Entering week 6 of the 2022 CFL season, the Toronto Argonauts had yet to put together a complete effort in their first three games. The Boatmen, with a completely revamped coaching staff and several new leaders, brought on board, struggled to establish its identity. But you got the sense coming off their second bye week that the football club was ready to start showing what they were capable of.
By all accounts, the Argos took a deadly serious business approach during practices this past week. And had a different energy heading into Touchdown Atlantic against Saskatchewan. The Argonauts, coming off a fluky one-point loss to the defending CFL champion Bombers, were an angry and focused bunch.
It didn’t hurt that Toronto was coming into Week 6 as healthy as they had been all season. The season debuts of LT Isiah Cage and CFL All-Star Chris Edwards gave the Boatmen a significant boost.
Quite frankly, all these different factors are why, in my TDA preview, against conventional logic, I picked the Argos to win over the Roughriders.
There is still a long way to go in the 2022 season. But based on Saturday’s game, it appears that the Boatmen are finally sailing together in the right direction.
Before we look forward to Double Blue’s redux with the Roughriders in Week 7, let’s look back at the aspects of the Argonauts team that led them to their first-ever victory in a Touchdown Atlantic game. My grades are reserved for Toronto, not the officials, who had a dreadful day overall.
Week 6 Toronto Argonauts Report Card
Coaching Grade: B+
Ryan Dinwiddie and his staff had the team mentally prepared for TD Atlantic. In many respects, the Argos were playing a road game because of the Rider fan turnout in Nova Scotia.
Dinwiddie had a solid offensive gameplan against Saskatchewan’s defense, a unit he is familiar with going up against in years past. The Riders went all out to stop the run. And Dinwiddie countered by drawing up deep shots down the field that confused Saskatchewan’s coverages.
Dinwiddie’s commitment to running the football throughout the game kept passing lanes open despite having limited to no success. Perhaps more play-action plays could have been utilized. But the route concepts were very strong and well designed. Often, McLeod Bethel-Thompson had multiple open receivers to choose from on each pass play.
There was a bit of a hiccup during the game, that as it turned out, wasn’t Dinwiddie’s fault. Late in the game, Dinwiddie challenged a PI when DaVaris Daniels was tackled in the open field. But the officials only allowed for the challenge flag to be utilized where the ball ended up on the play, which was a deep shot to Brandon Banks in the end zone. On a technicality, Dinwiddie lost a challenge and a timeout.
Argos’ defensive coordinator Corey Mace is growing into his new job. Having a healthy defense helps, but Mace’s defensive playcalling has evolved in the last two games. His decision to incorporate more blitzes from his defensive backs off the edge helped slow down Saskatchewan’s passing attack. And the second-half adjustments made by Mace to shift focus to neutralizing Jamal Morrow, who had a big first half, worked to perfection. William Fields and Joshua Bell have done a great job fixing all the communication issues the team’s talented secondary had earlier this season.
Mickey Donovan’s special team’s operation has not been immaculate. It could very well be a talent and comfort issue. But the Argos are not getting a lot of production from this unit. Every punt and kick return seems to be an adventure. And the kick coverage was shaky on Saturday.
Quarterback Grade: B+
McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s stat line doesn’t look super impressive. (276 yards and two touchdowns). But MBT had an excellent command of the offense in Nova Scotia. In typical McLeod fashion, he ran super hot and cold in the same game. The Argos got off to a slow start early. McLeod then caught fire, with nearly 200 yards in the first half, and then started sailing throws high late in the game.
Bethel-Thompson’s decision-making was better than in previous weeks. His lone interception was a defacto punt on 2nd and 25 when he heaved the ball downfield 45 yards. What stood out from MBT’s game is what typically does, his leadership. McLeod looked unfazed against an excellent defense. He stood tall in the pocket, even using his legs to make smart plays. It wasn’t perfect, but if Bethel-Thompson plays every game as he did on Saturday. The Argos might get to a Grey Cup.
Running Back Grade: B
The overall stat line for Andrew Harris in week six doesn’t do him justice. (57 total yards). Not only was Harris stellar in how he played against Saskatchewan, but quite frankly, the heightened focus the Riders gave to him is why Toronto had so much success in the passing game.
On a day where Harris vaulted up to fourth all-time in CFL history for yards from scrimmage. Harris’s leadership and toughness in the run and pass game on Saturday showed why he has achieved legendary status. Harris was constantly harassed in the backfield by an over-committed defense. He kept fighting for additional yardage and helped convert several key first downs with his running, catching, and pass blocking. A player who historically fills up the stat sheet showed up against the Riders by not doing that.
