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Hamilton’s coaching staff and players are preparing to play an Eastern Final at home for the first time since 1998.
The Ticats game plan just might be similar to what the team utilized a couple weeks ago when Montreal came to town, but Kent Austin and his crew always have new wrinkles to add. So let’s dial in on some of the strategies Hamilton might employ on Sunday.
Offensively, the Tiger-Cats will likely want to establish the run. Nic Grigsby – 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in Week 20 against the Alouettes – should be even more comfortable now with all the verbiage and nuances of the playbook. He’s been in Hamilton for about a month and that’s plenty of time to allow Grigsby to pick up all the calls, especially checks when the offence is lined up. Production on the ground will be high on the Ticats’ priority list.
Even if quarterback Zach Collaros isn’t turning to hand off to Grigsby, he will still be getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Timing throws have been a staple of Hamilton’s offence all year long. Collaros’ ability to make the correct read and deliver in rhythm has improved as the season has gone on. And it helps to slow down aggressive pass rushing defences because there is so little time to try and get to the quarterback.
Diminutive receiver Luke Tasker has been on the receiving end of many quick throws from Collaros. He tied for the team lead with five catches in Hamilton’s Week 20 win over Montreal. Collaros and Tasker’s ever-growing rapport has improved the short passing game for the Ticats. And it needs to be clicking on Sunday to slow down John Bowman and the Alouettes’ pressure.
Look for some creativity from Tommy Condell in the passing game on Sunday. He’s found unique ways to create chunk yardage plays with motion and misdirection. Often Brandon Banks is involved in those play calls. Banks moves around all over the field and Hamilton uses his quickness to generate mismatches against opposing defenders. For that reason, No. 16 could prove to be an x-factor in the Eastern Final.
Crowd noise will have a large impact on the game and Hamilton’s defence will welcome all the decibels it can get. At Tim Hortons Field the Tiger-Cats defence is a fierce group. No team has scored more than 23 points in the Ticats’ new lair.
It starts up front for Hamilton. Ted Laurent disrupts blocking schemes and pushes the pocket from the middle. Expect the East Division’s Most Outstanding Canadian to wreak havoc inside. And if Laurent is belly-rubbing, it’s a good sign for Hamilton’s defence.
On the outside of the defensive line, Eric Norwood and Justin Hickman will need to keep contain on running backs and quarterbacks by not getting outflanked. During Hamilton’s 8-3 regular season closing run, both talented sack artists were underrated against the run. Norwood and Hickman have done a solid job setting the edge and keeping ball carriers in between the tackles. With Brandon Rutley and Chris Rainey coming off impressive performances in the Eastern Semi-Final, keeping them from busting outside will be very important.
Simoni Lawrence, Taylor Reed and Erik Harris will be asked – like they have been all season - to be dynamic: stuff the run, blitz the passer and cover receivers. It’s a versatile group of linebackers that must make scheming fun for defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer. On first down, the trio needs to fill gaps and stuff the run. Then they can be used in a variety of ways on second and long situations, but stopping the run will be the focus first and foremost.
In what might be the most interesting matchup of the game, Hamilton’s secondary faces Duron Carter and SJ Green – possibly the best receiver duo in the league. Carter routinely lines up the short side of the field and that means Delvin Breaux will likely lock up in a lot of man-to-man coverage. That leaves the majority of the Ticats’ attention to be focused on Green.
Physicality is a must against Green. He uses his size to his advantage and beats up on soft defenders, especially on his release. Hamilton needs to jam and try to reroute Green off the line of scrimmage. That would disrupt his timing and allow the man trying to cover him to stay in Green’s hip pocket. And No. 19’s catch radius is off the charts. So whoever happens to be assigned to Green needs to be focused right until the end of the play because at any time the ball could come his way whether it looks like he’s covered or not.
Special teams should not be forgotten. Jeff Reinebold’s group of teamers needs to put forth a strong effort, especially cover units. A long return can instantly flip momentum. Although Reinebold always seems to find ways to get his returners loose.
Expect to see some formations, packages and schemes utilized that you have not seen so far this season from the Ticats with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line.