In some sports when a team has a bad game the head coach will head into the dressing room, kick the garbage can and throw out the video and stats and start all over. It’s easy in sports when you play 82 games or 162 games to talk about putting the game behind us but in Football a sport that is built around precision, the game footage is reviewed over and over. Each position has its own position coaches and that means watching every single play over and over. When you lose 46-23, the video room suddenly becomes the Horror Picture Film where everyone of the good guys gets killed.
In the case of the Argonauts loss to the Eskimos it was easily the worst loss of the season and for Head Coach Scott Milanovich his team had a good start to the season and he now finds his team sitting at .500 in an Eastern Division that may see the champion squeak to the top with a 11-win season. Coach Milanovich let everyone know they need to “Get this mess out of our system” and even though coaches never get a tough loss out of their system it will be his job is to make sure the players are extremely prepared for their next opponent, the B.C. Lions.
It’s time to look back at the first 8 games of the season in Argoland and look forward to the Fall and its play-off races.
Ray of Sunshine
The Toronto Argos built their new start at BMO around future Hall-Of-Famer Ricky Ray. That was indicated early when Trevor Harris left the Boatmen to sign with the REDBLACKS. The Argos with a Grey Cup at home-made the decision to keep one of the CFL’s best ever players as their starting QB even though the past two seasons were interrupted by injury. Some folks wondered if Ray should have been re-signed as the #1 QB especially when Ottawa declared that Henry Burris the 2015 MOP was going to be replaced in the immediate future with ex-Argo Trevor Harris. The Argos decision was based on one criteria and that was to win Football games now.
Ray’s return from a strained MCL is that of just one man and no Football team should rely on one person to lift them into a title but for Argos fans this is big because even with Ray playing this year he hasn’t come close to the Ricky Ray that lead the Argos to a Grey Cup. If Ray finds his top gear, then the Argos can play in those classic CFL shoot-outs while their defiance comes together. From the on-set of training camp Ray has talked about his arm being 100% so that leaves room for improvement at the helm of the Argos offence and the biggest stat fans can get excited about is he has thrown 9 TDs while only being picked off in 1 occasion. Managing the offence has always been his pedigree and if there is one QB who can control a game with play-calling at the line of scrimmage it’s Ricky Ray.
In Toronto that headline would be related the housing market but this year the Argos haven’t made their new house a wonderful place to raise a Football team. I can’t think of one thing in a Football stadium that gives a team an advantage besides crowd noise but the Argos have to find a way to be able to win at home, they have no travel to worry about, they wake up at home, practice in their comfortable surroundings so believe it or not it’s got to be a mental thing coupled with needing to build a fearful pride to win by the lake. The Argos first 8 games put them in a middle of the pack spot in the standings and they will need to turn the corner and start building a winning mentality so they can host a play-off game at Home.
In the last two games the Argos D has given up 420 years of offence to Edmonton and 373 yards to Winnipeg. There hasn’t been a bright spot, in the most recent game against the Eskimos the Argos even had two interceptions including a pick 6 by Keon Raymond but that was on the same day where the Eskimos connected on big play after big play. This Argos defence core has had the same challenges that other teams have had to deal with as well and that’s injuries and experience as a unit. Rich Stubler’s experience of building a top defensive core has been evident in the last two seasons at two different CFL teams but now with NFL cuts on the horizon it will be up to the Argos brass to decide if they need to make personnel changes or dial-up defences that can avoid getting whacked with the home run ball. I get to see Argos practices on a regular basis, they are crisp and well-organized so when things don’t work out for the team I tend to give the coaches credit for a game plan that wasn’t well executed by the players.
Receiving Corps Identity
The Boatmen have been stung with the injury bug on offence as well forcing Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady to use 10 receivers this season for what is usually 4 spots each game. Last Year’s Big Three of Vidal Hazelton, Kevin Elliot and Tori Gurley were the great offensive surprise of the CFL 2015 season. The three rookies gelled quickly, used the CFL’s rules to allow them to get running before the snap and the big guys threw bodies around when it came to making big catches. This year they have been dealt a big blow on health and the replacements have done an admirable job. The key going forward will be to decide what the identity of the receiving corps will be. Will the return of Ricky Ray mean that the short precise game will be used to continue to get the ball to receives like Devon Wylie, Diontae Spencer and Kenny Shaw or does the rebuilt arm of Ricky Ray allow for some more North-South passing that will spread the opposing defences out. I’m looking for a healthy QB to give the receivers the chance to make plays, if the big three get healthy then the Argos will have enough options on game day that an offence could really use.
Liam Hajrullahu has been great as a kicker connecting on Field Goals and Extra Points. His punting average has him ranked 6th in the CFL and even when we look at the fact that some punts are about pinning a team deep as opposed to kicking it as a far as you can it would be nice to see the average get better with height so his special teams coverage crew can sit outside the five-yard halo and wait for the opposing punt returner to pounce on them.
There is no better way for a team to build an identity for the second half of the season then to take on a divisional rival in back-to-back games. The players know and feel this special rivalry and with the return of Zach Collaros at the helm of the Ticats it will set-up two tough games for the Argos. A little bit of nastiness on the field might go a long way to the Argos letting everyone know they have a first place finish on their minds in a very tight Eastern Divisional race.
The Toronto Argonauts and their fans know it’s not going to be easy but the one sure thing of the last 10 games of the season is that they will be interesting in the East.
By Peter T. Kourtis