Argos look to right ship down stretch

Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce (left) is tackled by the Argos’ Robert McCune on Friday night....

Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce (left) is tackled by the Argos’ Robert McCune on Friday night. Winnipeg ripped apart Toronto’s defence in the game. “We had some breakdowns,” McCune admitted yesterday. (Reuters)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 AM ET

TORONTO - Tony Robbins being nowhere near the Argonauts’ Erindale training facility Monday, the team’s coaches gathered everyone for one of those “I’m all right, You’re all right!” sessions.

“We need to play with more continuity. We talked to the team today. Told them we’re not the first team in this scenario. Gave them a history lesson on teams who went through slumps late in the season and had success,” said head coach Scott Milanovich.

And, why not play head games? After all, Milanovich has pretty much tried everything else, drawn schemes and plays until the chalk ran out, spent hours dissecting game film that would scare Rob Zombie, pleaded for disciplined play, benched and even cut players for being dunderheads.

“Were trying to put the past behind us while at the same time learning from it. We need one win and we’re in (the playoffs). We need to knuckle down and play our best football which,” acknowledged Milanovich, “is easier said than done.”

No word if it ended with everyone gathering in a circle for a stirring chorus of Kum Bah Yah. But they had better find some solutions soon or, even if they hold on to a playoff spot, they will not go long into this post-season.

Whatever was said, and several players indicated it was a good self-help session, it had better result in a defence that finds a way to stop the run, and an offence that can hold on to the ball.

“We only need one win but,” admitted Toronto linebacker Robert McCune, “it has been very hard to get.”

The Argonauts funk has now run through six games, five of which they have lost. They have gone from being challengers for the division title to putting their chances of making the playoffs into question.

Doubt about this team’s worth begins to seap into the conversation, when as in last week’s loss to Winnipeg, the offence manages to stay on the field for just 66 seconds in the first quarter. Some blame goes to Chad Owens for a recurring case of fumblitis, but much of it has to fall on the defence itself.

It simply couldn’t get off the field. Much of the season the defence has been reliable, if unspectacular. McCune is having a career year, leading the Argos with 81 tackles, fourth in the league. But Chad Simpson and Will Ford ripped that defence to shreds for 278 yards, much of it over ground McCune and fellow-linebacker Marcus Ball normally guard like junkyard dogs that haven’t seen a chew-bone in weeks.

So how does this happen? Especially against Winnipeg, the closest thing the CFL has to a gimme win?

“It’s a scheme thing. It’s never a question of effort. We just have to know our job,” said McCune. “And we had some breakdowns. In pro ball, you can be out of your gap just five or six inches and if you have a good back he’ll see that seam and just hit it.”

Ronald Flemons has been an Argonaut for seven seasons. So he knows a bit about lousy teams. And this, he said, isn’t one of them.

“It’s just been a case of a lot of little things — not one guy, not one area. But there is a fine line between being aggressive and being in control.

“When you are too aggressive it results in penalties and that’s been our problem. The biggest thing is turnovers and penalties. We are last in the league in penalties. We just can’t do that.”

He believes the team can avoid penalties. But it might be a bit like asking a tiger to be passive. Players have certain personalities that make them who they are. Even if they wanted, to change old habits would go against their nature. This is a team that has lived, and died, by intimidation — an athleticism and aggressive nature makes running routes against them about as pleasurable as strolling through a minefield. But it has also resulted in making them the most penalized team in the league. That aggressiveness, and a lack of focus, has made them vulnerable, in particular to a good ground game — and a penalty flag.

They have given up 1,875 yards net rushing, more than any team not wearing an Eskimos’ logo. And, so it is that 16 games into the season, they still look for that one elusive win.

“Five losses in six games! I didn’t know it was even that bad,” said Flemons. “I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve been here when we had bad teams and now that we’ve got a pretty good team. Everyone wants to talk about what can you do differently. But it’s easy; just play better!

“I understand the last game was horrible. But every team in this league has had horrible games. Montreal had a horrible game. We all have. It’s a small league and everyone seems to fall over everybody else. Other maybe than B.C. there isn’t any elite team this year.”

Whatever the Argos’ problem it isn’t a lack of talent, or so they claim. Over. And over. And over. Man to man. “We messed up. All of us,” said Flemons, “but I don’t sit around thinking how horrible the last game was. Yeah, it was (crap). But I think (the team meeting) does help the younger guys. I remember when I was young, you know in your head that you can play but sometimes the doubt creeps in. That’s when we had (Pinball) Clemons who’d make us believe in ourselves again.”

This week’s game against Saskatchewan will test that belief.

The Roughriders dominated the Argos 36-10 just two weeks ago. They have more first downs rushing than any team this side of B.C. They average 112.3 yards on the ground.

“There’s both (frustration and anger) on the part of the players,” said Milanovich, “... the biggest thing in my opinion is to keep them believing. From the outside things don’t look like they do to us on the inside because we know what we are capable of. In the game of football, you get knocked down. It’s about how quickly can you get up.”

Unfortunately, for the Argonauts the question is fast becoming not how quickly they can get up, but rather, if they will get up.

PROTECT THE BALL, CHAD

Chad Owens is having a career year in kick returns, pass receiving, and scare-mongering.

That’s because while Owens has become the Argonauts’ primary offensive weapon, he also has a tendency to implode.

He leads the league with 3,557 combined yards. His 1,185 yards receiving, are second in the CFL, just four yards behind Weston Dressler.

That’s the good Chad. Bad Chad has nine fumbles, only one of which the Argos — fourth in the league with 23 fumbles — have recovered.

Mostly it is a case, said head coach Scott Milanovich, of a player trying to do too much.

“I think Chad is just a good leader. He’s not going to point the finger,” Milanovich said. “He knows he can’t put the ball on the turf. He has to realize he doesn’t have to do everything offensively, especially since Ricky (Ray) is back.

“Chad needs to concentrate on protecting the ball, understand when the play is over; and when the right thing is to go down with the football — that’s a learning process.”


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