I never thought I’d see the day where we came into a game against Hamilton with a worse record than the Ti-cats. For years now, the two Hamilton games that appeared on our schedule each year were widely considered gimme wins. We even started Rocky Butler a couple times to give them a fighting chance but we still won.
This year is a completely different story. We’re only a 1/3 of the way through the season and Hamilton has already won more games than in each of their last 2 seasons and currently are only a game behind Montreal for best in the league. And their success is coming from the most unlikely of sources. They have developed the 2nd best rushing attack in the league with their 4th string RB, but even more concerning, they’ve developed into a legitimate team under the direction of Marcel Bellefeuille. Never thought I’d have to use the term legitimate team in the same sentence as Marcel Bellefeuille… unless I was saying that Marcel Bellefeuille was fired thus making this a legitimate team again.
Hamilton’s long overdue resurgence is due to three very good offseason moves. They strengthened their O-line by bringing in Goodspeed and Gauthier, they dramatically improved their defense by bringing in Greg Marshall to run the show, and they made 2 key early season acquisitions in Jamall Johnson (who solidified their LBs) and Arland Bruce (who has turned a mediocre receiving group into a dangerous group overnight).
Offensively the Ti-cats are, and always have been, a run based team. Cobb has come from relative obscurity to become a feared RB in the league. Their passing game has been mediocre (I know, shocking that Bellefeuille’s team is good at running and bad at passing) but like I said with Bruce in the mix now I expect that area to improve. The most surprising thing about the Ti-cats this year is that they have committed the least turnovers in the league including just one solitary fumble. (I’m convinced there’s a holding on to balls joke here but can’t think of one). The Riders counter with a league high 24 takeaways but manage to completely offset that with 24 giveaways.
Defensively they are the definition of a bend but don’t break defense. They have given up more yards than any defense, yet are 2nd in the league in points allowed. Their D is at their best in the 2nd half where they have allowed only 13 points in the past 4 games (none of which came in the 4th quarter). The way to beat them is defiantly through the air where they have allowed more yards than anyone. They are kinda like a celibate girl… you can make a pass on them but it probably won’t lead to you scoring.
The Riders, by contrast, can be scored on as easily as a Maple Leaf goalie. Our defense is allowing a league worst 33 points per game. Many of which are a direct result of the 136 rushing yards per game we’ve been allowing… and with Rey Williams out for the foreseeable future the Riders will turn to Mike McCullough to try and stop the bleeding. No offense to Mike but I just don’t consider him to be knight in shining armour material. Our defense is an all or nothing mentality... either they create a turnover or they let their opponents score. There seems to be very little middle ground. The return of John Chick should help out a bit up front but until we start adjusting our philosophies and formations, we will just have to settle for the turnover or TD rollercoaster we’ve had all season… which is not easy on ones heart, blood pressure or (if you're anything like me) liver.
As for the rest of the team you just never really know what to expect. Our O-line looked great in Calgary but got steam rolled in BC. Cates was productive in Calgary too but has done absolutely nothing in his others games. Our play calling looked somewhat imaginative in Calgary but in most other games its stupidity has made Marcel Bellefeuille look like an offensive genius by comparison. Durant has thrown more TDs than anyone but when he’s not doing that he’s either throwing picks or going 2 and out. There is just no middle ground anywhere on this team. So I have no clue which version of the Riders will show up on Sunday.
There’s some favourable match-ups on both sides here. Hamilton’s outstanding ground game gets to face our porous run D but the Riders’ TD throwing QB gets to face an equally porous Hamilton secondary. Offensively the key will be for our O-line to step up and help Cates establish some semblance of a run game (I’m not asking for much but something more than his 40 yards last week). A legitimate running attack should open up some big plays of play-action given that the secondary is Hamilton’s weakness. Durant needs to play consistently. He’s made good plays all season… he just needs to stop following them up with bad ones.
Defensively it should be no surprise that stopping Cobb is the key. Porter doesn’t really scare me as a QB, he’s alright, just nothing special as far as I’m concerned. And Bruce is the only receiver that worries me. So if by some miracle we can contain Cobb and force Porter to beat us through the air, that’s a battle we can win.
While I have to admit that this game worries me somewhat, I hold out hope that a home crowd will give the team the boost they need to rise to the challenge and win.
Riders by a Luca Congi field goal.