October 7, 2022

Argos defence calling on depth in wake of injuries

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

You can’t exactly replicate what Wynton McManis has brought to the Toronto Argonauts defence this year.

The weak side linebacker has been at the top of the CFL in defensive plays (he’s at 106 through 17 weeks) and has solidified himself in the conversation of the league’s best defenders.

But with McManis now on the sideline for the foreseeable future after suffering a knee injury last week against the Calgary Stampeders, the Argos will have to try to replace his high-level of play, along with his energy and the chemistry he’s built with middle linebacker Henoc Muamba.

A tall task, but not exactly impossible.

“Now it’s just about building that chemistry with the person who’s going to replace him,” said Muamba. “And it’s never really going to be one person to fill the shoes that he was able to do for this defence. But it’s going to be by committee and we’ve got a lot of young guys who I think are ready and it’s an opportunity for them.”


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Jonathan Jones is listed as the starter at WILL this week on the team’s official depth chart, but defensive coordinator Corey Mace confirmed on Thursday that it’s likely that Jones and Trevor Hoyte will see time at the position on Saturday afternoon.

Jones, a five-foot-11, 230-pound linebacker, has seen action in two games so far this season with Toronto. He tallied two tackles on special teams in Week 8 against the Ottawa REDBLACKS and had another one in Week 3 against the BC Lions.

“(Jones) is a see ball, get ball kind of guy,” Mace said. “He’s an intense cat. He’s very, very athletic as well. I think certainly going back to his college tape, and even what he did for us a pre-season, he’s a playmaker. That’s kind of something that you love about Wynton, he calls himself a playmaker. JJ has that kind of in his DNA as well.”

Also injured in the game last week was team sack leader Shane Ray. Without Ray on the edge of the defensive line, defensive end Robbie Smith will see more action against the Lions this week.

The six-foot-two, 245-pounder has played mostly in a rotational role but did get a handful of starts when Ja’Gared Davis was out with an injury earlier in the season. Smith has notched 15 defensive tackles to go along with another six on special teams, while also adding two sacks and forced a fumble. The 25-year-old also hauled in his first career interception in Week 10 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“He’s had a great year,” Mace said of Smith. “I know the sack numbers are not what he wants, but he’s been very disruptive. He’s an intelligent guy, he works his tail off, and he’s very talented. His workload is going to be asked to increase.”

On their way to leading the East Division with an 8-6 record, the Argos defence has been a major factor. They’re first in interceptions with 24, they have allowed a league-low 23 offensive touchdowns, and are second in turnovers forced with 39, just behind Calgary (40). And yet, they have just 27 sacks on the season, good for last in the league. Seems like an issue, right? Well, it actually may not be.

Yes, sacks are the statistic that most look at to judge how well a defence, and more specifically a defensive line, is getting after the quarterback, but they don’t actually tell the whole story. Getting pressure on an opposing pivot and making them uncomfortable in the pocket are the important intangibles that may not show up on the final stat page after a game.

And Mace knows that his group is doing all of those things, even if they aren’t getting credited for a sack.

“I am pleased with the disruption. But I want the number (of sacks) to go up for those guys, they work hard to get those numbers,” Mace said. “We talk about all the time, we’ve been getting a lot of pressure, getting a lot of hits and disruptions, but we have to get there half a second faster.”

This week the Double Blue get ready to take on the BC Lions at BMO Field. While Vernon Adams Jr. is coming off an excellent showing last week against the REDBLACKS where he threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and extended plays with his legs, the Argos know there are plenty of other members of that offence they need to keep an eye on.

Henoc Muamba had two interceptions last week against the Calgary Stampeders (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Dominique Rhymes is having an excellent second season with the Leos, joining four other players to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark (1,165). He’s also second in the league in receiving touchdowns (10). Running back James Butler has rushed for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries in his last three games, while also getting in on the receiving game, hauling in all 10 passes thrown his way for 64 yards and a major score.

Stopping the run, whether it’s Butler or Adams Jr., is top of mind for Toronto heading into this matchup.

James Butler is a guy that we’re going to have to eliminate, you have to force VA to be one dimensional because he’s so versatile,” said Muamba. “He can do so many things. We have to guide him and force him to be just a pocket passer and we’ll see how we can defend them in that way.”

Keeping the Lions high-octane offence off the scoreboard early will be another key for Toronto, and that’s something they’ve done well as of late. In their last three games, the Argos defence has allowed zero points in the first quarter and in their last seven contests, they’ve only only allowed 10 in the opening frame. They’re also +22 over those seven games in the first 15 minutes.

“Regardless of what time is left on the clock in the game, we’re saying no points or closest we can get. The guys have taken a stranglehold on that,” said Mace. “(We are) midway through the season, and they’re hitting on a high note right now, and we have to continue to limit teams to points and also be able to help our offence, getting turnovers and putting them in a good position to keep doing what they’re doing.”

With a home playoff date already locked in, the Argos now set their sights on keeping the top spot in the division and hosting the Eastern Final, and it all starts on Saturday in a battle with the Lions.

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