The Toronto Argonauts have had their fair share of doubters all season long. On Friday night, the Argos got one step closer to erasing all doubt by putting together their most impressive performance when it counted the most.
The Boatmen saved their best for their most important game, and as a result, they clinched first place in the East for the first time since 2017. The last time Toronto won the Grey Cup.
And the Double Blue now has an unprecedented amount of time to sit back and wait to play the East final on December 5th. The Argos are one win in the playoffs away from going to Grey Cup 108 on December 12th.
Toronto (9-4) enters the final week of the CFL regular season this Tuesday night against the Edmonton Elks. But for all intents and purposes, with everything sewn up. The game for the Argos is essentially a preseason game. The Boatmen can choose to sit and rest as many key starters as possible. There will be a 19 day period between the Argonauts week 16 game and the East final. Giving Toronto plenty of time to prepare and get healthy.
Going undefeated at home during the regular season would be great. But there’s now only one home game left on the Argos’ schedule that is a must-win.
Before we look forward to the playoffs, let’s look back at how all aspects of the Argos performed against Hamilton on Friday night.
Week 15 Toronto Argonauts Report Card
First-year head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has taken some heat in recent weeks for his game management. But the bottom line is this, against Hamilton. Dinwiddie prepared his team to play well and they produced in a high-pressure setting. Dinwiddie and his staff had answers for everything Hamilton threw at them in this game.
Toronto’s game plan on offence was sound and effective. They found openings in the Ticats pass defence and wisely stayed patient throughout in the run game.
The entire team was disciplined and focused. The Argos committed only two penalties all game.
Argos STC Mark Nelson deserves credit for not only transforming his unit from a weakness earlier in the season. But for making it a strength on the team. Against Hamilton, the Argos special teams were at their best, corralling the Ticats returners immediately and blocking extremely well in the return game.
The star or stars of the show on Toronto’s staff against Hamilton were Chris Jones and Rich Stubler. Finally, their blend of bend but don’t break and an aggressive blitzing style mixed well on Friday night. Toronto’s scheme of crowding the line of scrimmage and playing Cover 0 paid dividends and eliminated the Ticats big play ability. By forcing the ball to be released before receivers could finish running their routes.
On multiple occasions, Jeremiah Masoli was forced to throw the football before he wanted. It wasn’t through a lack of effort. The Ticats tried to connect down the field on multiple occasions, but Masoli couldn’t set his feet and throw with accuracy. Hamilton’s counter punches to Toronto’s blitzes and coverages didn’t land.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson made some poor decisions in this game. One on an early interception over the middle, when the game was still nip and tuck. And another at the start of the second half near the end zone, which fortunately for him and Toronto, the interception was ruled incomplete.
But in the rain, McLeod settled down and managed the game well. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to get the ball down the field. So McLeod by game plan and design took what the defense gave him and lived to fight another play. Bethel-Thompson finished the game, completing 76 percent of his passes for 250 yards. McLeod did a good job of spreading the ball around to eight different receivers.
Antonio Pipkin had his best game in his short-yardage role, rushing for three first downs and a touchdown. His best play was a 22-yard sweep when Toronto was trying to ice the game late before taking a 24-3 lead.
It wasn’t always pretty. The Argos leaned on DJ Foster heavily, giving him plenty of work with 18 carries for 47 yards. He also chipped in with 3 receptions for 21 yards. Foster ran hard in between the tackles all game against a stout front six. The team ran better in the second half because they stayed patient.
AJ Ouellette had a seven-yard run to start the game but was relatively quiet the rest of the way.
One of the most efficient receivers in the entire CFL has been emerging star Kurleigh Gittens Jr. Week in and week out; he runs great routes and makes tough catches in tight quarters. The Argos targeted Gittens eight times, and he caught seven for 72 yards and a major on Friday night.
DaVaris Daniels has really stepped up in the last two weeks for Toronto. Daniels made some big catches early in the game to help the Boatmen’s passing attack get going. Double D finished with five receptions for 64 yards.
Dres Anderson, Chandler Worthy, Juwan Brescasin, Dejon Brissett, and Ricky Collins Jr. combined for 11 catches. The numbers weren’t gaudy for any of these receivers, but they all made key plays and clutch conversions during the game.
