July 30, 2014

Cauz: Ray carrying a heavy burden for Boatmen

I didn’t want to re-watch the game. I always avoid highlights whenever any of my favourite teams lose. Why put your self through the agony? However, my sense of curiosity overwhelmed my desire to erase the memory of Saskatchewan’s butt-kicking 37-9 win over my Argonauts.

After beating the Roughriders 48-15 three weeks earlier, Toronto found themselves on the other end, losing by 28. This was an important game for two teams both looking to avoid three game losing streaks. The Argonauts are dealing with a plethora of injuries on offence, and feature a defence that is in flux.

The Roughriders were looking to regain their post-season mojo, and to try to keep up with the incredibly difficult Western Division. The last time these teams met Ricky Ray threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Chad Owens dominated the first half and the defence sacked Darian Durant five times.

» By the Numbers: Ricky Ray’s 2014 season
Week 1:
27/38, 283 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 109.9 QBR
Week 2: 29/37, 407 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 140.3 QBR
Week 3: 28/36, 292 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 100.7 QBR
Week 4: 21/37, 298 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 69.5 QBR
Week 5: 23/35, 221 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 59.4 QBR

Toronto led 17-1 at the half and never looked back. But in Week 5 the script completely switched.

The headlines surrounding Toronto are the injuries to Owens, Andre Durie and Jason Barnes. I’ll get into that in a bit, but how about the impact of the injury to left tackle Sir Vincent Rogers? How could you not feel bad for Matt Sewell making his first ever start at left tackle, and, on top of that having to face John Chick?

If I’m the rest of the league I start a collection to convince the Jacksonville Jaguars to bring Chick back to Florida. After Saturday’s game, I bet Ricky Ray would write a sizeable cheque as well. Chick is one of those defensive ends that can beat you with power or speed. One sack late in the first half saw Chick not only beat Sewell but also left guard Tyler Holmes who wasn’t quick enough to help out.

Unfortunately on this day it was not just Sewell’s fault. Right tackle Chris Van Zeyl had his hands full as well. Both of Ricky Ray’s interceptions came with pressure in his face. His first pick came as a result of Chick flushing out Ray with Derek Walker hitting him right after the ill fated pass left Ray’s hand.

The second interception followed a similar recipe with Ray feeling the pressure as Chick blew past Van Zeyl. Saskatchewan’s defensive dominance was more than just a one man show. A critical play that may have gone unnoticed was Ricky Foley applying pressure on Ray on a second down play after Toronto had advanced to the 10 yard line thanks to a Durant interception.

Toronto had the opportunity to cut the lead to 14-7. Instead, their excellent field position was squandered due to Foley’s ability to disrupt Ray’s timing.

Injuries to key offensive weapons like Chad Owens, Andre Durie and Jason Barnes have made life very difficult
for Ray in the Argos’ offensive backfield.

So we’ve covered one of the major themes from the game, Toronto’s inability to protect Ricky Ray. Unfortunately for Ray, his ability to lead a team was severely hampered by problem number two: The inability of his weapons to create separation.

There were many examples but the most glaring occurred during the Argonauts second golden chance to score a touchdown. This time it was late in the first quarter after a 46-yard catch by rookie Anthony Coombs (who is looking more and more comfortable every week). The score was 14-3, Toronto faced a second and 10, and were a play away from cutting the lead to four.

Considering how bad the first quarter had been for the Argonauts this would have been a mini victory for the Boatmen. Instead, Ray completed a seven yarder to Maurice Mann who was soon swarmed by two defensive backs and out came Swaye Waters for yet another short field goal. This play was doomed from the start.

Speaking of doomed, that is the proposition that Ricky Ray finds himself in. Now I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, the CFL season is a long and anything can happen, but Ray is carrying perhaps the heaviest burden of any starting quarterback.

You can’t overstate the impact of the loss of Durie and Owens. Every quarterback needs a safety blanket. That guy on 2nd and 7 who you can trust will get you eight. Durie and Owens were more than just chain moving, first down creating targets. They are guys that turn a five yard play into 30.

They have the skill and ability to create one-on-one situations for every other Argonaut skill position player while demanding double teams consistently.

As for the running game, well you know you are in trouble when Ray is your number two rusher and only 33 yards away from leading the team. To call Ray “plodding” is a compliment to the quarterback and an insult to the adjective “plodding”. 

Throw in a defence that made Will Ford look like a modern day version of George Reed (So many bad angles, so many missed tackles) and I feel fairly comfortable in saying that no quarterback has a tougher job than Ricky Ray.

Now before I get the request hate mail from my friends from Regina, let me say this game was not just about Toronto’s injuries or the mistakes made by the Argonauts. First off you have to be a skilled team to force mistakes from your opponent and that is exactly what the Roughriders did.

Their offensive line deserves a ton of credit for controlling the pace and Durrant made all the plays asked of him. Yes his final numbers aren’t going to win you your fantasy week. But who cares?

His one interception was the result of a batted pass by Jamie Robinson and on the couple occasions they need Durant to make a big play, he did. Whether it was running in for a touchdown from 10 yards out or hitting Taj Smith for a critical 35-yard gain on a second and 14 Durant was up to the task.

In the end this game was about many things. It was yet another reminder about the gap between the West and the East. It was a clear illustration of the burden on Ricky Ray to carry a flawed Argonauts team, and that it is was too early for Roughrider fans to panic about Saskatchewan’s slow start.

They have more than enough weapons to make some noise in the Western Division.