The Toronto Argonauts clinched a playoff spot with a dominant 39-10 win over the Montreal Alouettes at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
No big plays
For the second week in a row, the Argos’ offence didn’t quite look themselves, yet they’ve averaged 40 points per game in that span. The missing element seems to be explosive plays that take them the length of the field in short order, something they did repeatedly in the early part of the season.
Chad Kelly did hit Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for a 40-yard completion, but even that was a catch and run, and it wasn’t for a touchdown. The lack of explosive plays hasn’t kept them off the scoreboard, however, it’s just that they’ve made their way there in a more pedestrian fashion. They came into the game leading the league in offensive drives that resulted in touchdowns, with over 27 percent, and improved on that with four touchdowns on 13 drives.
No DaVaris touchdowns
It was a relatively quiet day for DaVaris Daniels, who entered the game tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions with seven and tops in yards per catch with 21.8. He had just four receptions for 39 yards, but his day could have been a huge one.
Daniels was brought down at the two-yard-line in the first quarter, and Chad Kelly missed him on two other deep throws down the middle that would have resulted in scores. Kelly also failed to see Daniels streaking down the sideline uncovered after Montreal defensive back Kordell Rodgers lost his footing, though Kelly did complete a long pass on the play.
No touchdown passes
For the first time since the season opener, Chad Kelly didn’t complete a touchdown pass. However, he still managed to run one in from five yards out for his league-leading eighth rushing touchdown.
This is an anomaly, not a reason for concern – more the result of Toronto running the ball so efficiently in the red zone. A.J. Ouellette had two red zone touchdown runs to add to Kelly’s, and Cameron Dukes scored another on a quarterback sneak.
No interceptions thrown
After throwing only four interceptions over his first seven games, it felt out of character for Chad Kelly to have thrown five picks in the previous three games. Kelly put a stop to this trend against Montreal.
There was one ball that could have been picked by linebacker Bryce Notree, but Kelly’s passes aren’t easy for defenders to secure. Kelly generally took care of the ball well, completing 75 percent of his passes for 278 yards.
No sacks allowed
The Toronto Argonauts’ offensive line, including newly extended right guard Peter Nicastro, continued to make life difficult for opposing pass rushers, preventing them from getting to Chad Kelly all afternoon. The Argos haven’t surrendered a sack in over a month, and Chad Kelly hasn’t been sacked since Touchdown Atlantic in July.
Almondo Sewell came as close as anyone during this stretch, taking Kelly to the ground late in the fourth quarter, but a hands-to-the-face penalty negated the sack and kept the stat sheet clean for the Argos’ offensive line.
Toronto came into this game leading the league by a mile in turnover differential, and they extended it even further. The Argos didn’t turn the ball over once while forcing an interception and recovering three fumbles.
Jamal Peters picked off Caleb Evans late in the game, while Adarius Pickett recovered fumbles forced by Peters and Royce Metchie, and Jack Cassar recovered a fumbled kickoff forced by Benoit Marion. The Argonauts also forced a turnover on downs, stopping Evans on a third-down quarterback sneak early in the second quarter.
No holder hold-ups
For the first time all season, kicker Boris Bede was without his holder, punter John Haggerty. Haggerty has been battling a knee injury over the past three weeks, and while he didn’t punt against either Hamilton or Calgary, he was dressed as the holder while Bede handled both punting and kicking duties.
Last week in Hamilton, Haggerty came up limping after one of his holds, so the club held him out of practice all week and elected to dress global defensive back Tigie Sankoh instead, using receiver David Ungerer III as the holder. I thought this would be a big deal since Bede seemed impacted by losing his last holder, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, following the 2021 season, but the veteran kicker couldn’t have looked more comfortable. Ungerer fielded and placed every snap cleanly, including a high one he really had to reach for, and Bede hit all three extra points and four of his five field goals. His only miss was into the wind from 48 yards out on the last play of the first half.
Bede was impactful on kickoff coverage as well, tackling Chandler Worthy twice, including one where he seemed to catch the speedster from behind, as incredible as that may be.
CHANDLER WORTHY OFF TO THE RACES! 🏁
Saved by the shoestring 😅
— CFL (@CFL) September 9, 2023
No drop-off from Phillips to Nield
Cam Phillips, who leads the Argonauts in targets this season, was forced to come out of the game after hauling in his only target just over three minutes into the game. He went up high to make a spectacular grab on a crossing route and came down hard. He celebrated the catch by signalling first down, then motioned to the sideline for a substitution as he jogged off the field. Tommy Nield came in to replace Phillips and had one of his best games as a pro, catching six of his seven targets for 84 yards.
No running on the deck
Toronto’s defensive plan this week clearly centred on stopping the run. The Argos defensive line was all over the Montreal backfield, limiting the Alouettes to 24 yards rushing on 11 carries. Walter Fletcher was Montreal’s leading ball carrier with 10 yards on five carries.
A few weeks after losing starting field halfback DaShaun Amos to a serious ankle injury, boundary halfback Robertson Daniel also went down with what appeared to be a significant leg injury.
Daniel’s injury came late in the first quarter when he was folded up awkwardly stopping a Walter Fletcher run. The training staff spent several minutes assessing his right knee before helping him slowly off the field. He left the field on crutches at the half, still in uniform.
Daniel, who has been playing at an all-star calibre level, was replaced by Mason Pierce of Colorado School of Mines fame. Pierce had a bit of a rough outing in Hamilton last week replacing Daniel, Jamal Peters, and Tarvarus McFadden at different times, but he looked far more comfortable in this game.
Thor carries the (Ragna)rok
Every Montreal defender will immediately think about A.J. Ouellette when they try to get out of bed on Sunday morning. He played his usual punishing style of 1920s football, knocking over linebackers and carrying defensive backs with him.
He finished with 105 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. On his first touchdown run, he forced a missed tackle on Bryce Notree, and on his second, Shawn Lemon bounced off him as he thundered into the end zone.
BIG. BOY. BALL. 💪😤 pic.twitter.com/hqaXMHcmro
— Toronto Argonauts (@TorontoArgos) September 9, 2023
Ouellette now has 815 rushing yards on the season, putting him on pace for 1334 yards which would be the third highest for any Argonauts running back in history — behind only Michael Jenkins’ 1484 yards in 2001 and Cory Boyd’s 1389 yards in 2010. Working against Ouellette is the fact that he’ll probably be given some rest down the stretch if the Argos can clinch first place in the East.
Location, location, location
The Argonauts lead the league in average starting field position, something that comes from a combination of consistent offensive production, turnovers, and good special teams play.
In all 11 games this season, Toronto has had better average starting field position than their opponents, and that held true against Montreal. Toronto started four of their 13 drives in Montreal territory, and despite beginning two drives from inside their own 10-yard-line, their average starting position on the afternoon was their own 42.
The only other time the Argos have started a season 10-1 was in 1996 with Doug Flutie under centre. Impressively, this year’s Argonauts are outscoring Flutie’s 1996 team by eight points through 11 games.
In another Flutie comparison, with the win over Montreal, Chad Kelly’s record as a starter in Toronto is now 10-2, tying Flutie for the best opening run as an Argo quarterback. Under Flutie, the 1996 and 1997 Argonauts both finished the regular season 15-3 and won the Grey Cup.
The Argonauts (10-1) now travel to Montreal (6-6) for a Friday night clash to conclude this back-to-back East Division series. With the tiebreaker already in hand, if the Argonauts win, they’ll clinch the division with six games remaining in the regular season.