Ticats at Argos Game Preview

ticats argos toliver look.JPGWhile not as storied as the contest on Monday, the Labour Day rematch between the Ticats and Argos is still a hotly anticipated matchup. Happening just four days after the annual holiday Monday clash, both teams will need to be at their best to try to defeat an opponent they are intimately familiar with.

The Ticats smashed the Argos on Monday, but I find it hard to believe that a similar outcome will occur tonight. The Ticats are the superior team, but Toronto will want to avenge their loss on Monday and get themselves back in the race for first place in the division and a bye to the East Final.

Securing the East

With a win tonight, the Ticats will take a two-game lead on the Argos, but by having already won the season series, Hamilton will essentially have a three-game lead with seven left to play. That is far from an insurmountable advantage for the Ticats, but it would be a tough mountain to climb for the Boatmen. If Toronto wants to have any hope of getting the coveted bye in the playoffs, they need to win this game. The Ticats can’t win the division tonight, but they make it hard for the Argos to catch them with a victory.

Back to backs and series sweeps

One of the coolest quirks of the CFL schedule are these back-to-back games. They allow for animosity to breed and hard feelings to linger. The Argos are likely fired up after getting annihilated on Monday, whereas the Ticats are flying high and hoping for a repeat. But winning back-to-back games against the same opponent is not easy. Drew Edwards wrote an excellent article about how Hamilton has fared in these scenarios, with the major takeaway being that the Ticats have never won both the Labour Day Classic and the rematch. They have been swept three times and split three times.

Also of interest is that a win by the Ticats would mean they will have taken all three games from the Argos this year. Sweeping teams in the season series is rare. In fact, the only team the Ticats swept last year was the expansion Ottawa Redblacks, and the last time the team swept the Argos was way back in 2010. But that sweep comes with a caveat: despite winning three from the Argos in the regular season, the Ticats lost to Toronto in the East Semi-Final that year.

Winning back-to-backs is hard, as is sweeping a team on the season. A win by the Ticats tonight would accomplish both feats.

Keeping drives alive

If the Argos are to win tonight, they will need to be much better in getting the Ticats off the field. Doing so will require them to get stops on second down, something they were unable to do on Monday. Hamilton converted 71 per cent of their second downs last week, including going nine-for-nine on second downs with six or fewer yards to go and eight-for-15 in second down situations of seven or more yards to go. On the season, the Ticats have converted a league-best 60.3 per cent of their second downs — a mark that would crush the previous single-season record of 55 per cent held by the 2008 Montreal Alouettes — and 85 per cent of their second downs with three or fewer yards to go. Getting the Ticats off the field has not been easy for any team, and if the Argos cannot find out a way to stop the Ticats from keeping drives alive, Hamilton will win this game.

Early risers

We might know just who will win this game very early on. If the Argos keep it close, it is likely they will be the victor, but if the Ticats blow their doors off early, it will be a long night for the double blue. Hamilton has been in the lead at the end of the first quarter eight times this season, and they have won seven of those games. The Ticats have also outscored their opponents 115-35 in the first quarter this season. When Hamilton gets on teams early, they win.

Conversely, if the Argos are able to hang around, they can take advantage of another quirky stat: the Ticats are 0-3 in games decided by four points or fewer. Hamilton’s three losses have come by one to Calgary, and by four and three to Montreal. Only in the Calgary game did Hamilton have success early, scoring touchdowns on interception and punt returns in the first quarter. If the Argos can keep things close, the Ticats will have to do something they haven’t done all year: win a tight game.

Chose your own adventure

The Ticats have a multitude of offensive weapons and the Argos will need to keep them in check if they hope to win tonight’s game. The Argos were unable to do that on Monday, as three Ticats receivers scored touchdowns, three had 90 or more receiving yards and three had five or more catches. The Argos simply had no answer for Hamilton’s potent ariel attack, as the Ticats exploited Toronto’s league-worst pass defense to the tune of 400 yards through the air and 42 points. Ticats receivers were open all afternoon, finding holes in zones and picking up yards after the catch, and if something similar happens again tonight, the Ticats are likely to secure their eighth win of the season.

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.