There were a couple of breakdowns by this group—one on a blitz by Kameron Kelly that forced an interception by McLeod Bethel-Thompson. And there was tough sledding in the ground attack, but the Argos line held up really well all game long.
Especially considering how banged up, they have been all season. LT Dejon Allen left this game early but returned. RT Trevon Tate went down late in the contest as well. No group is in more need of a sabbatical than Toronto’s offensive line, which is already missing Peter Nicastro and Jamal Campbell.
Philip Blake, Shane Richards, and Dariusz Bladek did a great job in the trenches dealing with Hamilton’s blitzes, stunts, and twists. A key factor in this game was Toronto’s front, keeping free rushers from disrupting the pocket. And for the most part, that’s what they did. The quick passing design helped.
Cordarro Law came to play again for the second week, registering another sack and putting constant pressure on Masoli in the pocket. The grizzled veteran still has some stuff left in the basement.
Hamilton averaged 5.5 yards rushing the football, but most of that came from two long runs by Masoli. Shawn Oakman, Sam Acheampong, Shane Ray, and Robbie Smith were all active upfront. Toronto’s front was more disciplined than the last two weeks, stayed in their gaps, and didn’t allow gaping holes or long gains on the ground. The staff simplified things this week for them.
Henoc Muamba is starting to return to form since returning from injury. Friday night may have been his best game of the entire season. Muamba finished the evening with 11 tackles and nearly had a forced fumble late, where the refs blew the whistle on a Tim White fumble.
Muamba was practically the whole show in Toronto’s linebacking corps. Cameron Judge (2 tackles) isn’t all the way back yet from his injury. Judge backed up Justin Tuggle, who had one tackle in the game.
This was, by far, the best performance by Toronto’s secondary all-season long. The stats might not reflect it. After all, the Argos gave up 326 yards through the air. But most of that was window dressing late in the game.
Jeremiah Masoli only completed 55 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. He could have had a couple more. Toronto’s secondary was put in a tough spot all night long, and they delivered.
The Argos played Cover zero and entrusted their defensive backs to win in single coverage down the field. Treston Decoud and Jalen Collins, two CFL rookies with NFL and XFL backgrounds, had phenomenal games playing the deep ball and justified the Argos staff’s trust in them holding up down the field. That’s exactly what they did. Matt Boateng also did a nice job subbing in for an injured Decoud late in the game.
Jeff Richards, Shaq Richardson, and Crezdon Butler continued to play at a high level and did the same against Hamilton on Friday night.
Sam Backer Chris Edwards was relatively quiet (0 tackles) until late in the game when he put an exclamation point on the Argos victory with an interception return for a touchdown.
Double Blue had a 13th defender on Friday night as the right goalpost stepped up and prevented a Brandon Banks touchdown in the end zone late in the game. It was that kind of night for Toronto. The Right Post in the north end zone has been a mortal enemy of the Ticats at BMO this year.
I know that some will argue for Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes, who has also had a great season. But not only has Boris Bede been the best kicker in the CFL this year, 3/3 again on Friday, but Bede is arguably the special teams player of the year. Not only have his kickoffs been magnificent. But his punting is as good as it gets as well. On Friday, he pinned the Ticats at their two-yard line late in the game.
Chandler Worthy has been a godsend for Toronto’s return game. He singlehandedly turned the momentum of Friday’s game in Toronto’s favor with a 39-yard punt return. It was that play that led to the Argos’ first touchdown late in the second quarter. The game was only 3-0 for Toronto at that point. Don’t look now, but Worthy is second in the league in total all-purpose yards. Even more impressive, considering that he was off the team after being released early in the season.
The Argos coverage units were fantastic. And in inclement weather, avoiding miscues or mishandling the football is a great positive.
Toronto Argonauts Overall Grade: A
I wrote about this earlier this season at CFL Newshub back in September when the Argos were hovering at .500. That better days were ahead for the Boatmen. Friday was the franchise’s best day in a long time. The scary thought is that the team can actually get better. Simply because of how banged up they are and who could be coming back to help reinforce the troops. (Josh Huff, Eric Rogers, Nate Holley, Dexter McCoil, Jamal Peters, etc)
The point of contention against Toronto all season is their point differential (302-305) and how they have won some of their games. But for all the marbles, with everything on the line. The Argonauts’ coaching staff and players came through with their best effort of the season. The hope is that they can match this type of effort in their next most important game of the season on December 5th in the Six.