CFL stars have a way of making the game look easy, but even the league’s best receivers can get into a rut. In those instances, it’s up to the team’s offensive coordinator to jumpstart their production, either by forcing them the ball on high-percentage plays or scheming them open downfield.
This doesn’t qualify as a hot take, but I believe DaVaris Daniels is the best receiver on the Toronto Argonauts. He leads the team in targets (77), receptions (46), yards (925), touchdowns (8), and is tied for the league lead in receptions of over 30 yards (11).
And yet, coming into last week’s game against the Ottawa Redblacks, Daniels had been ice cold. He was held to a single reception in three of the team’s previous four games, which was surprising given the team was without Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Cam Phillips. He also hadn’t scored a touchdown in five straight games.
Head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, who has been proactive when it comes to rust prevention since his squad clinched the East Division title back on Sept. 15, made a point of getting Daniels involved early and often against the Redblacks.
The two-time Grey Cup champion finished the game with six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. Here’s how Dinwiddie got his star receiver the ball.
Dinwiddie’s plan started on Toronto’s first offensive play. Against man coverage, the Argos sent Daniels out wide to the boundary, and he managed to get open on a tactically-run go route where he aggressively attacked Money Hunter’s inside technique before fading into the channel he had created on the outside. Chad Kelly’s ball was on the money, but Daniels appeared to pick it up late and it went off his fingertips.
Lining Daniels up out wide was an interesting choice given that he typically plays in the slot, though it worked well as most of his deep targets began with him lined up outside. I’ve long maintained that Daniels is a better outside receiver, but Dinwiddie has been forced to use Daniels inside since Eric Rodgers suffered an injury at the start of the 2022 season.
On the second play of their second possession, Kelly found Daniels deep down the middle of the field for a 35-yard gain.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) October 14, 2023
Daniels was lined up out wide again to the right with Damonte Coxie in the slot. Coxie had a slot fade, while Daniels had a one-step sluggo. Concepts like this mess with match coverage rules. Money Hunter was lined up over Daniels, but when he cut inside on the slant portion of the sluggo route, Hunter passed him off to weak-side linebacker Frankie Griffin. This forced Griffin to turn up-field with Daniels on the double-move, though he was both in poor position and a terrible matchup for Daniels. Kelly floated in a perfect ball and Griffin did well to close ground and make the tackle 35 yards downfield.
Jet sweeps used to be classified as running plays when the ball was handed off instead of popped forward from the quarterback to the receiver. The advantage of a pop pass over a handoff is if the exchange goes awry, it’s considered an incomplete pass instead of a fumble. DaVaris Daniels hasn’t been a “jet sweep guy” since arriving in Toronto and the Redblacks clearly weren’t anticipating one, but Ryan Dinwiddie knew this was a great way to get him involved.
— CFL (@CFL) October 14, 2023
With Ryan Hunter lined up as a tight end to Kelly’s right, Brandon Calver in a wing position, and Deonta McMahon in pistol, Daniels motioned from the right to the left slot just prior to the cadence. The purpose of the motion was to help set up Hunter’s block on safety Justin Howell. Howell tracked Daniels across the formation and was still moving towards the backside when Daniels broke back to the right on the snap.
Calver blocked the defensive back in front of him and Hunter was able to wash out Howell. Lorenzo Mauldin IV was left unblocked on the play-side and because the Argos run this same action as part of their inside zone game, he froze in place expecting Daniels to engage him in a kick out block. This is also likely why Frankie Griffin and Jovan Santos-Knox froze in place watching McMahon.
Daniels might have scored had Dejon Brissett engaged his man downfield, but he was forced to slow down and Mauldin eventually caught him from behind after a 31-yard gain.
The highlight of the night for Daniels was a 45-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.
Chad Kelly: Just Chucking It💪
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) October 15, 2023
This probably wasn’t the coverage Toronto was hoping to see when they called a go/flat concept, but Kelly sometimes gives his receivers a chance to make a play regardless. Pre-snap, Toronto motioned Coxie in tight leaving Daniels out wide to the right with a run-up.
Coxie released on a flat route and Daniels took off on a go. The Redblacks were in cover four with Money Hunter clouding Daniels, knowing he had help from Damon Webb overtop. Kelly’s throw was perfectly placed over Hunter’s shoulder, just beyond the reach of Webb’s outstretched hand. Daniels’ extremely late hands prevented Hunter from knowing the ball was coming until it was too late.
Now that Daniels has had his day, don’t be surprised to see Damonte Coxie get similar treatment at some point over the final two weeks of the season. Coxie’s numbers have waned in recent weeks and he hasn’t scored a touchdown since his epic last-second catch against the Alouettes over a month ago.