The CFL season is always unpredictable, and every team will experience challenges they need to overcome if they intend to challenge for the Grey Cup. Those that can persevere often emerge stronger, and later site the challenge as the turning point of their season
The Argonauts were hit with a huge blow last week when they lost star quarterback Ricky Ray
for six weeks with a shoulder injury. But I believe Toronto will emerge from this experience a more capable contender to repeat as Grey Cup champions.
The good news is that Ray will not require surgery and that it was only a soft tissue injury. Players don't often recover fully from structural damage to a shoulder, and that kind of injury often leads to chronic issues throughout their careers. The fact that Ray's is a soft tissue injury means that he should be able to make a full recovery and return to being the quarterback we have grown to appreciate when he steps back on the field.
Toronto plays back-to-back games against hapless Winnipeg in Weeks 17 and 18, giving them the luxury of easing Ray back onto the field. As a veteran quarterback, he should have plenty of time to get his timing back prior to the playoffs.Playoffs?
Yes, I fully expect Toronto (which is 5-3 and leading the East Division heading into Tuesday night's home game against Montreal) to make the playoffs. I would even go so far as to suggest the Argos will host a playoff game. There is no reason why Toronto can't win at least four games in the second half of the season, and if they get to nine wins they're in the playoffs.
Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo is still feeling "crappy" after his concussion, which makes me believe that his recovery may be drawn out (Dave Dickenson never recovered after feeling similar symptoms), weakening one of Toronto's East Division rivals.
There could be another twist in the battle for home field. The East team that has the best chance right now to secure first place in the division is Hamilton (4-5). Home-field advantage is always a nice bonus in the playoffs, but the Ticats' temporary home, Alumni Stadium in Guelph, holds only 8,500 people. Even if temporary seating is assembled, the league is leaving dollars on the table if they choose to play a playoff game there. If Toronto faces Hamilton in the playoffs, look for the game to be played at Rogers Centre. Expanded playbook
The Argos, with Zach Collaros
filling in for Ray at quarterback, beat a very good B.C. Lions team in Week 5
. Collaros completed 21 of 25 passes for 253 yards and helped the Argos score 38 points against a very good Lions defence.
The difference between the B.C. game and Toronto's loss last week
to Calgary was that the game plan against B.C. was designed to capitalize on Collaros's strengths and that Collaros was better prepared heading into the B.C. game because he took all of the practice reps during the week.
Argos coach Scott Milanovich will design an offensive game plan that is built around a strong rushing attack and incorporates plenty of creative misdirection plays. He will not ask Collaros to sit in the pocket, but rather get him to use his legs and move the pocket to simplify his reads and extend plays.
The next two months are going to give the Argos time to broaden their offensive playbook, which will make them less predictable and therefore much more difficult to play later in the season. When Ray returns, what team do you prepare for?
Currently the Argos have the least productive rushing attack in the CFL, averaging only 82.5 yards per game. With the addition of a mobile quarterback paired with versatile players like Chad Owens and Andre Durie, Milanovich will implement a creative rushing attack that will challenge defensive discipline.
After nine weeks of pass protection, the Argo offensive line will finally be given the green light to run block. The welcomed change will go a long way toward improving the o-line's skill and will serve the team well when the weather gets cold. Trying to execute a passing attack in the cold wind will be tough to do if they make it to Regina for the Grey Cup game.
For years, the Argos won games based on great defensive football and by winning the field-position battle. Although this year's Toronto defence is good, it's not great. Same for the Argos' special teams.
When you have a quarterback like Ray on the field, a team can get into a false sense of security and lose a sense of urgency. Well, now the pressure is on, and in order for Toronto to have success over the next two months, its defence will need to limit teams to field goals and the special teams unit will need to shorten the field for Collaros and the offence.
Losing Ray to injury is definitely a huge blow to the Argos. But the character and skill that can emerge from their need to adjust may make them the most dangerous team to play at the end of the season.
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