Toronto – It has now been over a month (August 23rd, 2015) since the Toronto Argonauts have won a game and it has been two weeks since they have even taken the field. Heading into their bye week, the Argos lost their third straight game and were officially swept by their division foe, the Hamilton Ti-Cats. Not being able to get right back onto the field after those defeats would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth, but now, the Boatman get their chance as they face off against the Ottawa REDBLACKS this Saturday at TD Place in Ottawa.
Five Keys to the Game:
- Do not start where you left off.
A winning team usually has a few things going for them, consistency, leadership and some luck as well. For Toronto, that has not been the case over the last month. After averaging nearly 28 points a game on offence through the first 8 weeks of the season, the Argos averaged just 18 points a game in their last three contests, all of which were losses. The Argos offensively need to get back to where they were at the beginning of the season where they could move the ball effectively through the air and were scoring a lot more points. Defence has been a big question mark all year for the Argos, but now after having time off and being able to recuperate and evaluate, the Boatman should be able to try and find a groove moving forward. The Argos don’t lack any leadership, but it is time for one of their mainstays in wide receiver, Chad Owens, to step up and play like he has in the past. If he can return to the level he was at in 2012, the Argos will be poised to make a post season run towards the Grey Cup. Finally, the Argos have not had much luck in the injury department this season. Several big names have missed the entire season, or at least quite a few games. Adding to that again, is Kicker Swayze Waters who will miss the remainder of the 2015 season. However, the Argos could be getting stalwart linebacker Cory Greenwood back sooner then anticipated which should help solidify the middle of the Argos defence. The Boatmen need to be able to put the past behind them, at least the negative aspects from the season, and move forward into the final seven games with renewed focus. If they do that, there is no reason the Argos cannot get another Grey Cup banner with their name on it.
- Slowing down the ageless Henry Burris
Before the Argos themselves can start thinking about the playoffs or anything after that, they will need to find a way to slow down REDBLACKS signal caller Henry Burris. Burris has been playing as well as anyone in the league over the last few weeks, helping Ottawa win their last three games by a combined score of 96-58. Henry Burris, who is at the ripe age of 40, has completed 76% of his passes in the last three weeks, while throwing three touchdowns to just one interception. This game between Ottawa and Toronto fits the old saying well; It’s not who you play, but rather when you play them”. For a Toronto team that is ranked last in passing yards allowed per game, stopping Burris should be priority number one. The Argonauts secondary has been inconsistent this season to say the least. Some games they can shutdown a top wide receiver and create many turnovers; in other games they are nowhere to be found. However, this is to be expected with such a young inexperienced group that has four rookies starting. Now with 11 games under their belt, and already facing off against Henry Burris once before, the Argos should be able to gameplan against Burris’s strengths. Ottawa’s receivers offer a nice blend of size and speed, which makes it more difficult for defenders to match up consistently. With Burris being as hot as he is right now, the Argos secondary will need to be aggressive in their coverage and in their tackling so that they don’t allow any yards after the catch. With the Argos offence recently being in a state of flux, the defence can’t afford to spot Ottawa many points in the beginning of the game. This matchup will surely be a deciding factor in the winner of the game and will be worth watching closely for 60 minutes.
- Road Warriors vs. Home Field Advantage
The Argos may only have three wins in seven contests on the road this year, but they also have a win in a “home” game played out in Fort. McMurray. Also the Boatmen next week will play a “home” game against these same REDBLACKS, in Ottawa at TD Place Stadium once again. So though their record may state otherwise, the Argos really are road warriors, as they will end up playing just seven games on their home turf this season. Very few teams would be able to overcome that adversity, but the Argos look poised to do just that. However, on the other side are the Ottawa REDBLACKS who currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa is 4-1 at home this season and beat Toronto in their only visit to Ottawa at their home opener last season. The fans in Ottawa have completely embraced the REDBLACKS, selling out every home game and already being labeled as one of the loudest stadiums in the CFL. The fans will be in full force on Saturday night knowing full well a win would give Ottawa a one and a half game lead on Toronto for second place, and tie Hamilton for first place. For Toronto the formula is simple. Score early and often and you’ll take the crowd noise out of the game, but fail to do so and they’ll be a huge aspect to the game that works in Ottawa’s favour. A true Road Warrior team would be able to overcome something like crowd noise and having to play in unfamiliar territory, so if the Argos want to keep that label, a win Saturday is a good start. For Ottawa, this is the biggest game in franchise history so far. The team and fans can feel first place and a playoff birth just around the corner. TD Place will be electric and could create quite a difficult atmosphere for Toronto to play in. However, this is something the Argos now seem accustomed to.
- Argos new Kicker, Michael Palardy.
With Swayze Waters lost for the season, Toronto had no choice but to bring in another body to handle all kicking duties. Meet Mr. Palardy, a 23-year-old Florida native who played college football at Tennessee University. He will be under the microscope right away as he is now in charge of the kicking game for Toronto moving forward. Being a rookie to the CFL is never an easy task, but add in all the little nuances of special teams, field width and where the gold posts are lined up, and you could say he has his work cut out for him. Nonetheless Palardy is Toronto’s guy and he won’t have much time to over analyze the situation. After being signed on Monday and having one week of practice, Palardy will be thrust into the lineup Saturday against Ottawa. In a tight race for the division, you need to be clicking on all cylinders, and for the Argos, they’ll need Palardy to be flawless. If the Argonaut offence stalls, head coach, Scott Milanovich, will not hesitate to call on Palardy to hit one home for three points. It may not be fair to put this kind of pressure on a young kid, but that’s professional football. How Palardy fares this Saturday and for the remainder of the season, will likely dictate just how far the Argos can go. No pressure.
- Can the real Trevor Harris, please stand up.
After throwing just five interceptions in his first nine starts (dating back to last season), Trevor Harris has thrown four in the last three games. Trevor Harris who is a perfect fit for Milanovich’s offence that relies on short, high percentage passes and timing throws, completed just 57% of his passes in Toronto’s loss to Hamilton on September 11th. That game was by far the worst performance we have seen from Harris in his time as a starter and he knows it. Harris was itching to get back out onto the field immediately following the loss to Hamilton, knowing he can do much better. The Argos will need him to return to his efficient ways if they are going to go far this season. But it is not all on him. Wide receivers have been dropping balls, and the offensive line has taken a step back in recent weeks. All of that contributes to the offensive woes but it is the quarterbacks’ job to handle the adversity and help his team get out of it. The last time the Argos played this Ottawa defence, Harris was his proficient self, completing 21 of 31 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. A performance like that on Saturday would likely be enough for the win, but defences have started clamping down on the short passing game, forcing Harris to throw deep. The issue is that the offensive line is not always holding up which doesn’t allow routes to develop downfield. How the Argos have changed their offence in order to be more effective moving the ball and scoring more points will be interesting to watch moving forward. Saturday will be a big test for the Boatmen, but more specifically, Trevor Harris, who expects better of himself.