Argos enjoy banner day despite flurry of flags: 10 thoughts on a thrilling victory in Montreal

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts remain the only undefeated team in the CFL following a 35-27 win over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium. This is the first time the Argos have been 4-0 to start a season since 1983, a year that ended with a Toronto Grey Cup victory.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Chad to the bone. Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chad.

This might be my third time saying this in four games, but Chad Kelly had his best game as an Argonaut. Kelly had one terrible mistake, an ill-advised throw across his body into traffic while on the run, which resulted in a Montreal interception.

Otherwise, he was almost perfect.

Kelly finished the game completing 84 percent of his passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns to offset that one interception. He fired the ball with zip, showed touch when he had to, and stood bravely in the pocket while his receivers worked their way open.

Kelly played with a large second-half lead in each of his previous three games, so this was a great opportunity for him to experience a tight game in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, Kelly completed his last five passes, two of which were for touchdowns.

Grains of Golden Hands

It was a great game all around for the Toronto receivers, but for the faith Kelly showed in them, they rewarded their quarterback with three spectacular catches. The first came on a 15-yard pass to the outside on Toronto’s opening drive. Damonte Coxie climbed the ladder to pluck the ball out of the air and then somehow hold on as Wesley Sutton took his legs out from under him.

Toronto’s second great catch came just three plays later. Kelly rifled a ball into the smallest of windows to DaVaris Daniels at the one-yard-line. Daniels had just enough time to brace for impact as Marc-Antoine Dequoy came thundering in.

The Argos’ third great catch of the night was again made by Damonte Coxie and will be replayed for years to come on TSN and CFL countdowns. On second-and-eight, with the game tied at 20 in the fourth quarter, Coxie fully extended and with one hand hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Argos out in front.

Cutting Corners

Percival Molson Stadium is the only CFL venue where the back corners of the endzones are cut off in order to accommodate a 400-metre track. That makes it even more impressive that David Ungerer III had the wherewithal to toe-tap his feet in bounds in one of those short corners while bringing in a 15-yard touchdown pass. Teams no longer run walkthroughs at opposing stadiums, so these field dimensions would have been observed by Ungerer during warmup or on his previous visits to Montreal.

Thunder and Thunderer

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie continues to experiment with different ways to get A.J. Ouellette and Andrew Harris on the field together at the same time.

Early in the season, he took turns alternating them on wham plays with one trap blocking for the other. Against Montreal, with the Alouettes taking away the middle, Dinwiddie showed off some new two-back looks, lining up one of them as a tight end while the other one carried the mail, or having one of them lead the other outside on a sweep.

Toronto has arguably been the best team in the league running the football, and against Montreal, the two big backs combined for 116 rushing yards on 17 carries for just under seven yards per rush.

Too much screen time

The Alouettes showed some good scouting and self-scouting in designing their offensive game plan against Toronto. Having allowed a league-high number of sacks coming in, and knowing how aggressive the Argos’ front six can be, the Alouettes cleverly deployed almost a dozen screen passes, all of different shapes and sizes. With these short passes, Montreal was able to get past the first wave of defence and punish Toronto’s defensive backs who were suddenly forced to engage offensive linemen downfield. Flo Orimolade finally sniffed one out late in the game, but it was still completed for a positive gain.

For the Wyn

Wynton McManis led the Argonauts with nine tackles, but his positional flexibility, awareness, and athletic ability were all showcased as well on Friday night. McManis was listed as the team’s starting weak-side linebacker, but he was lined up as the middle linebacker and defensive end quite a lot before permanently taking over in the middle when Jonathan Jones was ejected from the game. One of the hardest hitters in the CFL, McManis knocked William Stanback to the ground on two occasions, something you don’t often see.

McManis also contributed with a savvy interception. Despite seeing heavy play action, McManis cut off his read steps when he didn’t see any linemen advancing downfield, instead sliding in the direction of the quarterback’s eyes to pick him off.

Qwanderful Tonight

I’d be surprised if Qwan’tez Stiggers isn’t in the NFL next year. The 21-year-old, who had to pass up on college due to the tragic death of his father, started his second game of the season at cornerback, this time ahead of former NCAA defensive back of the year Tarvarus McFadden. As with all true rookies, Stiggers has provided the Argos’ coaching staff with a number of teaching moments, but he’s also looked sound in coverage while learning the nuances of playing cornerback and halfback.

The teachable moment in this game came from a short-yardage situation. The Alouettes lined up on second-and-one as though they were attempting a quarterback sneak, but Caleb Evans didn’t come in to replace Cody Fajardo, which had Mike Hogan and I jumping up and down, pointing from our booth. As the field corner, Stiggers had man coverage on Tyler Snead but nonchalantly stood there watching the quarterback as Snead strolled by him for a 26-yard touchdown.

This was Stiggers’ first CFL game without an interception, but he broke up a number of passes, including one to Austin Mack with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Today’s Special

The Argos pulled out all the stops on special teams, running a reverse, two fake reverses, and an onside punt. None of them achieved the desired result, but their purpose will be served down the road. These gadget plays, now that they’re on film, will force opposing special teams coordinators to use valuable special teams reps to review these situations in practice. It will also force opposing coverage teams to maintain their width, which should open holes up the middle for Javon Leake in the return game.

Flag Day

It seems like every day is Flag Day for Toronto this season. The Argos committed nine penalties in each of their first two games, and 10 penalties for 125 yards in their third outing, forcing Ryan Dinwiddie to make reducing flags a point of emphasis this week.

He was visibly seething, therefore, when his squad committed 15 penalties for 157 yards, especially since many of the penalties were costly ones that extended Montreal drives or essentially ended their own. Toronto is still undefeated despite being the most penalized team in the league, but this isn’t a formula for success long-term, so something needs to change.

Not up for the challenge

After going a league-worst two-of-14 on challenges last season, Ryan Dinwiddie has been exceptionally conservative when it comes to challenging plays in 2023. He threw his first challenge flag of the year in this game, attesting that DaVaris Daniels was interfered with in the endzone. He wasn’t. I’ve applauded his reluctance to challenge plays, and I wouldn’t have challenged this one either. Given his success rate, he should consider only challenging game-altering plays when there’s absolute certainty from the staff in the booth.

Mama don’t take my monochrome away

I really like the Argos’ new uniforms as individual pieces, but I can’t stand the monochrome look where the pants are the same colour as the jersey and socks. All the Toronto players I’ve spoken to about this love the monochrome set, so I might not be the best judge, but I really liked Friday’s uniform combination. For the first time this season, the Argos mismatched their gear, wearing white jerseys with Cambridge blue pants and socks to go with their Cambridge blue helmets. I still think they need an Oxford blue set of pants to mix in, but this was a vast improvement.

Next up

The Toronto Argonauts (4-0) will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-3) on Friday, July 21 for their second of four meetings this season. Toronto won the first matchup 32-14.

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