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Quarterback Chad Kelly and the Toronto Argonauts offence have certainly hit the ground running to start the 2023 CFL season.

Toronto (2-0) currently leads the league in rushing, averaging 152 yards per game. Last year, the Argos finished last overall in rushing (81.7 yards per game) and ran for just nine touchdowns all year.

The Argos host the B.C. Lions (3-0) at BMO Field on Monday night having already scored seven rushing TDs. Kelly and running back A.J. Ouellette both have three touchdowns with veteran Canadian running back Andrew Harris accounting for the other.

“We’re fast and we’re physical,” Kelly said following practice Thursday. “I think we’re smart and we’re using our strengths to our advantage.”

Those strengths would be the two-headed running attack of Ouellette and Harris. Ouellette is the team’s leading rusher with 144 yards on 31 carries (4.6-yard average) while Harris has run for 56 yards on 10 carries.

Kelly’s mobility has also been a factor. The 29-year-old nephew of former Buffalo Bills star Jim Kelly has run eight times for 52 yards (6.5-yard average).

“You can tell they’re committing to run the ball and they come downhill with authority,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell said of the Argos. “They’re really going to make you step up and be sound in your gaps but also have to be physical.

“I know (Argos head coach) Ryan Dinwiddie would always want to be able to run the ball well. I think he’s always going to commit to running the ball enough and their running backs always tend to fall forward or get yards after contact, which obviously is a big deal. Second and four is a lot different than second and seven.”

In 2022, Toronto’s McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the CFL in passing (4,731 yards) and anchored the league’s second-ranked aerial game (279.3 yards per game). With Bethel-Thompson now playing in the United States Football League, Kelly is in his first full season as the Argos’ starter but has thrown just one touchdown pass.

However, it’s not like Toronto has needed a game-breaking pass performance from Kelly. The Argos led Hamilton 22-6 at halftime of its season-opening 32-14 victory before riding an 18-point third-quarter outburst for a 36-17 advantage in last week’s 43-31 road victory over Edmonton.

The Argos’ offensive line has also been outstanding. Not only has the unit paved the way for the CFL’s top ground game but has given up just one sack.

Earlier this week, the Argos line was ranked as the league’s best in its weekly honour roll as per data points registered and compiled by Pro Football Focus, a sports analytics company. Ouellette, who received the top grade among running backs at 81.1, ran for 84 yards and three TDs on 18 carries against Edmonton.

Dinwiddie said the healthy return of American left tackle Isiah Cage and Canadian left guard Ryan Hunter having the benefit of a full training camp have contributed to the line’s overall play. Hunter, of North Bay, Ont., joined the Argos late last season after being released by the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.

“I think we’re running the ball downhill between the tackles,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re mixing a few gap schemes and we’ve had good success with that.

“The fact we have Chad in there as well, now he’s a threat where we can zone read and run the football and not throw it all the time. Getting Isiah back healthy to start the season was big … you could see the physical mentality he brought. I just think they’re maulers right now and taking on that MO that they want to be the toughest, most physical O-line in the league.”

Toronto also leads the CFL in offensive points (34.5 per game) and net offence (399 yards).

B.C. counters with a defence that’s ranked first overall in fewest offensive points allowed (7.0 per game) and was dominant in last week’s 30-6 road win over Winnipeg. The unit registered seven sacks, including three by Canadian Mathieu Betts.

The Lions are also allowing a league-low 211.7 offensive yards per game and have given up just one offensive TD. Opposing offences are averaging just 76 yards rushing against the unit.

“We have a very big challenge this week,” Dinwiddie said. “You look across the board at their defensive line, linebackers and secondary, they’re a very solid group.

“We’re going to have to run the football. If they know we’re throwing it, they’re going to be getting after the quarterback and their secondary is very aggressive and plays well in man coverage.”

Toronto’s defence will be minus Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams (knee). Williams was the CFL’s top rookie in 2021 with B.C. and spent two seasons with the club before asking to be dealt to the Argos last off-season to be closer to family.

The 6-foot, 232-pound Williams was the first player taken in the 2020 CFL draft but no football was played that year due to the global pandemic. He had 92 tackles (most ever by a first-year player), five special-teams tackles, a sack and interception in 2021.

Last season, Williams registered 89 tackles, seven special-teams tackles and three forced fumbles. With Toronto having a bye following Monday’s game, Dinwiddie said Williams will have the benefit of time to recover.

“Jordan is a heck of a player, we’re definitely going to miss him,” Dinwiddie said. “But we feel we have some answers there.”

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