Ticats at Bombers Game Preview

crop_20802154917Week 1 is in the books, and the Ticats are in Winnipeg for their second of four road games to start the season. The Cats lost a heartbreaker in Calgary on a final-play field goal and will hope to reverse their luck against the Blue Bombers before heading into their Week 3 bye.

Winnipeg pulled off a somewhat surprising 30-26 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week and will want to keep the winning ways going. After a 5-1 start last season, the Bombers sunk like a stone, dropping 10 of their final 12 games to end the season and the team does not want a repeat of that in 2015.

Last year’s meeting in Winnipeg came down to the very end, with some questionable play calling on Winnipeg’s end allowing the Ticats to escape Investors Group Field with a 16-11 victory. The Ticats will hope for a similar result tonight.

Here are a few things to look for in tonight’s game.

1. Unstoppable force meets the immovable object

This matchup features one of the league’s best offensive lines versus one of the league’s best defensive lines. Winnipeg’s offensive line looked superb against Saskatchewan in Week 1. Aside from a sack given up to John Chick — and let’s face it, no matter how good you are, John Chick is going to beat you at some point — the line was able to keep Drew Willy fairly protected and upright, allowing their second-year quarterback to have time to make plays down the field. As stiff a test as Saskatchewan’s front four is, the Ticats boast one of the most fearsome quartets in the league. Ted Laurent was the lone defensive lineman to pick up a sack in last week’s game against Calgary, but the entire line was disruptive and wreaked havoc all game long. They had two tremendous 3rd-and-short stops, including one on 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line, and look to be just as dominant as they were last season.

2. Containing Cotton (and Marshall)

Somewhat lost in all the Drew Willy hoopla, deserved as it may be, was the play of Winnipeg’s two tailbacks, Paris Cotton and Cameron Marshall. Marshall scored twice, while Cotton finished with 167 total yards, 108 of which came on the ground on just 13 carries, and scored a touchdown of his own. Hamilton’s defense held Jon Cornish in check for most of the game last week, allowing the three-time Most Outstanding Canadian to pick up just 70 yards on the ground. Hamilton had the league’s best run defense a year ago and they will need another stellar performance to keep Winnipeg’s stellar two-headed monster contained.

3. The Ticats takeaway machine

One of the knocks against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defense few years ago was about their inability to create turnovers. A lot of almost interceptions, but not many actual interceptions. That has changed since Orlondo Steinauer became the team’s defensive coordinator in 2013, and it was on full display last week at McMahon Stadium. The Ticats picked off Bo Levi Mitchell three times and forced five turnovers in total, the second most of any team in the league in Week 1. Drew Willy and the Winnipeg offense did not turn the ball over once in their Week 1 win, and if the Ticats can force Willy and co. into a few mistakes, the Ticats should find themselves on the victors side of the margin at game’s end.

4. Establish a run game

While the previous three entries have been about strength on strength, this one is more about weakness on weakness. The Bombers, just like in 2014, could not stop the run, while the Ticats, just like in 2014, could not run the ball. Winnipeg gave up 212 yards on the ground, most of it by Anthony Allen (102 yards) and Jerome Messam (75 yards). Hamilton, on the other hand, ran it a league-low 13 times against Calgary, with the team’s leading rusher being rookie running back Ray Holley, who picked up a minuscule 24 yards on eight carries. Teams have shown over the last year and a bit that Winnipeg can be run on, so if the Ticats want to even their record at 1-1, they need to get Holley going early. The first-year man out of Louisiana Tech had success against the Bombers in the preseason, rushing for 40 yards on eight carries and scoring one touchdown in just one half of play, and a repeat performance could be in the cards if the Ticats decide to establish a ground game.

5. Hamilton’s success in Winnipeg

While Hamilton has been far from a road juggernaut the past few season — they have won just 16 games away from home since 2009 — five of those wins have come against the Blue Bombers. The team has also won the last three meetings in Winnipeg. The team usually does not play well when they travel — see last week’s preview, where Hamilton’s troubles in Calgary were highlighted — but Winnipeg seems to be the one place where they find success.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.