The Toronto Argonauts kicked off their 2022 season last night, winning their home opener against the Montreal Alouettes 20-19. The near-defeat was eerily similar to many of the games the Argos won last season. The kicker curse that plagued opposing teams in 2021 has carried over to 2022.
Toronto Argonauts Game One Aftermath
Toronto came awfully close to blowing last night’s game against Montreal. They squandered several opportunities to put away a game they dominated for a long stretch. And there were instances where the football gods shined upon the Argonauts.
Firstly, Trevor Harris misfiring on a two-point conversion to a wide-open Jake Wieneke that would’ve tied the game at 20 late. Secondly,, Two interceptions by Montreal, one in the end zone and the other returned for a touchdown, were overruled. Furthermore, An advantageous interception by Toronto late in the first half left the Argos with one second on the clock to add on three points and, of course, lastly, David Cote’s shanked 21-yard game-winning field goal attempt. All of these things and four singles led to a one-point victory.
However, as Andrew Harris said on the field after last night’s Argos victory, “They don’t ask how. They ask how many”. The Boatmen are 1-0 to start their season, and that’s all that matters now. You take the victory and move on.
It wasn’t a pretty debut for the 2022 Argos at the Boathouse, and Toronto certainly didn’t play a perfect game. However, There were many positives and some negatives to game one in the Argos season. Let’s break down how individual aspects of Toronto fared.
Toronto Argonauts Game One Report Card
It’s difficult to come down hard on the Argos coaching staff, especially considering the adversity they faced leading into their first game. Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie missed almost all of the work week in person due to him and his family contracting COVID.
The entire staff, including the legendary Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, deserve a ton of credit for working together to game plan while Ryan Dinwiddie was away from the team. The Argos fan base can genuinely boast that they have the best general manager in all of football. Pinball wears so many hats for the Argonauts. Leader, spokesperson, mentor, friend, and as he proved this past week, emergency coach. The now 57-year-old was one of the greatest all-purpose players in CFL history. So it’s no shock that he’s also a top-flight all-purpose GM.
Against Montreal, Ryan Dinwiddie, the play-caller, got off to a hot start. He lived up to his promise of playing power football by utilizing tight formations and leaning on his new superstar RB Andrew Harris. Toronto had success on the ground. But you could argue that the personnel used for the game weren’t a fit for the game plan. WR Isaiah Wright is far from your traditional Fullback/Tight End. He was up for the task despite being a square peg in a round hole.
Roster management is a part of a head coach’s evaluation. Injuries certainly play a role in who could dress. But if you are going to play close formations and pound the ball frequently. It would help to have the correct personnel for that scheme. Dressing only one fullback, no matter how good a player he is, like Declan Cross, won’t help you maximize a power running scheme. Plus, Toronto did not utilize play-action effectively to exploit holes in Montreal’s over-pursuit on defence.
The primary issue, however, with Ryan Dinwiddie, and his offence in recent times, has been play-calling and execution in the red zone. It’s something that has carried over from 2021. Toronto has to improve in this area, or they will lose games as a result. The kicker can’t always bail you out, and last night, Boris Bede wasn’t up to his standards. The Argos nearly lost the game because he wasn’t.
Game management is also a factor in grading a head coach’s performance. In the first half, facing a third and one at midfield, the Argos passed on going for the first down. Instead, they took an intentional procedure penalty, where Toronto attempted to draw Montreal offsides. And then the team punted to net a single. It wasn’t a pretty sequence of events.
In his first-ever game as defensive coordinator, Corey Mace had an arduous task, going up against an experienced and accomplished play-caller in Khari Jones. Mace was up for the challenge and did an excellent job mixing and matching his fronts. And his formidable defensive line helped bail out a secondary that was dealing with several missing players.
Mickey Donovan’s special teams’ group had an average performance in his coaching debut with Toronto. The coverage units were fine. But Boris Bede had an off night. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to his new holder John Haggerty. The Global punter didn’t exactly prove to be a secret weapon for Toronto. Haggerty had multiple opportunities to pin Montreal deep inside their ten-yard line. But couldn’t execute. You’ll gladly take multiple rouges in a one-point victory. But the execution wasn’t quite there for the Boatmen on special teams all night. At least Toronto avoided the egregious errors that haunted them last season.
The season’s opening game is typically not a fair barometer of a team or coaching staff’s value. Everyone is ironing out kinks early on; the Argos coaching staff needed last night to start that process.
The stat line for McLeod Bethel-Thompson looks fine 22/31 269 yards and one touchdown. And no one can ever question MBT’s toughness. Time and time again, he stands tall in the pocket and fires away while taking hit after hit. However, Bethel-Thompson’s red zone issues from a year ago have carried over to this season. And his decision-making last night was very poor.
Thompson nearly cost his team points on their opening drive by throwing an ill-advised pass on an interception overturned in the end zone. Then later in the game, MBT was also fortunate that a poorly thrown interception to the outside wasn’t held up for a touchdown to give Montreal a 7-3 lead.
The Argos will not win a championship with McLeod on the pivot if he continues to show the flaws that have labeled him as a stop-gap QB in the CFL. MBT’s performance against Montreal was nowhere near as bad as his four-interception meltdown last October. But it could’ve been. Not executing in the red zone when there are open receivers almost equals a turnover.
Running Backs: B+
No shocker, Andrew Harris is a really really good football player. Harris’s elite skill set for three quarters was on display in the run and pass game. Harris amassed over 100 yards. However, he had to leave the game late due to cramping/hamstring tightness. Now, that’s commonplace for players playing their first complete game in the heat. But because Harris is 35 years old, one has to wonder if he can be the workhorse and hold up for entire games.
