Stampeders.com, Peter Power/CFL.ca
CALGARY — The Toronto Argonauts are in search of their seventh straight win to open the season when they travel west to take on the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night.
The Argonauts put on a strong performance for football fans in Halifax last week as they downed the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-13 at Touchdown Atlantic. Rough might be the right word to describe the season thus far for the Stampeders, as they’ve limped to a 2-5 record that includes a 24-18 loss to Montreal in Week 8.
A look at the league leader board should tell you pretty easily what the Argonauts will try to do on offence on Friday. Quarterback Chad Kelly and running back AJ Ouellette have torched opposing defences on the ground. When Kelly decides to run he’s averaging 5.5 yards. As for Ouellette, he’s totalled 447 yards and rushed for four touchdowns.
It’s a strategy head coach Ryan Dinwiddie will likely deploy again against a Stampeders defensive front allowing 120.3 rushing yards per game. If Kelly and Ouellette aren’t enough, Andrew Harris is more than capable of moving his team downfield with his legs, as he moved into fifth on the CFL’s all-time leaders list in rushing yards last week.
With the Stamps likely to place a heavy defensive focus on the run, Kelly needs to execute in the air to provide versatility on offence. He’s coming off a performance in Halifax where he completed 13 passes for 122 yards.
The Stamps’ secondary, which is allowing a very respectable 242.3 yards per game, will try to close time and space on the likes of DaVaris Daniels, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Cam Phillips, who will be motivated for a better performance after combining for 84 yards against the Riders.
The Argos’ run defence has been strong but their pass defence has struggled to shutdown receivers from accumulating yardage despite allowing the second fewest points of any team.
When opposing running backs have been handed the ball, they’ve been limited to a measly 63 yards per game.
Stamps’ quarterback Jake Maier will be tempted to move the ball through the air given the Argos are allowing a league-worst average of 321.7 pass yards. They’ve also given up 11 passing touchdowns, which ranks last.
But that doesn’t mean Maier won’t need to be weary when targeting his top receivers. Defensive backs DaShaun Amos, Robertson Daniel and Qwan’tez Stiggers are all capable of making plays in the secondary. The three have combined for eight of the team’s 14 interceptions.
Maier tossed a pair of picks against the Als on Sunday night and completed 55 per cent of his passes, a total he’ll have to improve on given the Argos ability to shut down the run game.
Look for him to target Reggie Begelton and Tre Odoms-Dukes (a game-time decision), two of the Stamps top receivers all season. Begelton had 102 receiving yards and Odoms-Dukes pulled down 87 in Week 8.
When it comes to executing in the run game, head coach Dave Dickenson turned to five different players against the Als but most of the work this week should go through Mills.
Containing the Double Blue’s potent run game will likely be more important, however.
As has been the case all season, linebacker Micah Awe will be held responsible for keeping the Argos in check. He continues to lead the league with 65 total defensive plays and 58 tackles.
With 22 sacks on the season, getting to Kelly early and pressuring the offensive line should help quash the run.
Awe admits he’s frustrated with his team’s record but still believes in the group each time they take the field.
“Honestly, there’s a hope in me that we’re learning,” Awe told Stampeders.com.
“We’re really not that far off. So I’m not too worried about it. I look at my teammates, no ones really super worried. We just have to finish. We have to go over the top and start putting it together.”
Defensive back Branden Dozier had the Stamps’ lone sack last week so don’t be surprised to see pressure from the entire defence. Dozier also leads the secondary that’s been strong defending the ball in the air. Collectively, Dozier, Jonathan Moxey and Kobe Williams will need to keep things tight down the field.
Dickenson has been happy with his team’s efforts but knows it needs to start turning into victories, something that won’t be easy against the league’s only undefeated team.
“We’re playing extremely hard,” Dickenson told Stampeders.com.
“You wish the guys would get rewarded. We’re going to keep at it. I haven’t seen any fragmentation in the room but ultimately we have to start winning and making sure this great effort is rewarded with a win.”
The Argonauts want to continue to roll and extend their lead in the East Division, along with their winning streak. But the Stamps handing them their first loss would be quite the way for them to get back on track.
Kickoff from McMahon Stadium is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET. Canadian viewers can catch the game on TSN, while American and international audiences can watch on CFL+.