The Toronto sack exchange: 13 thoughts on the Argos beating the Elks

Photo: Timothy Matwey/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

A week after getting shutout by the B.C. Lions, the Edmonton Elks put up 31 points on the Argos, and yet somehow Toronto’s defence was the difference in one of the wildest games of this young season. Here are my thoughts on Toronto’s 43-31 win over Edmonton.

The Toronto Sack Exchange

The Argos’ front seven desperately needs a nickname. My podcast host, JB, came up with “The Toronto Sack Exchange,” which seems appropriate after the unit delivered a whopping six sacks against the Elks.

It seems clear the Elks’ plan in pass protection was to use a lot of double teams and leave running back Kevin Brown in to help as often as possible. The Argos countered this by blitzing with reckless abandon, forcing Edmonton’s outmatched linemen to go one-on-one with Toronto’s most dangerous pass rushers.

Dancing shoes

I want to ask A.J. Ouellette about his playing weight. Ouellette has always been a bruiser, but when you look back to his college tape, you also see flashes of speed and fancy footwork, something he hasn’t been known for as a CFL back. He’s listed at 208 pounds but ran a lot heavier than that last season.

The 2023 version of Ouellette looks more like the back he was in college, still aggressive, but lighter and quicker on his feet. He still knocked over a number of defenders, but he also danced his way to 84 yards and three touchdown on counters and off-tackle runs instead of the power-based wham and dive plays we’re used to seeing from him.

The Wilde Beast

Chad Kelly’s 2023 season will have more ups and downs than any rollercoaster at Canada’s Wonderland, that’s just who he is as a quarterback: a gambling gun-slinger with as much confidence as arm strength.

He threw two inexcusable interceptions against the Elks, both to Loucheiz Purifoy. One was a late outbreaking route Purifoy undercut, and the other was a deeper ball across the middle where Kelly didn’t see Purifoy in the safety spot.

But he also had the highlight of the night as well as a number of throws only a handful of professional quarterbacks can make. Kelly looked to be in trouble when defensive end A.C. Leonard flew into the backfield untouched, but Kelly somehow shook free, rolled to his left, and found David Ungerer III deep down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown.

A lonely oak tree

When I first saw Shawn Oakman was a healthy scratch for the Argos, I assumed the worst. Was he being disciplined for something? Was there an unknown injury? I couldn’t fathom why the team would sit one of the best interior defensive linemen in the CFL, but that seems to be what happened.

Due to ratio requirements and the injury to Kurleigh Gittens Jr., the Argos could only comfortably dress two American defensive tackles, so they chose Jared Brinkman and Dewayne Hendrix over Oakman. Brinkman had the best game of any Toronto defensive player last week, and Hendrix is the best kept secret in the CFL.

I expect Oakman to be back in the lineup this week either due to Gittens returning, or some creative roster management. He’s simply too valuable not to dress in consecutive weeks.

The Two Corys

There have been games over the past year when we’ve seen defensive coordinator Corey Mace content to rush three and drop nine into coverage. This was not one of those games.

Not only did Mace blitz from the opening series right to the final whistle, he experimented with some exotic looks. At times, he had defensive end Folarin Orimolade line up as a linebacker and a defensive tackle, Jordan Williams and Adarius Pickett were lined up as safeties, and giant Jared Brinkman was used as an edge rusher.

He’s clearly enjoying the versatility this roster offers and using the full range of his creativity and football knowledge to take advantage of it. Games like Sunday’s serve as a reminder that Mace will likely be a CFL head coach in the next year or two.

Blue Peter(s)

After sitting last week in an effort to get up to speed following his release from the Atlanta Falcons, reigning CFL all-star Jamal Peters made his first start of the season for the Boatmen.

Through three quarters, Peters held Geno Lewis to two catches for 21 yards and he finished the game with five catches for 43 yards. Lewis almost scored an Elks touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Peters ripped the ball from Lewis’ hands just inches from the end zone and Robertson Daniel recovered.

It was a banner day for the Toronto defensive backs with safety Royce Metchie punching in a pick-six, while Daniel added another fumble recovery to the one mentioned above.

The long and the short of it

Head coach Ryan Dinwiddie clearly understands the importance of one of the two backup quarterbacks running short-yardage plays. Those responsibilities fell to Cameron Dukes again this week after he was pulled from such duties a week ago. He converted two first downs, but on his third attempt lost yardage running parallel to the line of scrimmage.

If teams are forced to dress three quarterbacks, short yardage situations arise far too often for one of them not to be a short yardage specialist, and right now the Argos don’t seem to have that on their roster.

Reps for QB2

There were at least two drives with the game out of reach in which Chad Kelly continued to take snaps. I criticized Dinwiddie last season for this same thing as he kept McLeod Bethel-Thompson in for meaningless possessions instead of giving Chad Kelly valuable playing time.

The only red flag on this roster is at backup quarterback. Bryan Scott and Cameron Dukes need reps in order to develop and ready themselves should they ever need to play meaningful snaps this season.

Family man

Prior to the start of the game, centre Darius Ciraco was scratched due to an ankle injury. He was listed as ” “game time decision,” but there seemed to have been optimism within the club that he would be able to go. Fortunately, the club has an all-star centre playing guard in Peter Nicastro, so he slid over and played well, though he did misfire on a few snaps Kelly was barely able to handle.

Dozens of his family members were at the game decked out in brand new Nicastro jerseys. Whenever you see someone at a CFL game wearing an offensive lineman’s jersey, there’s a very good chance they’re a family member. When there’s a group of them, it’s a certainty.

Next man up

With Nicastro playing centre, it was guard Dylan Giffen who stepped into a starting role, not Gregor Mackellar, who started most of the regular season last year. Giffen has been used sparingly by the Argos since being drafted in 2020, but he had a tremendous training camp in what is undoubtedly the most important season of his career.

Giffen had his way with Elks defenders in the run game and Toronto rushed for an astonishing 191 yards and three touchdowns with the interior combination of Ryan Hunter, Peter Nicastro, and Dylan Giffen leading the way.

It takes two

With Kurleigh Gittens Jr. out due to a hamstring injury, Canadians Dejon Brissett and David Ungerer III stepped up to lead the team in both yards and receptions, combining for seven catches, 138 yards, and a touchdown.

By listing DaVaris Daniels as the team’s Nationalized American and having him sit out the first play in favour of BJ Byrd, the plan appears to have been to have Byrd replace one of the two Canadians for somewhere close to the maximum-allowed 23 snaps (a new and frustrating CFL rule for 2023).

Instead, due to their production, Brissett and Ungerer barely came off the field, leaving Byrd without a single target.

He giveth and he taketh away

It was probably a long night for Toronto special teams coordinator Mickey Donovan as he watched Edmonton’s CJ Sims average over 30 yards per punt return. Fortunately, Donovan’s redemption came in the form of a cleverly-conceived blocked punt. In the second quarter, Ungerer was lined up as an end on the punt return team, something we haven’t seen from the Argos previously.

He took a few steps towards Edmonton punter Jake Julien, but then retreated to set up a return. I think he could have blocked that punt if he’d been sent and Donovan obviously saw that too. In the third quarter, Donovan sent Ungerer back out there for the block and it worked.

Up next

The Argonauts return home to take on the B.C. Lions in what’s sure to be a thriller in a battle of undefeated teams at BMO Field next Monday night. CFL legends Damon Allen and Derrell ‘Mookie’ Mitchell, who incidentally were both in Edmonton on Sunday, will both be enshrined as All-Time Argos.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.