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CFL: Week 14 Toronto Argonauts @ Ottawa Redblacks Preview/Prediction

The (7-4) East-leading Toronto Argonauts are on the road in Week 14, meeting with their division rivals, the (2-10) Ottawa Redblacks, for the final time this season. With former NFL QB Duck Hodges making his first-ever CFL start for Ottawa.

The Argos are 10.5 point road favorites on Saturday afternoon. The over/under is 46 points. On paper, Toronto is expected to hold serve and win this weekend, but very little has gone according to plan in an unprecedented CFL season. And the Redblacks would love to spoil the Argos’ present-day hopes as they build towards their future.

Week 14: Toronto Argonauts @ Ottawa Redblacks Preview

The last time these two teams met. Toronto was at a crossroads in their season. The Argos were 4-3, having just turned the keys over to their offence to McLeod Bethel-Thompson a week earlier in a win over Montreal. The Redblacks were coming off of a dazzling Caleb Evans debut in primetime as Ottawa picked up their second win of the season, 34-24 over Edmonton.

The following week, Ottawa would go on to lose 35-16 in Toronto and have lost five straight games since. The Redblacks have been outmatched all season, but there have been several instances this year where they have fought to the wire in close games against teams like Calgary and Montreal, only to come up short or run out of steam late.

Despite being tied for the second-best record in the CFL, Toronto has had up and down performances all season long. The Argos have been outscored 273-248, and a big reason for that has been their deficiencies away from BMO Field.

The Argonauts are 2-4 on the road, and sometimes, their biggest opponent has been themselves. The team has found creative ways to barely win and almost lose games. See last week versus BC.

When you teeter on the edge like Toronto has every week, sooner or later, the ball doesn’t bounce your way.

Ottawa was reasonably competitive with Toronto earlier this year. They led in the first half of that contest. The game got away from them thanks to big special teams and defensive scores, three in total by the Argos. As a result, a 27 point third quarter paved the way for an easy Argos victory. It was a rare exception for Toronto because very little has come easy for them this season.

Week 14 Toronto Argonauts Depth Chart

There are several notable changes in Week 14 for the Toronto Argonauts.

LB Cameron Judge and SB Juwan Brecasin are back in the Argonauts lineup. However, neither player is listed as a starter in the initial depth chart.

Cameron Judge is backing up the recently signed Justin Tuggle. Dexter McCoil has been placed on the team’s six-game injured list and will miss the rest of the regular season with an elbow injury. Cam Judge was on the team’s gameday roster a week ago but was deactivated before game time. With McCoil out of the mix, the Boatmen need Judge now more than ever next to his running mate Henoc Muamba at linebacker.

The Argos’ recent splash signing of Nate Holley will not pay dividends until next week at home versus Hamilton. Holley is not ready in the short turnaround to make his Toronto debut.

SB DaVaris Daniels is in the starting lineup on offence after being limited this week in practice. Juwan Brescasin will join him in the receiving corps. Brescasin has worked his way back from a knee injury sustained earlier this season. On the depth chart, Brescasin is listed behind Dejon Brissett at slotback, so it remains to be seen how many reps he will get this week, if any.

RB DJ Foster is out due to a foot injury, and John White is back in the starting lineup and will be tasked with carrying the load in the Argos ground attack. AJ Ouellette is up from the practice roster to replace Foster.

The Argos are back to Philip Blake at Centre due to rookie sensation Peter Nicastro missing his first-ever CFL game due to a knee injury. Nicastro has also been placed on the team’s six-game injured list. A crushing blow for the team and the rookie. Shane Richards, who has made multiple starts on the interior, will start at left guard in Blake’s spot.

Dylan Giffen and Theren Churchill will provide depth on the o-line. The recently signed Jonathan Zamora will not make his Argos debut until presumably week 15.

In the trenches defensively, DE Shane Ray returns after his second stint on the team’s injured list. He will be in the starting lineup opposite Charleston Hughes.

Below are the Argos’ current practice rosters and injured list. The latter has now expanded to 21 players.

Week 14 Ottawa Redblacks Depth Chart

The most important news coming out of Ottawa’s starting lineup is that former NFL quarterback Duck Hodges will be making his first NFL start. Caleb Evans will back him up on the pivot.

The NCAA FCS career record leader for passing yards with 14,584 at Samford, Hodges is a cult hero for many. The unconventional signal-caller started six games as a rookie in 2019 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Going 3-3 in the process and winning over fans with his non-traditional style of play.

It will be interesting to see how Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice incorporates Devlin Hodges into his offence. There have been talks of rotating Evans and Hodges in and out of the lineup, but perhaps LaPolice will let Duck fly on his own on Saturday.

Devonte Dedmon is back in the Redblacks attack with a new contract after being missing in action recently. Timothy Flanders is also back in the lineup starting at tailback after DeLance Turner went down to injury last week. Former Argo SB Anthony Coombs could see some action at RB as well.

Ottawa will be missing starter Juwan Bushell Beatty on their offensive line. The team has had struggles up front all season long and is going with a very inexperienced group. The team has had major issues fielding the same starting group every week. Mark Korte is shifting to left tackle with Andrew Pickett in at centre.

On defence, the Redblacks are getting healthier than they have been in recent weeks. But they will be without one of their best defensive backs in Sherrod Baltimore (hip).

