More History Making
The Argo's B team polished off Ottawa's A team with a score that flattered the Redblacks to tie the best regular season performance in Canadian football since the undefeated Calgary Stampeders of 1948.
Congratulations to the coaches and management of the Argonauts for an astonishing turn around since 2019 and a historic regular season.
For the second week in a row Cameron Dukes competently, if unspectacular, did what needed to be done to get the W for the Boatmen. He wasn't timid and pushed the ball down the field, however, his deep shots were occasionally into double and even triple coverage. He trusted his receivers deep but they did not come down with contested catches. Three of them had poor games at the ball and one of these deep balls was intercepted. Meanwhile David Ungerer was his usual reliable self and Jeremiah Haydel looked good on his one target and kick return. Haydel has struggled to gain a regular spot on the dress roster which is a bit surprising. You may recall that he had a 87 yard kick return for a TD in limited action last season. I expect him to be playing more regularly next season either in Toronto or elsewhere. I doubt the Argos would be thrilled to see him line up against them. Dukes finished the game completing 70% of his passes for 310 yards and a stellar passer rating of 110.
What the heck was that hands to the face call against Dejon Allen?! The TSN replay clearly showed Lorenzo Mauldin with his hands to the helmet of Allen shoving his head back...what did I miss?
Mason Pierce looked like a young Argo hall of famer, "Tricky" Dick Thornton, when he read the Redblacks play and jumped the route all the way from what seemed like Manitoba to intercept Dustin Crum! I'm not sure what was more impressive, his early read of Dustin Crum or the speed with which he closed to make the INT. His return was impressive too. Rookies aren't supposed to have that kind of savvy. He and Qu'Antez Stiggers have been playing like seasoned veterans, not first year players. Playing defensive halfback in the Canadian game is a very difficult position to play both athletically and cerebrally. You are faced with tons of motion, a very wide field and of course the waggle. These kids are making it look too easy, too fast. It's much harder to play than the same position in American football.
In my preseason article, A Backup Plan, I said that in order for the Argos to finish first in the East, Chad Kelly wouldn't have to win games for the Argos, he would just not have to lose them. I estimated he would need to start at least 16 games and throw at least 20 TDs and fewer than 15 INTs. I thought this would be a tall order for a QB who was essentially a rookie. Well he bested these metrics and threw 23 TDs against 12 INTs while starting 17 games. Pivotal to his success was an offensive line that gave up the league's fewest sacks (18) and kept him unfailingly upright. I sure didn't see a 16-2 season coming. Given his inexperience and the probability of injury I figured the Argos might win the division with 11 wins. They blew that out of the water. Meanwhile the overachieving Alouettes came second with 11 wins.
The Argos had an astounding 11 starters on the injury list for their last home game.
The heaviest load to carry is a great expectation
Despite being reigning Grey Cup champions and having great depth going into the season I would have to say the Argos overachieved in the regular season. This has much to do with management's success at loading their roster. Nevertheless, the coaching staff has done a sensational job as well. There has been no significant drop off in play since the team clinched first place weeks ago, and rookies don't perform like veterans unless they are well prepared. One of the most reliable indicators of a team's preparedness and overall quality of coaching is special teams. The Argos special teams have seen the biggest improvement of any of the three phases of their game this season. The closest comparator might be the improvement in their pass protection. This is a consequence of excellent player evaluation/selection and outstanding preparation. This to me has been the bellwether of the Argos season to date. Bede's improvement in FG accuracy has been nothing short of remarkable and the punt and kick return game led by Javon Leake has been electrifying. The kick coverage has been excellent as well. Kudos to Adarius Pickett who has been the league's best free agent signing in the last year.
Ryan Dinwiddie was hired from a position coach by the Argos three seasons ago. There were plenty of skeptics when he arrived. He is making his bosses look more brilliant by the week. Will we see Muamba or Bladek return for the playoffs? If the Argos meet Winnipeg again they will need Muamba if they are going to shut down Brady Oliviera and the Bomber's running game.
