The Argonauts’ timing couldn’t have been much better in each of their four victories.
Scoring late has become habitual, but it’s a nerve-wracking way to win and one can bet that head coach Jim Barker will remind his players this week that it’s unlikely to be a successful formula for beating the Montreal Alouettes at the Rogers Centre on Saturday.
The Argos have scored first in all of their wins, and all have come thanks to fourth-quarter rallies. What it means is that the defence is faltering in between, something that happened on Friday night in Edmonton, when the Argos led by 12 at the half but allowed the Eskimos to score three touchdowns before Cory Boyd’s one-yard leap finished a 14-play, 94-yard drive led by quarterback Cleo Lemon.
Cornerback Byron Parker, whose hit on Esks receiver Fred Stamps knocked the Edmonton speedster out of the lineup for probably at least a week with a shoulder injury, called it a “brain fart,” but the Argos have to consider themselves a bit lucky that the problems didn’t lead to a loss.
“Missed tackles, missed assignments, not playing to the capabilities we have,” defensive captain and free safety Willie Pile said. “But you have to give credit to (the Eskimos’) Ricky Ray, Arkee Whitlock for making the plays they did. We were able to make adjustments on the sideline, and that was one of the things we lacked before.”
Still, there could be a time that the Argos simply aren’t able to recover in the final 15 minutes. They’ve allowed 177 points, second-most in the Canadian Football League, and it’s possible that there will be a game or two when the hole simply is too deep to climb from.
Winning in the final stages has taken some of the sting out of the defence’s weaknesses. Pile and Jordan Younger, at linebacker after honing his skills as a cornerback, are learning new positions, while a pair of rookies, halfback Evan McCollough and defensive end Alex Buzbee, are learning on the job. And Jason Pottinger, at middle linebacker, has become a starter following a few seasons as a solid contributor on special teams.
Barker’s confidence in his players has meant the defensive group isn’t worried about taking chances, and the Argos led the CFL with eight interceptions (three less than they had all of last year) heading into Week 6, but they also have a league-low seven sacks.
“The way we are winning right now, it makes us feel better about ourselves, because we know we can make mistakes and still win,” Pile said. “So if we can clean up the mental errors and the physical errors, the missed tackles, we can be a dominant team.
“We have not played yet up to our talent level, but when we can come back, it’s a credit to the staff for preparing us and to the guys for never giving up.”
The Alouettes, as they did in Week 5 in Montreal, will represent an awfully large challenge for the Argos, but perhaps less so if quarterback Anthony Calvillo’s finger injury on his throwing hand keeps him from being in top form.
“We have business to take care of,” running back Jeff Johnson said. “They put is in our place, and they are a team that we can not afford to make errors against.”