FINALLY, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have come back to Tim Hortons Field!
After four games away from home, the Ticats return to Hamilton to take on the division-leading Toronto Argonauts in a battle for first place in the East. This is the first of three meetings between these two teams, with the annual Labour Day Classic being played a month from now and the return matchup in Toronto happening on the following Friday. The Ticats have not lost at home to the Argos under Kent Austin, winning 13-12 last year in the opener at Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day and 24-18 in 2013 at Alumni Stadium in Guelph on Thanksgiving, and have yet to lose at Tim Hortons Field, posting a stellar 7-0 record after moving in last September.
The Ticats also find themselves on the receiving end of good news once again this week as a few of the walking wounded will return for this much-hyped clash with the Argos. Receiver Luke Tasker and defensive end Eric Norwood, both divisional all-stars in 2014, will see their first action of the season tomorrow, while defensive tackle Ted Laurent and receiver/returner Terrell Sinkfield will be back in the lineup after missing last week’s game against the Roughriders.
Here are a few things that Ticats need to do to extend their undefeated streak at Tim Hortons Field to eight games.
Run, Gable, run
Last week saw the return of Ticats running back C.J. Gable and what a return it was for the 2013 East Division Most Outstanding Rookie. After missing the first three games of the season, Gable made up for lost time by ripping the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 135 yards on 20 carries, including a beautiful 47-yard scamper in the second quarter. The Ticats did not have much of a running game when Gable was on the shelf and it made the offense one-dimensional and somewhat predictable. With Gable out there, the Argos will have to respect the run and that should open things up for QB Zach Collaros and the passing game. If Gable has anywhere close to the game he had against the Riders, the Ticats will likely come away with their third victory of the season.
Blitz! Blitz! Blitz!
There is no denying that Argos QB Trevor Harris has looked spectacular starting in place of the injured Ricky Ray. Harris leads the league in touchdown passes, with 11, and completion percentage, at 74.8 per cent, and has thrown for nearly 1,200 yards in just four games. But despite his great play, he has made his share of expected mistakes, especially when he gets pressured by the defense. And get pressure is something Hamilton does best. If the Ticats want to force Harris into bad throws, they will need to do what they have done all season and bring the heat. The Ticats love to blitz, and doing so against a quarterback in just his sixth career start could lead to some turnovers and short fields for the offense. The Hamilton defense has been a turnover machine so far in 2015 and if that continues against the Argos, the Ticats have a great chance of getting the win.
A lot of Harris’ success through the air has come because of the yards after the catch gained by his pass catchers. The Argos deploy three players who are excellent in the YAC department: Chad Owens, Brandon Whitaker and Anthony Coombs. Of Owens’ 263 receiving yards this season, 80 have come after the catch, 61.5 per cent of Whitaker’s receiving yards have come after the catch, and while he has not made much of an impact, 45 of Coombs’ 55 receiving yards have come after he has the ball in his hands. The Argos like to find ways to get the ball in their playmakers’ hands quickly and in space, and they have been successful for the most part this season. The Ticats are one of the most sure-tackling teams in the CFL, so limiting the damage the Argos receivers and running backs do after the ball is in their hands is a key to winning this game.
Win the 4th
A team doesn’t win seven straight at home by accident, and with one of the CFL’s clever advertising slogans being “No Lead is Safe,” it makes sense that outscoring your opponent in the final frame is a key to winning football games. Since moving in to Tim Hortons Field, the Ticats have outscored their opponents 54-17 in the fourth quarter and have allowed zero points in the fourth quarter in four of their six regular season games. They have also never been outscored in the fourth quarter at home. When it comes to crunch time, the Ticats find a way to get it done on both sides of the ball. If the Ticats can continue this run of excellence in the final quarter, they will win the game.
Red zone lockdown
Keeping the Argos from scoring will not be easy as they have, by far, the most successful red-zone offense in the CFL this season. The Argos have taken the ball inside their opponents 20-yard line 13 times in 2015 and have come away with 10 touchdowns. Contrasting that to Hamilton’s red-zone offense, which has scored just four times in nine attempts inside the 20, shows how impressive those Argos numbers really are. The Ticats have one of the best red-zone defenses, allowing teams to score touchdowns on just six of their 12 red-zone opportunities, and have a pair of impressive goal-line stands against Calgary and Montreal to boast about. If Hamilton can force the Argos to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns when Toronto gets the ball into the red zone, the Ticats will leave Tim Hortons Field victorious.