Around the league
The Alouettes won a meaningless endurance contest over the Ticats mostly without Cody Fajardo. They did catch the Ticats napping with another clever onside kick on second and 20.
At the outset of the season the Alouettes were in complete disarray. They had endured an ownership crisis which precipitated a rush to the exits for their starting QB, the league's top reciever and SAM linebacker. Others followed. Few were picking Montreal to make the playoffs let alone host a playoff game. You have got to admit that the Als and their bombastic QB, Cody Fajardo, have exceeded expectations this season. Head coach Jason Maas deserves to be considered for coach of the year. The resilient Cody Fajardo, who was gaslit last season in Sask for getting sacked a record 70 times, is without a doubt the league's comeback player of the year, despite still being sacked a ton in Montreal as well. The Als gave up the second most sacks (60) next to Ottawa (71) but Fajardo still protected the ball well and managed to put up a solid 96 passer rating this season. This in spite of a thin and inexperienced receiving corps and an inconsistent offensive line. I have referred to Fajardo in Rodney Dangerfield terms before. He just keeps quietly winning and doesn't get much respect.
In Hamilton the QB position is more fluid. They appear to have a three headed monster. Would the real starter please stand up?!
To be kind, Bo Levi Mitchell has not met expectations this season. He threw six TDs and 10 INTs this season. Against the Alouettes he completed just 50% of his passes for 53 yards. He will need to beat the Alouettes in the playoffs to have any hope of re branding this season as anything other than a bust. Taylor Powell didn't play much better but Hamilton did not dress their best player, receiver Tim White. The Ticat's four best players, White, RB James Butler, safety Stavros Katsantonis and Carthell Flowers Lloyd must have very good games for the Ticats to beat Montreal in the eastern semi final. White won't be able to do that unless their QB can get him the ball.
I like BC's chances to beat Calgary in the Western semi final if BC can find a way to slow down the Calgary running game. The Lions will only go as far as Vernon Adams and Mathieu Betts take them.
One wonders if Sask regrets jettisoning Cody Fajardo for Trevor Harris this season. Harris will be 38 years old by training camp and Sask never fully fixed their horrific pass protection this season, although they did reduce the number of sacks allowed from 77 to 54. Not many QBs of any age are going to withstand 54 sacks, without downtime, unless their name is Cody Fajardo. Trevor Harris had almost no chance of surviving the Sask offensive line this year. QB wasn't their biggest problem last season, but it may be their biggest problem now. Followed closely by their offensive line. Trevor Harris was not lighting anything on fire when he did play. Enter Dru Brown?
Edmonton has a bright future if their head coach doesn't mess up his quarterbacks again. His tepid comments about Tre Ford at season's end suggests that he is still a hostage of the guaranteed money he committed to Taylor Cornelius last year. If I was Tre Ford I would be asking my agent to get me a free agent deal in the NFL or asking for a trade to Sask, where my mobility would make me a good fit for their porous offensive line, or Calgary where I could play behind a strong offensive line and for a coach who knows how to develop good quarterbacks. Tre Ford owes Chris Jones nothing. It's entirely possible that Chris Jones owes Tre Ford his job.
The second round of OUA playoffs are underway. One interesting matchup will be the heavily favoured Western Mustangs hosting their hated rivals the Queen's Golden Gaels. Western snatched victory from the Gaels in Kingston on a long TD with seconds to play earlier this year. Queen's lost its starting QB for the season, to a broken wrist in that game. Last week Western's QB suffered a concussion. It's not clear yet whether Western's Evan Hillock will be cleared to play for Western given the risk of second impact syndrome (SIS). Second impact syndrome , also known as repetitive head injury syndrome, describes a condition in which an individual experiences a second head injury before complete recovery from an initial head injury. This condition and the tragic death of rugby player, Rowan Stringer, led to the passage of Rowan's law in Ontario to protect young athletes from preventable catastrophic head injury and even death.
The Mustangs also lost star RB Keon Edwards, last game, to a broken foot. Western's outstanding coach, Greg Marshall, has his work cut out for him.