Ticats at Alouettes Game Preview

CFL Tiger Cats v AlouettesThe Ticats head to Montreal fresh off their bye in the hopes of starting 2-1 for the first time since 2009. The Ticats last played two weeks ago, beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while the Als enter the contest coming off a two-point loss in Week 3 to those very same Blue Bombers. The last time these two teams met was in the East Division Final last November, a game the Ticats won thanks to two Brandon Banks punt return touchdowns. The Ticats have not won a regular season game in Montreal since 2002 and the Ticats will hope to end that drought tonight.

1. Pressure creating turnovers

Through two games, the Hamilton Tiger-Cat sit near the top of the league in both sacks and turnovers, with six sacks and eight total turnovers, including six interceptions. The Ticats have turned those turnovers into a league-best 33 points, with three of the team’s interceptions being returned for touchdowns. Conversely, the Als have allowed a league-worst 26 points off turnovers and have given the ball up six times in their three games. The Ticats will be facing a rookie quarterback making just his third career start in Rakeem Cato and have ballhawking DB Rico Murray back in the lineup for the first time this season. (Correction: Murray is not in the lineup this week.) Cato threw two interceptions last week against the Blue Bombers, and the Ticats could find success by pressuring Cato into making mistakes and capitalizing on those errors.

2. Worst vs. best

The Ticats rushing offense has been putrid thus far in 2015, with just 32 rushing attempts, 99 rush yards and 3.1 yards per attempt, all league lows. On the other side, Montreal has the CFL’s No. 3 run defense, allowing 85 yards per game and a league-topping 4.0 yards per rush. The Ticats are running with the underperforming Ray Holley and newcomer Michael Ford now that Nic Grigsby has been released, so do not expect the Ticats rushing attack to be any better this week against one of the CFL’s toughest run defenses.

3. Limiting Sutton’s impact

On the opposite side, we have one of the league’s best rushing offense taking on its top defense. Tyrell Sutton leads the CFL in rushing yards with 278 and has a league-leading six runs of 10 or more yards. The Ticats have picked up where they left off in 2014, sporting the league’s top run defense and allowing just 75 rushing yards per game this season. Limiting Sutton, especially on first down, will force the Als into 2nd-and-long situations, which will put the ball in the hands of Rakeem Cato, and allow the Ticats to bring pressure. If the Ticats can limit Sutton and make Cato uncomfortable as a result, the Ticats could find success in Montreal for the first time in a long time.

4. Ticats air it out

The Ticats may not be able to run the ball, but they sure can throw it. The team has three of the top 11 pass catchers on a per game average — Andy Fantuz, Terrell Sinkfield and Bakari Grant — and Zach Collaros is second only to BC’s Travis Lulay in passing yards per game. Collaros’ 74.6 per cent completion rate is also impressive and one of the big reasons the team has gone two-and-out just five times, fewest in the league. The Ticats have found success through the air in both games they played this season and should that trend continue, they could escape Percival Molson Stadium with a win for the first time in 13 years.

5. Speedy Slays the Als

In just two games against Montreal last season (Banks missed the team’s first meeting in September), Brandon Banks scored three touchdowns. We all know of his two scintillating punt returns in the East Final — and it could have been three if not for a penalty wiping out his first return touchdown — but Banks also had a receiving touchdown against the Als in the season finale at Tim Hortons Field. Banks also returned a missed field goal for a touchdown in a 2013 matchup between these two teams in Guelph. Banks seems to just have a knack for finding the end zone against the Alouettes, and with two punt returns in two games to start the season, Banks could make it three-for-three against a team that he has had tremendous success against so far in his CFL career.

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.