Receiver Grade: B+
Welcome to the CFL, Cameron Phillips. The Virginia Tech record holder and XFL standout is starting to make real strides in the Canadian game. Each week this season, Phillips has contributed more and more. Saturday was his breakout game with Toronto. He was targeted six times and made six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
DaVaris Daniels was overdue for a big game. And he delivered with five catches on five targets for 70 yards and a major. Kurleigh Gittens and Markeith Ambles also contributed with nine receptions combined. Brandon Banks was heavily featured in the passing game. He was targeted ten times but only netted 24 yards on three receptions. Banks could have had a more productive outing, but he had two drops; however, one came on a play where he was wide open down the field for what should have been an easy score.
Offensive Line Grade: B
From a pass-blocking perspective, this was the offensive line’s best performance of the season. Although the Riders’ defense was missing a couple of critical pieces up front. Saskatchewan, who came into week six leading the league with 23 quarterback sacks, finished the day with none.
That’s a testament to the play of the returning Isiah Cage and Dejon Allen at tackle. But Dariusz Bladek continues to be one of the league’s most dominant interior pass blockers in the league. McLeod Bethel-Thompson had clean pockets to step up into and make throws down the field.
The run blocking wasn’t that great this week for Toronto. Some of that involved Saskatchewan loading the box to stop Andrew Harris. But the Argos allowed too much quick penetration into the backfield. Philip Blake, who was limited during the week leading in, looked slower than usual.
Justin Lawrence was the weak spot on the offensive line. He continues to struggle with snapping the football and has nearly contributed four turnovers in two consecutive outings because of his issues from centre. Sooner or later, it will cost Toronto a game, and it almost did on Saturday when scoring opportunities were squelched.
Defensive Line Grade: A
There were some early issues against the run and containment of Cody Fajardo in the pocket. But overall, this was the most productive performance of the season for the Argos’ talented defensive line.
Shawn Oakman finished TD Atlantic with two sacks but could’ve had two more. He gave the Riders’ interior linemen fits all day. JaGared Davis also made his presence known, delivering several pressures and finally notching his first sack of the season. Robbie Smith continues to play well in limited duty, and he recorded a late sack in the fourth quarter. Shane Ray didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he helped rush several of Cody Fajardo’s throws.
Linebacker Grade: A+
TD Atlantic had arguably the two best linebacking corps in the entire CFL on the field. Toronto has been getting stellar play all season from this group. But they got a massive boost with the return of Chris Edwards, who was all over the field, blanketing receivers, putting pressure on the quarterback, and delivering big hits.
Henoc Muamba had another productive outing with six tackles. Muamba, who at times in the past would over pursue and miss a few tackles every now and again, has fine-tuned his game this season. He has been fundamentally sound all year long and continued that trend on Saturday.
One of the best defensive players in the entire CFL coming into this weekend was Wynton McManis. And on Saturday, he showed everyone why he should be on everyone’s All-CFL list. The Argos don’t win TD Atlantic without McManis, and his clutch and heady game-winning interception bailed out the Boatmen.
Secondary Grade: A
The tone was set before the game even started. In what was one of the hardest-hitting CFL games in recent football memory. The Argos secondary was ready for a fight and delivered so many knockout blows.
Royce Metchie, Dashaun Amos, and Jamal Peters were fantastic in coverage and tackling runners in the open field. CFL rookie Tarvarus McFadden continues to shut down opposing receivers week in and week out. But the final spotlight of the day deservedly belonged to Shaq Richardson. After nearly being maimed by a swinging helmet before the game started and allegedly spit on throughout by a non-regal like Duke Williams. Richardson had the last laugh making a tremendous interception to help sink the Riders’ chances of winning in the clutch.
Special Teams Grade: C minus
The Argos are having issues on special teams all across the board. Boris Bede has struggled to match the level of play he had a season ago. He’s no longer automatic and has missed essential kicks in clutch time. He did it again against Saskatchewan. The defense bailed out Bede. Boris also had a costly kickoff go out of bounds late in the first half.
Rookie punter John Haggerty has been very inconsistent punting and holding the ball for field goals. There’s no pop in the return game. And the coverage units were shaky at best against Saskatchewan. The best thing you can state for Toronto’s special teams right now is that they haven’t allowed any blocked punts of field goals.
Toronto Argonauts Overall Team Grade: A-minus
It took a few games and some adversity. But the Argos seem to have finally found their team identity on and off the field, and it goes beyond the team’s second straight quality performance against a top-shelf team. Toronto’s star players like Andrew Harris and Wynton McManis are showing outstanding leadership on and off the field, and they are helping to instill a new culture.
Saturday’s impressive victory doesn’t mean that the Argonauts’ are going to, all of a sudden, rattle off several wins in a row. After all, Toronto has a problematic trip upcoming next Saturday in a rematch with Saskatchewan. But the 2022 Argos have announced their arrival as legit contenders in their last two games. Their 2-2 record may not reflect it yet. But the Argonauts are fully capable of going further than they did last season when they won the East and fell one step short of a Grey Cup appearance. Toronto just proved that on Saturday.