Argos out to smash mouth Bombers

Noel Prefontaine looks the be slapping the bum of Chad Rempel at U of T Mississauga July 22nd 2011....

Noel Prefontaine looks the be slapping the bum of Chad Rempel at U of T Mississauga July 22nd 2011. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:27 PM ET

In football, no game is as important as the next, no time to look back or forward when the present is all that matters.

But with these Argos at this point in their season, an air of desperation is palpable, a sense of atonement that must be achieved sooner rather than later.

“We’re losing games,’’ began veteran offensive guard Taylor Robertson on Friday. “We need to step up. That’s been our goal and focus all week. We need to worry about the areas that will make us better.”

If there is such a thing as a must-win game four weeks into an 18-game season, Saturday’s home opener more than qualifies.

Everything the Argos didn’t do in taking the CFL by surprise en route to last season’s 9-9 record and an improbable berth in the Eastern final has played itself out in the team’s last two games, not surprisingly two losses.

Say what you want about the team’s uninspiring offence that relied on Cory Boyd and the occasional gadget play, but one of the Argos’ characteristics last season was discipline.

On most weeks, the Argos didn’t beat themselves, getting enough plays on offence and relying on a stout defence and special teams to carry them through any time.

In the season opener three weeks ago in Calgary, the Argos gave up a fourth-quarter lead, but made plays when plays were required to pull out one of those character wins that are only produced when facing adversity.

Then along comes ugly losses to Winnipeg and Montreal and suddenly the Argos are facing an early season gut check that will soon be answered.

One game can’t define a season, but one game will help path a direction that may involve new players and a change in philosophy.

It is why Saturday’s kickoff against the Blue Bombers is as big as any in Jim Barker’s second go-round as Argos head coach.

It’s clear the leash on quarterback Cleo Lemon is growing shorter with Dalton Bell waiting in the wing if Lemon doesn’t bring the kind of energy Barker needs to jump-start an offence that has self-destructed more than it has gained first downs.

Smash-mouth football is a term usually reserved for the NFL, where there’s no yard difference on the line of scrimmage, where players are bigger and stronger.

It’s a phrase that doesn’t get enough play in the CFL, but it’s a style of football the Argos need to impose against the Bombers.

Three weeks into the season and about the only thing Toronto’s defence hasn’t done is turn a turnover into a touchdown.

The Argos’ cover units on special teams have played well and Chad Owens exploded for an 89-yard kickoff return last week in Montreal that would be cashed in on a Lemon run off right tackle.

Under this backdrop enters the Argos’ offence.

It’s not likely the team’s passing game will suddenly remind fans of the 1990 Argos led by Matt Dunigan or the back-to-back Grey Cups in the Doug Flutie era.

It’s why running the ball, resorting to smash mouth, is what’s expected.

The Bombers know it, knowing full well any kind of gains through the air will be produced when a ground game gets established.

Winnipeg’s strength is its front seven, a unit that is athletic and stout, a group that recorded seven sacks when the teams met two weeks ago.

The Argos know tweaks will be made by the Bombers and new looks put into place, but it comes down to a matter of imposing one’s will, a battle that’s best played out on the line of scrimmage.

“It starts with us,’’ Robertson said. “We’ll take a lot of the pressure up front because that’s our job. We need to fire off the ball.”

Whether playing at home for the first time will provide any kind of boost, no one knows.

Whether a more experienced Chad Kackert, who made his debut last week in Boyd’s spot, will help provide a spark, no one can say with certainty.

What we know is that the Argos desperately need a win, that Lemon needs to manage the running game much more effectively or the hook will be used.

Barker has no problem with the way Lemon has thrown the ball and has no qualms with his understanding of the passing game.

Where Barker has a problem is Lemon’s management in the run game, an area not many equate with the quarterback position.

“There were two third-down plays in Winnipeg where we pulled the ball out late or fumbled,’’ Barker said. “Cleo made the wrong decision when to pull the ball.”

It happened again in Montreal on a sequence that led to a sack and fumble, a play that basically sealed Toronto’s fate long before Kackert’s fumble at the goalline and the subsequent 109-yard touchdown return.

“You got to run the ball, period, to win in this league,’’ said Robertson, whose team has rushed for a combined 105 yards in the last two weeks. “You can only come out and pass so much. You can have the greatest quarterback, but if you don’t have a good running attack you become one-dimensional.”

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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