Ben’s Breakdown: Argos’ DaVaris Daniels puts on route-running clinic in three-touchdown performance

Photo courtesy: Kevin Sousa/

Toronto Argonauts’ receiver DaVaris Daniels had the best game of his career on Sunday night, catching all six of his targets for 180 yards and three touchdowns to help lead his team to a 44-31 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks.

His success on the night stemmed from a combination of great route-running, a high level of awareness, and outstanding quarterback play from Chad Kelly. Let’s take a look at all three touchdowns — one against man coverage, one against zone coverage, and one against a double-team — and how they came to be.

Touchdown No. 1

From Ottawa’s ten-yard-line, Chad Kelly hit DaVaris Daniels on a slant route for a touchdown. This was a very simple red zone play featuring hooks to the field side with A.J. Ouellette on a swing route, and a fade/slant combo to the boundary.

The magic of this play came from Kelly going tempo after a 27-yard run from Ouellette, which prevented Ottawa from making a substitution, resulting in less-than-ideal coverage.

At first glance, it looked like Adam Auclair and Damon Webb had a vertical bracket on Daniels. However, it’s more likely that Webb elected to focus his help over Daniels given how good Kelly is at finding mismatches, which is exactly what Daniels had against the second-year Canadian linebacker.

Daniels drove hard off the ball and then combined a head nod with a jab step to open Auclair’s hips to the outside. He then won inside position with an explosive cut and got his head around expecting the ball. Kelly’s pass actually came a bit late as he looked first to David Ungerer III on the fade before slinging it to Daniels.

Touchdown No. 2

From Toronto’s 50-yard line, Kelly connected with DaVaris Daniels on a corner route for a 60-yard touchdown.

The Argos probably weren’t expecting man coverage in this situation, but it ended up being cover one. This is a variation of what’s called a snag concept, which is absolutely fine against man coverage, but Ryan Dinwiddie’s version of this scheme would have put a number of cover two defenders in conflict, so I suspect that was the plan.

Toronto lined up with trips to the right, but then motioned Kurleigh Gittens Jr. across late to join them. Even so, it was still a trips concept because slotback Cam Phillips cracked defensive end Bryce Carter, the contain man, allowing Chad Kelly to roll out to his right.

On this three-man snag concept, the outside receiver, David Ungerer III, sat about ten yards downfield while the middle receiver, DaVaris Daniels, ran a corner route, and the inside receiver, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., ran an arrow route into the flats. This concept reads short to long for the quarterback, so Kelly checked Gittens first. He’s open, but realizing he’d drawn man coverage, Kelly instead set his sights deeper downfield to Daniels.

Corner routes are great against man coverage because defenders generally want to maintain an inside shade. Since his route attacked the outside, Daniels already had leverage. Additionally, in cover one coverage, the deep middle defender shouldn’t be a factor, and in this case, he instead sets his sights on Dejon Brissett, the lone Toronto receiver to the boundary, who skinnied in and ran a ten-yard dig.

Daniels’ corner route is picture perfect. He didn’t give anything away as he drove downfield, then at the break of the route, he executed a two-step move called a rocker step. Most receivers run corners with a one-step direction change, maybe with a head fake, but a rocker step is a hard cut to the post with an outside plant, then an equally hard break back to the corner with the inside foot. The result here was halfback Abdul Kanneh getting turned the wrong way and having to speed turn to get back into the play.

Kelly laid it on Daniels perfectly and then the receiver did something crafty to ensure he scored a touchdown. As soon as Daniels checked back to find Kanneh, he knew he was going to get caught short of the end zone. Instead of trying to pull away, he slowed slightly to allow Kanneh to make up ground, then landed a stiff arm to use the defender’s momentum to drive him towards the end zone. He then extended the ball over the goal line with his outside hand to finish it off.

Touchdown No. 3
From Ottawa’s 14-yard-line, Kelly escaped the pocket to his right and threw back across his body to Daniels who plunged over the goal line for the touchdown.

Unlike the previous two touchdowns, this play didn’t appear to be designed to go to Daniels’ side. He and Brissett had hooks to the field while Ouellette, Phillips, and Gittens Jr. ran a flood concept to the boundary.

It looked like cover three hold across the board from the defence and, with less room to operate, none of Toronto’s receivers to the trips side were able to get free. Meanwhile, on the field side, Abdul Kanneh came up to jam Daniels at the line and take away his hook, but then, due to his flats responsibilities, turned his attention to Harris’ swing route.

Daniels saw his quarterback scrambling to the right, so he took off in that direction looking to help out. Just before he’s hit by Auclair, Kelly spotted Daniels racing in and floated it to him for his third touchdown of the day.

Following this performance, Daniels now leads the CFL with 21.6 yards per catch on the season, and his five touchdown receptions have him tied for the league lead with Dominique Rhymes, Dalton Schoen, and Nic Demski.

The Toronto Argonauts are currently heading into their third and final bye week before hosting the Calgary Stampeders on Friday, Aug. 25 at 7:30pm EDT.

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