Argos crack lobsters and Roughriders: 10 thoughts on Toronto’s historic TD Atlantic win

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/ All rights reserved.

The Toronto Argonauts have tied a franchise record with six straight wins to start the season, beating Saskatchewan for the second straight year in Touchdown Atlantic.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Three Phases

Good teams battle through adversity and find a way to win. Toronto’s offence struggled for the first time this season, yet they dominated the football game with outstanding defence and special teams play.

Chad Kelly didn’t play badly, completing 13 of 21 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he didn’t look like the runaway M.O.P. favourite he is. Similarly, it’s not as though their running game was shutout, rushing for 90 yards on 20 carries, but it wasn’t as dominant as it has been for most of the season.

With one unit struggling, the other two stepped up. Toronto’s lone offensive touchdown was matched by a DaShaun Amos’ pick-six, and a Javon Leake punt return touchdown.

Bend but don’t break.

Those who don’t watch the Argos every week have trouble understanding the quality of their defence because it’s not always apparent on the stat sheet.

They gave up 402 passing yards against Mason Fine and Jake Dolegala, which doesn’t sound great, but honestly their secondary was excellent. It’s where and how they gave up those yards that illustrate this unit’s philosophy.

For the most part, Toronto’s defensive backs play off the ball and keep everything in front of them. In three-down football, it’s extremely difficult to sustain drives completing only short passes. The yards will add up, but you don’t get points for yards.

Saskatchewan failed to score a touchdown on any of their three red zone trips.

Creating confusion

I don’t want to take anything away from two great plays made by two great players, but the Argos’ two interceptions should go on defensive coordinator Corey Mace’s highlight tape, not Robertson Daniel’s or DaShaun Amos’.

Daniel’s interception came courtesy of a well-disguised fire zone blitz. The Argos sent heat from the defensive right while dropping Flo Orimolade into coverage from his left defensive end position. Mason Fine knew the receiver to Orimolade and Daniel’s side had an inside release, which he thought would occupy Daniel, but Orimolade’s drop allowed Daniel to roll into the middle of the field and undercut Shawn Bane’s post route.

Amos’ pick-six came on a play in which the Argos had seven defensive backs on the field. Eric Sutton was in as an extra safety, which probably added to Fine’s confusion. Toronto almost always deploys an aggressive flats defender against quads (four receivers to one side) to break up quick screens, but this time they didn’t. Amos had the flats, but playing off the ball helped him vanish while he dug in, ready to pounce. Fine likely thought Adarius Pickett was the flats defender and never saw Amos.


Andrew Harris, one of the best running backs in CFL history, surpassed Charles Roberts to move into fifth all-time in CFL rushing yards, but I want to talk about his socks. He wasn’t wearing any.

Perhaps there was a good reason I’m unaware of such as paying tribute to someone, but failing that, as an old-school coach, I hate it. As a colour analyst, I love it, because it makes identifying players much easier, but that’s the point. There’s a reason the scout team wears pinnies adorned with the jersey numbers of that week’s opposition. With different defensive strategies and adjustments for different personnel packages, you don’t want to make a defence’s job easier.

Protecting Pickett

My Xs and Argos podcast co-host and I have been ranting all season about Adarius Pickett playing on too many special teams. In this game, with under two minutes remaining, he appeared to suffer an injury after getting pancaked trying to block an extra point from a three-point stance. Why is the most irreplaceable defensive back on the team in a three-point stance? Get him off the field goal block team!

Three-headed monster

For the first time this season, Dewayne Hendrix, Jared Brinkman, and Shawn Oakman all dressed, and it was sensational. They completely stuffed Saskatchewan’s interior run game and got a few big hits on Mason Fine.

I’ve written before about Hendrix being one of the best players in the CFL, but Brinkman and Oakman are right up there too, yet they’ve both been healthy scratches multiple times already. The difficulty is in dressing three American defensive tackles with the way the roster is currently constructed.

To make it work, they rested Tarvarus McFadden, opting to go thin at defensive back. It was a risk which could have cost them. DaShaun Amos went down with an injury early in the game but was fortunately able to return. They had Jonathan Edouard fill in for Amos when he was out, but I believe the drop-off is more significant there than how they adjusted last week in a similar situation, moving Qwan’tez Stiggers to halfback while bringing in McFadden at corner.

The ”go-to” guy

One of the things that makes Toronto so hard to defend is they don’t have a clear number-one receiver teams can focus on shutting down. Over the first five games, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., DaVaris Daniels, Damonte Coxie, David Ungerer III, and Cam Phillips have each stepped up as Chad Kelly’s “go-to” receiver. That didn’t happen against Saskatchewan.

Phillips led the team with six targets, but only for 38 yards, and Toronto’s only touchdown catch went to Brissett, who had five total yards receiving. Jeremiah Haydel replaced Damonte Coxie who was a late scratch this week due to an ankle injury. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Haydel for the entire unit looking off, but he and Kelly certainly couldn’t get on the same page. Kelly was intercepted the only time he targeted Haydel.

The Mickey Donovan Club

A large part of the credit for Toronto’s win over Saskatchewan should go to special teams coordinator Mickey Donovan. His units have had a rollercoaster season so far, but they couldn’t have performed much better in this game, going five for five in the kicking game, holding Mario Alford in check, playing an onside kick perfectly, and cashing in on a punt return touchdown.

Javon Leake’s touchdown made me laugh because I could hear Donovan yelling in my head. At Argos practice, I’m not sure there’s anything that gets his goat more than a returner improvising instead of following his path.

Leake’s touchdown came on a designed return to the right, but there was a small gap to his left and the right side was a mess. Leake probably heard Donovan yelling in his head too because he doubled back slightly and took off to the crowded right side. He had a fair amount of individual work to do on this return, but eventually, he caught up to his blockers and danced in for six.

Hit stick

There aren’t many games in which Wynton McManis doesn’t deliver the biggest hit, but this was one of them –- and that’s saying something because McManis trucked Mason Fine.

The hardest hit of the game belonged to Shawn Oakman, who levelled Fine on DaShaun Amos’ pick-six. McManis and Oakman were both difference-makers in this game. McManis led all players with eight tackles and had two of Toronto’s five sacks. Oakman generated pressure to force quick throws and used the full extent of his length to record a sack of his own, bringing down Fine from what looked like seven feet away.

Touchdown Atlantic

The Argos have two wins and two losses in the Maritimes (and a tie if you want to include a preseason game in 2005), but this one was a win all around for Toronto fans. The weather, which looked questionable right up until kickoff, cooperated, the city was welcoming, there were planned Argos get-togethers, and supporters wearing blue weren’t nearly as much in the minority as last season in Wolfville.

No fan ever wants to give up a home game to play at a neutral site, but the trip East the past two seasons has been a highlight for many Argos fans I’ve talked to.

Up Next

The Toronto Argonauts (6-0) haven’t played at BMO Field in four weeks, and they’re on the road yet again taking on the Calgary Stampeders (2-4) on Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT. Toronto managed only two points the last time they played at McMahon Stadium, a number they’ll have to improve upon if they hope to set a new franchise mark with their seventh consecutive win to open a season.

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