Missing the Cut: What’s Next for these CFL Squads in 2020?

CFL squads

Last year I wrote an article breaking down what went wrong and what hope lied on the horizon for three CFL squads who missed the cut for the playoffs. Those three teams were the Edmonton Eskimos, Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts. One year later the picture looks quite a bit different.

The Eskimos, despite losing Mike Reilly, matched last year’s effort of a .500 record. Their playoff route is set in stone as they’ll be travelling east to take on the surprise team of 2019, the Alouettes.

Montreal appeared destined to end up on this list again early in the 2019 season. Head Coach Mike Sherman was fired, Antonio Pipkin was injured in his first game and the defence didn’t have its feet underneath them yet.

They allowed Trevor Harris to put up nearly 500 yards in passing, three touchdowns and 78% completion in Week 1. But something strange happened. Vernon Adams stepped up and became the face of the franchise.

They’ve become something of a Cinderella story and will surely have their work cut out for them come playoffs. However, the bigger picture is a team can turn things around very quickly in the CFL.

That leaves the Toronto Argonauts as the only repeat participants in the second installment of this yearly series. 2017’s Grey Cup season lead by Marc Trestman and Ricky Ray feels like ages ago. A new regime is once again left to pick up the pieces too soon after climbing the highest of peaks in the CFL.

For the second time this decade, the Argos have to rebuild. Without further ado, here’s a look at the three CFL squads that failed to punch their ticket to the 2019 CFL playoffs.

Toronto Argonauts

What went wrong?

Just about everything, but to be more specific we can start up front with their offensive line. The Argos have allowed 52 sacks with two games still remaining. Toronto has started eight different offensive line combinations in 16 games with one collective unit playing four games together at the most. That kind of inconsistency up-front would be difficult circumstances for the most elite of quarterbacks.

The Argos passing defence has been nothing short of a disaster. They’ve allowed 35 touchdowns to be thrown on them. The next closest teams in terms of volume are Ottawa and Winnipeg with 23. They too have struggled with consistency in the secondary with plenty of new faces appearing in and out of the lineup.

Corey Chamblin’s background is on the defensive side of the ball and with that in mind, it’s safe to say that they expected more out of this group. Chamblin was a part of the 2017 Grey Cup-winning team where the defence was under his leadership as well.

Prior to their game against BC earlier in October, it was noted by Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun that of the 22 defensive players to dress for them that night, only four were from the championship team two years prior.

To make things worse, the injury bug hit the Argos defence in a big way. 8/11 players on the team’s six-game injury list belonging to the defensive side of the ball. The reconstruction of this group will depend on who’s in charge and we won’t know that until after the 107th Grey Cup.

What to look forward too in 2020

It’s difficult to find many bright spots looking at this group. However, a figure who’s been subject to plenty of criticism has slowly proved himself as the year progressed, McLeod Bethel-Thompson. In 15 games, Bethel-Thompson has posted a 67.9% completion rate to go along with 3,826 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

At a minimum, the Argos have the opportunity to bring him back and compete for the starting job. Other notable free-agent quarterbacks may include Jeremiah Masoli and Matt Nichols. With the new executive regime in place with Michael “Pinball” Clemons and John Murphy, there is some reason for optimism in Toronto.

Ottawa Redblacks

What went wrong?

The Redblacks appeared destined for a poor season all the way back in February of 2019. It was at that time that they watched Trevor Harris, SirVincent Rogers, William Powell and Greg Ellingson all walk out the door. Losing that many key components would be crippling for any franchise.

The Redblacks appeared confident they had a suitable replacement in Dominque Davis. However, it is evident that both he and Jonathon Jennings won’t be next to lead Ottawa back to the playoffs.

On defence, the expectations were set much higher than what was met in the 2019 season. With the notable departures on the offensive side of the ball, the common thought was that the defence would be the catalyst for victories throughout the season. However, the reality has been anything but that.

Ottawa has allowed the most rushing touchdowns (26), second-most rushing yards per game (117.7), the most passing yards per game (317.4), second-most passing touchdowns (23) and the second-most passing yards all season (5,079).

There is certainly talent and a core to build around on this defence with the likes of JR Tavai, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Rose and Avery Williams. However, the Redblacks’ main mission this off-season should be to find elite pass-rushing talent as they ranked second last (27) in this category as well.

What to look forward too in 2020

In an interview with Ottawa Sun’s Tim Baines, OSEG CEO/President Mark Goudie said that he expects both general manager Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell to be back next season.

While they are responsible for the disaster that was the 2019 season, we must also not forget they were the brain trust behind building an East Division contender over the last four seasons. Redblacks fans will have to give this regime the benefit of the doubt. If they built this team once, they can do it again.

On offence, re-signing wide receiver Brad Sinopoli needs to be a priority. As mentioned earlier, they have some key pieces on defence to build around, but finding their next franchise quarterback, either through trade or free agency is a must.

BC Lions

What went wrong?

I covered some of this at the end of July in this article. Quite a bit has changed since their 1-6 start when that article was written. The Lions have since gone 4-6 with a matchup against Calgary next week to close out the season. Mike Reilly landed on the six-game injured-reserve after he suffered a broken wrist in Edmonton. There’s no shortage of skill players on this Lions team. From Lemar Durant, Bryan Burnham, Druon Carter, John White and Brandon Rutley.

The main issues lie upfront with the offensive line. Reilly was sacked 25 times through seven games in the middle of the season. It hasn’t gotten any better since then, in total the Lions have allowed 58 sacks which leads the league.

On defence, it took some time for players to adapt to DeVone Claybrooks’ scheme. Jim Morris covered this in late-September for CFL.ca. In essence, Claybrooks’ defence is predicated on the players making read and react decisions as opposed to pre-defined coverage roles before the snap of the ball.

This took some getting used too, however, it doesn’t excuse the Lions lack of sacks this season with 27, good enough to tie for seventh in the CFL.

What to look forward too in 2020

While many Lions fans are rightfully disappointed in the outcome of the 2019 campaign, there are bright spots to look forward to in 2020. As mentioned prior, another year in Claybrooks’ system could pay huge dividends in the defence taking a big step forward. On offence, adding to the offensive line is a must.

When Reilly has time in the pocket he is amongst the elite of the elite in the CFL. Factoring in his weapons, there’s no reason this offence can’t make noise in 2020 if the Lions can supply the goods upfront.

The biggest need the Lions and their fans have right now is patience, though the bar was set extremely high, there’s no reason to fire Claybrooks or clean house. Adjustments at key positions could make the Lions contenders sooner rather than later.

Looking Ahead

While the season winds down on these three teams, the attention now shifts to the six who will be battling for the 107th Grey Cup. The CFL is one of the more unique leagues in the sense that teams can go from zero to hero in an off-season. The Montreal Alouettes are living proof.

So while it may be disappointing now looking back on 2019 for Lions, Argos and Redblacks fans, as the old saying goes…there’s always next year.

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