Ferguson: Setting the stage for Nichols, MBT in Toronto

It’s an age old question: Who deserves the credit?

Call it ego or just human nature, we are constantly wondering in sports who deserves the credit or the blame. There is rarely a peaceful middle ground.

When breaking down quarterback play, I constantly face a classic example of this internal ‘credit vs. blame’ debate, but it isn’t athlete vs. athlete or even coach vs. athlete.

It is something much more difficult to assess: system vs. quarterback.

How much credit does Dave Dickenson deserve for making Nick Arbuckle a viable CFL starter in such a manner that multiple teams showed interest?

Why was Paul LaPolice’s system able to take the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from a struggling run-heavy bunch to the most diverse and entertaining Grey Cup-winning attack we’ve seen in recent memory?

Is Dane Evans the next up and coming star or is Tommy Condell’s offence one of the most ready made for quarterback success regardless of age, experience or skill set.

Is Zach Collaros really THAT good? Good enough to warrant a new contract and send the incumbent Bombers starter Matt Nichols to the free agent waiting line after just four games in blue and gold?

All of these types of questions are about to define the 2020 Toronto Argonauts offence.

» Clemons: ‘We have two top-10 quarterbacks’
Bio: Matt Nichols McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Ferguson: Dissecting the Argos’ offence
» Official Free Agent Tracker 
» Argos ink Nichols to three-year deal

Matt Nichols signed a three-year deal with the Argos on Friday (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

When McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Matt Nichols step into Argonauts training camp this May, we will get a chance to see a clear example of these questions created by perception come to the forefront in reality.

Here’s what is on the table.

Nichols has been viewed around the league by many fans as a game manager, or someone who benefited endlessly from the work of backfield partner RB Andrew Harris. Is that fair? It’s hard to say until you see Nichols play without Harris.

We find out in May.

Is McLeod Bethel-Thompson really the gunslinger who feared nothing and threw the ball violently all of 2019 or was he a man forced to chase games on behalf of a weak Argos roster?

We find out in May.

Complicating all of this, of course, is the knowledge that Nichols and Bethel-Thompson will be operating under dramatically different circumstances than they did in 2019.

For Nichols, it’s a new city for the first time in five years, a new offensive coach, little to no relationship with most, if not all, offensive skill position players and a new uniform on his chest that will undoubtedly take some getting used to.

For Bethel-Thompson, it’s a new offensive system and an expected overhaul of receiver talent after his leading target S.J. Green (team leading 20.8% of 2019 targeted touches) was released on Friday to find his next adventure.

Gone are the likes of Brandon Burks (released) and James Wilder Jr. (released and signed by Montreal) to complement either quarterback in the back field as well.

It’s all a very clean slate for the Argonauts and who can blame them? After a four-win season featuring three wins against Ottawa – the only team to fair worse in the standings – the Argos needed a hard reset which you could argue has already been achieved.

That one non-REDBLACKS win by the way was against Nichols and his now former Bombers.

In Nichols and Bethel-Thompson the Argos have found the always elusive ‘quarterback stability,’ a concept as valuable as it is fragile. What surrounds them is yet to be determined so all we can do for now – far too early – is assess what we know of the two men vying for one job in Toronto.

Matt Nichols McLeod Bethel-Thompson
1st Down Pass Playcall % 56.9% 75.3%
2nd Down Pass Playcall % 78.9% 85.3%
1st Down Completion % 64.4% 70.7%
2nd Down Completion % 66.7% 63.5%
Yards Per Attempt 11.0 11.9
Yards Per Completion 7.2 8.1
Average Yards in Air 8.30 10.13
Touchdown % 9.1% 7.7%
Passes Per Touchdown 10.9 13.0
Interception % 2.9% 4.5%
Sack % 5.24% 7.17%
Pass Play Scramble % 1.1% 3.9%
Accuracy Grade 67.9 66.3
Production Grade 54.6 55.3

Nichols limited mistakes, took less sacks, was more accurate and more efficient throwing touchdowns in his shortened 2019 farewell Winnipeg season.

Bethel-Thompson was more productive at large, more likely to take off running, threw the ball considerably deeper downfield and refused to stop attacking regardless of down and distance.

Those are the perceptions – based in numbers – that we weigh all opinion in as we begin to wonder who will be the Argos starting quarterback in 2020.

We find out in May, or more accurately we begin to find out, because coming off a year where 17 quarterbacks attempted 90+ passes – the highest number to do so in over five years – any combination of these two refined passers is possible.

What will determine who gets the job is not what system they came from, but how they adapt to the new situation in Toronto. The stage is set, both men are ready.

Let the competition begin and the credit be defined.