions in 1954. There is almost no diversity in this category unless you count a former Ti-Cat owner who spent a year in prison for fraud. The CFHOF has some catching up to do.
Less Talk More Action
Staying with themes of leadership and diversity in Canadian football, BC Lions owner, Amar Doman, shared a blunt assessment of the helpfulness of Argos’ owner Larry Tanenbaum’s criticisms of the CFL and its ownership last week, on the Sekeres and Price show. Doman was having none of Tanenbaum’s entitled complaining.
He was quoted as saying,
“It’s certainly not helpful. They run everything in Toronto and I understand their strategies might be a little bit different on maybe where they want to go with the CFL but certainly, there’s no one to blame except ourselves when you talk about a lack of fans coming… Everything we’re doing, me being on the sidelines, helping children get into football, and rebuilding the fan base, I don’t hear any of that in Toronto. I hear someone blaming the fans and blaming something else, except blaming internally. I think you’ve got to take responsibility for your fan base. You have to take responsibility for your lack of attendance. If that’s your problem, fix it.”
Doman deserves credit for taking truth to power and having the courage of his convictions. The mainstream media have been reluctant to take Tanenbaum and MLSE to task over their poor performance in supporting Canadian football and half -hearted attempts to promote the Argos. Some members of the media are afraid to lose their precious access to players, coaches and management of MLSE’s other teams, some others just don’t care about Canadian football and have drunk the four down Kool-Aid, as a solution to the Argonaut’s off field brand atrophy. Doman was not about to be intimidated and is telling it like it is. The 77-year-old Tanenbaum has made it clear his primary metric for Argo success is franchise asset value. It begs a lot of questions. How long will the “Ralph Wilson” of the CFL hang on to the Argos is anyone’s guess but the league office must be watching this with considerable concern. A succession plan might be needed, for all sorts of reasons.
The Argos play the Ticats again this week. Look for Hamilton to play very similarly on defence and go back to throwing the deep ball on offence. Evans had several receivers wide open deep but overthrew them, possibly due to a strong wind that may have carried Evans’ passes. If the Ticats go back to that well the Argos front will need to do a better job of getting to Evans.
The Ticats are at home and really need to win to keep first place hopes alive. I’m doubling down on a desperate Hamilton team and pick them to win at Tim Horton’s.