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55 Yard Line

Argonauts and Alouettes are both trying to live up to their preseason expectations

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Ricky Ray (L) and Anthony Calvillo have generally lived up to the hype, but their teams haven't.

The Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes haven't had the start to the season they were hoping for. The Alouettes came into the 2012 campaign looking to get back to the dominant force of old and expected CFL career passing leader Anthony Calvillo to pave the way, while the Argonauts were hoping new quarterback Ricky Ray would lead them to the Holy Grail. Thus far, though, despite solid play from both of those quarterbacks, both teams have underachieved their way to 2-2 records. Friday's clash between the teams in Montreal (7:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) represents an excellent opportunity for at least one squad to get back on track, but to do so, they'll have to overcome the issues that have plagued them thus far.

Oddly enough given the focus on quarterbacks in the preseason coverage about Montreal and Toronto, Calvillo and Ray really haven't been playing poorly. On the season, they're first and second respectively in total passing yards with 1,316 and 1,262, and have put up completion percentages of 63.9 per cent and 69.5 per cent respectively. There's certainly some things both would still like to work on, of course: Calvillo probably wouldn't mind elevating his completion percentage a little further, while Ray could stand to improve his 6:4 touchdown to interception ratio (Calvillo's is 10:3). Still, these guys have looked like two of the league's best quarterbacks so far, so why have their teams been less than stellar?

In Montreal, the crucial problem seems to be on the defensive side of the ball. The 27 points the Alouettes have averaged offensively aren't great, but it's the league-worst average of 34.8 points against they've allowed that's particularly concerning. Defence was also a substantial issue last year and led to their playoff doom, so the team tried to remake that unit this offseason, bringing in new defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold, axing familiar faces like Etienne Boulay (now with the Argonauts!) and Diamond Ferri and signing free agents like B.C. defensive tackle Aaron Hunt. Thus far, though, the results haven't been positive; Montreal allowed a middle-of-the-pack 26 points per game last season, so their defence has been more than a touchdown worse on average thus far. They're still making changes (for example, Hunt was released this week), and there's no need to throw everything out just yet; it takes time to adapt to a new coordinator and new personnel, and it could be that this defence will be just fine as time goes on. It's going to need to be substantially better for them to win consistently, though.

In Toronto, the larger issue has been the red-zone offence. Ray, his receivers and running back Cory Boyd (who leads the league with 373 rushing yards and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry) have moved the ball effectively in general, but they haven't been able to punch it in for touchdowns anywhere near enough. Their average of 26.5 points per game is tied with B.C. for third-worst in the league (behind only Winnipeg's 20.2 and Edmonton's 22.2), and that's largely thanks to their inability to capitalize on solid field position. Kicking has been an issue too, as Noel Prefontaine had some struggles before his season-ending injury and new addition Swayze Waters may lead the league in the "Best Current CFL Name" category, but is still adapting to the CFL. Still, the most important thing for the Argonauts is cutting down on turnovers and getting the ball into the end zone. Some of that's on Ray, but the offensive line, running backs and receivers need to step up as well. If they can do that Friday against Montreal's struggling defence, that might be a sign that the Argos can turn this season around sooner rather than later.

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