It took 20 weeks, but the field has been weeded down from nine to six, and two more will go home this weekend, one of which could be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as they host the Toronto Argonauts at Tim Hortons Field in the East Semi-Final this afternoon at 1 p.m.
The Ticats and Argos don’t meet in the playoffs often. This will be just the third time since 2000 that the these two teams will meet in a postseason game. The Ticats won the most recent playoff meeting between the two bitter rivals, a 36-24 victory in Toronto in the East Final in 2013. The Argos won the last playoff game between the two in Hamilton, a 16-13 win in the 2010 East Semi-Final, a game most Ticats fans would rather forget.
A new chapter in this heated rivalry will be written Sunday, with the winner going on to play the Ottawa Redblacks in the East Final.
Rattle Ricky Ray
One sure fire way to take away Toronto’s quarterbacking advantage is to put as much pressure on Ricky Ray as possible. This will basically sound like a repeat of the last two weeks, where the defense was implored to get pressure on Henry Burris, but unlike Burris, Ray is not blessed with outstanding athleticism. He is the very definition of a pocket passer, and the Ticats will need to swarm Ray, and do so effectively, if they hope to be successful. Ray is still working his way back from a shoulder injury that cost him almost a year of his career, so if the Ticats can get in his face and force him to make throws quicker than he would like, they can force some turnovers and help their offense immensely.
Don’t get beat short
One thing that I have noticed the last few weeks, dating back to Hamilton’s loss to the Calgary Stampeders in Week 15, is that the Ticats have a problem covering receivers and running backs out of the backfield. The Ticats give up a lot of these short passes and allow the players catching those passes to pick up 10-15 yards far too often. The Argos run a lot of short passing plays into the flat to allow Ricky Ray to make quick decisions and get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. The Argos will run these types of plays, and Hamilton will need to limit the damage by being at their best in space. Sure tackling will be a must, because one missed tackle and a four-yard gain turns into a 22-yard gain rather quickly.
I feel like I say this every week, but, to crib from former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson: give C.J. Gable the damn ball! The weather might be nice tomorrow — possibly as high as 12 degrees — but the winds will be howling, with gusts reaching up to 30 km/h, so the Ticats will need to establish a run game. Gable had a decent day against the Redblacks last week, picking up 81 yards on nine carries, but 33 of those yards came on the game’s final two plays. Gable saw just five carries in the first half, so that number needs to double if the Ticats are to sustain drives and keep their defense, and more importantly Toronto’s offense, off the field. I am going to repeat myself, but just give Gable the damn ball!
Get an early lead
Hamilton has had its most success when jumping out to an early lead. Hamilton, regardless of who was in the lineup, did not do particularly well playing catch-up football in 2015. In their 10 wins, the Ticats were leading after the first 15 minutes nine times. In their eight losses, they were trailing after the first quarter five times. In their three games against the Argos this season — all played with Zach Collaros and not against Ricky Ray — Hamilton outscored Toronto 24-8 in the game’s opening stanza. The Ticats will need similar early success if they want to beat the Argos and head to Ottawa for the East Final next week.
Mix it up
Now is not the time to hold back. This is a must-win game. There is no tomorrow with a loss, so now is the time to throw it all out there. Go balls to the wall. Got a trick play, use it. Got an odd formation, give it a try. Have a scheme or play you have been holding back all season, unleash it. The Ticats are going to need to use every arrow in their quiver to knock off the Argos.