TORONTO – This week is all too familiar for the Toronto Argonauts – a few days of practice and meetings before heading out on a plane to face their next opponent. Though the Argos fared well finally returning to Toronto, defeating Saskatchewan, 30-26, it was a short-lived home affair as the Boatmen now travel to Winnipeg for Friday Night Football. Should the Argos continue their winning ways, these will be the five keys to victory:
1. Return of Chad Kackert
A fan favourite, and the 100th Grey Cup MVP, running back Chad Kackert returns to the Argos’ lineup for the first time since October 24, 2013. Ironically, the last time Kackert played in a CFL game was against Winnipeg, where he rushed for 79 yards on 11 carries and caught seven passes for 55 yards. Unfortunately, Kackert was hurt during the Argonauts’ bye week leading up to the 2013 Eastern Final, which ultimately put his career in jeopardy. Now Kack is back and he is ready to help the Argos’ run game get going. Kackert adds not only physicality to the run game but he is also a tremendous blocker and has underrated speed. His presence will surely be welcomed on Friday and for the remainder of the season.
2. Pressuring The Quarterback
Toronto moved themselves up in the sack department as they registered six sacks last week versus Saskatchewan. Defensive ends Rickey Foley and Tristan Okpalaugo went the first four games without getting to the quarterback, but in the last two games, they each have gotten home twice. Should they continue getting pressure on a young Robert Marve, who is making his first career CFL start, it could be a long night for the Bombers. On paper, the Argonauts’ defensive line is a very strong unit, both against the run and getting after the quarterback. It has taken them a few weeks, but they finally appear to be playing as a unit and getting stronger as the season progresses. Going against an inexperienced quarterback should have this group salivating as they can show him some looks he’s never seen before.
3. New Faces Continue To Shine
The Argonauts’ new trio of wide receivers has produced results that no one (except themselves) expected. Nonetheless, Kevin Elliot, Vidal Hazelton and Tori Gurley have been phenomenal so far in their young CFL careers. Those three men are a big reason why the Argos find themselves atop the CFL’s Eastern Division. What they have done is remarkable in its own right. That said, it might be last week’s performances by wide receiver Diontae Spencer and defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah that takes the cake in this 2015 season. The Argos have been very fortunate that almost all of their new faces have not only earned starting jobs, but have contributed in a big way. Their new wide receivers (Elliot, Hazelton, Gurley, Spencer) have accounted for 80 catches, 1,083 yards and 11 touchdowns, while the Argos’ newest defensive backs (Owusu-Ansah, Jefferson, Hawkins, and Devin Smith) have combined for 64 tackles, four interceptions (two touchdowns) and one forced fumble. It’s the performance of these new players that have helped the Argos win four of their first six games and overcome injuries to key veterans. If these players, and others, continue playing at a high level, the Argos will continue their winning ways.
4. Special Teams
Two other new faces that weren’t mentioned above are kicker/punter Ronnie Pfeffer and special teams coordinator Scott Downing. Both have done a good job adjusting to the Canadian Football League in their first year in the league. However, these past two games haven’t been very kind to the Argos’ special teams units as they’ve allowed big returns and have committed costly penalties. Pfeffer, who had made seven straight field goals, missed one last week that could have been costly given the win was only by four. However, he has been very steady for the Boatmen and the Argonauts’ coaching staff continues to put their faith in his right leg. Hopefully these last two weeks have got the Argos’ special teams units refocused and ready for a big test on Friday. Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea, former Argonauts special teams coordinator, is known for his trickery and aggressiveness on special teams. The Argos will need to be disciplined in order to have the advantage on specials.
Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich, who is now in his fourth season, has coached the Boatmen for 60 games, winning 32 of those contests. He has a Coach of The Year award and a Grey Cup championship to his name, and a big reason for his success is his ability to keep the team together through tough times. During the last four seasons, the Argos have encountered more than their fair share of adversity, but arguably nothing worse than this season, kicking off their 2015 campaign with five straight road games. In addition, during four of those games, the Argos trailed heading into the fourth quarter and one could easily assume the Argos should lose often. That is not the case. The Argos won three of those four games when they were trailing and their only loss came down to the final drive in Calgary. Dealing with all this adversity and winning is one thing, but doing all that without key starters in Chad Owens, Ricky Ray, and Andre Durie, is another. Milanovich has done a tremendous job with this team and has proven that he’ll have them ready for anything that comes their way. Should Milanovich and his staff continue doing what they’ve done all season, the Argos should continue to battle and win a lot of games. However, the Argos’ mantra has been to suppress their emotions and take it just one game at a time, and that continues this Friday in Winnipeg.
Written By: Aaron McMillan