CFLs to show Argos a very different team

November 08, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The last time Baltimore faced the Toronto Argonauts, Tracy Ham was on crutches, Elfrid Payton was in street clothes and Mike Pringle was nine days removed from arthroscopy.

That was Aug. 20 at Memorial Stadium. The outcome was a 31-24 Toronto upset of the CFLs.

If it seems like eons ago, it should, at least in terms of Baltimore's evolution this season.

The CFLs were 4-3 after the loss, a young team in search of an identity.

Since then, they've won eight of 11. Now they're a seasoned team that believes it can reach the Grey Cup, Saturday's ugly 18-0 loss in Sacramento notwithstanding.

The bid for the Grey Cup starts here Saturday, when the CFLs (12-6) meet the Argos (7-11) in an Eastern Division semifinal. Baltimore split the series with Toronto, winning the season opener, 28-20.

Any similarity between these teams and the ones that played last summer, though, is purely coincidental.

"I remember when Tracy Ham got hurt in the second game," said Baltimore tackle Shar Pourdanesh. "[Toronto's Rodney] Harding said, 'There goes your whole offense.' At that time, we were a passing team. And Tracy was our running game then, too."

Ham tore his right quadriceps muscle in the first half against the Argos. Remarkably resilient, he missed only one full game. Out of that adversity, though, came Baltimore's saving grace.

It was the emergence of Pringle as the league's premier running back. With Ham hobbled by his injury, Pringle launched a string of seven 100 yards-or-better rushing games over a nine-game stand. He won the CFL rushing title with 1,972 yards.

That night, nine days after he had arthroscopic knee surgery, Pringle carried nine times for 15 yards.

"There are a lot of things we do differently as an offense that will get the backs open [this week]," Pringle said. "I was looking at the film of how the [Argos] linebackers sit off and leave a lot of dead areas for me or Peter [Tuipulotu] to find holes and get the ball dumped off."

Pringle aggravated his strained groin in Saturday's loss and was limping yesterday. Even though he called himself questionable, he expects to play.

The other big change since Aug. 20 was the addition one week later of Payton at rush end, shoring up a lame pass rush. He watched the loss from the sideline as a newly signed member of the Baltimore defense.

This week Payton takes aim at rookie quarterback Marvin Graves, who started seven of the past eight games for the Argos. A native of Washington, Graves has thrown for 1,888 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"He's real poised for a young quarterback," Payton said. "We've definitely got to get to him and not let him get in his rhythm."

Graves is Toronto's third starting quarterback against Baltimore this season. Mike Kerrigan played in the opener, throwing for 287 yards. Reggie Slack played in the August game, rushing for 102 yards and passing for 158.

Kerrigan has missed eight games with a back injury but will dress as Graves' backup this week.

In another Toronto switch, running back Mike Clemons moves back into the lineup. He'll replace Mo Deen. Clemons rushed for 120 yards and threw for a touchdown against Baltimore in August.

"Their offense has changed," nose tackle Jearld Baylis said. "Unlike Slack, Graves is a guy they want to get on the corner. The last time we played them, we didn't stop the running game."

Baltimore surrendered a season-high 230 rushing yards in that game. The CFLs gave up 100-yard rushing games only six times in 18 weeks, but Toronto had two of them.

That is part of the reason the Argos wanted a first-round game in Baltimore instead of against the East champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"I guess they don't think we're good enough," Pourdanesh said.

Said Pringle: "There's a saying, 'Be careful about what you ask for, because you might get it.' They got what they wanted. But their comments don't affect this team. If that makes them play better, it's out of our control. We have to play our game."

NOTES: Baltimore coach Don Matthews said linebacker Malcolm Goodwin (sprained neck) has numbness in his fingers and his availability is "day-to-day." If Goodwin can't play, Brad Clark will take his roster spot. . . . Wide receiver Robert Clark returns as a starter this week, leaving Mike Alexander and Joe Washington competing for the backup receiver spot.

CFL PLAYOFFS

SATURDAY

Toronto at Baltimore, 4 p.m. B.C. at Edmonton, 4 p.m.

SUNDAY

Ottawa at Winnipeg, 3 p.m. SaskatchewaN AT Calgary, 3 p.m.

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