The Toronto Argonauts (5-3) stormed back in the second half against the Ottawa Redblacks (2-6) to propel the team to its fifth victory of the season. The Boatmen remain undefeated at home and have sole possession of 1st place in the East.
The 2021 Argonauts paid tribute to their 1991 championship team at BMO Field by taking one step closer to being a contender again.
Toronto’s 35-16 triumph over Ottawa wasn’t pretty. However, during the course of a long season, good teams find a way to win games on all three phases. And that’s precisely what the Argos did last night—scoring twice on defense and on special teams.
With each game that passes, the stakes get more significant. On Monday afternoon, the Argos now have to travel to Tim Horton’s field and face off with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-4). Toronto will be looking to exorcise its demons from the recent past and stake claim to the East.
But before we move on to what will be a pivotal and challenging game for Toronto. Let’s look back at how all aspects of the team fared against Ottawa.
Week 10 Toronto Argonauts Report Card
Toronto Argonauts Coaching
From top to bottom. This might’ve been the best overall performance of the season for the Argos coaching staff. It sure didn’t look like it was headed that way after a sluggish first half. But the team’s second-half adjustments on offense and defense paid huge dividends. The measure of a good coaching staff is the ability to put the players in a better position when things aren’t going as planned early on.
A big reason for the Boatmen’s 27-point third-quarter surge was a result of changes made on both sides of the ball. Toronto’s offense scored immediately in the third quarter on three pass plays, capped off by a beautifully designed screen pass to DJ Foster. The actual pass itself wasn’t pretty, but the deception was masterfully done. The Argos got the Redblacks defense to over-commit to one side of the field, which led to a wide-open field for Foster to score from.
Toronto’s offense produced two majors in that third quarter. On a night where things looked ugly for them overall, when they needed to, the offense produced at a crucial point in the game.
Chris Jones and his defensive staff made significant adjustments in the second half to slow down Caleb Evans, who was off to a good start in the first half. The Argos defense baited Evans into making throws into tight windows, and Ottawa paid for it. The Redblacks moved the ball well all night. To the tune of 406 yards, but whenever they got in scoring territory. Toronto’s defense had the right calls and made big plays to counter the Redblacks attack.
Mark Nelson had a difficult task preparing his players to face one of the best special teams units in the CFL. It wasn’t perfect, but the task of containing the Redblacks dangerous return game was accomplished on Wednesday night.
Overall Grade: A
Toronto Argonauts Offense
Will McLeod Bethel-Thompson remain Toronto’s starter on the pivot for the rest of the season? Based on last night’s performance, I am not sure a definitive answer has been established yet. The overall stats look ok, despite Thompson throwing his first interception on the season.
Bethel-Thompson made some plays in the second half and completed a high percentage of his passes. But Toronto’s offense was sleepwalking for the majority of the game.
MBT will likely get the call at QB again against Hamilton on Monday because of the short time to get ready for the game. How he performs in that pivotal east battle might determine if the Argos stick with him the rest of the way.
Antonio Pipkin got in on the action again for Toronto. But he was much less effective than he was against Montreal in week 8. Ottawa’s defense was ready for Pipkin and shut him down on a crucial third and short run early in the game.
Grade: B minus
I should list this position as Running Back, considering that the Argos dressed and played DJ Foster as their only genuine tail-back. Foster got the job done in his first CFL start. Once again, producing a big play in the passing game. Foster led the team in receiving with five catches for 79 yards and rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries.
Very quietly, every game, Fullback Declan Cross is one of the team’s unsung heroes on offense and special teams. His blocking is always stellar, and he gets in on the stat sheet once in a while. Against Ottawa, he had one reception for eight yards to start the night off.
The Argos only threw the ball 21 times in this game. With nine of their fifteen completions coming from their receiving corps. Ricky Collins led the way with four receptions, but for only 20 yards. Damon Jeanpiere showed up again, scoring a key 21 yard major in the third quarter. He finished with two catches for 26 yards. DeVaris Daniels also had two receptions for 39 yards.
The game script didn’t call for a shootout. So the Argos pass game didn’t have to do much. Credit to Ottawa’s secondary for doing an excellent job in the first half from limiting big plays. Chandler Worthy didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but the Redblacks keyed in on him to prevent the deep ball.
Grade: B minus
The unit struggled to convert on short-yardage and gave up two sacks on the night. One of the reasons the Argos offense struggled to sustain drives and make plays in the first half was their line play. Former Argo Cleyon Lang and Praise Martin-Oguike put a lot of pressure on Toronto’s pass and run game.
Philip Blake had an excellent return to the lineup. But Dariusz Bladek, arguably Toronto’s best blocker, was sorely missed.
