Written By: David Kataja
Edited By: Daniele Franceschi
TORONTO – The Toronto Argonauts (1-2) head into Winnipeg (1-2) on Friday night for a meeting with the Blue Bombers at the Canadian Football League’s newest marvel, Investors Group Field.
The Boatmen are looking to bounce back following a disappointing 39-28 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week at Rogers Centre. The Roughriders exploited the Argonauts’ inexperienced defence, mustering 39 points while improving their record to 3-0 on the season.
The Double Blue defence struggled to contain the Roughriders’ potent offence as Darian Durant, Kory Sheets and the Riders’ star-studded receiving core registered 478 yards of total offence, 224 of which came along the ground.
“When you are a veteran and you have some new guys, it’s a natural tendency to try to do more than your job,” commented Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich as he discussed his team’s defensive woes following Wednesday’s practice. “I’m not concerned about how hungry they are. I am concerned about how hungry we are, and we should be starving.”
Discipline continues to be a re-occurring issue for the defending Grey Cup champions as the Argonauts have committed 19 penalties over the course of their past two games.
Offensively, Ricky Ray completed 27 of 37 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s loss to Saskatchewan. The Argonauts veteran pivot currently ranks second in the Canadian Football League with 917 yards passing following three weeks of play in this 2013 CFL season.
Ray connected with seven different receivers in last week’s loss to the Roughriders. Andre Durie collected his first 100-yard receiving game of the 2013 season as he recorded seven receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown.
CFL reigning Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens has picked up right where he left off in 2012 as the flyin’ Hawaiian currently leads the Canadian Football League with 291 yards receiving entering this week’s matchup against Winnipeg.
However, the Argonauts have struggled to establish an effective run game as 100th Grey Cup MVP Chad Kackert has rushed for just 55 yards over the course of the past two games. Overall, Kackert has accumulated a mere 255 total yards on 39 touches thus far in 2013.
“When you project it over the course of a full season, your tailback is going to have the most touches and that’ll be the case this year,” said Milanovich. “You have to take what’s given and we’ll continue to do that, and if a team tries to take away Kackert, we have Ricky Ray and we’ll put it in his hands sixty times.”
“I have no problem doing that,” added Milanovich. “If a team wants to play like Calgary did a year ago and take away your receivers in the passing game, then Kack needs to have a big game. The way our offence is built, we are going to take what’s available and Kack understands that, he knows he’ll get his touches.”
The Argonauts and Blue Bombers sit in a four-way tie, along with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes, atop the CFL’s Eastern Division standings with identical 1-2 records. Winnipeg enters Friday’s tilt with the Double Blue coming off a 25-20 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Alumni Stadium in Guelph.
Defensively, the Blue Bombers have surrendered just 36 points over the course of their past two games. The Bombers are currently ranked in the top three of eleven different defensive categories including fewest first downs allowed and fewest touchdowns surrendered.
The Blue Bombers’ defensive line currently leads the Canadian Football League with 18 quarterback sacks entering week four, posing a significant challenge for the Argonauts’ offensive line. Defensive end Alex Hall has emerged as a dominant pass-rusher in the Canadian Football League and has tallied five sacks thus far in 2013, which is tops amongst fellow defensive linemen.
“I think it’s a big game for our offensive line, great challenge, and they didn’t protect quite as well last week,” explained Milanovich. “I think they were disappointed with it and I believe it’s a great challenge for them, on the road, noise, and a good defensive line. I’m excited to see how they do.”
The Bombers have made it a point of emphasis this week to improve the team’s aerial attack as they hope to expose a struggling Argonauts secondary.
Quarterback Buck Pierce managed to throw for merely 186 yards against Hamilton. Running back Chad Simpson accounted for 14 of Winnipeg’s 20 points against the Tiger-Cats as the second-year tailback rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Slotback Cory Watson has become one of the top receivers in the Canadian Football League in 2013. Watson currently ranks second in the CFL with 215 yards receiving, however, the 29-year-old is listed as doubtful for Friday night’s game after suffering an injury during practice on Wednesday.
With Watson’s status up in the air, Chris Matthews will certainly play a significant role in revitalizing the Bombers’ passing attack as the team looks to take advantage of an Argonauts defence that has surrendered the second-most passing yards per game in the CFL this season.
Winnipeg is also contending with various injuries on the defensive side of the football as defensive lineman JT Gilmore, defensive back Desia Dunn, and defensive lineman Bryant Turner are all expected to be absent from the Bombers line-up on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg will be without linebacker Terrell Parker for the remainder of the 2013 season as he suffered a torn ACL in last week’s loss to Hamilton. Parker’s 18 tackles were ranked fourth in the Canadian Football League prior to sustaining the season-ending injury.
Three Keys To Victory
1) Deny The Run
In order for the Argonauts to be victorious on Friday night in Winnipeg, the Double Blue defence will need to contain Bombers running back Chad Simpson. The second-year tailback is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game of the 2013 season and is set to do battle with an Argonauts defence that has surrendered a league-worst 487 yards along the ground.
It will be up to the Argonauts’ defensive front to generate enough penetration along the line of scrimmage in order to contain Simpson. The Boatmen were successful in controlling the line of scrimmage early on against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. However, it was in the latter stages of the football game that Kory Sheets was able to exploit the Argonauts’ new-look defensive line.
2) The “Kack Attack”
The Argonauts will look to get running back Chad Kackert more involved in the offence this week at Investors Group Field. The 100th Grey Cup MVP has had a sluggish start to the 2013 season. While a majority of the Argonauts early season struggles stem from the defensive side of the football, the team has failed to establish an effective offensive balance. Kackert has accumulated just 39 touches over the course of the Argonauts’ first three games, totaling just 255 yards. A successful ground game will alleviate the pressure on Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray, who has attempted 30+ passes in each of the team’s three games so far this season.
The Argonauts disciplinary woes were once again at the forefront of last week’s loss to Saskatchewan. While the defence is definitely in need of improvement, undisciplined penalties have also had a significant impact on the Argonauts’ 1-2 start. Over the course of the past two games, the Double Blue have committed 19 penalties including an illegal contact infraction in last week’s loss to the Roughriders that negated Jamie Robinson’s 88-yard pick-six.
Keeping in mind the current Eastern Division standings, Friday night’s contest is an important test for the Argonauts as they hope to snap their two-game losing skid.
“It’s almost like the entire season started over for the East, that’s how I’ve tried to view it and hopefully our players have, too,” said Milanovich. “All we can do is go back to work, start winning some games and gain some momentum.”
The game can be viewed live on TSN beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST or heard on TSN 1050 Radio as Argonauts play-by-play voice Mike Hogan has the call from the comfy confines of Investors Group Field.