Argos must avoid giving up big plays

Toronto Argos practice at UofT Mississauga campus on Tuesday Sept 20, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI...

Toronto Argos practice at UofT Mississauga campus on Tuesday Sept 20, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:34 PM ET

The road to recovery for the Toronto Argonauts, says Willie Pile, must be paved with “confidence and consistency.”

And, a couple of big plays in the secondary wouldn’t hurt either.

The Argonauts look like the proverbial lamb being prepared for the slaughter when they line up Saturday against Winnipeg.

The Blue Bombers lead the league; the Argonauts are ... well, they’re in the league. Sort of. But with two wins in 11 starts some people can’t be blamed if they’re beginning to wonder why they’re in the league. “I know everyone else has written our season off. We haven’t. We’re coming out Saturday to win that football game. We’re not listening to the other things being said,” head coach Jim Barker said Thursday.

So, guess that covers the confidence angle. And, there has been a lot of positive talk this week.

The problem is the consistency factor may be a little more difficult to crank up. Where everything has gone right for Winnipeg, it has gone sour for the Argonauts. Winnipeg started the season with question marks at quarterback and Buck Pierce has emerged with folk hero proportion.

He may not have the fattest numbers. He may not be fancy. He just finds ways to grind out wins. Toronto started the season with question marks at quarterback and people are still asking those same questions.

Where the Blue Bombers have a big-play offence, the Argonauts are susceptible to the big play.

In their last meeting, the Bombers didn’t just beat Toronto, Terrence Edwards and Terence Jeffers-Harris ripped the heart out of the Argonauts’ defence. The Argos lost starting defensive backs Lin-J Shell and Evan McCollough to injuries and linebacker Ejiro Kuale got thrown out for a hit on Pierce in the Bombers’ controversial 33-24 win.

Edwards doesn’t do anything small, averaging 18.2 yards per catch. Jeffers-Harris has 334 yards and an 11.9 yards-per-catch average. In other words, if Toronto’s defence can’t keep the ball out of their hands, they’ll be toast again. Just don’t tell Pile, Toronto’s defensive halfback and captain, that the task facing them is improbable.

Yes, Jeffers-Harris caught five passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. True. Edwards had two catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. And, yes, he agrees the Argos’ secondary has been exposed at times. But it isn’t a talent thing, he said. “We can’t give up the big play. It’s all communication,” said Pile, as the Argos scout team worked on throwing deep against the Argos’ secondary in practice. “I can see if we were across the board man to man and one guy made our guy miss and got up the field and beat him one on one. That’s when you give them credit; they beat us. But when we give up a busted play to Terrence Edwards down the side, two guys are low and he goes over the top. Then Jeffers Harris — we track him and he goes up the side and we miss a couple tackles and we’re not communicating: Those are things that have been killing us. We’ve seen it week in, week out. And against this team we can’t have any breakdowns.”

But they do have them. A lot. “When we give up big plays to them it’s always been through miscommunication,” said Barker. So history suggests that those breakdowns will happen. History suggests that Pierce will find a way to win the mindgame. The Argos are fighting a season-long tautology — same mistake, over and over. “It is difficult knowing what’s in the background,” admits Pile, “but we played against the same cast of character and had them shut out in the first half. We just have to sustain that momentum. We have to put 2-9 behind us and focus on this being zero-zero because that’s what this is. We’ve approached it that way.”

Inexperience and injuries, said Barker, have been the primary cause of the Argos’ vulnerability to the big play. “We play a coverage that’s a little different than everyone else. It takes a lot of communication. Those things take some time. Sean Smalls, it’s his first year on the boundary side, we’ve had some injuries and Lin-J is still learning. So we’ve had some communication mistakes.”

If the Argonauts have any hope, they can’t afford any more brain cramps.

Pile isn’t blind to his club’s shortcomings. Toronto has allowed 320 points, almost 100 more this season than the Blue Bombers. He just believes his team can see a way around those numbers, and around Pierce’s gunslinger mentality. “We understand their strengths and we understand our weaknesses. And, we have to flip those,” said Pile. In other words, stop the Bombers from stretching the field.

“You have to force a team like Winnipeg to dink and dunk and use (running back) Fred Reid and try to make them do things they don’t want to do — which is to work their way down the field. If they can go over the top, then they get momentum,” said Pile, “and let their defence go out there and hunt.”

Just for once the Argonauts would like to know what it feels like to be the hunter, rather than the hunted.


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