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Riders secret weapon played a role in sinking Argos offence

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During the Toronto Argonaut’s season-opening loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, quarterback Ricky Ray and the Argos offence lacked the rhythm that had been the hallmark of their 2017 Grey Cup run.

Did the Riders have some help?

There was one man with intricate knowledge of the latest version of Trestman’s offence on the Roughriders side: Steve Walsh. After Jarious Jackson left Saskatchewan to be the B.C. Lions’ offensive coordinator, Chris Jones hired Walsh to be the Riders quarterbacks coach. Walsh spent 2017 as the Argos senior assistant and shared all the details of the Trestman playbook with his new team.

Walsh was praised by Trestman and the three-time Grey Cup champion head coach never offers compliments unless he truly feels it’s warranted. And to earn the rave reviews, Walsh would’ve known the Argos offence inside and out.

Relaying that information to Jones would be akin to throwing a fastball down the middle on a 3-0 count in baseball: the hitter knows what’s coming. Jones admitted post-game the Riders called only two defensive schemes throughout the 60 minutes but there certainly would be checks within those defences – easy to install when you know the play based on alignment, motion or formation.

Charleston Hughes was the beneficiary of Saskatchewan taking advantage of the protection schemes, posting three sacks, as the Riders exploited Argos left tackle William Campbell. Meanwhile, Willie Jefferson was disruptive, living in the Argos backfield. Linebackers were flying around and it seemed as though the Riders defensive backs were anticipating routes that were coming.

Case in point: Nick Marshall driving on Brian Tyms’ out-breaking route in the fourth quarter and taking an errant Ray pass back the other way for an interception touchdown. The ball was tipped by Jefferson, but if the first-year defensive back hadn’t planted and burst downhill the attempt would’ve fallen harmlessly incomplete. Marshall recognized the pattern combination and made a reactionary change of direction for the pick-six. That critical play made the difference in the game and displayed what can happen when familiarity and athleticism are combined.

Ray threw for 233 yards with a 59.5 completion rate – much lower than the 70 per cent during the first season under Marc Trestman. 2017 Most Outstanding Rookie, James Wilder Jr. had five carries for only 16 yards, although he caught four balls for 68 yards. No. 1 receiver S.J. Green was targeted 12 times but caught five balls for 51 yards. The offence as a whole converted 6-of-21 second down situations (29 per cent) and scored just 19 points in the defeat.

If Toronto had executed at a higher level, the intel Walsh provided to his new coaching staff could have been mitigated and the Riders coaches and players still had to get it done on the field. But inches and milliseconds can be the difference and the direct info can help tip the reactionary time in a team’s favour.

Walsh was a factor for Saskatchewan being able to stymie the Argos offence as the goods the 51-year-old former NFL quarterback passed along certainly benefitted the Riders.

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Justin Dunk

Justin Dunk is the pre-eminent CFL insider and unabashed supporter of Canadian quarterbacks. He is one of the founders of the new 3DownNation.

By Justin Dunk

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