Argos, Ticats at the half

Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks to pass against the Eskimos at the Rogers Centre in Toronto,...

Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looks to pass against the Eskimos at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Aug. 27, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:49 AM ET

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

All things being equal, which is seldom the case in pro football, the Argos find themselves precisely where they deserve to be, a team with plenty of room to grow on both sides of the ball, but in particular on offence.

At 5-3 and coming off a very emotional win on Labour Day, which may in time prove to be the turning point to their season, the Argos have a chance to finally reveal a killer instinct that has yet to surface.

A win this Saturday and the Argos will throw more dirt on the reeling Ticats, while at the same time keep Toronto within distance of Montreal for first in the East.

A loss and the Argos will be relegated to the perpetual ranks of inconsistency, a team thatís good enough to win on any given week, but not quite good enough to take that necessary step that separates good from great.

At the midway point, the Argos deserve a C+.

The following is a closer look at the Argos nine games into an 18-game schedule.

Quarterback

When Ricky Ray has forced throws into coverage, the expected has unfolded.

In two losses to his former team, Ray showed patience in his return to Edmonton, but was impatient when the Esks visited Toronto.

There have been game-winning drives against Calgary and the most recent produced in Hamilton, where Ray stood tall in the pocket, used his legs to the move the chains when necessary, as he took the Argos on a late-game series that ended with a game-winning field goal.

With a new offence, the growing pains were unavoidable, but the way Ray led the Argos on Labour Day should bode well for an offence that has yet to play a complete game from start to finish.

RBs/Receivers

Thereís no doubt Chad Kackert can make plays, either by running the football or as a receiving threat, but itís his blitz pickup that must improve.

When he made his starting debut in Calgary on a night when the final score, a 22-14 Argos win, flattered the home side, he provided that much-needed blocking presence.

On Labour Day, he took a step back and itís now incumbent on Kackert to step up or the Argos will have no choice but to turn to Gerald Riggs Jr.

Chad Owens has been Torontoís most outstanding player, his evolution into an every-down receiver made easier by the presence of a legitimate quarterback in Ray.

But someone else needs to elevate their game.

Dontrelle Inman needs to be more involved, Andre Durie needs to stay healthy and eliminate those careless drops and it may soon be time for GM Jim Barker to look at bringing in another import if the likes of Jason Barnes, by far Torontoís biggest disappointment, Ken-Yon Rambo or Maurice Mann fail to impress.

Overlooked on Monday was how Canadians Mike Bradwell and Spencer Watt combined for 12 catches and 106 yards.

Line of scrimmage

The move to insert import left tackle Tony Washington and move Wayne Smith inside to guard has been beneficial, providing a different look to a new-look line that remains a work in progress.

Offences are always striving for a balanced attack, but in Hamilton the run game produced only 54 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, containment must be addressed.

Stats in a defence such as the one Toronto runs are completely useless, especially along the line of scrimmage.

In Armond Armstead, the Argos have an inside force whose skills require opponents to double team this rookie tackle.

Armstead is but one rookie who has been impressive.

Linebackers/Secondary

One of the strengths is at linebacker, where Marcus Ball, another dominant rookie, has played ballís out.

Robert McCune is an anchor in the middle, while Brandon Isaac has a knack for making timely plays.

In the back end, veteran Jordan Younger has been solid at free safety, while CFL newcomers such as Patrick Watkins and Ahmad Carroll are finding a better comfort level.

Special Teams

Swayze Waters has come through when needed on field goals, though the fickle wind at Ivor Wynne did cause problems.

The Argos are still looking for their first return touchdown and need to do a much better job when containing Chris Williams.

Coaching

Scott Milanovich continues to be a stand-up guy and is unafraid to challenge his players when itís necessary.

His play calling is solid.

The best move he made was entrusting Chris Jones to oversee the defence.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Halfway through the season and the glass is very much half-empty for the Ticats.

At the mid-way point, the Ticats remain a team that has no identity, a team that can easily salvage its season, but if first must find a way to make plays when a game is on the line.

No matter how one begins to diagnose these Ticats, they are what they are, which is to say they are a 3-6 club that is suddenly in a must-win proposition when Hamilton visits Toronto this Saturday.

Even in the mercurial CFL, where no one team is completely eliminated from the post-season, unless said team is based in Winnipeg, you canít be losing ground against divisional opponents, which is why Saturday looms as a must win.

By far, the Ticats have become the CFLís biggest riddle, a team thatís not bad, but itís a team that has lost its way for reasons that arenít easily explainable.

In dropping four in a row, the Ticats have led in the fourth quarter.

In their last two setbacks, the combined margin of defeat was five points.

In terms of mid-term grades, the Ticats are D-.

Quarterback

The Ticats knew what they were getting when they traded for Henry Burris.

The book on Burris is as obvious as any in three-down football.

When heís on, heís among the best, but when heís off, Burris is very much like Kevin Glenn.

Burris needs to regain that stretch where he played very well after that brief benching in B.C.

All one needs to do is recall that magic performance against Montreal when Burris came as close as any quarterback in recent history to post a perfect game.

Even a non-football observer can see that Burris needs to be more consistent, more precise when reading coverages and more of a leader in these desperate times.

RBs/Receivers

Among the CFLís revelations this season has been Chevon Walker, who got banged up on Labour Day.

The rookie has speed to burn and can turn any routine run or screen for a touchdown from virtually any spot on the field.

The kid needs experience and heíll now need to pick up his game as the second half begins.

Waiting in the wing is Avon Cobourne, whose patience must be wearing thin.

The veteran has appeared in one game.

Andy Fantuz was a complete non-factor on Labour Day, catching two balls for 22 yards.

At times, heíll line up in double tight end formations, but Fantuz clearly needs to be more involved.

Heís become Hamiltonís Jason Barnes, which is not good, only thereís no threat of being de-activated.

Certainly, the absence of Bakari Grant has had an impact on Fantuz and Chris Williams.

Onrea Jones is a keeper, while Sam Giguereís speed must somehow be exploited more often.

Line of scrimmage

One of those good news/bad news deals.

The good is on the O-line, where the teamís two starting import tackles, Brian Simmons and Marc Dile, have held their own.

In Peter Dyakowski and Marwan Hage, thereís experience, leadership and stability.

Now the bad.

Clearly, the Ticats need to address their defensive line, a unit that has a hard time applying pressure when an extra body or bodies arenít used.

At times, theyíve looked terrible against the run.

The Ticats have lost some high-end talent in recent years to the NFL and havenít properly filled the void.

Linebackers/Secondary

In Rey Williams and Jamall Johnson, it doesnít get any better at linebacker.

The absence of Markeith Knowlton has been felt.

But by far, the biggest area of concern is in the back end, a defensive secondary that has been ravaged by injuries and plagued by inconsistency as the Ticats have been forced to play musical chairs.

Much like D-line, the Ticats simply need to find a defensive back, preferably one capable of playing man to man coverage.

At this rate, thereís no way the Ticats can change their fortunes if the secondary continues to play at this level.

Special Teams

It doesnít get any better than Chris Williams. Enough said.

Coaching

George Cortez is going through the expected growing pains as a first-year head coach.

He ainít going anywhere, but for the Ticats to move forward, the old-school coach needs to be more new school.


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