TORONTO -- Monday night’s clash between the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos has already been dubbed the return of Cory Boyd and Steven Jyles to the Rogers Centre for the first time in a new uniform, and another shot for Ricky Ray to get his first win against his old team.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
Both teams head into a pivotal Week 9 looking to keep pace of first place in their respective divisions, and with matchups against key divisional opponents just one week away, the emphasis will be on gaining steam heading into Labour Day.
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For the Argos, who are coming off one of their best all-around performances of the season in a 22-14 road win over the Stampeders, that means finding more consistency on offence – especially against an Esks defence that will be coming in hungry.
“They’re a good defence, they don’t give up a lot,” said quarterback Ricky Ray, who threw for 316 yards and a touchdown in Calgary. “Early in the year they weren’t giving up many points, Montreal was able to score some points on them last week and we’ve got to try to do the same, to get out there and get after them a little bit.”
Ray’s offence found the end zone just once the last time these teams met back in Week 1, as the Argos were stumped by the Esks 19-15 on opening weekend at Commonwealth Stadium. The Green and Gold relied on a zone defence to keep the Argos at bay in that game, while also getting help with penalties, dropped passes, turnovers, and a couple of missed field goals.
Those are the kinds of things rookie head coach Scott Milanovich said can’t happen if his team is going to have success on Monday night’s rematch.
“When teams play a lot of zone against you, the thing that you cannot do is have a drop or a penalty, or make mistakes, and that’s what BC’s doing so well, they’re making you go the distance and if you make a mistake you’re off the field,” said Milanovich. “Edmonton’s doing the same thing, and they’re able to rush the passer. They’ll play some man too but we just need to be efficient with what we’re doing and Ricky needs to take what’s there.”
The Argos and Esks appear similar in more ways than just their identical records heading into this game. Both teams have had success because of their defence, while the offences continue to work on finishing drives.
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“There are a lot of similarities,” said Head Coach Kavis Reed, now in his third year with the Esks. “The thing is we both went through the transition of having different quarterbacks. We didn’t come in with the continuity on offence, and as the season progresses, you’re starting to see that both offences are starting to take shape.”
Some of that came to fruition for the Argos against Calgary, as the team had success in all three phases of the game.
On offence, they were able to sustain long drives and control possession. On defence, they kept Kevin Glenn and the Stamps out of the end zone until inside the final minute of the game.
“They’re a very aggressive football team defensively, they make plays defensively,” said Reed. “Offensively, they do a lot of things very well. They use a lot of formations. They’re a team that’s a blue-collar team, as we are a blue-collar team, and they’ve very disciplined in the things they do.”
But the Argos were still missing that killer instinct – particularly in the red zone, where they’ve been haunted all season.
In 24 tries from inside the 20-yard-line this season, the Argos have scored just seven touchdowns, putting them at just 29 per cent. That didn’t get any better against Calgary, with no touchdowns in three tries, leaving the Boatmen lagging well behind the league average of 56 per cent.
If they’re looking for a quick fix, it won’t come easy, going up against not only one of the best red zone defences in the league, but a defence that enters Monday’s game with something to prove.
The Green and Gold went into last week’s 38-25 loss to the Alouettes allowing an average of just 16.5 points against per game through the first six games. But with a chance to keep pace with the West Division-leading Lions, they fell behind early after surrendering four first-half touchdowns.
Linebacker JC Sherritt, an emerging leader on the Esks defence, said his defence was embarrassed against the Als, and that there’s plenty of urgency heading into this week.
“Right now we have a lot of work to do,” said the 24-year-old, who leads the CFL in defensive tackles. “We’re not close to where we want to be, and if you want to be the best you’ve got to get better every game.”
“Montreal, they made some plays, but at the same time we felt like we didn’t play well and that’s something that we’ve got to fix,” Sherritt added.
While it was a performance that the defence would like to forget, that unit has played a major role in Edmonton’s early success this season, likely making last week’s letdown an anomaly more than anything else.
It’ll also be important for the offence to get back on track this week, after being shutout for most of the first half and getting just nine carries for 39 yards from the duo of Cory Boyd and Hugh Charles. Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph, meanwhile, combined for three interceptions.
|The last time they met|
JC Sherritt had a forced fumble to go with a game-high 11 tackles, as the Esks' defence made a statement by shutting down former quarterback Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argos to start the season. Ray had 298 yards and a touchdown, but found the end zone just once as penalties and turnovers plagued the Double Blue offence. Cory Boyd, meanwhile, was held to just 57 yards on 18 touches. Steven Jyles had 236 yards and an interception, but managed the game well enough to get the win against his former team, while Adarius Bowman added a game-high 110 receiving yards on five catches.
But all of that may take a back seat to the hype of Jyles and Boyd making their first return to Toronto.
Most people likely had Monday’s game circled on their CFL calendar as the return of Jyles, who spent 2011 in an Argos uniform – but the spotlight has since shifted after the Argos released then-leading rusher Boyd just two weeks ago, and the 27-year-old signed with the Double E the same night.
While both Jyles and Boyd would surely enjoy a memorable return against their former team, neither plan to get caught up in the hype.
“We know what we’ve got to do,” said Boyd, who said it’ll be important to stay cool, calm, and collected heading into his first game back. “It’s not so much where we play at, or who we play, it’s about how we play as a team.”
The third-year CFL back had close to 3,000 yards during his tenure as an Argo, and after getting just three touches in his Edmonton debut last week, he’s expected to get a little more action against his former team now that he’s had an extra week to learn the offence.
Quick to downplay the situation though, Esks Head Coach Kavis Reed said the fact that it’s Boyd’s first game back in Toronto won’t have any bearing the running back’s involvement in the game plan.
“It’s not Cory Boyd playing the Toronto Argonauts, it’s the Edmonton Eskimos,” Reed explained. “If Cory fits into what we’re trying to accomplish, he’ll have his role, but we’re not going to put any emphasis on Cory Boyd because he’s returning to play Toronto.”
Jyles also predictably shrugged off his return to Toronto, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering five of his first seven games with Edmonton this season have been against former teams – including the season opener against the Argos back on June 30.
“It’s another game – It’s our second time playing Toronto,” said Jyles. “We know that those guys are going to feel like they gave one away earlier in the year, and of course, they’re going to feel that way.”
“I’m going to have fun going back to Rogers Centre to play, but like I said, we’re trying to win. We’re trying to stay above .500, and in order to do that, we have to go to Toronto and get a win.”
The Esks have had the Argos’ number of late, with four straight wins dating back to August 6, 2010 at Commonwealth Stadium, when Cleo Lemon led a last-minute drive to give the Argos a 29-28 win.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia and Argonauts.ca
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|