July 31, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: The Argos keep on flexing

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

I’ll be the first to admit the Toronto Argonauts haven’t gotten as much MMQB love as they deserve this season. They’re suffering from the same syndrome the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have dealt with the last couple years: they’re always good and they always win. But we’ll change that this week.

After Saturday’s 31-13 win over Saskatchewan at Touchdown Atlantic, the Argos are 6-0 for the first time since 1935. So much of the focus of Toronto’s perfect start has been on their offence, and for good reason. But that unit didn’t have to be the driving force against the Riders. Instead, it was the two other phases that won the day.

Defensively, the Argonauts were big play machines in Halifax led by DaShaun Amos and his 58-yard interception return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Amos and fellow halfback Robertson Daniel each had interceptions in the win, which brings Toronto to a league-leading 14 in just six games.

» Argos row to 6-0 with TDA win over Riders
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» Bo Levi Mitchell avoids season-ending injury, moves to 6-game
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Up front, Toronto’s defensive line racked up four sacks against Saskatchewan: one each from Shawn Oakman, Robbie Smith, Folarin Orimolade and Brandon Barlow. Linebacker Wynton McManis added another sack for five in the game, while Orimolade and Royce Metchie each forced fumbles.

Overall, the Argos have forced a league leading 23 turnovers, which is impressive enough. But when you consider Toronto has played fewer games than all but one team in the league, it really drives home how difficult this defence is to play against. Defensive coordinator Corey Mace’s unit deserves their due and then some.

And let’s not forget to spread the love to phase three: special teams. With his 71-yard major in the first quarter, Javon Leake joined Saskatchewan’s Mario Alford as the only player with two punt return touchdowns this season. It was the 24-year-old Leake, who has quietly emerged as one of the league’s best returners, overshadowing Alford in that head-to-head matchup with 171 yards on six touches.

Boris Bede hit all three of his field goals in the win and is now up to 92.3 per cent accuracy on the season. And his strong season has also carried into the field position game; Bede leads the league with 2,469 total kickoff yards. That’s good for an average of 72.6 yards-per-kick, also No. 1 overall. With John Haggerty’s solid punting, including six punts inside the 10-yard line, the Argos are checking boxes off across the board on special teams.

It’s not like Toronto’s offence was bad on Saturday, either. Chad Kelly took care of the ball and used a strong run game to move the ball effectively; the tailback duo of Andrew Harris and AJ Ouellette combined for 75 run yards.

And that’s the impressive part. We’ve seen many nights when the Argonauts have been downright scary on offence. But Touchdown Atlantic put the other facets of Toronto’s game on display, which was a great way to drive home one of the most emphatic stories of the season thus far.

The defending Grey Cup champions are here to stay and they’re playing elite football across the board.

Silver lining

Bo Levi Mitchell landed on the six-game injured list again, but the Ticats have said his fractured leg is not a season-ending injury (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

Goodness, did I feel awful for Bo Levi Mitchell on Friday night. After missing four weeks with an adductor injury, Mitchell returned to the Ticats’ lineup and helped them grind out a 16-12 victory on the road in Ottawa. Then he sustained an injury to his lower right leg on the game’s second-last play, which has sent Mitchell right back to the injured list.

Mitchell’s first year in Hamilton has been anything but easy. There’s been a learning curve with a new offence and teammates, no question. And then there’s the bad injury luck. For instance, Friday saw Mitchell sustain his injury in freak circumstances on a routine play. Sometimes it just works that way.

There’s a silver lining for Mitchell, though. First off, the team says it expects him to return after his stint on the six-game injured list. It’s also important to note Mitchell’s ability to deal with tough situations. His final two years in Calgary saw plenty of adversity, both due to injury and otherwise. You can bet Mitchell will deal with this latest setback effectively.

As Hamilton gets ready to host the now 3-3 Alouettes in a huge Week 9 East Division showdown, it likely gives us another chance to watch Taylor Powell in action. I’ve liked a lot of Powell’s early work and thought he showed impressive flashes in his only start against that vaunted Toronto defence.

With Mitchell on the shelf for the next number of weeks, and with Matthew Shiltz also on the six-game list, it feels like it’s Powell’s ball for a little while here.

Quick hits

A tip of the hat to Nova Scotia once again. After Wolfville came out strong in last year’s Touchdown Atlantic, it was Halifax’s turn to show up Saturday. The capital did just that with a sold-out crowd of 11,555 at Huskies Stadium. We know the CFL is strong in Atlantic Canada and we all know the league is planning on eventually installing a 10th team on the east coast. Saturday’s event was another example why that’s a worthy challenge to undertake.

Finally, has anyone looked at the Week 9 schedule? It just happens to open with the marquee showdown of the season thus far: the BC Lions on the road against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. There’s so much to sink your teeth into with this matchup, it’s silly.

First off, it’s a rematch of Week 3 when the Lions rolled into IG Field in Winnipeg and stunned the CFL’s best home field advantage to the tune of 30-6. It’s a chance at redemption for the 5-2 Bombers, who were on a bye in Week 8. And for 6-1 British Columbia, coming off Saturdays’ 27-0 win in Edmonton, it’s a chance to emphatically cement their spot as the top team in the West. I can’t wait.

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