MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — There’s no longer a margin of error for Kerry Joseph and the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos head into their home game tonight against the Edmonton Eskimos (TSN, 5:30 p.m.) in a very precarious position. A loss will eliminate the struggling team from CFL playoff contention for the second straight year.
“I think it’s more important that we know we have to win and control what we can control,” said Joseph. “We know that mathematically we’re still alive.
“We know we need some help but at the same time if we don’t take care of our business nothing else matters. These guys (Eskimos) are the next guys on the schedule and we definitely need to win to get out of this losing slump that we’re in.”
The Argos (3-11) definitely need a miracle to reach the post-season and are limping into this contest having lost four straight and nine of their last 10. There were health concerns about Joseph, too, after he suffered a neck injury in a 32-22 road loss to Saskatchewan that originally was feared to be a concussion, but the ’07 CFL MVP says he’s ready to go physically.
“I’ve been fine all week long,” he said. “Everything has been good, the body feels good. Just ready to go (tonight).”
But Toronto could be in trouble if Joseph is injured as untested rookie Stephen Reaves is listed as the backup. Veteran Cody Pickett, who was the club’s starter for a stretch this season, is listed as the No. 3 quarterback due to a torn oblique muscle.
The game is just as important to the struggling Eskimos (6-8), who’ve dropped five of their last six contests. Edmonton is just four points behind Saskatchewan and Calgary — who are tied for first — and two points behind third-place B.C., but also tied with Winnipeg and Hamilton (both also 6-8) in the crossover battle for third in the East Division.
Defensive back Jason Goss said the Eskimos can’t afford to take Toronto for granted.
“What you worry about with a ball club like that is they have nothing to lose,” Goss said. “If they feel like they can’t make the playoffs, they’re going to be the spoilers. We’ve got to be on our toes no matter what. We can’t take any team lightly regardless of record or anything like that.”
An interesting matchup will be Edmonton’s CFL-best aerial attack (297.3 yards per game) facing a Toronto defence that’s ranked third against the pass (244.1 yards per game). However, the Argos’ unit is allowing 26.9 points per game, second-worst overall to the Eskimos (30.7).
Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray is second overall in passing (3,927 yards) and TDs (19) and has a sparkling 67.4 completion percentage. Ray completed 22-of-35 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 34-31 loss to Saskatchewan, with receiver Fred Stamps registering nine catches for 167 yards and a TD.
“That’s an offence that’s still pretty potent anytime you have No. 15 (Ray) back there,” said Argos veteran defensive end Jonathan Brown. “I know they’ve lost some games lately but as long as he’s back there all it takes is one game to have a breakout game and get the offence going again.
“We just don’t want it to be here.”
Patience, Ray says, is the key against Toronto’s stellar defence.
“We’re going to try to attack them and make some plays out there, but they do a good job of taking away the big play,” Ray said. “That’s what gets frustrating as an offence.
“You want to get the ball down the field and make some plays, but you’ve got to be patient and not force the issue. You’ve got to be efficient and put some long drives together. When they do give you an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it.”
The battle between Toronto’s offence and Edmonton’s defence, at least on paper, looks like a wash. Both units are at or near the bottom in their respective key categories.
Toronto is ranked last overall in scoring (18.9 points per game) and total yards (286.4 per game) and second-last in passing (222 yards per game) and rushing (94.8). And the Argos have gone six games without throwing a TD pass, an unbelievable stat in the pass-happy CFL.
By comparison, Edmonton’s defence is ranked last in yards allowed (378.4 per game), passing yards allowed (293 per game) and points allowed. And the Eskimos are tied with Winnipeg and Hamilton for fewest sacks recorded (26).
One reason for Edmonton’s defensive woes could be turnover as Goss is the lone remaining starter from last season. Among the new faces is cornerback Byron Parker, who returned to Toronto after being released by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and was dealt to the Eskimos last month after calling the Argos’ defensive scheme “Pop Warner.”
But Toronto’s first-year head coach Bart Andrus re-iterated once again that Parker was dealt because the club felt more comfortable with the players it already had in the secondary.
“We felt better about the guys we were playing,”Andrus said. “I have nothing against Byron, I think he’s a good football player and has a tremendous upside.
“It just boiled down to the fact we have guys we like better. A lot of it has to do with familiarity.”