Toronto Argonauts Offense Overall Grade: C+
The Argos offense did just enough. On a night where they didn’t need to do a lot. Their defense and special teams bailed them out. The initial game plan wasn’t working, but the coaching staff made the best out of what could’ve been a dreadful night.
Toronto Argonauts Defense
The defensive line did a much better job against the run than they have in recent weeks. Thanks in part to the team debuts of Drake Nevis and Cordarro Law. Both veterans made impact plays in their first game action of the season. Law’s deflection of a Caleb Evans pass led to the team’s first defensive touchdown.
Shawn Oakman continued his high-level play, registering his fifth sack of the season. Oakman is fifth in the CFL in that category and first among all defensive tackles. DE Travis Feeney also recorded a sack against Ottawa. Feeney started opposite Shane Ray, who unfortunately left the game due to a foot injury.
Ottawa rushed for 72 yards, but 54 of those came from the legs of quarterback Caleb Evans. Toronto’s defensive line is not at full strength yet, but the unit has a chance to get better if their accomplished veterans like Nevis, Law and Hughes produce.
If you include the phenomenal Chris Edwards, who is also an extension of the secondary playing the SAM spot, the linebacker position had a tremendous bounce-back performance against Ottawa.
Both Edwards and Dexter McCoil combined for 11 tackles, produced two interceptions, and scored two majors.
The Carleton Ravens rookie duo of Trevor Hoyte and Jack Cassar made their presence felt on defense and special teams. Hoyte finished the game second on the team with six tackles. Eli Mencer, the CFL rookie out of Albany, was also very active with four special teams tackles and an interception late in the game.
It mainly was a bend but don’t break night for Toronto’s secondary. Ottawa had four receivers with over sixty yards receiving, led by Ryan Davis (8-104), RJ Harris (4-84), and Kenny Stafford (3-75). But the Argos secondary held up when it counted most deep in their territory. The Boatmen kept Ottawa out of the end zone all night. And on three specific occasions in the first half, the Redblacks were forced to settle for short field goals.
Jamal Peters had a big pass breakup early in the game near the red zone. And Crezdon Butler was very active, registering four tackles. The tackling issues, which were an issue against Saskatchewan and Montreal, were not in this game. The Argos secondary limited scoring and big plays down the field.
Toronto Argonauts Defense Overall Grade: A minus
It was an almost perfect night for the Argos defense. The team gave up 406 total yards, but they forced three turnovers gave up no touchdowns while scoring two of their own. Early on, Caleb Evans started hot and moved the team at will into Toronto territory. The game could’ve gotten away from the Boatmen very quickly. But the Argos D, like it, did early on in the season, kept the team in the fight, and won this game for Toronto in many respects.
Toronto Argonauts Special Teams
The Argos special teams had an excellent night. Save for allowing their third blocked punt of the season late in the game. Last week, Mark Nelson heavily prepped against Ottawa’s elite unit, and the hard work paid off.
The Argos contained the player who might be the league’s most dangerous returner in DeVonte Dedmon. The dynamic Dedmon averaged a respectable nine yards per punt return and 22 yards per kickoff, but Toronto kept him from breaking the game open. Especially early on, when Toronto’s offense was consistently punting the ball back to Ottawa.
The first sign of life for the Argos came on Dion Pellerin’s blocked punt and Dejon Brissett’s scoop and score late in the second quarter. Toronto blocking Richie Leone’s punt kept the Argos on life support.
Chandler Worthy had some ups and downs returning kicks; he fumbled the football late in the game. But he did average 28 yards per kick return. Boris Bede did a great job with his hang time and directional kicks on punts and contributed a score with an early rouge. So both the defense and special teams produced multiple scores.
Grade: A minus
Overall Team Grade: A minus
It wasn’t pretty, and the game could have easily turned against Toronto otherwise. But the fact that the Argos found a way to win spectacularly after looking so dead early on is a positive. It’s a credit to the coaches and players. The combination of the defense, special teams, and coaching adjustments give Toronto a solid overall grade.
Eight games into the season, and it’s still difficult to determine if Toronto is a good team or not. They have shown flashes of brilliance, but the Argos’ haven’t put it all together yet.
There’s no question that Toronto has the potential to be an elite team. Based on their talent level and what we have seen. The fact that they are 5-3 and haven’t reached their potential yet is a positive.
The Argonauts’ are good enough and have earned the position they are currently in. The question is, can they raise their level of play to reach elite status.
Starting with Monday’s difficult challenge on short rest versus Hamilton, followed by a road game in Montreal. The answer to how good Toronto “really” is should be answered after those two games.
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