Defence leads Argos over Stamps
Calgary Stampeders' Kevin Glenn is tackled by the Argonauts' Ronald Flemons as Ejiro Kuale closes in during the first half of their game in Calgary on Saturday night. (Mike Sturk/Reuters)
Some how, some way, the Argos defence has been put to the backburner, reduced to the role of subordinate when so much talk has surrounded the team’s offence.
The fact remains Toronto’s defence, regardless of what numbers are used or what measuring stick is applied, is as good as it gets in three-down football, a unit that stole the show Saturday night.
Offensively, the Argos did just enough, but clearly need to do more inside the score zone before they’re considered Grey Cup worthy, but this defence is championship quality and in the end it’s defences that win, at least that’s the blueprint in football.
Take away a few big plays down field, some moments of poor tackling and the occasional missed call and what unfolded was a defensive clinic, masterminded, as fate would have it, by Chris Jones, the one-time co-ordinator for the Stamps who was making his return to Calgary for the first time since moving to Toronto in the off-season.
Offensively, the Stamps left a lot to the imagination, but credit the Argos for basically taking Calgary out of anything it wanted to establish, be it along the ground or through the air.
Calgary’s lone touchdown was produced with 12 seconds left with the game reduced to a mere formality.
There was some drama with an on-side kick, which Andre Durie cleanly controlled to officially send the Argos to their win.
The night was capped by Jordan Younger’s third interception of the season that pretty much sealed the deal, sending the Argos to their 22-14 win, a victory that improves Toronto’s record to 4-3.
Younger’s interception led to Swayze Waters’ fifth field goal of the night, which pretty much speaks to Toronto’s offensive inefficiency in the score zone.
The Argos and Als share first in the East, but for now Toronto has the tiebreaker having beaten them in Montreal.
“We’re moving in the right direction,’’ said Ejiro Kuale, who lines up at end but can drop into coverage. “We’ve been buying into coach Jones’ defence since Day 1 and it’s only going to get better. We basically gave up six points, but we’re not satisfied.’’
And nor should they be when nothing has basically been won.
What the Argos continue to do is play solid defence.
In Calgary, Toronto’s offence was much more efficient in the second, limiting its turnovers to one on a Chad Owens run play and keeping Calgary off balance defensively.
When Calgary visited Toronto in the Argos home opener, Larry Taylor ran wild on special teams, a feat he could duplicate in the return game that clearly the visitors deserved.
“Our defence was great, we kept Larry in check and offensively we moved the ball,’’ Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “We’d like to score more points, but we’re happy with the effort.”
The Argos’ woes on offence were summed up in one sequence, one possession inside the red zone that should have, had they executed better, resulted in a touchdown and not a chip shot field goal.
On one down, Chad Kackert would line up in the wrong spot, a mental mistake that forced the Argos to take a time count.
On the next, the Argos somehow got confused in their personnel package, yet another mental error that led to a time count violation when no time out was available.
Inexcusable would aptly describe this strange series of events, magnified by Ricky Ray’s obvious show of frustration.
And who could blame Ray, the beneficiary of decent protection in the pocket who used his legs efficiently when flushed and when no receiver came open.
The Stamps would borrow a page from the Argos’ self-implosion playbook when Nik Lewis, inexplicably and out of character, allowed himself to get baited by Brandon Isaac, Toronto’s linebacker/defensive back whose mouth moves almost as fast as his feet when dropping into coverage.
Instead of scrimmaging in a first-and-goal scenario, Lewis’ objectionable conduct call would cost the Stamps 10 yards, a penalty that would ultimately force the home side to settle for a field goal.
In two quarters, five field goals would be produced, the Argos would take a 9-6 lead into halftime, but far too many points were left on the field.
For the first time this season, the Argos did not feature an all-Canadian line, trying to address a protection issue by starting import and former Stamps left tackle Tony Washington and moving Wayne Smith inside to guard.
The Stamps did get some hits on Ray, but there was time to look down field.
Vintage offensive football it was not as the teams combined for 19 first downs in the opening half, a combined total of 73 rushing yards, including 26 by the visitors, but no turnovers.
For those keeping score, the Argos hadn’t scored a touchdown in eight straight quarters, a period of futility that dates back to the first half of their road win against Montreal last month.
The streak would have been nine quarters had Ray and Andre Durie not hooked up on a scoring play on the final play of the third quarter, aided by a Stamps pass interference call Owens would draw.
Earlier in the 10-play drive, Durie dropped an easy ball in the flat when he looked up, an area to Durie’s game he has to clean up.
On the 26-yard major, the Argos ran a well-conceived play that featured Durie matched up in single coverage, which is a sure formula for success when Ray is given time.
KACKERT GETS IT DONE
Until the game film gets reviewed and every play gets broken down, it’s difficult to judge Chad Kackert’s first game as Toronto’s incumbent tailback.
At first glance, the video evidence should confirm what the naked eye saw, which is to say Kackert ran hard, protected the football and provided a blitz pickup that will completely go unnoticed by many on the game’s most impactful play, a play that led to a touchdown.
“Coach didn’t ask me to get rushing numbers,” began Kackert. “If that were the case other players would still be here. I mean, Cory would still be here.”
For those who don’t know the week that was for the Argos, the team released 1,000-yard rusher Cory Boyd, whose ability to blitz protect and execute his assignments came into question following the team’s loss to B.C. two week ago.
Stats-wise, Kackert rushed 14 times for 94 yards against the Stamps and added 41 receiving yards on five catches. But it was his blitz pickup on Stamps linebacker Juwan Simpson that will endear himself to head coach Scott Milanovich and his teammates.
“I’m happy for him,’’ said Milanovich of Kackert. “I thought he played well and the guys rallied around him.”
There was one blitz pickup Kackert failed to execute, but Milanovich felt his new starting running back simply did not see the on-coming rusher.
When Milanovich and his staff review the film, a more definitive analysis will be gleaned.
Kackert does recall a mental lapse he had deep in Calgary territory that would ultimately force the Argos to settle for a field goal, one of five on the evening.
“Mental fatigue,’’ said Kackert. “There was some miscommunication.”
The Argos had to take a timeout when Ricky Ray tried to move Kackert in the formation.