Toronto Argonauts-Ottawa Redblacks Week 14 Matchups

Argos Offence Versus The Redblacks Defence

Toronto has been in virtually every offensive category in the CFL at or near the middle of the pack. It’s symbolic of their inconsistencies all year—5th in scoring (19.6), 3rd in passing, and 7th in rush yards per game.

Ottawa’s defence has been a cure-all for opposing offenses all season long. Ottawa leads the CFL in touchdowns allowed (28); they have surrendered 20 majors through the air. Ottawa’s pass defence also has the highest completion percentage allowed (73.7%) and have given up the highest yards per pass play (9.1) in the league.

The Redblacks rush defence hasn’t fared much better. Ottawa is 8th in the league against the run, allowing 116 yards per game. Some of that has to do with the team being behind in games. But opposing teams have worn Ottawa’s defence out, and they have struggled to get off the field.

A critical factor in this matchup between Ottawa and Toronto will be how the Argos offensive line holds up on the road without Peter Nicastro. The Redblacks have an underrated DT duo in Davon Coleman and former Argo standout Cleyon Laing. Both players can cause havoc in the interior as pass rushers. An amped-up Ottawa crowd can also help make matters difficult for Toronto’s communication upfront. An issue that the Boatmen have had on the road in multiple games.

Praise Martin-Oguike leads Ottawa in sacks with four. But a hidden factor in the Redblacks pass rush is DB Randall Evans, who also has four sacks. Look for Redblacks DC Mike Benevides to try and confuse Toronto upfront with unique blitzes in the box.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson has been shaky at times in his last two starts on the pivot. He’s missed big plays down the field. Against Ottawa, there will be opportunities, but he can’t afford to repeat his recent trend. Ottawa has some playmakers in the back end of their defence, like Abdul Kanneh and CFL rookie Ranthony Texada, who made a fantastic first impression last week, earning himself a contract extension in 2022. MBT has to avoid mistakes on the road, trying to force throws into coverage.

Argos Defence Versus The Redblacks Offence

Defensively, Toronto has taken a turn for the worse in the second half of their season. Two factors have contributed to the downturn. Firstly, the number of critical injuries sustained and the loss of two top assistants in Glen Young and Joshua Bell.

Chris Jones, Rich Stubler, and Kevin Eiben haven’t found the correct formula yet for Toronto. The Argos went from being the best team in the CFL against the run to now to seventh in the league, allowing 106 yards per game at 5.5 yards per rush. The pass defense has struggled mightily, giving up one or two big plays every week. Toronto is second to last in the league in pass yards allowed at 277 per contest. The team is seventh in sacks (23).

Arguably, the Argos’ best defensive performance of the season came at the expense of Ottawa earlier this year. The biggest Achilles heel for the Redblacks offensive attack is the number of sacks their team has given up to opposing defenses. Ottawa has allowed a mind-numbing 46 sacks this season. Hamilton is second at 33.

There are varying reasons for that, some of it is attached to inconsistent quarterback play, but the Redblacks have talent issues upfront and haven’t held up well against the league’s better defensive groups. Provided that Charleston Hughes still has some gas left in his tank. This could be the week for him to make his presence known finally. Shane Ray and Shawn Oakman could also make their presence felt in this game.

The Argos need to pressure Devlin Hodges in his first CFL start and force him into errors. The same way Toronto did to Caleb Evans weeks ago. Ottawa leads the league with 17 interceptions. Playing mistake-free has been a significant issue for them.

Toronto’s dogs on defence need to go duck hunting and make Hodges learning curve in Canada as difficult as possible.

Argos-Redblacks Special Teams Matchup

Ottawa has the best special teams in the entire CFL, from top to bottom. Lewis Ward is a fantastic kicker. Punter Richie Leone deservedly got a contract extension this week. And there are very few players as dangerous on returns as Devonte Dedmon in the entire league. Dedmon also re-upped with Ottawa this week. Dedmon already has two returns for touchdowns this season.

Bob Dyce is as good of a special teams coordinator as the CFL has, his units are well-coached, and he gets the most out of his players.

If this is a close game, Ottawa’s special teams could be a big reason for that. They can shift momentum and help decide a closely contested struggle.

Toronto’s special teams led by Mark Nelson have played better in recent weeks. From a discipline standpoint. The mental breakdowns earlier in the season have dissipated. That will need to continue this week. Chandler Worthy has given the Boatmen a boost on returns, and Boris Bede has been Mr. Everything for Toronto’s special teams, booming long kickoffs, punts, and game-winning field goals.

Toronto Argonauts-Ottawa Redblacks Prediction

Nothing about either team’s seasons has been easy. On the outside looking in, you see a seven-win squad headed for the playoffs facing off with a two-win team looking for direction, and the assumption is that this should be a walk-away victory for Toronto on Saturday.

Toronto has endured so many changes to their staff and injuries to their roster all season. So it’s a credit to them that they are in the position they currently reside. But playing ugly games has been a hallmark trait for the Argos this year, and until they turn the corner and prove otherwise. The likelihood is that the Argos follow the same script this weekend.

At the end of CFL seasons, there is always the question of whether a non-contending team decides to show up. Perhaps if this game were taking place a week later in Toronto, the theory would hold water. But with Ottawa at home with a new quarterback and some key players returning. I fully expect the Redblacks to play hard and fast against their division rivals.

Toronto should win this game, but I get the feeling that the Redblacks are going to make some big plays and keep things tight until late.

Toronto Argonauts 32 Ottawa Redblacks 26

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Mike Mitchell Reporter
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