Hot Ray leads Argos against injury-plagued Stampeders

TORONTO — Ricky Ray’s on a roll, and he knows it. The veteran quarterback has a completion average approaching 90 per cent over his last three starts and is a big reason why Toronto is the CFL’s hottest team. That’s not exactly good news for an injury-plagued Calgary Stampeders squad that will face the Argonauts at Rogers Centre on Friday night.

TORONTO — Ricky Ray’s on a roll, and he knows it.

The veteran quarterback has a completion average approaching 90 per cent over his last three starts and is a big reason why Toronto is the CFL’s hottest team. That’s not exactly good news for an injury-plagued Calgary Stampeders squad that will face the Argonauts at Rogers Centre on Friday night.

Ray, 33, has completed 64-of-73 passes his last three starts for 851 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished 30-of-35 passing for 413 yards and three TDs in Toronto’s 36-33 home win over Edmonton on Sunday and is second overall in passing with 1,768 yards with 14 TDs and no interceptions.

And the 11-year veteran, who’s in his second season with Toronto, says he can feel he’s in the groove.

“Yeah, just because things are going well and we’re making a lot of plays,” he said. “We had a couple of games early on in the year where things were a little bit tougher to come by and we weren’t making as many plays so definitely you feel like you’re doing a lot of good things out there.”

This season, Ray has completed 143-of-183 passes, a 78.1 per cent clip. Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson holds the single-season record of 74 per cent set in ’05 with B.C.

Dickenson also set the CFL passer-efficiency record of 118.8 that season but Ray’s boasts a mark of 133.0 thus far. Toronto (5-2) heads into a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup having won four straight.

“I don’t think it slows down, I think in a sense I’m just able to make quicker decisions,” Ray said. “I’m just seeing things good right now and am able to get the ball out of my hands without second-guessing or holding on to the ball.

“That’s when I feel like I’m playing good when I’m just back there making quick decisions and letting it come out of my hands.”

That actually started late last season after Ray missed three games with a knee injury. Toronto lost 44-32 to Winnipeg in Ray’s return but ended its campaign with five straight wins, including a 35-22 decision over Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre.

“I think it started towards the end of last year but I think it’s carried over and he’s maybe taken it a step higher so far this year,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said.

“Ricky seems to be on the same page with the new receivers, particularly John (Chiles), and picked up where he left off with the other guys and Jason Barnes has kind of started hot like he finished last year.

“I think the combination of all those things has contributed to Ricky’s numbers and play.”

Ray has also received solid protection up front as Toronto’s offensive line has allowed a league-low 12 sacks, one less than second-place Calgary.

“We watched games from early last year, even Week 2 when we played Calgary, and you can see the difference in his feet,” Milanovich said. “A quarterback’s accuracy, in my opinion, is all based on his footwork and body position.

“He was getting hit at that time last year and just wasn’t as comfortable in the pocket and that can affect your accuracy. This year we’ve been protecting him much better.”

Calgary (5-2) won’t be at full strength Friday night.

Veteran slotback Nik Lewis, a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, is out after suffering a fractured fibula in last week’s 26-22 loss to B.C. Receiver Maurice Price (ankle), offensive lineman Dimitri Tsoumpas (concussion) and running back Jon Cornish (thigh contusion) also won’t play. The loss of Cornish — last year’s CFL rushing leader who’s second this year with 749 yards — is huge.

Among the Stampeders on the nine-game injured list are receivers Johnny Forzani, Joe West and Chris Bouman, offensive lineman Edwin Harrison and defensive linemen Etienne Legare and Corey Mace.

“Chris (Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones) will still have to stop the run against Calgary, whether Jon plays or not,” Milanovich said. “That’s been their MO and what they like to hang their hat on.

“But after a week like we had last week you’ve also got to expect them to test our secondary. I still believe any defence has to stop the run first and make a team one dimensional.”

Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly completed 35-of-46 passes Sunday for 511 yards and three TDs. With just four returning starters, the Argos’ defence has struggled to establish consistency.

But while Toronto is ranked last in yards allowed (416 per game), it’s third in fewest points surrendered (24.9 per game).

“Right now, honestly, I think it’s similar to the way we were offensively last year,” Milanovich said. “I think what Chris is going through right now is just figuring out exactly where we want to have guys playing and what they do best.

“It takes time. Once you start to get good at something teams adjust. It’s just a constant kind of thing during the season where you have to keep moving and keep changing what you do . . . I have a lot of confidence in where our defence is going.”

Calgary’s defence — which features former Argos defensive lineman Kevin Huntley — is allowing the second-fewest yards per game (322.7) and is fourth in points allowed (26.6). Toronto’s offence is second overall in scoring (32.9 points per game) and tops in passing (325.9 yards).

“They do a lot of things to keep you off balance,” Ray said. “They don’t let you scheme things up against them and let you beat them with scheme.

“They keep you off balance and keep you guessing on what plays you need to call.”

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