As fast as they might want to play, as physical a presence they hope to impose, the Argos have to be mindful of playing under control.
Given their history, at least based on the regular season, it’s one area, among others, that bears watching as the Argos continue to prepare for Sunday’s Eastern semifinal against Edmonton.
On the defensive side of the football, being overly aggressive, at times playing almost too fast, has compromised a unit that at one point was among the best in the CFL.
Reading your keys in football is as important as wrapping up a ball-carrier, attention to detail so critical that it becomes even more pronounced in the CFL’s post-season.
A lot has not been said about Toronto’s first-year players, many of whom happen to line up on defence, a bunch of three-down greenhorns who have shown a tendency to go offside, fail to pick up the ball in man coverage and get called for pass interference or personal fouls.
In the two games played between the two teams during the regular season, both Edmonton wins, the Argos were called for a total of 31 penalties, roughly half (15) came on defence.
In the two combined games, the Argos, in all three phases, were called for 272 yards in penalties, a staggering number, but one that speaks to the team’s reckless nature.
Veteran defensive lineman Kevin Huntley has seen the defence do some pretty amazing things, be it in the looks they show on the line, the pick-sixes or the pressure from virtually every angle on the field.
“That’s been one of our issues,” the friendly giant said. “We’re so excited, athletic, such a physical group, but sometimes we get too excited, too enthused and we misread our keys.
“The key for us is to keep our aggression controlled and our focus. When we’ve done that, we’re an amazing group.”
The Eskimos aren’t a pass-happy team, a team the Argos respect, despite the three-game losing streak Edmonton takes into the post-season and the team’s slide that saw it lose eight of 10.
The book on the Esks offence is as simple as an out route: It’s a team that must run the ball effectively to set up play-action, no matter who is lining up under centre.
In Huntley, Armond Armstead and Adriano Belli, the Argos have an interior presence that is more than capable of controlling the line of scrimmage, assuming no one is jumping offside to provide Edmonton with options.
“You have so much enthusiasm and emotion inside you, sometimes it comes out in a reckless manner,” Huntley added. “It really comes down to us controlling us, our emotion, our assignment, our abilities, our excitement.
“If we do that, we’re going to be special.”
Failure to do that and the Argos post-season run will end in shame, much as it did five years ago when they previously played host to a home playoff date.
The Eskimos, despite their issues, have the necessary push up the middle on defence to make life miserable for Ricky Ray.
Assuming Marcus Howard is fully recovered from a troublesome hamstring injury, they’ll be a presence coming off the edge against a Toronto offensive line that has had issues.
The way Ray has thrown the ball since his return from a knee injury, and the way the offence has played with so much confidence, only dropped balls, penalties and turnovers — the normal missteps — will keep the Argos off the scoreboard.
The offence Edmonton will face on Sunday pales in comparison to the Argos of this season, at least the unit that put up a total of 36 points in two meetings.
It’s on defence where the Argos can really dominate.
Huntley and the rest of his defence know the Eskimos want to pound the ball, avoid predictable passing situations and try to get to the football to slotback Fred Stamps down the field or in space.
“Their offensive line works well together,” Huntley said of Edmonton’s front. “Our focus is to stop the run.”
Huntley sat out the season finale last week, a time he used to rest a body that has taken a beaten given the position he plays.
“At the end of the day, we all want to do what’s best for each other because no individual is bigger than the team,” he said. “The rest helped me. I’m excited.”
Whatever rotation the Argos care to use, it’ll start with how well Huntley, Belli and Armstead control the line.
“We share that bond,” Huntley said of playing defensive tackle. “We’re in the fraternity, the D-tackle fraternity. Nobody knows what we go through and we don’t necessarily get the credit we deserve for the stuff we do, but we enjoy what we do.”
It’ll be more enjoyable if the Argos keep their composure and poise.