VANCOUVER — It’s a clash of the unbeaten as the Toronto Argonauts visit the BC Lions on Saturday night to put a bookend on Week 3 of action in the CFL.
Toronto is coming off a 20-19 season opening win over Montreal in Week 2, while the Lions had a bye after their Week 1 victory over Edmonton.
The Argonauts’ trio off-season splash signings made their presence felt in a big way in their opening week win.
Receiver, Brandon Banks caught their lone touchdown pass from quarterback McLeod-Bethel Thompson, while Markeith Ambles caught a pair of passes for 67 yards. Running back, Andrew Harris totalled 87 yards on 18 carries, adding another 23-yards receiving.
Second-year receiver, Kurleigh Gittens Jr also factored into the offensive attack, reeling in 66 yards on six receptions in the Week 2 win. Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, Bethel-Thompson will have plenty of receiving options to help to to try dissect a stingy Lions defence.
Harris made his impact felt early in the game, seeing action on the first four plays of the opening drive. He averaged nearly five yards per carry and broke away for a 17-yard gain against Montreal in Week 2.
The Lions were able to hold the Elks rushing game to 54 yards in their opener, but Week 3 presents a new challenge. The Lions defence will have their hands full with the five time All-Star.
The ability to utilize Harris in the ground game will certainly be a key to Toronto’s success this season, and the skill set of Harris is something that Bethel-Thompson is appreciative of.
“He’s a force, man,” Bethel-Thompson told argonauts.ca. “We’re very luck to have him. We have to keep him upright and keep him healthy. I’m excited to work with him all season.”
If you flash back to their 31-29 Week 13 overtime win over the Lions last season, you’ll find that Bethel-Thompson was largely held in check by the Leos defence. He completed 62.2 per cent of his pass attempts for 155 yards.
However, with the off-season additions of Banks and Ambles, paired with play-making ability of Gittens, Bethel-Thompson is surrounded by a talented cast of receivers that should help to drive the ball downfield.
“The quarterback needs to finish drives,” Bethel-Thompson said after the win over the Alouettes. “We have so many good receivers everywhere, we have to get the ball around and make sure Banks gets involved. Hopefully as we go well get him more targets.”
The Boatmen defence was able to force their way through the Als offensive line for three sacks a week ago. Linebacker Winston McManis and defensive linemen Shawn Ray and Dewayne Hendrix each recorded a sack in the game.
Toronto will need to find their way into the backfield in order to create pressure situations for BC, but it won’t be easy. The lions didn’t allow a sack in their Week 1 win over Edmonton.
Nathan Rourke had an impressive showing in his debut as the Lions’ starting quarterback. He completed 26 of his 29 passing attempts for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Rourke was perfect on all six of his passes to Lucky Whitehead, who totalled a team-high 110 yards receiving.
The Argos secondary will need to game plan for Whitehead and receiver Keon Hatcher who averaged 13.8 yards per reception and found the end zone in the Lions win.
Wide receivers coach Jason Tucker loved what he saw out of his receiving corps in their 59-15 win over the Elks. He thinks the dynamic group will be hard to pin down for the Argos defence.
“That’s the good thing about this group, everybody brings something different to the table,” Tucker told bclions.com during practice this week. “It’s hard to just key in on one person. If people want to take Burnham, we have Rhymes and Cottoy that will make plays. That’s the thing about it, Nate is going to spread it around. These guys showed they can make plays for him, so that’s going to keep the defence off balance.”
But Saturday may prove to be a showdown between running backs, as James Butler will be tasked with going toe-to-toe with Harris on the ground.
If Week 1 was any indication, Butler is ready for the challenge. He carried the ball 17 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Rourke also targeted him for six catches, totalling 33 yards adding another two touchdowns.
The defence will try to get the offence back on the field as quickly as possible by applying pressure all game long.
That pressure came from defensive, tackle Sione Teuhema in their win over the Elks. Teuhema had three sacks and four defensive tackles. Defensive lineman Mathieu Betts also recorded a sack in the game.
Defensive backs TJ Lee, Garry Peters and Loucheiz Purifoy are primed to wreak havoc on Bethel-Thomspon and the pass game. The trio of defensive backs combined for four interceptions in Week 1, with Lee recording a pair them.
BC Place was rocking in the Lions season opener with over 30,000 fans in attendance. With both teams looking to jump out to a 2-0 start, it’s going to be an entertaining contest for those in the seats and watching at home.
Kickoff is set for 10:00p.m. ET on Saturday night and the game can be seen on TSN, RDS, ESPN2 and can be followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.
– With files from Argonauts.ca and BCLions.com.