TORONTO - In the bottom-line world of professional football, there’s no point basking in any moral victory, no sense in celebrating a consolation prize when the goal is to win by any means.
In the case of the Argos, a team that shot itself in the foot, especially on offence, during Saturday night’s season-opening loss in Edmonton, the secondary was one area that stepped up.
Granted, there were missed tackles and assignments, but given the many unknowns, at least by CFL standards, the evening did provide a glimpse of what may evolve into a dominant unit.
“We’re looking at a group of DBs with no CFL games under their belts and we hold a team to under 20 points,’’ began veteran free safety Jordan Younger. “If we’re going to take a bright spot out of it, that’s the bright spot.”
When they reflect on its performance, the Argos defence will lament some breakdowns and mental mistakes — the expected plays the unit wishes it could replay. But when a defence yields only six second-half points, six first downs and 116 yards (just nine rushing), there’s reason for optimism.
And at least on opening night, what stood out is the play of Toronto’s defence, which had to adjust to the loss of Pacino Horne (chest), an injury that forced Younger to move back to the corner, while Toronto native Matt Black, who arrived in Edmonton hours before kickoff following the birth of his first child, filled in for Younger at free safety.
“We’re going to build on this,’’ said Younger, who turned back the clock by making a spectacular interception when Younger dove for an intended heave from Steven Jyles.
“Most promising to me was that no one out there was wide-eyed, nobody was scared and everyone rose to the challenge. Now, we have to clean up some of the mental mistakes and coverage mistakes.”
In Horne, T.J. Williams, Ahmad Carroll and Pat Watkins — the four guys who lined up with Younger in the defensive backfield — the combined CFL experience was zero.
“It’s a promising group because these guys have been under the lights before,’’ added Younger.
Until the game film gets reviewed, it would be premature and completely baseless to find where the unit broke down on certain sequences that led to Edmonton’s gains.
When pressure was sent from a blitzing linebacker, the Argos were over-anxious and got called for offsides.
Ejiro Kuale occasionally would line up at defensive end for Ronald Flemons, while the interior was being manned by rookies Joe Cohen and Armond Armstead.
The Argos defence changed looks at the line of scrimmage and, with its solid performance, gave the struggling offence a chance to redeem itself.
The way the Argos are set up, for now at least until they finds their rhythm on the attack, it’s up to the defence to make plays and produce more than the one turnover it created on Saturday.
It’s also up to the special teams unit to execute when field goals are a must, an element that went missing in a four-point game by Noel Prefontaine, whose two gimme chip shots produced on to a single and a field goal off the uprights.
Offensively, the Argos have a long way to go, beginning with line play, mental toughness and better execution, particularly in the football’s red zone.
In Ricky Ray, no longer will the Argos second-guess a quarterback. Ray gave his team a chance to win. Too bad he can’t catch passes.
The defence, however, made its case.
It wasn’t good enough, but it was by far the best part of Toronto’s game.
Coach confident in bounce-back
The message Scott Milanovich left in the wake of Saturday’s season-opening loss is one worth revisiting.
When dropped passes that should lead to a touchdown result in a missed field goal, when a holding penalty negates a major, when breakdowns unfold, it’s easy to point fingers.
“The last thing I talked about,’’ began the Argos head coach, “was we needed to stick together. And this is the first chance we’ve had at adversity. I think these guys will respond and we’ll play better next week.”
Milanovich was speaking in general terms about his team, but it’s the offence, an area he oversees, that needs to look in the mirror.
Ricky Ray did all he could against an Edmonton defence that basically yielded intermediate throws by playing a soft coverage, then rallied to the football.
Patience is going to be key, as will an effective run game.
When the red zone gets penetrated, an offence must score touchdowns and not settle for field goals.
“When teams force you to go the distance, you can’t allow slip-ups,’’ added Milanovich. “You can’t have false starts and you can’t have a holding penalty.”
Teams do not want to throw man coverage against Ray, preferring a zone, which makes it virtually impossible for the deep ball.