Courtesy: Toronto Argonauts
In another wild game of Canadian football, the Argos and Javon Leake prevailed over their nemesis in the regular season over the last decade, the pesky Calgary Stampeders.
The Argos averaged an incredible 9.8 yards on first down and gained an average 5.8 yards per rush for 116 yards on the ground. Chad Kelly completed 65% of his passes for a 110 passer rating.
Boris Bede crushed his punts averaging over 50 yards but more importantly averaging a phenomenal 41.6 average net after return.
Javon Leake continues to shine brilliantly behind much improved blocking this season. The Argos out-sacked Calgary 3-0 thanks to Folarin Orimolade who delivered them when they mattered most. Robbie Smith had four tackles including one for a loss. Hendrix had three tackles, two of them for losses. The defence held Calgary to just 59 yards on the ground and 4.2 yards per carry.
Jake Maier threw 4 TDs and put up a 122 passer rating. Notwithstanding a decimated Argo secondary, I didn't see that coming.
The secondary gave up several big plays on busted coverages but rallied in spite of injuries to three DBs to get stops later in the second half. The Argos took seven penalties, less than their season average of nine, but still too many.
Back on April 30th we posted "A Back up Plan," in which I described what I thought the unproven Chad Kelly, and the Argos would need to do to finish first in the East this season. Now that the Argos have reached their midpoint of the season we will look back to see how they have done so far. It's no wonder they are in first place, they are right on track.
In April, I said that the Argos did not need Kelly to win them games, they needed him not to lose them. In other words take what the defence gives him and above all protect the football. I said he needed to stay healthy and start at least 16 games, throw more than 20 TDs, and throw fewer than 15 INTs.
Adjusting for the number of games played at half season, Kelly and the Argos are right on track. Projected over the full season Kelly would throw 32TDs and 14 INTS over an 18 games season. If he starts 16 games he would still exceed these targets. The Argos have done a magnificent job of improving their run game to take the pressure off him while he learns the Canadian game on the fly. It's quite deliberate as they are the only CFL team that runs the ball more than 50% of the time on first down. They also sport the league's best pass protection, allowing the fewest sacks by a wide margin. It's been outstanding game planning and execution.
In comparison to last season two areas really standout. The first is the first half season performance of the offensive line both in terms of pass protection and yards per rush. The second is the punt return game. Javon Leake has been fantastic but it's also about the quality of blocking and running lanes. Notwithstanding less depth at quarterback, which is a significant Achilles heel, the Argos are a more complete team than last year's Grey Cup Champions.
There is still a very long way to go to another Grey Cup but the Argonauts have done almost everything right to this point. As well as Kelly, Pickett, Orimolade, Metchie, Daniel, AJ, DD, Bede, and Leake have played, I would still have to say that the most valuable player on this team so far this season is it's offensive line. It has become the foundation for consistency on this championship quality roster.
Chad Kelly has shown really impressive composure, focus and athleticism in his first season as a starter. Let's hope the Argos can keep him upright! As I said last week, an awful lot will ride on the coaches roster management the rest of the way. Fortunately Argo management has accumulated some considerable depth.
Around the League
Wow, Tre Ford is really making Chris Jones look like a genius, not. Relegated to fourth string, publicly criticized while the starter was playing abysmally, he has single handedly resurrected the Elks. His worst passer rating since starting three games ago vs Winnipeg is 110 (vs Winnipeg). On Sunday night he was brilliant, wisely using his exceptional speed and throwing accurately to complete 83% for a white hot 158 passer rating. I watched with some considerable irony, Chris Jones, getting an ice bucket dunking at the end of the game. Jones could learn a little about team loyalty from Ford. Jones left Edmonton for Saskatachewan after they won the Grey Cup with hall of famer Michael Reilly, then left the Riders in the lurch for Cleveland and an obscure NFL job before landing a head coaching job at his high school and leaving it just before its season started for a DC job back in the CFL. The CFL is noted for recycling coaches. Some, like Jones and Milanovich, get more second chances and longer leashes than others. Don't be surprised if Ford lands in the NFL next season. He put up Nathan Rourke like numbers last night, proving the doubters wrong again. I felt a little deja vu, enjoy him while you can. He is a very special talent too but he didn't go to Oklahoma St., he went to the MIT of the North, the University of Waterloo. God knows the number of NCAA QBs from big name schools who got endless second chances until their coach was fired. After Anthony Calvillo retired, Montreal was a primary destination for a parade of these. Closer to home, Cleo Lemon and Eric Crouch come to mind.
Hamilton is on the upswing, the Lions and Redblacks are backsliding markedly. Winnipeg showed that Montreal is not yet ready for prime time. They got whupped on the LOS just like BC did.
When it comes to Labour Day games in the CFL you can throw out the teams relative records. In Hamilton it's considered civic duty to beat the Argos on Labour Day, no matter their win-loss record. Don't epect this year to be any different. Expect the Ti-Cats to throw Simoni Lawrence, Chris Edwards and the kitchen sink at Chad Kelly. Taylor Powell played better against the Lions than Bo Levi Mitchell has played in some time. Nothing would make Hamilton happier than to beat the Argos and de-rail their season. The Ti-Cats will win because they have to on Labour Day.
Calgary and Edmonton may be the most interesting matchup. Tre Ford and Jake Maier come into this game sizzling hot. I expect Calgary to win the first game in the battle of Alberta, largely because its in front of their home crowd and they have a much better kicking game.
Winnipeg will bring Saskatchewan down to earth in Regina. Montreal will get back on track against BC.