Many people have wondered where my articles have gone, and by many I just mean Ben but as I explained to him, an artist can not be expected to just slap some primer on a dining room wall, I need inspiration…so here without further ado, is my return to articles. The Argos are now at the halfway point of the season and the start has been encouraging. All the preseason hope has been shown to be justified as the team has gone from a punchline to a top tier competitor. BUT there is still work to be done. The Argos are fighting for the one seed in the East and have shown that they can compete with the best in the West but not consistently yet. So, what needs to change in the back seven of the season, so the team can go from improved to having a real shot at the Grey Cup?
One of the most encouraging aspects of the team is that there is good balance between offense and defense. There is no glaring weakness, the team is basically mid league in every category, which matches the record. So, no overhaul is needed, just a few tweaks. The first area to improve is one that was a key in the season preview and that is the points per game average. It is still not in the top 3 and that speaks to consistency. 19 points per game is 6th in the league and certainly they have been able to surpass that but not on a regular basis and that uneven play needs to come to an end. I understand there have been a lot of injuries to the key offensive positions, I am not here to criticize what they have done, just that they need to increase it to 23 or 24 points per game to be a top tier squad. Fast starts, fighting for contested catches, more running touchdowns these are all things that can be improved. If they can move that average a few points up, book your seat in Hamilton.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the accuracy of the quarterback also needs to improve from 64% which ranks 7th in the league. Again, the lack of a consistent group of receivers and quarterback has lowered this number, but I really feel that the Argos offense is built to increase this. Connected to this stat is that the Argos are also 7th achieving a first down with a pass. The mid-range passing game should be a strength with the skill set of the Argo receivers, and I would love to see more passes out of the backfield to the running backs. Increasing the success rate of passing for first downs will also mean longer sustained drives, which means more rest for the defense and an absolute must for playing great teams.
For the defense a few areas of concern pop. The first and most important to improve on is the number of touchdowns allowed through the air. A bend but don’t break defense, which seems to be one favoured in the first half only really works if the thing doesn’t actually break. Bend and break is no good. The Argos have allowed 12 touchdowns through the air, second worst in the league. The Argos are allowing an average of 10 points per game against the pass, in comparison Winnipeg is allowing 1.5. The pass defense as a whole has been decent to excellent, but this stat is glaringly bad. It is indicative of way too many busts, and it means that opposing teams can put up scores that the 19-point average offense cannot compete with. Big leads mean pressure on the o-line, because the run is no longer an option, and it lets opposing defenses to sit and wait on deep passes. Fewer scores through the air will keep games closer and more wins. If the team had more interceptions, I could accept the scores but that is not the defense that they have played.
Unfortunately, the run defense also needs to tighten up a little. Much like the passing defense, overall, it has been steady, save a poor game in Montreal against the best back in the league, Will Stanback. The team is last in the league in percentage of first downs achieved via the run and so that must be tightened up, to prevent long drives. I’m not overly concerned with the run defense, but it is an area to keep an eye on. And my last focus for the defense is that the team is not creating turnovers at a rate commensurate with the talent on the field. I mentioned the picks which are ok, but the Argos have only forced 3 fumbles this season so far, which is not great, and our injured defensive line only have 14 sacks, again in the bottom two in the league. My hope for the second half of the season under Coach Jones is a healthier, more aggressive defense that keys on turning the ball over. The fact that the Argos are winning games with no offensive help from the defense or special teams means there is so much more that can be achieved by this team when all three units are helping.
I don’t mean to feed a fed horse, but lastly the return game has to improve in the second half. The Argos are second last in punt return yard average and last in kick off return average. The last two Grey Cup champs, Winnipeg and Calgary were both in the top half of both categories by the end of the season and that is where Toronto needs to get. We don’t have an electric returner at the moment, but a great team cannot be sitting in eight or ninth in any significant category. Worthy looks like he improves it, so I’m hopeful this last area to work on will be checked off.
So, there you go. There are seven games left. With improvements in each of these areas, they will win 5 of the 7 and finish first in the East. Piece of cake.