The Toronto Argonauts have reached the mid-way point of their season. After seven games, the Boatmen are 4-3 and tied for first place in the East. Last night’s 30-27 victory by the Argos over the Als could be a turning point for the team.
Considering all the injuries and adversity that Toronto has endured in the last two weeks. A loss against a very talented Montreal team would’ve been understandable. But the result would’ve damaged the Argos’ chances to compete for not only the East division but for a playoff spot.
Toronto’s victory last night saved them from having to realize that scenario. Instead of Toronto heading into the bye at 4-3, a loss to the Alouettes would have put the Argos in third place at 3-4 and 1-2 in the division. Subsequently, it would’ve thrust Montreal ahead of Toronto in the standings and in direct contention with Hamilton for first in the East.
Now the Argonauts can sit back, press the reset button and get healthy while watching Montreal and Hamilton play each other next week. An Alouettes victory gives the Argos sole possession of the East. A Ti-Cats win would put Hamilton a half-game up on Toronto, but it would also put Montreal two games behind the Boatmen. Almost a win-win scenario for Double Blue.
Before we move forward to what’s in store for Toronto in the second half of their season, let’s look back at last night’s Argos’ victory and how the different aspects of the team fared.
Week 8 Toronto Argonauts Report Card
Ryan Dinwiddie made the correct decision starting McLeod Bethel-Thompson. If this were a playoff game, Nick Arbuckle might’ve toughed things out to play. But MBT received the majority of the snaps leading into the game, and his readiness to play showed against Montreal.
Dinwiddie and the Boatmen’s staff made two other personnel decisions that benefitted the team greatly against Montreal.
#1, the utilization of Antonio Pipkin in short-yardage situations, an area where Toronto has struggled mightily this season. Interestingly enough, Arbuckle’s inactive status made the inclusion of Pipkin possible.
#2, Toronto has also added a new dimension to their offense and special teams by correcting a mistake they made earlier in the season when they released Chandler Worthy. The 4.2 speedster out of Troy is an asset to the team. It’s opened the door for the Argos’ to be more aggressive on offense. Which, in turn, will aid the run and pass game underneath moving forward.
The Argos offense wasn’t overly spectacular on Friday night, but considering the circumstances due to injuries. Dinwiddie and Jarius Jackson did an outstanding job working with the hand they were dealt. Even during this game, McLeod Bethel-Thompson was limited due to a knee injury sustained during the action.
At the end of the game, there was some confusion when Toronto was attempting to run out the clock. Ryan Dinwiddie had three options; Ice the game by converting a third and two at Montreal’s 43, kick a long field goal with Boris Bede to go up by six or punt the ball away. Option C was the right choice in the situation.
It’s difficult to come down hard on Toronto’s defense. Because their entire staff is in flux and transition. But the Boatmen under Chris Jones at home had very few answers for Montreal’s passing and rushing attack. The Als had nearly 600 yards of offense. Turnovers ultimately saved the day for the Argos D, and that’s a positive. Getting healthier will help, but the defensive staff needs to regroup. The bye’s coming at a good time.
Overall Grade: B
Toronto Argonauts Offense
Toronto had a two-person show on the pivot with McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Antonio Pipkin. Both quarterbacks contributed significantly to the team’s victory over Montreal.
The stat sheet doesn’t look overly impressive for Antonio Pipkin. 4 rushes for 13 yards and 2/3 for 34 yards passing. But the former Alouettes starting QB brought a new dimension and helped the team improve its short-yardage issues. Provided that Toronto is healthy enough to use the loophole. Pipkin needs to become permanently active on game days. To accomplish this, he would have to dress at another position.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson was on his way to a big night before a right knee injury slowed him down considerably in the second half. He steadied the Boatmen’s ship and made big-time throws in the first half, which helped give the Argos a 21-10 lead going into the second half. Overall, MBT completed 68 percent of his passes and went 13/19 for 210 yards on two touchdowns. The bottom line is that Toronto doesn’t win this game if not for McBeth.
The opportunities weren’t there for Toronto all game, particularly in the second half. John White ran well with nine carries for 44 yards. White is a tremendous pass blocker, and he displayed that again against Montreal on several occasions.
DJ Foster scored a short-yardage touchdown early on, but he had two negative plays where he tried to play hero ball and ran backward to escape defenders to no avail. Foster finished the game with one reception for minus-one yard and eight carries for 15 yards.
Friday night was a coming-out party for the “other guys” at wide receiver for the Argonauts.
Chandler Worthy was the star of the game with four receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Argos need to incorporate him in their weekly game plan.
Kurleigh Gittens has quietly had a very nice first half of the season. The opportunities haven’t been there, but he’s made some big plays when called upon. On Friday, Gittens registered four receptions for 38 yards and found the end zone again.
Damon Jeanpiere stepped up big time on Friday in place of Eric Rogers. Jeanpiere had four big receptions for 91 yards. He was the pleasant surprise of the evening. Jeanpiere had an excellent camp-playing receiver and returning kicks. But a crowded and talented veteran receiving room kept him on the fringe of the roster. Jeanpiere got his chance to shine against Montreal and delivered.
