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  • Reeve Batstone

The granddaddy of them all

The CFL's regular season kicked off this week sans Argonauts, but before I share some observations from around the league, I'd like to touch on some other comments I thought were revealing.

The first is the launch of the Argonauts’ 150th anniversary plans at the Argonaut Rowing club. The Argos are the oldest football team in the world, which is one of the best kept secrets in sports. I watched the event. It was a class launch, well presented. In particular, the speech given by Michael Clemons about inclusivity and the place that the Argonauts and Canadian football play in the sporting history of this country were very poignant. His reference to John Diefenbaker is another example of how he and the Argos respect tradition, particularly coming from a naturalized Canadian. The remarks from Bill Manning were also thoughtful although, as an American, he missed a golden opportunity to say how important the Argos and the CFL are to not only Canadians but many Americans who have come north to play and then have stayed and contributed wonderfully to our great country. There are many examples of this such as Dick Shatto, Dave Raimey, Bill Symons, Chuck Ealey and actor Gene Clark to name a few. The first American to be signed by the Argos was Frank Tindall in 1933, a tackle, from Syracuse, who went on to become an institution as head coach of the Queen's Golden Gaels. Frank was successful, funny, and his players loved him. The USports coach of the year award is named for him. Queen's would happily have paid the duty on that import! In any case, the Argonauts get an A for their anniversary launch.

Anyone who has read my musings over the last year knows that I am not overwhelmed by the way in which MLSE has promoted the Argonauts. However, we are seeing improvement. Recently, I found myself defending their ownership of their stable of teams. A few weeks ago they got an obtuse broadside from Cathal Kelly of the Globe in his commentary, "Now that MLSE's Golden Era has passed, it’s remarkable how fast things are coming apart." Suffice it to say it was a flimsy attempt to grab attention and capitalize on the disappointment emanating from the Leafs’ ignominious exit from the NHL playoffs. I could spend a page or two taking apart his arguments, but it would not be worth the effort. One point, conspicuous by its absence, was any mention of the success of the Argonauts in the last 10 years (ie., 3 Grey Cups). In fact, there was no mention of the Argos at all, as though they did not even exist. This was a deliberate omission as TFC, which does not play in a league in the world's top ten, was dissected in detail. What is not up for debate is that CFL players are outstanding athletes who play in the second best forward pass league in the world. Was this oversight made because the Argos' on-field success would have contradicted his narrative about MLSE or was he just offering up his own evidence-free judgment of the quality of the CFL, or was it just a millennial writer's take on the post modern sports view of Canada? Canadian football is part of the cultural history (and present) of Canada. Don't take my word for it, ask Mike Clemons. If you don't know your history, you can't learn from it. Canadians invented hockey, basketball and yes, North American football. We may not have invented hyperbole.

Around the league this week

Edmonton, we have a problem. The Elks offence looked worse than last season. Sadly, they also wasted a good crowd on opening night. Their offensive line was beaten by the Saskatchewan front when it mattered most and their third year QB, Taylor Cornelius, showed no signs of improvement. He wasn't accurate and made poor decisions throwing into double coverage with two interceptions. He completed just 52% of his passes and had a 64 passing efficiency rating. By comparison, Zach Collaros, had the week's best passer rating (140). In his defence, Cornelius was sacked five times. On the other side, Trevor Harris wasn't much better, he completed just 59% of his passes for a 59 rating. Both offences were disappointing and one of these teams appears destined for the bottom third of the league and out of the playoffs again.

Montreal v Ottawa was a study in quarterbacking contrast. Montreal QB Cody Fajardo must have thought he was still back in Saskatchewan as he was sacked six times yet did not throw an INT. Despite being harassed all night long he completed 67% of his passes and put up a stellar 110 passer rating. As I have pointed out in previous commentaries, Fajardo was sacked an average of four times per game in Saskatchewan last season and was gaslighted for it. With MBT gone, Fajardo is the toughest QB in the CFL. He put the Als on his back to grind out a win v Ottawa. Now that MBT has departed, Fajardo is the Rodney Dangerfield among CFL QBs, he doesn't get any respect.

The most surprising thing to me about this game was the poor performance of the Montreal offensive line. They got no push and opened no holes for William Stanback who looked decidedly mortal all evening. Credit Ottawa's defensive front but the Montreal line has to be better for them to make the playoffs this year. If Montreal can pass protect better, I could see Fajardo as the East's all-star QB this season. If opposing defensive front's toss him around like Ottawa did, it will be a long season pour les Alouettes.

Ottawa's QB Nick Arbuckle had a 32 passer rating. Enough said.

Bo Levi Mitchell (BLM) picked up where he left off last year against the Bombers, which is to say, underwhelming. He completed just 52% of his passes and had a 58 passing efficiency rating. Nowhere good enough to beat Winnipeg, where QB passer ratings go to die. His timing and accuracy were poor.

He got the hook in favour of Jake Maier playing against the Argos last year, we'll see how he bounces back next week.

BLM also got sacked three times, something that never happened to him last season. The Stamps gave up just 18 sacks in 2022 the lowest total in the league. BLM is going to get hit a lot more in the Hammer than he was in Calgary. We'll see how that works out over an 18-game season. (Depth matters over an 18 game season and it may not be your best players that determine your fate, instead it may be the quality of the players on the bottom half of your roster. Like the saying goes, the best team isn't the one with the best players, it's the one with the best combination of players. The Argos didn't have the most all-stars last year, but they had the most depth on their roster, particularly among Canadians).

Along these lines I was surprised that Calgary allowed three sacks to the Lions on Friday night, although they no longer have former all-star Derek Dennis at left tackle. I wonder how long it will take for someone else to sign him. Vernon Adams also put up some impressive numbers v Calgary, completing 77% of his passes for a passer rating of 108, the third best rating among QBs this week.

While its tough to draw conclusions after such a small sample size, after week one, it looks like the league can be divided into three groups of three. The upper tier of Winnipeg, Toronto and BC, followed by a second tier of Calgary, Sask and either Hamilton or Montreal. The bottom group includes Edmonton, Ottawa and Hamilton or Montreal.


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