Argos find moral victory in 31-21 loss to Bombers (& 10 other thoughts)

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Toronto Argonauts almost pulled off a miracle, taking a lead into the fourth quarter in Winnipeg despite resting a number of players including their star quarterback Chad Kelly. They fell short on the scoreboard, but the evening can only be looked at as a win for the Argos.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Duke(s) of Earl
Since early in the offseason, the one concern I had about Toronto’s roster was the backup quarterback position. They have starting-caliber players backing up at multiple spots, but until Friday night, neither backup quarterback had a single career start in the CFL.

No one could say for certain if either Cameron Dukes or Bryan Scott would be up for the job if called upon in the case of an injury to Chad Kelly. I’ve enjoyed watching Dukes in practice, and I probably had more faith in him than most, but even I didn’t expect him to look as solid as he did in Winnipeg.

Dukes completed 71 percent of his passes for 231 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers, while also adding 34 yards on the ground with a rushing score.

He made good reads all night, was highly accurate with the football, and intelligently threw the ball away instead of taking sacks. His ability to use his speed and athleticism wasn’t just reflected in his rushing yards, he also drew in defenders while keeping his eyes downfield. His touchdown pass to A.J. Ouellette came on such a play.

Dukes made only one turnover-worthy throw, but that came in the final minute with the Argos trailing by ten. His only real mistake of the night was trying to lateral the ball to Damonte Coxie while being tackled after a 13-yard run with four seconds remaining in the first half.

Dukes will get at least one more playing opportunity down the stretch to further prove he can be a reliable backup to Kelly, but it’s safe to say the organization was encouraged by what they saw from him in his first career start.

Sticking to the plan
I give head coach Ryan Dinwiddie a lot of credit for sticking to his plan despite finding himself in a close game in the fourth quarter.

He said on Wednesday that Dukes would start, but that he wanted to get third-string quarterback Bryan Scott some reps in the second half. Dukes came out of the game early in the fourth quarter with a five-point lead. Scott struggled in relief failing to connect on four pass attempts, and Dukes returned with under two minutes remaining, trailing by a touchdown.

Rest days, scratches, and snap counts
Chad Kelly wasn’t the only Toronto starter to get the night off. Linebacker Wynton McManis, cornerback Jamal Peters, and left tackle Isiah Cage were all placed on the one-game injured list, though I believe all three would have played had this been a playoff game.

Some other starters were used lightly. A.J. Ouellette had just one carry and one reception and didn’t see any action in the second half, while DaVaris Daniels had a quiet night with one catch.

Call for backup
Tommy Nield and Dejon Brissett both led the team with five targets, which makes sense given they’re probably the two receivers with whom Dukes is most familiar. The three young players spent a great deal of practice time this season with the second unit and scout team. Chad Kelly’s rapport with Damonte Coxie likely spawned from this very thing last season.

Clean sheet
Neither Dukes nor Scott was sacked all night despite facing one of the league’s best pass rushes. Toronto’s offensive line came into this game having allowed a league-low 12 sacks all season. The next closest team is Calgary at 28. In his previous action, Dukes was sacked three times against the Stampeders when he came in to relieve an injured Chad Kelly early in the game.

No lightning without thunder
After logging some electrifying runs over the past two weeks, backup running back Deonta McMahon looked mortal with five carries for eight yards and three receptions for seven yards.

As with D.J. Foster in 2021, McMahon may never be a feature back, instead serving as a terrific change of pace runner for a team with a powerful ground game.

Finally fumbled
Deonta McMahon’s fumble in the fourth quarter was the first lost by Toronto’s offence this season, as remarkable as that may seem. The Argonauts have lost two fumbles in 2023, but both were committed by Javon Leake on punt returns.

Shut it down
Qwan’tez Stiggers’ remarkable rookie season continued, this time from the boundary corner position, which he hasn’t played since Jamal Peters was activated in the third week of the season. The 21-year-old had a knockdown and a gorgeous leaping interception, dropping off shallow coverage on Kenny Lawler to steal the ball away from Dalton Schoen. Lawler was held to three catches for 29 yards thanks to Stiggers.

Tee Time
Tarvarus McFadden had two bone-crunching hits, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble in what was probably his best game as a pro. However, he may have tarnished the memory with a costly bench penalty in the game’s final minutes that didn’t appear to please Coach Dinwiddie. McFadden has transitioned nicely to the halfback spot from corner following an injury to DaShaun Amos.

Running man
Brady Oliveira ran all over the Argonauts for 169 yards on 25 carries for a 6.76 yards per carry average. This was a surprise, given Toronto had held opponents to a league-low 71.9 yards per game on the ground this season at under four yards per carry.

It’s especially surprising when you consider that the team welcomed back defensive tackle Jared Brinkman, perhaps their best run-stopper. Time of possession was definitely a factor but so was the absence of Wynton McManis, even though Jonathan Jones stepped in admirably.

Canadian corner
Defensive back Jamie Harry improved perhaps more than any other Argonaut this week. He was picked on repeatedly by Hamilton after he came in to relieve the injured Jamal Peters last game, but that wasn’t the case against Winnipeg. He drew Dalton Schoen a number of times on the outside and looked comfortable.

Up next
The Toronto Argonauts (12-2) return home to BMO Field on Friday night to take on the Edmonton Elks (4-11).

The franchise will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, though the birthday technically falls on October 4. As part of the celebrations, the team will welcome back Condredge Holloway, Ricky Ray, Damon Allen, Rocket Ismail, Terry Greer, Mookie Mitchell, and dozens of other legendary Argonauts.

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