It's up to the Argos D
By Mike Ganter, QMI Agency
|Jim Barker shares a laugh at practice with new defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Stieinauer. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)
This weekend’s Labour Day game — and yes, we’ll continue to call it that if for no other reason than to bring the stupidity of the CFL schedule-makers back into the public cross-hairs — between the Argos and Ticats is shaping up quite possibly to be a new beginning or the end for one of the two teams involved.
That squad in question would be your Toronto Argonauts, who haul a five-game losing streak down the QEW to take on their heated rival in Hamilton. Even after this week, the Argos have 11 games remaining but another loss, even at this relatively early point in the season, could be fatal to their playoff hopes.
“This is a must-win, just for the team morale,” veteran cornerback Byron Parker said on Friday.
The 3-3 Tabbies are just coming into their own, riding three wins in their past four games, to get back to even on the season.
The Argos, meanwhile, can’t afford to let this losing streak go any further. Head coach and general manager Jim Barker already used up one of the few bullets he has left in his gun last week when he canned defensive co-ordinator Chip Garber and replaced him with defensive secondary coach Orlondo Steinauer.
Barker needs results and he needs them now.
A three-day practice week likely won’t mean major changes to the defence, which quite frankly wasn’t the Argos’ biggest problem when the coaching change was made, and isn’t now. But it was the one area that Barker felt he could get more out of ,which is a more telling statement about his opinion of his offensively challenged offence.
Minor scheme changes on defence have been implemented, but more than anything, the Argos are counting on Steinauer’s willingness to let his players play, as opposed to Garber’s more regimented style of defence, as a means of getting even more production out of the most productive unit Barker has at his disposal.
As Parker pointed out on Friday, the full-scale impact of the coaching change likely won’t be felt for another two or three weeks when the stamp of the new defensive philosophy will hopefully have taken hold.
But the early returns, at least the hoped-for early return, is a defence that doesn’t just make the solid play, but makes the big play and gets takeaways and forces turnovers.
It’s a gambling type of defence that could give the more conservative Argos fan fits. But with an offence that doesn’t appear able to put up big numbers in a league where big numbers are the norm, it may be the only way to take a 1-5 team and make it viable, again.
During his question and answer period with the media on Friday, Barker talked about the need to boost the number of takeaways his team has been getting.
“It’s been a bizarre year,” he said when asked if there were any commonalties to the losses. “It’s one of those years where it’s been a lot of different things. But to pinpoint it, I would say turnovers would be No. 1, both getting them and creating them. I don’t feel like we have done a great job there.”
The Argos are last in the CFL with a minus-11 in the takeaway-giveaway ratio. Steinauer’s hand on the defensive tiller should help in that regard.
“Coach Stein puts us in position to make plays,” Parker said. “At the end of the day, we have to create turnovers and that’s one of the things this week we have been harping on.”
A couple of returnees from the injured list should also help. Linebacker Anthony Cannon has been out since the loss to Winnipeg in Week 4. He and fellow import Ejiro Kuale may not have the experience in this league that either Jason Pottinger or Kevin Eiben have, but they bring a ferocity to the defence that should play well in the kind of grudge match this usually shapes up to be.
The other returnee is Cory Boyd who has played one entire game healthy all year and that one game also happens to be the lone game this Argos team has won.
There’s plenty riding on this game for both teams, but that much more for the Argos.