Ticats at Eskimos Game Preview

Hamilton Tiger-Cats v Edmonton EskimosThere has been a lot of hype surrounding this game and rightfully so. The CFL’s two division leaders, who sport tremendous defenses, clash in Edmonton as the Ticats battle the Eskimos in a game where early season supremacy is on the line. It will be hard not to look at the winner of this game as being the league’s team-to-beat going forward. This should be a tremendous matchup and one that fans of all nine CFL fans should be, and to a certain extent have been, eager to watch.

Let’s get into some interesting stats and some things that the Ticats need to do to leave Commonwealth Stadium at 6-2.

The last 10 years in Edmonton

Opposing stadia, that aren’t Winnipeg, have been graveyards for the Ticats. They haven’t won in Montreal since 2002, have not won in Calgary since 2004, and have won just three times in Regina (including early this year) in this century. Edmonton is also one of those places where the Ticats fail more often than they succeed, but despite just two wins in 10 tries, the Ticats usually do enough to keep things close, but ultimately not enough to win. They have lost games by four, two, one, five, two and six. The only games where the Ticats were never really in it where a 35-20 loss in 2012 and a 28-10 loss in 2011. But with that said, this is by far the best Hamilton team that has traveled to Edmonton since the late 1990s, so perhaps they can reverse the history of close losses and turn them into a victory.

Create turnovers

As good as Edmonton has been this season, nearly all of the praise has gone, deservedly so, towards the defense, while little attention has been paid to the offense, and for good reason. The Eskimos offense has been hit and miss so far this season, and it mostly falls on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Nichols. If Nichols plays well, the Eskimos win big. If he doesn’t, the offense struggles and the Esks are forced to rely on their defense even more than they already do.

Tonight, Nichols will face the toughest defense he has seen so far this season and what Hamilton does well, Nichols does poorly. The Ticats are a defense that feasts on creating turnovers, whereas Nichols turns the ball over at an alarming rate. Nichols was tied for the league lead in interceptions with Travis Lulay entering Week 9, while the Ticats have picked off opposing quarterbacks a league-leading 11 times, six of which they have taken back for touchdowns. If the Ticats can force Nichols into making bad throws, and if they can turn those bad throws into a couple takeaways, the Ticats will have a good chance of leaving Edmonton with a win.

Protecting Collaros

The last time these two teams met in Edmonton, Odell Willis laid out Zach Collaros with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit that gave the Ticats signal caller a concussion and forced him to sit out until Labour Day. The Ticats beefed up their offensive line in the offseason, acquiring Ryan Bomben from the Montreal Alouettes in a draft-day trade, so that hits like the one Willis laid on Collaros will not happen again.

The Ticats have been pretty good protecting their quarterback in 2015. They have allowed 18 sacks so far this season, with only BC and Montreal allowing fewer, and Collaros has taken very few big hits in general and that is part of the reason why the Ticats have been so successful this year.

But Edmonton’s defense, especially their line, is ferocious. They have amassed 27 sacks so far this year, which leads the league, and the defense has not allowed a touchdown at home since Week 12 of the 2014 season. They are allowing just 8.3 points per game at home in 2015, so the Ticats offense, which has been sterling, especially the last three weeks, will face its toughest test tonight at Commonwealth. Keeping Collaros upright and healthy, allowing the offense to operate at its efficient best, will be a major factor in deciding who wins tonight’s contest.

Limit the impact of Edmonton’s new dynamite duo

Edmonton made a headline-grabbing move back in January when they traded long-time Eskimo, and fan favourite, Fred Stamps to the Montreal Alouettes. In return for Stamps, the Eskimos got little-used receiver Kenny Stafford. It was not a popular move back in the winter, but it sure has turned into a popular one since the season started.

Stafford began the season a little slow, but he has come on big time over the last few weeks. He has scored a touchdown in each of the team’s last four games and sits tied for second in the league with Tori Gurley with five on the season. He has been paired with 2014 all-star Adarius Bowman to quickly form one of the league’s best one-two tandems at receiver.

Bowman missed last week’s game due to injury, and he has once again started to catch a case of the dropsies, but he is still one of the league’s premier receivers and a focal point of the offense every time he is on the field. The Ticats will need to limit these two the best way they can if they want to win tonight’s game.

Juggernauts collide

As was outlined above, the Eskimos defense is absolutely ludicrous at home. Their numbers would be amazing if they were playing against air, but playing against actual competition makes them even more impressive. But it is probably safe to say that the Eskimos have yet to play an offense as dangerous as the one they will face tonight. It will be extremely tough for the Eskies to keep the Ticats out of the end zone — only Calgary was able to keep the Ticats offense out of the end zone, and that was back in Week 1 before the offense really found its rhythm — especially with how well the offense has looked recently. While there have been hiccups, the offense looked like a juggernaut against the Lions. This is going to be a clash of powerhouses tonight and whichever unit exerts its will is likely reign victorious when the final whistle blows.

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.