The hype may not be as plentiful as it was a month ago, but there is no denying that the marquee matchup of Week 13 in the CFL takes place in Hamilton this afternoon. The Ticats enter the game 8-3 and at least two games up on everyone in the East Division, while the Eskimos sport a 7-4 record and are coming of a massive win over their provincial rivals, the Calgary Stampeders. Edmonton’s win ended a 12-game losing streak to the Stamps and jumped them back into the race for first in the West Division.
Hamilton also comes into this game after dispatching of a provincial rival. The Ticats took both legs of the back-to-back contests against the Toronto Argonauts last week, first on Labour Day and then the following Friday. Hamilton swept the season series and now sits with essentially a three-game lead over the Argos for first in the East with seven games left to go.
Both Hamilton and Edmonton are coming in full of confidence after their triumphs a week ago and that should make for one outstanding game.
The last time…
The last time these two teams met, words like “Grey Cup preview” and “unstoppable force meets immovable object” were used. It was one of the most-hyped and most-looked-forward-to regular season games in a long time. But when the smoke cleared, the Eskimos were both stopped and moved as the Ticats slapped them around to the tune of 49-20. Hamilton dominated from the opening kickoff to the final whistle and served notice to the rest of the league that they were for real. It was a thorough beating, but one that is unlikely to happen a second time. That loss left a sour taste in the mouths of Eskimos players, so expect a much better performance this afternoon.
The Reilly Factor
One of the main reasons I think the Esks will play much better this time around is due to a change at quarterback. The Ticats were fortunate to play the immensely mediocre Matt Nichols back in August, but Nichols is no longer with the club now that injured starter Mike Reilly is back. Reilly is one of the league’s best quarterbacks when healthy, as he showed last Saturday in his first start since Week 1, ripping up the Calgary defense for 352 yards and three touchdowns in Edmonton’s big win. If Reilly is on his game, there are few better. Reilly provides a much stiffer test for the Ticats defense. Reilly can move the pocket and extend plays with his legs, something the Ticats did not really have to concern themselves with when these two teams last played. Reilly also has a better arm, better accuracy, and a better mind for the game. he is basically better than Matt Nichols in every conceivable way. With a much more dangerous signal caller behind centre for the Esks, the Ticats defense will have its work cut out for it.
A Hamilton rushing attack… No, really
One of the things many have harped on all season is Hamilton’s inability/indifference to running the football. To call Hamilton a pass-happy team would be an understatement, but it is possible that the Ticats have finally found the rushing attack that has eluded them whenever all-star tailback C.J. Gable has not been on the field. Over the last two games, Ray Holley has rushed 20 times for 135 yards, and while those might not be eye-popping numbers, they show the Ticats can run the football if need be. If Holley can keep this up, the Ticats’ offense can become even more dynamic, and that is truly a scary thing. Don’t expect a big dose of No. 25, but don’t be surprised if Holey surpasses double-digit carries as the Ticats undoubtedly try to mix things up against a very stout Edmonton defense.
Defending against the Mayor (and his councillors)
Speaking of that stellar defense, the Ticats did everything right against the Eskimos defense back in Week 9. Odell Willis and his havoc-wreaking crew were shutdown against the Ticats, with one of the league’s premier pass-rushing units notching zero sacks when these two teams met at Commonwealth Stadium. Keeping Willis and co. off the stat sheet a second time is unlikely, especially with the absence of all-star-calibre guard Ryan Bomben, but if the Ticats can keep Zach Collaros mostly clean and give him time to make his reads, things should go well for the Ticats.
Where art thou, Brandon Banks?
Each week the Ticats seem to get a huge contribution from their special teams unit, and those plays are a big reason why the Ticats are sitting atop the East Division. The last couple of weeks that help has come in the form of a pair of punt blocks. In both games against the Argos, the Ticats blocked a punt, first by Neil King on Labour Day and then by David Caldwell last Friday. Each week someone new seems to step up and make a play in the often-forgotten third phase of the game. This week, that one player could be Brandon Banks. While many, including myself, saw record-breaking things for Speedy B this year, but he has not found the end zone via return since Week 8 vs. the BC Lions. Banks is a threat every time the ball is in his hands, but recently teams have been sound in their coverage and not allowed him to make that big play. But it feels like Banks is due to break one sooner rather than later, and it is No. 16 who I am thinking makes the key play on special teams this week.