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  • Reeve Batstone

The World Needs More Canadian Football

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

Wow, what a great weekend of football in the CFL! While the Elks-Ticats matchup on Thursday was underwhelming, the Friday night Argo-Als tilt and Saturday's doubleheader were simply outstanding.

Let's start with your Toronto Juggernauts. Who knew that the Argos hadn't opened the season 4-0 since ending their long dry spell for the Grey Cup in 1983? Frankly, I was shocked. It didn't happen under Wilkie, Theismann, Allen, Flutie, or Ray. It's hard to believe. It's almost as hard to believe that you have to go back 63 years to 1960 since they have opened the season 5 and 0. Notably they did not win the Grey Cup that season. In fact they never even reached it. A cautionary tale to be sure. That Argo team featured former record setting and NFL quarterback, Tobin Rote, Hall of Famer Dick Shatto, as well as Cookie Gilchrist who also starred with the Bills. It was arguably the best offensive backfield the Argos have ever had, although Theismann, Symons, and McQuay weren't bad either. The 1960 team went 10-4 only to lose both games of the two game Eastern final to Russ Jackson's Ottawa Rough Riders. A week later future Argo coach Jackson hoisted the Grey Cup. One of the most unique features of that season was that the Argos played a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at CNE stadium. In a sign of things to come the Argos lost the game which was played with a mixture of Canadian and US rules.

Friday night's game versus the Alouettes was a fine display of quarterbacking from both teams. Notwithstanding his reckless INT Kelly was brilliant completing 84% of his passes for a sizzling QB efficiency rating of 142. On the other side Cody Fajardo completed 72% and a 99 QB rating despite being sacked four times and tossing two INTs. Fajardo has now been sacked 26 times in just five games. Anyone who has been reading my columns knows I think Fajardo is underrated. As good as Kelly was in the evening, the Argo offensive line was arguably better. They didn't allow a sack and opened excellent running lanes. AJ Oullette averaged 6.8 yards per carry and Andrew Harris 7.0

In the last 73 years the Argos have had only one running back lead the CFL in rushing. Not Gilchrist, Shatto, Symons, Raimey, McQuay, Orange, Minter, Fenerty, John Avery, Clemons, Ricky Williams, Chad Kackert or James Wilder. Only Argo Michael Jenkins, in 2001, has led the league in rushing. The Argos have never led the league in team rushing in the modern era. Why? Probably because it requires an outstanding offensive line with continuity and a coaching staff committed to the run. They certainly have had no shortage of great backs. This may be the year they lead the league in team rushing. They have the personnel to do it and it has become their early season offensive identity.

Back to the game. The bad news in this game was that the Argos took a whopping 15 penalties for 157 yards. The good news is that they took a whopping 15 penalties and still won. Winning while taking 15 penalties is not supposed to happen. Montreal also took too many and they still took five fewer than the Argos. It's an alarming number which has been getting higher as the season goes on. The head coach is very unhappy about it as well he should be. The lack of underlying discipline is on the verge of getting out of control. The Argos have a loaded roster, it's possible that their biggest adversary this season may be themselves. If they meet the BC Lions again they won't be able to count on six INTs to win. Dinwiddie has made many references to the improved culture this season. Penalties are a byproduct of culture. It needs his fullest attention before it goes into a feedback loop.

Apart from the Argos out sacking Montreal four to none the biggest reason the Argos won was the superiority of their receivers. Coxie, and Daniels (and Ungerer's awareness) held onto passes that they had no right to have caught. They made the kind of catches that made Nathan Rourke look so good last season. They made Chad Kelly look good too. Kelly is doing a marvellous job of spreading the ball around. David Ungerer did a masterful job of keeping a foot in bounds in spite of the bizarrely cropped Montreal endzones. Molson stadium doesn't host major international track meets. There is no excuse for a cropped endzone in Montreal, they should fix it. It's not rocket science. This is not the MLB where different dimensions of the field of play are part of the historical record and folklore. It looks, and is, bush in football.

Last season MBT relied very heavily on Kurleigh Gittens. Gitten's numbers are down so far this season but it's not because he isn't playing well. The quality of the Argo receivers became even more obvious when the Alouette receivers made some egregious drops, Austin Mack included. The Argo receivers were the difference in this game.

The defence gave up 27 points which is a bit of a concern. Nevertheless, Wynton McManis was his stellar self, leading the team with 8 tackles and one INT. He has become Fajardo's nemesis over the last two seasons. He made a pick six against Fajardo last season on a similar play. Fajardo must be having nightmares about him now.

The Argos did a great job of containing Chandler Worthy's returns. Bede had an untimely missed FG.

The Redblacks win over the Bombers was also a terrific finish. Dustin Crum has provided hope to the Redblacks with his feet. Taylor Cornelius and the Elks should take note. Cornelius' best asset is also his running ability. I think he needs to run more for the Elks to get off the schneid. Crum reminded me a little of Damon Allen's running style back in the day, very fluid and confident.

There is now a three way tie for second in the East. It's also great to see an eastern team, other than the Argos, take down the mighty Bombers. Crum ran for 104 yards while Winnipeg had only 26 yards rushing in total! Brady Oliviera, the league's leading rusher, averaged 1.8 yards per carry! Whoa! Didn't see that coming. You can't sleep on the Redblacks anymore.

If not for the unfortunate injury to Trevor Harris, the weekend's last game, between Calgary and Saskatchewan, was also a vintage Canadian football finish. Another good choice for the CBS game of the week. Jake Maier got off the schneid and put together some excellent drives. Calgary is clearly not intimidated by Mosaic stadium and in fact seem to own it at the moment. I can't remember a game in which a team had not one but two punt return TDs and still lost the game. Unitil Harris' injury in the fourth quarter, Saskatchewan had scored but three points offensively. Mason Fine brought some unexpected energy and the Riders scored two late TDs in a losing cause.

These exciting games have created some uncertainty and intrigue for next week's schedule of games. Something that the league and its fans sorely need more of in some cities.

Tune in to see if the 2023 Argos can equal the 1960 team against their most hated rival. Wouldn't that be a sweet victory?


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