September 28, 2017

Hogan: Don’t expect a balanced Argos offence

Ricky Ray (15) and James Wilder Jr. (32) of the Toronto Argonauts during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at BMO Field in Toronto, ON, Saturday, September 16, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The last two outings have been a revelation for the Toronto Argonauts.

James Wilder Jr. rushed for 190 yards against Edmonton, then followed it up with a 141-yard performance against Montreal, with both games ending in wins for the Double Blue.

That’s an impressive total considering the Argos had previously been last in the CFL in rushing.  There’s new-found optimism with the running attack, but don’t expect this team to become a balanced offence in terms of run/pass distribution.

“I’ve never addressed balance as even an issue,” said head coach Marc Trestman. “I don’t even think about balance at all in terms of play calling. I ask myself the question ‘are we playing a team that will respect our running game and has to work on it and try to defend it,’ and if I can say yes to that I think that’s where the balance comes in.”

The coach says an equal run/pass distribution just isn’t on his radar.

“I don’t think that’s an issue with us or something we think a lot about,” said Trestman, “We’re just going to do whatever we can on each and every drive to try to score.”

Trestman went on to explain that his club is working very hard to become a good running team. It won’t be a case of Wilder carrying the ball 25 times a game, but the threat that the new starting back provides is good news to his quarterback.

It also helps that those yards are coming on big plays so Ray isn’t being taken out of his rhythm.

“We’re not running it 40 times a game, we’re still passing,” said the Sacramento State product. “For me, I’d much rather be in second-and-medium than second-and-long, so when you’re running the ball and you’re getting six-plus yards a carry on first down, it really helps you out offensively.”

Ray is usually not one for long-winded answers, but seemed to enjoy talking about this aspect of offensive theory and what the explosive nature of the running game of late means to the passing attack, still the Boatmen’s bread and butter.

“The other thing is that you’re going to get some better coverages,” the QB told “When the defence is not just focused on coverage and blitz and trying to stop the passing game, they actually have to worry about stopping the run game. It gives you some more favourable looks in the passing game.”

The running attack may have caught Edmonton off guard, but Montreal would have been prepared for it. That said, Ray said the Als didn’t change their usual approach all that much.

“Montreal played much of their base coverage the whole game,” Ray confessed. “They didn’t really have any run blitzes or anything that they were trying to do to stop the run.”

That wasn’t the case on Wilder’s long TD scamper that ended any hopes the Als had of a comeback. Montreal made a bit of an adjustment and Ray and company pounced on the opportunity.

“Just a minor adjustment on the big run that James had,” explained Ray. “We went to the boundary and the halfback was off, and then the next time we got in that formation the halfback came up and got into the box a little bit more.”

Wilder took the play 85 yards, game over.

The running back has also been the Argos leading receiver in each of the last two games. Among the receivers, Armanti Edwards has been the best of the bunch in each game.

A former QB in university, Edwards understands how important the improvement to the running game has been for the offence as a whole.

He’s not shocked by the 15.8 yards-per-carry Wilder has averaged over the last two games. Well, not totally.

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” said the Appalachian State product, “But to have it happen in back-to-back games, that’s something rare. He’s been running hard and practicing hard all year round, so we knew what he could do. Just to see him get his opportunity and go out there and prove it to everybody else outside of this organization, it’s good to see.”

The members of the Argos offensive line love the emergence of the running game. While they get to be more aggressive, receivers may be called to block a little more than usual and for some, that’s not their strong suit.

Despite his former life as a quarterback, Edwards is cool with the added blocking responsibilities.

“I enjoy it,” said the 190-pound receiver. “[You] can’t be selfish playing this game. There are 12 guys out there, and especially being a receiver in the CFL, there’s five of us, so everybody’s going to get their fair share of touches. It’s always great to be out there to go block for somebody else because when you get the ball you hope that everybody blocks for you as well.”

Saturday’s game is huge for both the Argos and Ticats. A win for the Double Blue would mean that Toronto would win the tie-breaker against every team in the East.

A victory would also mean that for Hamilton to finish ahead of Toronto, the Argos would have to lose all four of their remaining games, while the Ticats would need nine of a possible ten points to finish ahead of Toronto. Possible, but not likely.

Saturday’s stakes are huge, and Toronto’s offence looks as ready as it has all season to meet the challenge.