Observations from Argos' Maritimes meltdown

TERRY KOSHAN, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:26 PM ET

MONCTON - Some random thoughts and observations following Touchdown Atlantic, the first Canadian Football League regular season game to be played at a neutral site. We could make a bad joke and say the 20,000-plus fans at Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium are still in their seats, waiting for the Argonauts to arrive, but what would be the point? To recap, the Argos looked tired and disorganized in a 24-6 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos:

COACHING QUERY

If the players are going to be held accountable for their lousy effort, then so too should the coaching staff. The Argos weren’t prepared properly for what head coach Jim Barker had referred to the day before “as the biggest game of the year.” How does that happen? Too many late nights? A feeling of invincibility and overconfidence after breaking a three-game losing streak by beating Winnipeg? Here’s the problem Barker could face in the final six games: The Argos players know that unless they collapse completely, the team will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Is the incentive now to become better than a .500 team? There is no evidence yet that they are anything more than mediocre.

RINGING THE BELL

Some Argos faithful have been calling for weeks for quarterback Dalton Bell to get a start in place of Cleo Lemon, and unless the medical staff finds a miracle cure for concussions, Bell likely will be the guy when the Argos play host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Yes, the Argos receiving corps had not been intact until it got to the Maritimes, but Lemon should have settled into more of a rhythm nonetheless. Moving the football down the field is fine, but demonstrating an inability to score touchdowns time and again through lack of execution has helped result in four losses in five games. Perhaps Bell will have better luck. Lemon was not feeling well on Monday and was scheduled to see team doctors in the afternoon.

BIG PLAY MISSING

The Argos got by in the first seven games because they were pulling big plays out of the hat at opportune times. That has dried up in the past month or so, and it’s another indication the Boatmen are having trouble putting together 60 solid minutes. Interceptions and touchdowns on special teams helped gloss over the Argos’ deficiencies, and when those things don’t happen, reality is laid bare. There are not many .500 clubs in any sport that also happen to be last statistically in offence and defence.

BOY OH BOYD

There’s no doubt that the Argos offence misses running back Cory Boyd, whose presence usually dictated how opposing defences would line up. But it’s not just because of Boyd that the Argos have not been unable to score. They’re at five games and counting in which they have failed to score at least 18 points, and Boyd was around for 21/2 of those games. Boyd rushed for 100 yards four times in the first six games and none in the next four outings. When Boyd does return from a concussion — and considering he did little more in Moncton than run wind sprints, it might not be for a while — he will have to find a way to solve defences that were getting good at stopping him. And is there any way, Boyd or not, to get Jeff Johnson more involved?

D-LINE DOWN

The Eskimos offensive line has struggled — but the Argos defensive line couldn’t take advantage. One of the more surprising aspects of the loss was the inability of the Argos to get in the face of quarterback Ricky Ray, who was not sacked once. In fact, Ray didn’t spend much time at all trying to evade Argos defenders. Ricky Foley, who brought lots of energy in his first game as an Argo the previous week, didn’t have much adrenaline this time out. Foley finished with one tackle. Fellow defensive end Ronald Flemons, coming off probably the best two games of his CFL career, had four.

ROCKIN’ ROBINSON

Receiver James Robinson returned in the second half after suffering what Barker later called a concussion. Let’s hope the terminology was wrong and Robinson really didn’t come back despite getting his noggin knocked.

SKED SKIDS

The Argos blew a chance to beat up on one of the CFL’s weak sisters in losing to Edmonton, and of their remaining six games, there won’t be another chance like it. Consider that the Argos now have a home-and-home with the Roughriders (who have been inconsistent but are 8-4) and finish with the same kind of mini-set against the Montreal Alouettes. In between are a home game versus Hamilton and a road game in Winnipeg. With the manner in which they have performed in the past several weeks, it’s conceivable that the Argos won’t win more than one or two games.

NICE SHOW, OTHERWISE

The fans of Moncton and the surrounding region have to be applauded for their enthusiasm in the days leading up to Touchdown Atlantic and on game day itself. The league is doing the right thing by working toward a multi-year commitment to having a game in the Maritimes, thereby ensuring fan support is solid. There couldn’t have been a better display of love for the game than what was demonstrated, and if commissioner Mark Cohon wanted a successful first step toward expansion to the East Coast, he got it.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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