Down 13-0 at home to hated rival Hamilton, the Toronto Argonauts‘ 2022 season appeared to be headed towards a downward spiral. The Argos were staring at their third straight home loss, a 3-4 record, with a trip to the Hammer against a 3-5 Ti-Cats looking to take control of the East.
The extraordinarily premature and foolish outcry for a change of head coach and starting quarterback would have reached epic proportions had the Argos given credence to an ever-growing false narrative of all-time ineptitude conjured up by the likes of longtime Argos’ followers like Howard Berger.
But a funny thing happened for the East-leading and defending division champion Toronto Argonauts’ demise, they rallied down two scores twice and delivered their best all-around team effort. The Boatmen stormed back and outscored the Ticats 28-6 in the final two quarters. Thanks to big plays by the offense, special teams, and defense.
The Double Blue is far from a perfect team. And despite being 4-3, with a two-and-a-half game lead in the East. They are still a work in progress.
From a talent perspective, Toronto is fully capable of being better than what they have shown to this point. But consistency moving forward will be the key. It’s something that they haven’t shown from week to week.
Before we quickly pivot to Friday’s Battle of the QEW part 2 in Hamilton. Let’s grade the different aspects of yesterday’s Argos victory that helped give them an air of relief, at least momentarily.
Toronto Argonauts Week 9 Report Card
Coaching Grade: A-minus
Toronto’s 34-20 victory was a complete team effort by the players and coaches. Things looked pretty bleak early on. But the offense, defense, and special teams picked each other up.
Ryan Dinwiddie and his offense were dealt a difficult hand on their offensive line. Toronto is down three offensive tackles; they are playing guards at tackle, and a rookie left guard. Notwithstanding the fact that their all-rookie Centre Peter Nicastro hasn’t played yet this season.
All these factors made life difficult on Toronto’s play-caller Ryan Dinwiddie, facing an excellent defense in Hamilton who held all-world QB, Nathan Rourke to 17 points two weeks ago in BC.
Dinwiddie made significant adjustments to counter his offense’s weakness up front. And he deserves credit for keeping the team together when everything could have gone south. Toronto only had four penalties in the entire game and committed no turnovers.
Corey Mace’s defense had some struggles early on as well. But they stemmed the tide and kept the Boatmen from sinking by holding Hamilton to four field goals in the red zone. Dane Evans started the game hot and passed for 303 yards, most of which came in the first half. Mace and his staff made significant adjustments as the game transpired.
Mickey Donovan deserves a lot of credit this week. His special teams came through in a big way. The entire game turned on an advantageous punt deep in Hamilton territory and a well-designed and executed punt block, where the Argos overloaded one side of the Ti-Cats protection.
Quarterback Grade: B minus
It wasn’t an easy day for McLeod against Hamilton’s defense. They pressured him constantly. MBT was sacked three times but could’ve been sacked twice as much. He finished the game 17/27 for 230 yards and a touchdown. But his best efforts came standing up against constant pressure.
McLeod rallied the troops late, and his best play came when the team was down 17-6; he would elude a sure-fire sack, spin out and find Cam Phillips in the end zone for a crucial score in the third quarter.
There were some missed throws, early near interceptions, and drops. But McLeod played within himself and kept fighting.
Running Back Grade: C
For the second week in a row, Andrew Harris hasn’t had much space to function. Harris finished the game with 14 carries for 47 yards, two receptions for seven yards, and scored on a two-point conversion.
Toronto’s struggles in the ground game are two-fold. Firstly, the team’s makeshift offensive line due to injuries. And opposing teams stop Harris at all costs gameplan.
Harris is running hard, but the team is not hitting on explosive plays. He left the Hamilton game with a wrist injury, so it remains to be seen if he will be available on Friday. AJ Ouellette, a similar style runner, could get a shot to carry the load. He had one carry late in the game for ten yards.
Receivers Grade: B
One reception for 15 yards is not exactly the type of revenge game some figured that Brandon Banks would have. His lone reception was a crucial first-down conversion late in the game, but Hamilton ensured that their former ally didn’t beat them.
Cam Phillips has arrived as a legit starting CFL receiver. He led the way with four catches for 85 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game, a 49-yard catch, jump-started the Boatmen’s offense in the third quarter. Phillips and MBT have developed excellent chemistry in the last several weeks. Cam’s major was evidence of that.
DaVaris Daniels returned to the lineup after missing week eight and contributed nicely with four receptions for 73 yards. He snagged a contested 30-yard pass late in the game that helped extend Toronto’s lead.
Kurleigh Gittens and Markeith Ambles, who have been leaders in the clubhouse, were kept in check on Saturday—combining for only three receptions for 20 yards. The Ticats made a concerted effort to limit their production and succeeded.
