Toronto – As the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders get set to finish off their season series, news broke that the game would be moved to Tim Hortons field in Hamilton, due to the MLB playoffs. For some teams, this news was earth shattering and potentially detrimental to their playoff hopes; not for the Argos, who have played “home” games in Ft. McMurray and Ottawa during this 2015 season. Toronto cares about one thing right now. It’s not where they are playing or whom they are playing, it’s about getting the win. Here are the 5 keys to game for Toronto:
- Embrace the Situation
The coaching staff and the players have done a great job of this already, but as the season goes on and the hits keep coming. it would be easy for the team to become disgruntled and lose focus. The Argos know it isn’t a good look having to go to your arch rivals stadium to play a “home” game. There will be absolutely no home field advantage for the Argos on Saturday, as natives of Hamilton will likely come down to the game just for another shot to boo the Boatmen. However, the Argos don’t care. They have taken the mantra of them versus everybody to a whole new level and it will take more then where they are playing a game to break this team’s bond. Toronto has never won at Tim Hortons field (0-3), but that won’t matter to them either as this game coming up is now the most important game they’ll have played there. A win Saturday clinches a playoff birth for the Argonauts and all of the distractions will ultimately go on the back burner. The Argos have been road warriors before. The only difference now is, their opponents also happen to be on the road. If there was ever a team destined to overcome adversity, it’s this Toronto Argonauts club.
- Lean on the ground game more
The CFL has always been a passing league and the Argonauts, under Milanovich’s tutelage, have always been a pass first team. Nonetheless, when you have Brandon Whitaker in your backfield, it is hard not to run the football as often as you can while staying true to yourself. Last week against his former team, the Montreal Alouettes, Whitaker rushed for 99 yards off 17 carries, while adding a touchdown late to seal the victory for Toronto. Whitaker has been in this league a long time and he knows the importance of being able to run the ball late in games. The Argos may start looking his way earlier in games as well to keep defenses honest. The more consistent Whitaker and the run game is, the more opportunities there will be for big plays in the passing game. Even with injuries along the offensive line, Toronto was able to get a good push on Montreal and move the ball. The weather can become quite unpredictable at this time of year, so a good running game can help an offence stay on track and consistently move the football. The Argos will have their work cut out for them this week, as Calgary currently ranks 3rd in rush defence and Toronto sits in last place with rushing yards per game; if there was ever a time to get that turned around, it’s now.
- Stiffen up versus Calgary’s pass rush
The last time Calgary and Toronto faced off, the Argos did a great job keeping that aggressive defensive line of Calgary in check. The only player to bring down Trevor Harris in that game was LB, Juwan Simpson on a blitz. The Argonauts have been forced to shuffle their offensive line around this year, with first year player, Greg Van Roten playing three different positions in 14 starts. This week he’ll get his second straight start at right tackle in place of the injured Chris Van Zeyl. Van Roten will face his toughest test yet as he’ll be in charge of protecting Trevor Harris from Freddie Bishop III who’s 9 sacks are tied with Charleston Hughes for most sacks on the year in Calgary. Hughes will be going up against Argos first year left tackle, Bruce Campbell, who’s been a steady force on Harris’ blind side. The Argos will not only need to be aggressive in the run game versus this stout defence, but also in the passing game so that Trevor Harris has time to find his weapons downfield. The old adage that football starts in the trenches has never been truer then in this game Saturday.
- Get more consistency from Special Teams
Perhaps I jinxed the Argonauts when I wrote, just a few weeks ago, that special teams were becoming special. Since then Toronto has been very inconsistent in the kicking game and have taken a few too many penalties in the return game. I’m not one to believe in curses or voodoo of any kind, but I did make a wish on a shooting star that Toronto would return a punt for a touchdown on Saturday. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that either. Nevertheless, if the Argos are to go anywhere in the playoffs (which they have not yet clinched) they will need to be much better as a unit moving forward. Head Coach, Scott Milanovich, said earlier this week that Swayze Waters may begin kicking next week and could be ready for the final week of the season. That should be music to the ears of Argo fans as it’s not hard to remember Waters’ clutch kicking from 2012 that helped win a Grey Cup. In the meantime, the Argonauts currently have three other kickers on the roster. Justin Palardy has been doing all the kickoffs and field goal kicking for the past three games and he’s performed okay, but he did miss two field goals against Montreal that could have been costly. Alix Anthony was in charge of punting the past two games, but he struggled to get any consistency and took three illegal punting penalties against the Als. Milanovich is looking for something more out of his guys, which is why Toronto brought in former Hamilton Ti-Cat kicker, Brett Lauther. His role is not yet known, but you can bet if the Argos continue to struggle in the kicking game, it won’t be long before Lauther or Swayze are asked to save the day.
- Make Calgary one-dimensional
It is a very simple concept and one that most fans and coaches can agree is an effective one. However, should a team be able to truly make their opponent one-dimensional, then their chances of winning increase dramatically. For the Argonauts, who rank 8th in pass defence, it may seem odd that they will try and shutdown the run first and foremost Saturday, but with Calgary playing without Jon Cornish and the newly acquired Jerome Messam unlikely to suit up, Toronto should be able to limit Matt Walter, Robe Cote and Tim Brown. The Argonauts have the personnel to shut down a run game early and force teams into 2nd and long scenarios. When that happens, the Argos can let their defensive line pin their ears back and rush the passer. Though they started the year out slowly, Toronto’s defensive line has really come along the last few weeks, registering 11 sacks (12 if you include LB, Thomas Miles) in their previous three games. Calgary has a very potent passing offence that ranks 4th in the league and is being lead by Most Outstanding Player candidate, Eric Rogers, but Toronto’s defence has a knack for big plays and timely turnovers. Stampeders QB, Bo Levi Mitchell, is very dangerous when the ball is in his hands, but just like any other QB, when he gets pressured he gets flustered. Toronto would be smart to completely take away his run game and put all the pressure on Mitchell and his right arm. Force the Stampeders to win by throwing the ball with little to no help from the run game; if the Argos do that, I expect a few turnovers from the defence and of course, more sacks to follow.