TORONTO – The Argonauts’ season is now half over. And with it all of their western Canadian road games. Unfortunately the last game was a loss 38-15 to Edmonton on Friday night. The Argos were only behind by 2 points at the start of the 4th quarter. This has been the Argo template all season long. Keep the game close and outscore the opposition in the 4th quarter. Sort of like a rope a dope game plan. They have had to play like this for the most part due to the onerous road schedule, seven of their nine games played on the road, mostly long western road games. The Argo magic ran out on Friday night and I am not going to be hard on them. They only had 5 days off between games, translating into one full practice, immediately followed by boarding a plane for the long flight to Edmonton. You could tell watching that they simply ran out of gas. I don’t believe they quit. This team has had plenty of opportunity and excuses this year to quit and they haven’t. There was nothing left in the 4th quarter. Special teams coverage fell apart as Edmonton had one punt returned for a touchdown and another long one that set up another score. Toronto quarterback Trevor Harris threw an interception in Argo territory which Edmonton turned into another touchdown and all of a sudden the game which had been close was a rout. Even though the game was close entering the 4th quarter the Argonauts did not play an impressive game and never led at any point. It has been a long and grinding road this first 9 games. The only two home games played were played in the same style, defence rising when it mattered most, winning the turnover battle and a possession game. Nothing fancy or terribly exciting but that is what it takes to win on the road. Two of their next three games are on the road as well albeit within Ontario now. 5 of their last 6 games are supposed to be at Rogers Centre. As most of us know by now that likely is going to change as the Blue Jays barring epic collapse will make the playoffs this year and Rogers is not interested in accommodating their other tenant in the Argonauts. At the end of the season the Argonauts will have played a record number of games on the road in the history of professional football. The way they play is the way the need to play to have any hope of success. So rather than discuss what was a throwaway game last week let’s see where they are at the midway point.
The Argos’ record now stands at 6-3, tied for first in the East Division with Hamilton, and tied for second overall in the league with Hamilton and Edmonton, behind only Calgary.
They have lost to Calgary, as well as Hamilton and Edmonton, once. They have beaten Edmonton once. All of those losses were on the road.
Right now, I would rank Toronto tied for third in the league with Edmonton behind Calgary (1) and Hamilton (2). Overall team grade: B+.
The Quarterbacks. At quarterback, first-year starter Trevor Harris still has the best quarterback rating in the league but is now 4th in total yardage. He has acquitted himself well, works hard each week and competes. He needs to get his team out of the gate early in the game and put scoring drives together. The Argos have played from behind all year and they have been winning, which is a testament to his perseverance and leadership. But in the second half of the year continuing to do that will continue to catch up with them and the better teams will beat them. I give Trevor an A-. He has to prove he can beat Hamilton and Calgary. He does not have to wait long. The next two games are against Hamilton. Ricky Ray may be able to play in late September. A future hall of fame quarterback and recently voted best pocket passer in the CFL will see playing time if healthy. Late in the year his experience will be invaluable and the Argonauts could have the best one two QB tandem since Tom Clements and Condredge Holloway in Ottawa in the late 1970s.
The receivers have been the big three; Tori Gurley, Vidal Hazelton and Kevin Elliott, all CFL rookies. Andre Durie is out for the year and Chad Owens has missed the last 4 games due to injury. Incredibly the stage has not been too big for the big three. They have all contributed in producing big plays and scores when called upon. They have combined for 15 touchdowns, more than any other 3 receiver set in the league. Hazelton at this point should be in the conversation for league rookie of the year. At his current pace he would have over 1,000 yards receiving should he maintain his production. With a healthy Chad Owens expected back soon, and continued experience the Argonauts boast the most consistent group of receivers in the CFL. Grade: A-
The Running Backs. The Kack Attack is back. Chad Kackert returned 3 games back in a road win against Winnipeg where he showed flashes of his old self from 2012-13 in a strong performance that contributed toward that victory. The last two games have been more muted. But the important thing is it has been three games and he is healthy and he has taken some punishment. He has proven he can still play. The Argonauts need to game plan more running plays to Kackert. As he continues to ramp up into game speed it will only be a matter of time until he breaks a run for a long score. Once this happens the Argo passing game can only become more potent as defences need to respect the run. Brandon Whitaker has played well prior to injury and Kackert’s return was contributing. Whitaker’s strengths are more pass receiving while Kackert’s are decisively hitting the hole and creating second and short opportunities. They are both excellent pass blockers and pick up the blitz well. Given that strong road teams should have strong run games the Argos have not run alot, choosing to pass more often. The Argo offence is by design a passing offence with Ricky Ray and now Trevor Harris as it’s centerpiece, but as mentioned they need to establish more running to keep defences off balance more and reduce the number of blitz packages teams will send. This will become more important down the stretch. Grade: B+.
Offensive Line. The 9 linemen that have been used and rotated through have played well. Newcomers Greg Van Roten and Bruce Campbell have played exceptionally well alongside veterans Jeff Keeping, Chris Van Zeyl, Tyler Holmes and Wayne Smith. They are limiting the number of sacks allowed and giving Trevor Harris time to find his receivers. I wish for them an opportunity to run block and have a game where they can run downhill and watch Kackert dominate because I think they can. Grade: A-.
Defensive Line. The defensive line has produced the third most sacks in the league behind Ottawa and Montreal. This is a good turnaround from the past few years where the Argos have not generated alot of pressure from their front four. The additions of Ricky Foley, Jason Vega and Euclid Cummings have solidified the stellar play of Cleyon Laing and Tristan Okapalaugo. Rookie Darryl Waud does not look out of place and is playing very well. The Argos likely have the best depth of d-line in the league. Grade: A.
Linebackers. The Argos have been fighting through injury at linebacker with Greg Jones playing hurt, and Cory Greenwood and Brandon Isaac missing time on the injured list. Yet the linebacking corps. have performed and not cost the team despite new bodies rotating in. This is a testament to players that know the system and the quality of the depth. Grade: B+.
Secondary. The defensive backs have been injured as well throughout the season. The corners have been healthy and playing well each with pick sixes but safety has been a revolving door causing other players to shift in and out of natural positions. Healthy this is a good group, but they have not been and have been subjected to large total receiving yards against at times. Grade: B.
The next two games are against Hamilton in a home-and-home series. If one team sweeps the series they will likely roll to win the division. A split and Hamilton will still have the season series as they have beat Toronto once already and a dogfight will ensue down the wire for playoff positioning. These games with Hamilton have not had this kind of significance for many years. This is an exciting time for football in Southern Ontario and the future looks bright. Whether you go to the games or watch them on TV, enjoy. I believe there is room in Toronto for two first place teams. And I think it’s time Toronto media proved to the rest of the country that they can walk and chew gum at the same time and cover both teams. To not cover what the Argos are accomplishing with their epic schedule is a failure to record history.
Written By: Scott Ford