It was a quiet night for Ricky Collins and DeVaris Daniels. Save for a fantastic catch and run where Collins broke tackles deep into the red zone. The talented duo combined for only two receptions and 31 yards. Both players have been banged up with injuries. So the bye week will help them recover.
All things considered, this group held up reasonably well. Almondo Sewell (1 sack) did give youngsters Dylan Giffen and Peter Nicastro some troubles, but the Boatmen’s offensive line only gave up one sack.
The run blocking was average. The team rushed for 3.4 yards per rush and only 72 yards, but some of that is skewed based on Foster losing ten yards on one rushing play.
Late in the game, Toronto’s line had a couple of penalties that hindered the team. A holding call on Jamal Campbell negated a long catch and run by Damon Jeanpiere deep in the red zone.
Offense Overall Grade: B+
- Once McLeod Bethel-Thompson got injured, the Argos offense stalled and wasn’t able to sustain drives. The Boatmen were running out of steam in the 4th quarter. In a long season, good teams find a way to get contributions from unlikely sources. That’s what happened in week 8 with the likes of Jeanpiere, Worthy, and others.
Toronto Argonauts Defense
Charleston Hughes got to the quarterback for the second week in a row. Shawn Oakman also registered a sack in this game, his fourth of the year. Both players had ten combined tackles. They were very active on Friday.
Unfortunately, for the second week in a row, Toronto’s front struggled to get off blocks and stop the run. Montreal was consistently finding gaping holes in the defense and getting to the second level.
This unit is missing a lot of essential pieces. The debut of Drake Nevis on the interior in week ten couldn’t come at a better time. Getting Cordarro Law in the lineup will also help Hughes and Oakman.
Grade: C minus
The moment Henoc Muamba and Cameron Judge went down to injury at Saskatchewan. The Argos run defense went into the tank. William Powell ran around and over the Boatmen in week 7. And on Friday night, William Stanback had a field day, rushing for 133 yards on 19 carries. The Alouettes rushed for nearly 200 yards total with seven yards per run.
Dexter McCoil paced the team in tackles with six, but he wasn’t as effective as he has been in recent weeks making plays in the backfield. Vontae Diggs struggled in his first start, filling gaps and taking down Stanback. Playing inside against the run is against type for both Diggs and McCoil.
Grade: C minus
The Argos had to do some reshuffling with Jeff Richards out at halfback. It affected the unit on Friday, with Treston Decoud making his first start at HB. But the truth is that Toronto’s entire secondary has been out of sorts the last two weeks. Losing their coach Joshua Bell hasn’t helped.
Vernon Adams completed 76 percent of his passes against the Boatmen’s defense, throwing for 382 yards and two scores. Alouette receivers Jake Wienicke and Eugene Lewis had a field day, getting open all night against the Argos defensive backs. They combined for 14 receptions, 229 yards, and two scores.
Toronto tried to guard against the deep ball, and to Montreal’s credit, they stayed patient working the underneath areas.
The saving grace on this night was Chris Edwards and Shaq Richardson. They made impact plays when the team needed them most. Otherwise, Montreal would have scored a lot more points than they did. Chris Edwards interception of Adams in the final minute of the second quarter led to the most significant turnaround in the game. Richardson’s forced fumble at the start of the third quarter when Montreal was nearing the red zone was also a game-changer as well. Shaq added an interception later.
Defense Overall Grade: C minus
- It wasn’t pretty. The defense got gashed on the ground and burned through the air. Some of it against the pass was by design to prevent the big play but Toronto did way too much bending. They gave up 560 yards and couldn’t get off the field. The strength of the team in the first half of the season has been their defense. But things have gone south in the last two weeks. Chris Jones is going to get some reinforcements after the bye week. But he needs to get a handle on what types of players he has and he needs to match or better what Glen Young was accomplishing before his departure.
Toronto Argonauts Special Teams
It’s infrequent that revenge games are focused on placekickers. But that’s precisely what was on display against Montreal, as Boris Bede was amped for this showdown. He wanted to make Montreal kick themselves for letting go of their former kicker.
Bede even went out of his way to gesture at the Als bench after he made his third field goal of the night to give Toronto a late two-score lead. Bede has been the Argos’ best special teams player and arguably one of the more consistent players on the entire team. On this night, he went three for three on field goals, averaged 50.8 yards per punt, and 73.6 yards on his kickoffs.
The Als missed Mario Alford on punt returns. The Boatmen’s coverage units held Montreal and Rashad Ross to only three yards per return. The Als came into the game leading the league with 14 yards per punt return.
Overall Team Grade: B
It wasn’t always pretty, but the bottom line is that Toronto needed to find a way to win this game, by hook or by crook. This was, by far, the most crucial win of the season for the Argonauts. It’s a game that they very easily could’ve lost because they weren’t at full strength coming into the contest.
Toronto has seven games left to play in the regular season. After the bye, they play Ottawa at BMO Field on Wednesday, October 6th, followed by a trip to Hamilton to play the Ti-Cats five days later. Then it’s off to Montreal in week 12.
Five of the Argos’ last seven regular-season games are against Eastern division opponents. Toronto defending its home turf is very important. They will play four games at home in the second half of the regular season. Right now, they remain undefeated in their building.
By beating Montreal, the Boatmen have bettered their odds to make a playoff run, and they might be building towards something more significant than that.