Well, it was always a huge ask to get the win in a consecutive road game on the Grey Cup champs homefield… so what now? Regroup, recalibrate, and go out and win the home opener. This is a huge game for several reasons. First and most importantly in the short term is that looking at the eight-game gauntlet the Argos face to start the season, a win here is crucial for getting to 4-4 which would be fantastic. Secondly and probably more important in the long term, is it is a huge test of the coaching staff. It is a back-to-back game, so we have a chance to try it all again and at home this time, but two looming questions remain: can they identify problem areas that can be fixed and can they diagnose Winnipeg weaknesses to exploit. As we saw from the game on Friday, Winnipeg does not have a huge edge in pure talent over the Argos, a few plays go a different way and Toronto might take that game, so it comes down to coaching. And lastly it is so important for the identity of the team, that BMO become a place where they feel confident and that is unpleasant for visiting teams. Here are a few thoughts I have, upon my return from the calm of Nova Scotia cottage life, on how the Argos can win the home opener.
The first area that must be addressed is the penalty issue. The Argos had 11 penalties in game one and instead of cleaning it up, climbed to 13 on Friday night. These penalties were drive extenders, drive killers and absolutely led to them losing the game. There were penalties on the offense, the defense, and special teams. That simply can not be the case for a winning team as it constantly is putting you in terrible down and distance scenarios and it shows a general mental weakness that the opponent can only draw confidence from. Offside, and false starts must be eliminated from the offensive side of the ball. This is easier to do at home, so I have no issue demanding it. No yards penalties should have been taken care of in camp, they are unacceptable at a high school level, certainly they cant be ok for the pros. There is an old football saying about errors, you’re either lettin’ em happen or you’re coachin’ em; either way the coaching staff needs to address the penalties with the team. If there are more than seven penalties this Saturday, I have grave concerns about the success of the squad.
The second area to improve upon is the punt return game. It is a disaster. In punt returning, Braverman looks slow and easy to track; Collins Jr showed a little wiggle and burst but still too much east west running. The punt return average for Braverman was 8.2 yards, for Collins Jr. 9.2, both behind Winnipeg’s back up returner Charles Nelson who averaged 12 yards. Having no punt return game at all is giving away yards. Can it be improved in a week? Tall task, but as the saying goes, that’s what the money's for. Watching on it on film, the blocking needs to create better paths for the returner to identify, the gunners can not come flying down untouched and the returners need to be decisive and get up the field. I do think the primary issues is that the Argos do not have an elite returner on the active roster, but they need to keep working on the issue, bring someone up, hunt through their XFL directory, or maybe find someone who is cut from NFL camp in the next two weeks.
I thought the defense played damn well on Friday night. They were surprisingly stout in run defense and had some real chances at a couple of interceptions. For the most part they did a good job of keeping Collaros in the pocket and didn’t allow him to run for first downs or to roll to his right. That must continue. My guess/fear is that Andrew Harris will be back to run the ball and the offensive line that takes so much pride in being a great running team will come out and attempt to establish the run with a vengeance. But how can the defense improve? Just a few tweaks. Although I generally loved the pursuit speed of the defensive backs, in run support and underneath passes, there are still some issues with going for bullseye or kill shot tackles rather than wrapping up. Winnipeg had a total of 92 yards after the catch to the Argos 46. The secondary is physical and fast and an absolute elite unit but they can not allow players to bounce off tackles. Not to sound like an old coach but wrap up, wrap up, wrap up. I would also love to see more scheme tweaks such as the back side corner dropping to bait Collaros into throwing the post to a safety-free middle of the field. It should have ended up as an interception but regardless, more of that please. Collaros is a talented quarterback, but he will throw into danger and he can be fooled and I think a game with three interceptions is not out of the question with the proper schemes: maybe more Cover-2 that looks like 0 and then invert it. Set him up early with man responses to formations and then hit him with a zone in the second half. I really think the first half should be about setting up his processing for the second half. Speaking of Cover-0. No more Cover-0.
Friday night was definitely a chance to see what this linebacking crew can be this year. They were absolutely dependable in the run, save a few late reads that led to being pick up by offensive linemen. And most excitingly, they were very effective in the blitz game. I have felt from the beginning of the season that the linebackers were going to actually be much more dangerous in the blitz than the defensive line, as the line takes a lot of energy to control and that leaves running backs in charge of backers coming and as we saw there are very few running backs who can take on Toronto's linebackers. More linebacker blitzes on passing downs will help heat up the pocket. Holding a team to 20 should be enough for a win, so I really am asking the defense to repeat their performance, no major changes are needed.
Lastly, we get to the biggest change heading into Saturday night and that is at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight and Macbeth was sitting in a pumpkin carriage in the third quarter. The man can spin the rock and he made some throws to the outside that were fantastic, but he simply did not get the job done. The overthrown surefire touchdown to Daniels after his double move was the end of the Bethel-Thompson run at starter. He will not return without an injury to Arbuckle. Arbuckle fired the offense up and he looked confident and smooth in delivering the ball. BUT. He must be more decisive and throw a tighter on the hands ball to the underneath guys or he is going to get them killed. His interception throw was also an atrocity. It killed the Argo’s momentum and chance to win the game, his footwork leading up to it was casual and terrible, it looked like an Aaron Rodgers magic throw that creates a play out of nothing. He is not Rodgers at this point, and it created a pick. He is a quarterback who needs to have timing throws and get into a rhythm. I don’t want to see him improvising. I want quick decisive throws. Hooks, slants, digs, outs. He has a quick release and I want to see him be surgical. The passing percentage needs to be above 75 percent. This is his team now. I want to see the quarterback of the future on Saturday night.
So, there we have it. Tighten up some tackling, clean up the penalties and maintain ball possession. Easy. Go get it done, Toronto.