Argos their own worst enemy against Ticats

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"There's something about facing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that has brought out the worst in Cleo Lemon and the Toronto Argonauts this season.

Hamilton swept the season series with its archrival 3-0, outscoring Toronto by a convincing 74-28 margin. The Ticats also forced a whopping 15 turnovers in the three games, intercepting Lemon five times while also recovering three of his fumbles.

And that's a trend the Ticats look to continue when they host the Argos in the East Division semifinal Sunday afternoon (TSN, 1 p.m. ET) at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The B.C. Lions, the CFL's hottest team down the stretch, are in Regina to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semifinal Sunday (TSN, 4:30 p.m, ET).

A major reason for Hamilton's regular-season success against Toronto has been the ability of the defence to get to Lemon. The Ticats were unrelenting in their pressure of the Argos quarterback with 11 sacks in the three games.

Hamilton's already solid pass rush received a major boost at mid-season with the addition of free-agent defensive end Stevie Baggs. In seven games with the Ticats, Baggs has 23 tackles, five sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and two TDs.

Baggs was a one-man wrecking crew in Hamilton's 30-3 win over Toronto on Oct. 15, registering seven tackles and two sacks.

Hamilton's defence has been more than just stellar in its pass rush. The Ticats have done a great job of keeping tailback Cory Boyd in check. Boyd was a force all season for Toronto, finishing second among CFL rushers with 1,359 yards and averaging a solid six yards per carry.

But Boyd ran for just 161 yards against Hamilton, and although he still averaged a decent 4.2 yards per carry Boyd wasn't nearly the offensive factor against the Ticats as he was throughout the season for the Argos. That was especially the case Oct. 15 when Boyd only had 26 yards on the ground.

Defensively, Hamilton's gameplan seemed to be to take Boyd out of the mix and dare Lemon to beat the Ticats through the air. And with good reason.

Toronto finished last in the CFL in passing, averaging just 221 yards a game. Lemon did complete over 60 per cent of his passes for 3,433 yards in his first season in Canada, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (15) while the Argos surrendered 48 sacks, second-most in the CFL.

Against Hamilton, Lemon didn't have a touchdown pass.

By comparison, Kevin Glenn completed 71-of-102 passes for 774 yards and three TDs versus Toronto, but has also thrown four interceptions. Receiver Arland Bruce III, a former Argo, hasn't been much of a factor again his former team with 18 catches for 172 yards and a TD this season.

Then again, Toronto does have some factors working in its favour.

First of all, it's difficult to beat an opponent three times in the same season, let alone four. The law of averages dictates one of these times Toronto will emerge victorious.

Secondly, there's little pressure on the Argos. They'll head into Steeltown as overwhelming underdogs, something head coach Jim Barker will undoubtedly preach this week in practice. A loose, resilient team is always dangerous but especially in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario.

But the biggest advantage Toronto has is the big-play ability of special-teams dynamo Chad Owens. Owens led the CFL in kickoff returns, punt returns and missed field goals as well as all-purpose yards. Hamilton did a terrific job containing Owens but the former Hawaii star is always a threat to score and more than capable of taking over every game he plays in.

Meanwhile in the West Division semifinal, the Riders face a Lions squad that's been in playoff mode for weeks. B.C. opened the season 1-7, then took off by winning seven of its final 10 games, including a 23-17 home victory over Saskatchewan on Oct. 31.

Saskatchewan won the season series 2-1 but limps into the playoffs having dropped four of its final five regular-season games. The good news is the win was a 31-23 decision over Edmonton on Saturday, which should provide some much-needed momentum for the defending West Division champions heading into the post-season.

The Riders dominated the opening two games with a stout, attacking defence that registered nine sacks and six turnovers.

But the Lions turned the tables last month. Sure, they surrendered five sacks but only had one turnover while forcing the Riders to commit five. Quarterback Darian Durant, the CFL passing leader with 5,542 yards, was 25-of-44 for 332 yards in the regular-season finale but also threw three interceptions and was sacked three times.

Durant has enjoyed some success this season against B.C., completing 61-of-100 passes for 807 yards and four TDs but has also been intercepted five times. That's pretty much been his story this season, too, as despite leading the CFL in passing Durant threw nearly as many interceptions (22) as touchdowns (25).

Slotback Andy Fantuz of Chatham, Ont., led the CFL in receiving with 87 catches for 1,380 yards with six TDs and was effective against B.C. with 17 receptions for 203 yards and one TD.

B.C. counters with all-star receiver Geroy Simon, who was seventh overall in receiving with 78 catches for 1,190 yards and six touchdowns. Simon had a monster outing versus Saskatchewan on Oct. 10 with eight catches for 169 yards and two TDs, but had 10 receptions for 116 yards and no TDs in the other two contests combined.

If the game comes down to a last-minute field goal, the Lions would look to veteran Paul McCallum. He was second in CFL scoring with 177 points, hitting on 46-of-52 field goals (88.5 per cent) with a season long 52-yard boot.

Riders veteran Luca Congi (121 points, 26-of-34 field goals with a long of 54 yards) is out due to injury. So the club counters with Eddie Johnson (2-of-3 with a long of 37 yards) and Warren Kean (3-of-5 with a long of 25 yards)."

Interesting read, but a little bias towards the Argos at the end of the part of the article that talks about Hamilton vs Toronto.

While I would agree the Argos are due to beat the Ti-Cats, I would also say the Ti-Cats have owned the Argos this year, and I really don't see any reason why this trend won't continue. The fact is Hamilton just matches up well against Toronto.

The Argos strength is primarily special teams, and possibly its defensive secondary. It's offense is pretty one dimensional. Cory Boyd is their offense, and most plays on offense are either a run or a fake run and pass.

The Ti-Cats strength is their front 7 on defense, and at times a potent offense behind a solid O-Line. The secondary can be suspect at times, and the special teams is usually steady with the occassional good return.

In the article, the writer indicate that the Argos will have a big difference maker in Chad Owens on special teams. In the past 3 games the Ti-Cat's special teams unit have done an exceptional job. They knocked Owens around in the last game, and shut down Montreal and BCs returners. The other thing to take into account is the changes that often occur on special teams during the playoffs. Teams will play more positional starters on special teams during the playoffs, and often this reduces the number of big returns.

If the Ti-Cats are able to keep Owens in check, and keep the Argos offense out of good field position, it will be a big advantage to the Ti-Cats, as the Argos offense is seldom able to sustain long drives. I fully expect the Ti-Cats to limit Boyd's gains on the ground, which will leave Cleo Lemon in passing downs, which is not an area of strength for the Argos, even against a sub-par Ti-Cat secondary.

Kevin Glenn should have time to distribute the ball to his receivers, and they should be able to mix in rushing with both Cobb and Thigpen. If the offense is able to execute proficiently, the Argos will be in tough. I am expecting a big game from Thigpen, who I think will see more touches.

One big factor in the games this year has been the turnover, and while some would say the Argos are due for some breaks, I really believe that the Ti-Cats should be able to put themselves in a position to control the ball and limit the chances of turnovers. If the Ti-Cats do not give up a lot points off of turnovers and big plays, this game should be in the bag.

Looking forward to a big game this weekend.

Go TiCats.