Continuing with the CFL Talking Points series, Last Word On Sports CFL writers Thomas Gunther and Kelly Bale are back to cover the latest match-up between the Toronto Argonauts and the Ottawa Redblacks. The game had a playoff intensity to it as both teams fought tooth-and-nail to get a leg up in the ultra tight East Division. In the end it was the Redblacks who pulled away in a 29-12 win to take the division lead. Thomas and Kelly address the big questions raised by the game as well as their overall impression of each team. For last week’s recap, you can click here. Let’s get started with the key takeaways in the CFL Week 14 Talking Points.
CFL Week 14 Talking Points
1) Who deserves the most credit for the Redblacks clutch victory?
Kelly Bale: The return touchdown by Jamill Smith was dynamite while the kicking game with Chris Milo was solid. The offence, on the other hand, was much less impressive. Ernest Jackson did not break Tony Gabriel‘s record for most consecutive games with a touchdown, as his streak ended at six. Ultimately it was the aggressive defensive game plan called by coordinator Mark Nelson that won this game for the Redblacks.
Thomas Gunther: Quarterbacks get too much blame when they lose and too much credit when they win. Trevor Harris deserves a good share of the kudos for the Redblacks victory tonight. After a torrid start to the year, Harris struggled upon coming back from an injury suffered against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. While Harris still overthrew his receivers at times he was clutch getting the ball out fast to keep drives alive.
2) Travon Van was sidelined for this contest yet back-up Mossis Madu played very well, much like Nic Grigsby before him. Does the team need Van for success down the stretch or can anyone succeed at running back in Ottawa?
KB: If the offensive line is strong enough, the Redblacks can plug and play with running backs. There are probably over 200 available former players or potential rookies ready to play. That’s a pretty deep pool compared to some other positions like quarterback or offensive line where there is not nearly as much talent. That said, Madu has been good when he’s been healthy and he will be a good addition to the Ottawa backfield.
TG: The success of the running game all starts with the offensive line in Ottawa which is one of the leagues top units. Throw in a dynamic receiving core and Harris at quarterback and defences can’t stack the box to stop the run. While not just anybody can play back there, Ottawa has shown a commitment to the ground game and finds ways for their players to get yardage.
3) On a night where Ottawa needed a big home win, which player came through with a breakout performance?
KB: In just about every game that Jonathan Rose has played this year he has been great on his assignments. Rose’s first interception of 2016 came in this game and the defensive back also had a couple of pass knock downs. He added six tackles for good measure. Rose is now entrenched in the secondary and his young career’s defining moment drove the Redblacks home crowd wild.
TG: Smith’s missed field goal return for a touchdown was exactly what Ottawa needed to break out of it’s recent slump. The score came at just the right time to give the Redblacks a solid lead. It allowed the defence to play aggressive while giving Harris and co. enough rope to not have to take chances down the field.
KB: Ottawa’s kicker, Milo, accounted for 16 points and went 5/5 in field goals and one single. Mil also had a 37.5 yard punting average on the night and was outstanding. He adapted to a fairly stiff breeze and a big workload. The new father used his booming leg to pin the Argos deep and give his team much-needed points early in the game to get them ahead.
TG: Jerrell Gavins takes the title tonight for setting the tone of the game early with several bone jarring hits on Argo ball carriers. Despite his small size Gavins played with passion and intensity while making Toronto players regret crossing his path. With his defence amped up Gavins and the Redblacks made life a nightmare for the Double Blue offence.
1) The Argos made the switch from Dan LeFevour to Drew Willy shortly into the third quarter. Willy struggled in his debut which begs the question: Was it the right decision for the Argos to make a move at quarterback mid-game?
TG: This was a questionable call made by head coach Scott Milanovich. He might have overreacted to his offence’s inability to move the ball in the first half. Willy did go deep on several throws, something Lefevour wasn’t willing to do. But outside a single touchdown there wasn’t much of a difference between the two passers. Lefevour’s scrambling ability should have been utilized more in the early game but the point is now moot, the Argos paid too high a price to keep Willy on the bench any longer.
KB: Willy struggled on his first few series and often looked downright awkward. He did put together a stunning touchdown drive with the help of his running back Brandon Whitaker and receivers Tori Gurley and Kevin Elliott that got the Argos back in the game. Willy will not be the odd man out when Ricky Ray returns from injury, Milanovich made the right choice.
2) The Argos made some plays on special teams but are still struggling to get consistent yardage on their returns. Is this going to be a problem going forward?
TG: Special teams rarely gets the attention it deserves as a legitimate third of the pro game. Teams that neglect that it often end up paying the price. With an offence that has trouble putting together drives having good field position on returns is a must. Sadly the Argos best returner, Larry Taylor, was released weeks ago and no one on the current roster has stepped up in his stead.
KB: We’ve seen a disproportionate number of great returns this season which makes it easier to see when teams are struggling in that regard. The Argos are a fast team in their receiving corps, offensive backfield, and defensive backfield so the talent for big returns is certainly there. Toronto does take an inordinate amount of penalties on returns which indicates poor preparation and is a big reason the unit is struggling.
3) Despite the loss the Argos are still within striking distance of first place in the East. Where do you see Toronto finishing this season?
TG: It all hinges on the return of Ray and whether or not he will be hampered when he does. The Argos boast a solid defence, plenty of offensive weapons, and one of the better coaching staffs in the league. What Toronto needs is a reliable game manager to keep the gears turning on offence. If the team can get that from Ray when he comes back, second place in the division isn’t out of the question.
KB: It should be safe to say that Ray will be less effective when he returns. If the Argos aspire to finish first they’ll simply have to come together as a group. All the cliches about “playing as a team“, and “support the man next to you” will certainly be used by the coaching staff to try and propel the team to first regardless of who is throwing the ball.
TG: On a night where most of the team disappointed it was Brandon Isaac whose performance merits attention. Isaac had an early sack and flew around the field making plays wherever he could. The linebacker finished with 9 tackles and certainly did his best to keep the game close until the fourth quarter surge by Ottawa.
KB:The nod goes to Lirim Hajrullahu. Hajrullahu scored six big points and took a nasty knock on a punt and just got back up. The rebounding kicker kept the Argos in the game but also watched as his team failed to convert in several crucial third-down conversions. If the coach doesn’t trust his punter and defence enough that he has to attempt multiple third down attempts, he has already lost.