The returning Eric Rogers looked awkward in his first game back in nearly a year. It wasn’t just his new number, 24. The rusty Rogers did have three receptions for 30 yards, but he had a bad drop inside Hamilton’s five-yard line.
Offensive Line Grade: C
It’s challenging to come down hard on this unit because this group is understaffed with players playing out of position. However, Toronto’s communication issues and inefficiencies on their line nearly cost them the game early.
The 34 points scored by Toronto are very misleading. Half the team’s points came from their special teams and defense. The Argos line struggled with communication issues allowing several free rushers and pressures by Hamilton, and the unit struggled to create any room in the running game. Things tightened up as the game progressed. But overall, the line didn’t play well.
Defensive Line Grade: B
The production wasn’t there from a sack standpoint, and there were some issues early on against the run. But Toronto’s front saw their play take a massive leap as the game progressed. Dane Evans was not allowed to escape the pocket, and the Argos kept him well contained and forced him to release the football before he wanted.
Like Brandon Banks, JaGared Davis was largely invisible in the stat sheet with one tackle. But Davis, Oakman, Hendrix, and Shane Ray did a good job pushing the pocket and standing up against the run late in the game.
Linebacker Grade: A-minus
A bounce-back week for what is arguably the team’s best overall unit. There were some moments early in the game where Don Jackson made some hay catching the ball. But the tackling underneath by Henoc Muamba and Wynton McManis was stellar. The two All-CFL candidates combined for 14 tackles.
McManis not only had ten tackles but contributed on special teams as well with a forced fumble.
As he did a season ago, Chris Edwards made the highlight reel with a game-sealing pick-six. A week after, he and McManis lost their composure. They played within themselves and at a top level.
Secondary Grade: B
The Argos struggled early on and losing Shaq Richardson certainly didn’t help. But Robert Priester, who has become one of the team’s best special teams players, stepped in nicely and made his presence felt throughout the game. The jack of all trades DB finished with four defensive tackles and did a great job in coverage.
Like most aspects of the Argos on Saturday, as the game wore on, Toronto’s secondary raised their level of play. Their coverage was air-tight. Hamilton got deep into Toronto territory and couldn’t get into the end zone. The sequences in the red zone that led to four Hamilton chip shot field goals are what truly won Toronto the game. Had the Argos faltered in that area, a rally would not have been possible.
Special Teams Grade: A-minus
This game turned in Toronto’s favor thanks to their special teams. It’s been a long time since that statement could be made.
Rookie punter John Haggerty had a great day dealing with poor snaps and the wind. He averaged 54.7 yards per punt. But his best punt of the day came in the third quarter, where Lawrence Woods, instead of allowing the ball to go into the end zone, picked it up and was tackled at the three.
The faux pas helped the Argos cause. But it was the well-placed directional punt that eventually helped net the Boatmen a safety.
The play that changed the game was Trevor Hoyte’s; they never knew what hit them, punt block. It was a beautifully designed play that Hoyte executed to perfection. The scoop and score by Benoit Marion gave Toronto its first lead and essentially the victory. A genuine game, set, match moment.
The coverage units were outstanding throughout. Jack Cassar and Robert Priester have emerged as two of Toronto’s best cover players.
The big issue with the Argos’ special teams was the injury to long snapper Jake Reinhart. And then subsequently, backup Brandon Calver’s botched a snap late in the game. A few plays later, Calver would add to his bad day by getting his second major penalty, which would lead to his ejection. Trevor Hoyte added to his heroics by coming in late to handle snapping duties.
Nik Lewis’s favorite kicker Boris Bede, a player who the Hall of Famer said, couldn’t beat Hamilton in the clutch, conveniently forgetting that it’s exactly what Bede did, beating the Ticats on their field at the final gun from 51 yards out a year ago.
No clutch dramatics from Bede, this time against Hamilton, he connected on three field goals, and his lone miss came on a bad snap. Bede recovered and kicked the sure miss with enough strength to ensure a single to tie the game.
Toronto Argonauts Week 9 Team Grade: A
A tale of two halves in many respects. But if you grade the overall team on a curve, Toronto gets a high mark in Week 9. They desperately needed to win this game, and the Boatmen had all hands on deck, delivering the team from defeat and impending doom.
A third consecutive loss at home would have damaged Toronto’s prospects heading into the Hammer. The Argos had to beat Hamilton at home in round one of this wacky four-out-of-five-week stretch with their rival. Especially after their disappointing listless loss to Ottawa, and more specifically, what happened to them in the East Final.
There are plenty of concerns moving forward. But the Boatmen needed Saturday’s result to keep their team psyche and season above water.