Toronto Argonauts scrimmage during practice on Wednesday (Jamar Hinds, Toronto Observer)

Argos attempt to improve on poor starts, clinch East vs Ti-Cats

Toronto three full games ahead of second-place Hamilton

The Toronto Argonauts (9-4) will look to finally accomplish something they haven’t done in almost two months against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-7) on Friday night.

Despite winning their last four games, all on the road, Toronto has not led a game at the half since week eight at home against Edmonton.

The main reason for their recent slumps is poor offensive play to begin games, something head coach Scott Milanovich has not been able to solve yet.

“Well I mean, you improve on it by scoring some points on some early drives, it’s hard to say,” he said, after practice on Wednesday.

“It’s not that we’re out there, trying not to score. You understand that. But we can do a better job as coaches, and I’ve tried to take some responsibility for that.”

The poor starts pattern began when quarterback Zach Collaros took over for the injured Ricky Ray. Collaros has played well in relief, throwing 13 touchdowns to just five interceptions and a QB rating of 100.

However there has been a drastic contrast between Collaros’ first- and second-half performances over the last month, none more glaring than last week’s 15-1 opening half debacle against Edmonton where he only completed 8-of-19 passes for 86 yards and an interception.

“I don’t think he played very well in the first half. And I told him so during the game. But he played pretty well in the second half again, so we just need to get him going a little earlier,” Milanovich said.

As for Collaros, the second year quarterback says he has taken advice from Ray to help bounce back after bad starts, but does not believe it’s been a constant problem.

“I don’t think it’s been every game. The Calgary game, we should have scored 21 points in the first half,” Collaros said. “We missed a field goal with 15 points, so we moved the ball real well in the first half.

“We just have to continue doing what we’re doing and get better every day. And all of that will take care of itself.”

Another possible reason for the slow starts could be play-calling. Last week, running back Chad Kackert returned from injury and only carried the ball twice for 12 yards in the first half. He finished with 155 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.

When asked if the play-calling has been more aggressive in the second half, Milanovich said, “Well you have to be more aggressive when you’re behind. And so I think there is some degree to that for sure. But this past game we were pretty aggressive in the first half and it didn’t work out so well, so we just have to find the right mix.”

Wide-receiver John Chiles, who caught three touchdowns during the road trip and has been a key target for Collaros in the recent late game heroics, doesn’t think there is a difference in plays either half.

“He calls the same exact plays pretty much in the second half. And for whatever reason, I think something clicks on offence and we get a first down,” Chiles said. “Once you get that first down, you get another one and things get to rolling.

“We get the momentum on our side, but as far as the play calling, I think it’s pretty much the same both halves.”

With Toronto playing their first game inside the Rogers Centre in a month and Hackert in full swing, the Argos feel they should be able to ‘shake off’ the shaky starts against Hamilton.

Three full games separate the two teams, and the Argos can clinch home field throughout the East with a win tonight.

Chiles believes that the change of scenery will help change the Argos’ first half misfortunes.

“Just being at home I think we get to focus more on our assignments. The thing about being on the road is you have a lot of distractions. Sleeping in a hotel, everyone’s tired, different things like that which can wear on you mentally,” the receiver said.

But being back home and back in our comfort zone, we’ll be able to start faster.”