The Toronto Argonauts will have to get to Cory Boyd and Hugh Charles in order to corral Fred Stamps in the East Division semi-final.
Stamps was the CFL’s second-leading receiver this season, registering 1,310 yards with nine touchdowns on 74 catches for a gaudy 18.7-yard average. But Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich says the key to corralling the dangerous Stamps will be stopping running backs Charles and former Argo Boyd on Sunday at Rogers Centre.
“If you’re not stopping the run . . . you’ve got to put more people in the box and then Fred has one-on-one matchups and somebody at that point has got to play football and cover him,” said Milanovich.
“There’s a lot of things you can do if you’re stopping the run without having to put extra people in the box. You can play more zone, you can double him . . . but it starts with stopping the run.”
Charles finished fifth overall in CFL rushing with 887 yards, averaging a solid 5.2 yards per carry. He missed Edmonton’s final two regular-season games with a knee injury but was medically cleared this week to play.
Boyd, released earlier this season by Toronto despite leading the CFL in rushing at the time, is listed as Edmonton’s starting running back. The six-foot-one, 209-pound Boyd will make his second appearance against his former team and says he’ll play with a chip on his shoulder but not because of lingering animosity towards the Argos.
“You have to have with a chip on your shoulder going into a playoff game but my chip is not because I’m playing my old team,” Boyd said. “I just look at the other guys on the other sideline as they were family but now they’re enemies on game day.
“It would be a great ending to this story of mine to come back and play against my old team with a new one and dominate and go out and be who I’m supposed to be and that’s a play maker.”
But Milanovich said Charles and Boyd present different challenges for a Toronto defence that was ranked fifth this year against the run, allowing 111 yards per game.
“Charles is so athletic and gets outside the backfield and makes plays,” the Argos rookie head coach said. “Cory is a great north-south runner that’s going to run through tackles and is about as good as they come on second-and-three and getting the first down.
“I’m not sure you can say one is more dangerous than the other. Our guys are going to have to recognize who’s in the backfield and what type of run or pass they need to be anticipating and how they have to play that.”
There’s no doubting the six-foot, 188-pound Stamps is Edmonton’s most dangerous receiver. The six-year veteran registered his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and posted career highs in average per catch and TDs despite a horrendously slow start to his season.
“They have a lot of capable guys, character guys . . . but as No. 2 goes they go,” said Argos safety Jordan Younger. “We’re going to throw them a lot of curveballs and mix up coverages.
“They have a solid run game that they dedicate themselves to. They’ll run 20-25 times a game to keep the pressure off the quarterbacks and we’ve got a game plan for it and are ready to run to the ball and make those plays.”
Stamps had eight catches for 98 yards combined in the two games this season against Toronto. And while Stamps didn’t score, Edmonton did win both contests.
If Toronto devotes extra attention to Stamps, Eskimos coach Kavis Reed said that will leave other receivers in position to come up big.
“We’ve always said that it’s not necessarily your top play makers that are most important,” he said. “Batman is Batman, everyone knows that.
“Robin is probably more important in these cases. We’re going to look to Cary Koch, we’re going to look to Shamawd Chambers, we’re going to look to Marcus Henry, we’re going to look to our running backs to make certain we have guys who can complement Fred if he’s unable to get the passes.”
Edmonton (7-11) lost its final three regular-season games and eight of its last 10. But Stamps says both the Eskimos and Argos are starting the playoffs with a clean slate.
“Everyone wants to go into the playoffs with a winning streak but the main goal is to get into the playoffs,” he said. “We’re here, the 18 games before don’t matter . . . it’s a new season so we expect to play as a new team.”
Toronto (9-9) finished second in the East Division and hosts its first playoff game since ‘07. The game will be starter Ricky Ray’s third this season against the team that shocked the CFL last December by dealing the veteran to the Argos.
“Having two games against them in the regular season definitely helps kind of get most of that out of the way,” Ray said. “It is starting to be more comfortable feeling like just another team coming in here and playing.
“Being a playoff game and all that, it doesn’t matter who lines up against you, you just want to go out and win and keep going.”
The Ray trade has also been a constant this season in Edmonton, where Ray spent nine seasons and helped the club win two Grey Cup titles. And while Sunday’s game will be the last this season between the two teams, Reed doubts it will bring closure to the deal.
“I’d say will it ever bring closure to it?” he said. “The deal obviously was a big one in CFL history, I say probably a Babe Ruth kind of trade.
“Ricky is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he’s an exceptional player and leader. That obviously historically is going to have its value. But for us it’s about moving forward as a franchise.”