Harris checked himself out of the game early on when the Boatmen entered the red zone area. The Argos need him on the field when they are in scoring territory. Daniel Adeboboye and Javon Leake should get more play moving forward to help keep Harris fresh when he is needed most. It’s a long season; but the jury is still out on if Harris can be great all the way through. For stretches last night, he was spectacular.
One could justifiably argue that this is Toronto’s deepest position. Everyone contributed against the Alouettes last night. This group can only improve as the season progresses, and as McLeod gets comfortable with his new targets. Brandon Banks (3-39-1td) and Markeith Ambles (2-67) had nice debuts in Double Blue. They need to be incorporated more into the offence moving forward.
The same goes for Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (6-66) and DaVaris Daniels (4-41). They had solid games on Thursday. Gittens Jr. continues to look like a star.
Credit to Cam Phillips for stepping up to start at SB. Phillips was in the lineup, replacing four CFL veteran receivers who sat the night out due to injuries. He had a respectable output, registering three catches for 31 yards. However, his best play came on his breakup of an interception in the end zone on the game’s opening drive. Phillips dislodged the football from Mike Jones. The hustle play saved his team three points.
Offensive Line: B minus
The Argos moved the ball pretty well all night. But there were missed assignments, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson was in constant duress in the pocket. The unit allowed two sacks, but there could’ve been more. Because the Argos were missing their left tackle in Isiah Cage and lost RT Dejon Allen in-game due to a questionable disqualification by the officiating crew. Toronto’s line, which was very thin coming into the game, did a respectable job under the circumstances.
Shane Richards, in particular, stood out. He came off the bench and played tackle, a position he was drafted to play in the first round a few years ago. The Argos need to consider him as their OT3 moving forward. Richards is clearly the team’s top backup linemen because of his versatility. The coaching staff might have to give him another look at tackle down the road.
Defensive Line: A
It’s a good bet that the Argos will not be the second-worst team in the CFL in sacks this year like they were in 2021. A healthy Shane Ray made his presence felt last night, finishing with only one sack but garnering multiple pressures. If it’s possible, Shawn Oakman looks more comfortable than he did a year ago when he was an All-CFL player as an American rookie. This unit is just scratching the surface of its capabilities.
What could make them especially dangerous is the versatility of each player to move up and down the formation. Dewayne Hendrix, a former OLB and DE in America, has found his niche as a DT in Canada. He notched countless pressures against the Als and registered a sack. Against Montreal, the Argos D-Line dominated the line of scrimmage, particularly against the run. The only drawback against the Alouettes was that the defensive line started to lose their legs late. Establishing a strong rotation and depth behind Toronto’s elite group will be necessary moving forward.
There’s a reason why the entire coaching staff and front office of Toronto made a full-court press in the offseason to recruit Wynton McManis back to the CFL. The Argos’ new weakside linebacker was arguably the best player on the field on Thursday. He was all over the field, registering seven total tackles and a sack. McManis has a chance to be a CFL All-Star this season.
Henoc Muamba was his usual solid self against the run and in coverage. The game plan to spy on Vernon Adams was changed when he was yanked from the lineup for Trevor Harris.
Considering that this was his first CFL game, and the player he was replacing was CFL All-Star Chris Edwards. Former XFL player Robert Priester had a nice debut playing the crucial SAM position. Playing the SAM spot can be challenging as an extension of the secondary, and Priester had four tackles and did an excellent job in coverage.
Defensive Backs: C+
Eugene Lewis had his way with the Argos DBs, who tried in vain to cover him on Thursday. Lewis had seven receptions for 127 yards. But Reggie White Jr. also had a solid game capturing six receptions for 83 yards.
The Argos allowed 284 yards through the air, and if not for the team’s pass rush. It could’ve been worse. Caleb Holden was thrust into duty after Robertson Daniel fell to injury, and Daniel was replacing the regular starter at CB, Jamal Peters.
Tarvarus McFadden nearly had three interceptions against Montreal. He had a solid game in his debut as a starter. McFadden, another former XFL player, had one of the game’s most important plays when he picked off Trevor Harris right before the half and astutely stepped out of bounds with a second left—allowing Toronto to net three extra points before halftime.
Shaq Richardson, Royce Metchie, and Dashaun Amos had solid games. But the lack of cohesion from not working together in camp sometimes showed. This unit should get better as time goes on.
Special Teams: C+
There weren’t any major hiccups in coverage or blocking assignments. But the lack of efficiency by the ordinarily reliable Boris Bede and rookie punter John Haggerty nearly cost Toronto the game. It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. But Shawn Oakman’s presence on field block units lined up in the middle will lead to more blocks this season. Oakman came real close last night. And on David Cote’s miss, he came within a hair of blocking the kick. You could argue that he would have or that the kick was altered because of him.
Toronto Argonauts Overall Grade: C+
The defence held up their end of the bargain for the most part until the fourth quarter. The heat and tired legs certainly played a role in them faltering down the stretch. The offence looked amazing in spurts but bogged down in crucial situations. The specialists didn’t do the team any favors.
The Argos are capable of much better play than they showed on Thursday. And quite frankly, they are going to need to get better. Toronto is headed to B.C. in week three to face Canada’s new favored sons, thanks to emerging National Star QB Nathan Rourke, the Leos a week from Saturday. They will then come back home to play the reigning CFL Champion Bombers on July 4th. Before having a home and home series with the Riders.