Sunday, February 15, 2015

Argos in the Same Boat as Last Season

In a year dominated by defences in the CFL, the Toronto Argonauts were one of the few teams, if not the only, to heavily rely on their offence to win games. Ricky Ray had another big season, yet the Argonauts missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 despite having the league's best passing attack. After another quiet Free Agency that saw GM Jim Barker lose more players than he signed, it's beginning to appear as though the Argos could be in the same boat as last season in 2015.

The Argos had one of the worst passing defences in the CFL in 2014 and ranked in the bottom four for the majority of all defensive passing statistics, including last place for giving up the most passing touchdowns with 30, eight more than the 8th ranked Blue Bombers. The Argos brought back defensive end Ricky Foley from Saskatchewan via trade to hopefully take some pressure off the secondary, but also lost defensive back Jalil Carter to the NFL; a bad trade-off considering they had to give up middle linebacker Shea Emry to acquire the 32 year old Foley, who they deemed expendable just two years ago. Toronto is also betting a lot of chips on former third overall pick Cory Greenwood, who signed with the Argos mid-season after stints with Kansas City and Detroit down south, to replace Emry in the middle and maintain the Argonauts' fourth ranked run defence. If defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo can build off an impressive rookie campaign that featured 12 sacks, the Argos' front seven that now includes Foley will be decent, but is still missing the support from their secondary they need to get home to opposing quarterbacks. While the boatmen's defence will feature some new players, the results may still be same as 2014, putting the pressure back on Ricky Ray's offence to have another big year.

Much like in 2014 when more than half of his receiving corps went down with injuries, it won't be easy for Ricky Ray to deliver another terrific season. He'll be without national receiver Spencer Watt (signed with Hamilton), John Chiles (NFL), Darvin Adams (signed with Winnipeg) and possibly Jason Barnes, who is still a free agent but is expected to re-sign with Toronto at some point. The Argos will also have someone else protecting Ray's blindside as left tackle SirVincent Rogers bolted for Ottawa on day one of Free Agency. Of course, Ray still has Chad Owens and Andre Durie to make plays, as long as they stay healthy which recently has been the problem. They also have 2014 first round pick Anthony Coombs, who is expected to have a breakout year while getting snaps at slotback and runningback after showing flashes of potential early in 2014 before suffering a season ending shoulder injury.

Without Chiles, Maurice Mann, Watt, Adams and Barnes, the Argos are really betting on Owens and Durie, who will both 33 during the season, to stay healthy for 18 games. Unless the Argos finally take Owens off special team's to protect their number one target, I'm not sure if that's possible. Ricky Ray's health is also vital as it's unrealistic to envision Trevor Harris, who looks promising, to deliver the offensive production Toronto needs to win games. Jim Barker better find some gems in open tryouts down south as for now, the Argos' season very much may dwell on the health of one of two players.

With the rest of the East Division struggling mightily in the first half of the 2014 season, the Argos had plenty of opportunities to run away with the division but, ultimately, still failed to even make the playoffs due to West Division's BC Lions crossing over and claiming the third seed. 2015 is expected to be equally as competitive with Hamilton and Montreal both boasting solid rosters, and one out of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders or even the BC Lions pushing for another cross-over as well. In order to make the playoffs, Toronto will likely need at least 9-10 wins, an improvement over last season's 8-10 record, to fend off the cross-over and claim third in the east.

Since I have a hard time betting against a Hall of Fame Quarterback like Ricky Ray, I do believe the Argos will still have at worst a top 4 passing attack in 2015. However, even with the league's best passing game, the boatmen did not play a game after week 20 in 2014. General Manager Jim Barker certainly has some scouting to take care of if he hopes to improve his defence and see the Double Blue playing football in November. As of right now, the Argos find themselves sailing the same ship as mid-season last year when Ricky Ray was throwing touchdowns to receivers no one had ever heard of yet they were still losing games. 2015 could be no different, or it could be the year Ricky Ray cements his legacy as one of the greatest to ever take a snap in the CFL and carries the Boatmen into the playoffs.

I guess we'll have to find out.

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