Stampeders at Ticats game preview

cats595.JPGIt has been two weeks since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have taken the field, and they will do so looking much differently than they did the last time they played a game. Changes all over the team, not just at the game’s most pivotal position, gives this Ticats team an air of unpredictability. Facing what is arguably the league’s top team, the 10-3 Calgary Stampeders, will be no easy task for a team dealing with major roster changes this late in the season.

Life without Zach

I am not sure if you have heard, but the Ticats will be without Zach Collaros this week (and the rest of the season). It has been a bit of an under-reported story, but it is true and the Ticats will start a game without their MOP-calibre quarterback for the first time since August of last year.

The team has not fared well in games Collaros has missed, going 1-4 over the last two seasons when No. 4 is not in the lineup, and the burden will now fall to Jeff Mathews to reverse this trend.

The rookie out of Cornell will get his first career start, and will hope to play much better than he did in a relief effort against the Edmonton Eskimos. Mathews threw three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns; the other was intercepted in the end zone — and wasted a sterling effort from Hamilton’s defense in the soul-crushing defeat just 13 days ago. With two weeks to prepare, expect a much better performance from the man who will now be under centre for the duration of the season.

Changes elsewhere

A new signal caller is not the only lineup change the Ticats will make. Out is running back Ray Holley and in is the recently re-signed Michael Ford. Ford was with the Ticats earlier this season, was released, signed with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, was released, and was re-signed by the Ticats just last week. He gets the start and will hopefully provide a solid rushing attack the team has sorely been lacking in games C.J. Gable did not finish. A good running game will help take pressure off Mathews and keep the Stampeders honest.

The Ticats will also welcome back Bakari Grant and Mike Daly, while welcoming newly signed defensive back Jalil Carter to the team. Grant’s return will be a big help to Mathews, as the California native is sure handed, runs great routes, and will undoubtedly be looked at in key situations, especially on second down and in the red zone. The return of Daly and the debut of Carter gives Ticats defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer two more weapons to play with. Without Collaros, the Ticats defense is going to have to up its game even more so than it has already this season, and adding two playmakers to a playmaking defense will help immensely.

Containing the decoy

After the Grey Cup, Jon Cornish told reporters that his pedestrian rushing totals were the result of a gameplan that saw him used as a decoy. Most, such as myself, didn’t buy that. Fast forward to Week 1 of this season and once again the Ticats managed to keep Cornish in check, holding the former MOP and three-time reigning Most Outstanding Canadian to just 85 total yards. I guess Cornish was used as a decoy then as well. Unless the Stamps plan on using him as a decoy for a third time against the Ticats, keeping No. 9 under wraps will go a long way in helping the Ticats upset last year’s champions.

Corralling the receivers

It will be one heck of a matchup between Calgary’s trio of talented receivers and Hamilton’s ballhawking secondary. Eric Rogers, Marquay McDaniel and Jeff Fuller are one of the league’s most formidable receiving triads, but Hamilton has the defenders to match up against them, with Emanuel Davis leading the charge. The Ticats are going to need to eliminate the big plays from Rogers, the underneath stuff to McDaniel and the sideline passes to Fuller if they hope to be successful. A tall order, no doubt, but one the Ticats secondary are more than capable of handling. These various matchups are going to something worth keeping an eye on.

Pressure leads to mistakes

In the last two games that the Ticats and Stamps have played, Bo Levi Mitchell has not been overly impressive. Despite being named the game’s MVP, Mitchell threw no touchdown passes and one interception in last year’s Grey Cup. In Week 1 of this season, Mitchell threw one touchdown and three interceptions, the first three-interception game of his career. Mitchell threw just eight interceptions all last season and already has 11 this year, with five games left to play. The Ticats have 18 interceptions on the season, and could up that total significantly if they can get pressure from their front seven and force Mitchell into errant throws. If the Ticats can force turnovers and give Mathews and the offense short fields to work with, the Ticats might pull off the upset.

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.