Off in the distance, Jim Barker knows the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are lying in wait.
And the Argonauts head coach can’t keep the Ticats, who will be the Argos’ opponent in the East Division semi-final on Nov. 14, out of his head.
No wonder. There’s a home-and-home set with the Montreal Alouettes to be contested before the regular season ends, but Barker’s mind keeps going back to that shellacking the Argos sustained at the hands of the Tiger-Cats on Oct. 15.
“I started to think about them (that) Friday night after that 30-3 loss,” Barker said after the Argos practised on a soggy field at Erindale in Mississauga on Wednesday.
“I came straight to the office and I holed up for about 48 hours. There is not a morning that goes by that I don’t turn that film on first thing in the morning. I’m going to watch 10-15 plays every morning.”
This is one of those rare times in sport that a team can, to a small degree, look past its next opponent. It’s not to say the Argos are not concerned about performing well against the Alouettes. But for the Boatmen, the paramount factor is progression, especially on offence. They know that if they don’t make enough of it, the Ticats will handle them easily. It’s why blowing off the next two games would be foolish and why there is no true danger of looking ahead to Hamilton. The Als as a minor nuisance, even though the Argos crunched them in Toronto in August? Hardly.
“Sometimes you have that feeling, but this year, no,” offensive guard Taylor Robertson said when asked about the notion of looking ahead.
“Offensively, we know we have a lot of work to do and we are nowhere near where we need to be.
“To play Montreal two times, we know they are going to be in the East final no matter what. This is a team we must be ready to play and make a statement.”
Barker isn’t marching around talking about the importance of winning.
“We never talk about Ws, and I know you don’t believe that, but we never bring up winning games,” Barker said. “It has always been about making ourselves better every week. And if we do that, we have achieved our goal.”
There are two facets Barker wants to see improve against Montreal. One is special teams, minus the wizardry of Chad Owens and a successful surprise play every so often. But more importantly, there is the play of quarterback Cleo Lemon, and by extension, the offence.
Lemon and the passing game shuffled forward a bit during a big victory in Winnipeg last Saturday. Now, the goal is to continue beating that path.
“I want him to progress into becoming a quarterback who can go 3-0 in (the playoffs),” Barker said.
“Has he learned (this season)? Absolutely. Has he gone through some rough spots? Absolutely. Has he had the media down his (butt)? Absolutely. That’s part of being a quarterback.
“He has handled that stuff well and we’re going to see where he is these next two weeks and then we’re going to go as far as he takes us.”
Still, would the Argos take a couple of losses versus Montreal even if they figured they grew in those games? Not really.
“You win one or both, you are feeling pretty good,” Robertson said. “Regardless, we are going to play with everything we have. But if you go into the playoffs 0-2, 2-0 or 1-1, it will not slow us down in terms of what we want to do.”