Ticats at Lions game preview

281-Ti-cats-vs-B.C.-copyTwo teams going in opposite directions meet with massive playoff implications when the Ticats travel to BC to take on the Lions.

Hamilton clinched their spot in the playoffs when BC lost last week to the Edmonton Eskimos and then clinched their spot in the East Division playoffs by beating the Montreal Alouettes. The Lions currently hold the final playoff spot in the West, but are in tight battle with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes for that sixth post-season spot.

The Lions enter this game reeling after a last-second loss at home to the Blue Bombers, and desperately need a win to keep from opening the door for the Bombers and Als to snag that final playoff position. The Ticats are still in a dogfight for the East Division crown with the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks, and a win tonight would really help with their post-season aspirations.

Keep Jennings stationary

The BC Lions have been a completely different team since they installed rookie Jonathon Jennings as their starting quarterback. Not only have the Lions hung with one of the league’s elite teams twice (the Edmonton Eskimos) they finally seem to have found some consistency in their passing game. One part of Jennings’ game that Hamilton has to be ready for is his scrambling ability. That doesn’t mean Jennings likes to run, he has only rushed for 85 yards so far this season, but he can extend plays with his feet and wait for one of his many talented receivers to get open. The Ticats need to keep Jennings in the pocket and not allow him to create with his feet.

Avoid the big play

Since Jennings has been the starter, BC has excelled at picking up chunk yardage through the air. Jennings is connecting on long passes to Manny Arceneaux — who, it should be noted seems to have completely come out of the funk he was in for most of the season — and Lavelle Hawkins on an almost weekly basis. The Ticats need to limit BC’s big-play ability and force the Lions to sustain long drives with short-to-intermediate pass plays.

Reignite the sack attack

At the beginning of the season, the Ticats were among the league leaders in sacks, with the trio of Ted Laurent, Eric Norwood and Justin Hickman wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. But it has been relatively quiet on the sack front recently. The front four is still getting pressure and forcing opposing teams into rushed plays, but they have not won the sack battle in a game since Labour Day, and have just six quarterback takedowns since the annual holiday Monday showdown. Sacks are not the be all and end all, but it sure would be nice to the see the Ticats take down Jennings on a couple of occasions tonight and force the Lions into some 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations.

Reinforcements on the way

Hamilton has dealt with a rash of injuries all season long — heck, you could argue dealing with injuries has been what the team has done ever since Kent Austin took over in 2013 — but it looks like the Ticats are getting healthy at just the right time and one of Hamilton’s most versatile skill players, running back C.J. Gable, will return to the lineup against the BC Lions. Gable has been out since early August and his return just so happens to coincide with the Ticats suddenly finding a reliable rushing attack. Michael Ford has done an admirable job totting the rock for the Ticats the last few weeks, but Gable is one of the league’s best backs and all around most dangerous weapons when on the field. Staying healthy has been an issue for No. 32 since arriving in Hamilton in 2013, but if the former USC Trojan can stay on the field, the Ticats offense just got that much better.

One step closer to home-field advantage

By getting their tenth win of the season last weekend, the Ticats moved into sole possession of first place in the East Division, a game up on both the Argos and Redblacks. They can move one step closer this week to securing a first-round bye, provided they get a little help. A Ticats win over the Lions coupled with an Argos loss to the Alouettes will clinch Hamilton a home playoff game, meaning the Ticats will need to win just one of the two games against the Ottawa Redblacks to secure home-field advantage in the East Final. The Ticats needed a win in their final game just to make the playoffs last season, and to secure not only a playoff spot but a home game with two weeks remaining would be a real confidence boost going into those final two games.

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.