Sunday the 8-2 Riders travel to Hamilton to face the 2-7 in what will be their first visit to the new Tim Hortons field. I hear the Riders are looking forward to the experience, minus the requirement for them to spend 2 hours installing guard rails and light fixtures in exchange for practice time. Sunday is also the official start to the Autumn of Tino (doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Summer of George” but it does sound more promising than the first draft I had: “Fall of Tino”).
If there was any franchise I would feel great starting an upstart QB against it’s the Ti-Cats. History has proven pretty good to us in that regard. Willy had a big game against them last year, Durant’s breakout game in ’08 came against them, and of course who could forget Rocky Butler? He beat them so badly that they traded us for him that off-season in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory.
We utterly embarrassed them in the season opener and they have just 2 wins since then (none of which have come against a western opponent)… so logically the odds-makers have them as the favourites headed in to this game. Paging all compulsive gamblers! To be fair I don’t think the Ti-Cats are as bad as their record indicates… well let me re-phrase that. Their record is very reflective of their level of play this season but given the talent on their roster, I think they have potential to be a far better team then they have shown. Five of their losses have been by a TD or less. They have been close but just keep finding ways to lose. They also keep finding ways to enrage Kent Austin. I swear of these times either he will choke out a player or his head will explode.
Obviously injuries at QB have affected their offense but even when healthy (which I think they are pretty close now, minus Gable) their offense really doesn’t scare me. Consider this. Hamilton has scored 15 offensive TDs this season. 8 of those TDs were scored by either Dan LeFevour or CJ Gable… 1 was scored by a linebacker. That leaves 6 TDs by people who will be playing offense on Sunday. It all starts with that sorry excuse for an O-line they have. First of all it’s not very good. Second, in their 9 games they have started 7 different combinations and no one has started every game in the same spot. It’s like they put names in a hat each week and draw spots. The end result has been predictably awful line play and a whole ton of sacks (only the Bomber OL has given up more). Peter Dyakowski can’t get healthy soon enough. With a struggling line, it’s no surprise that their run game has been a non-factor. They are near the bottom of the league in terms of rushing yards and Dan LeFevour accounts for close to 40% of those yards. Part of it is they just don’t rush very often (even when Gable was healthy), only Ottawa has less rushing attempts. Not that we can ignore the run game, I’m just not overly concerned in our ability to make it a non-factor (if Austin doesn’t do that on his own by not calling run plays).
Collaros and the pass game are where the challenge will lie for our D. While Collaros has looked better in his last couple starts (though not sure how he could manage to look worse than week 1), I haven’t seen anything in his game that gives me cause for concern. Part of it has to do with the receivers at his disposal. To be fair, the Ti-Cats have solid receivers across the board (Fantuz, Grant, Tasker, Ellington, Koch, Guiguere). Thing is, while they have a lot of good receivers, they lack a real impact receiver. All are capable of making plays and moving the chains but none have that game-breaking factor. So I like how our secondary matches up against them. Certainly the fact that you can’t slow this offense down by eliminating one receiver (like some other teams) is a challenge but regardless of who ends up covering who, there are no match-ups that scare me. A weak ground game and an even weaker OL means our D-line will be in attack mode. Combine that with a Hamilton team that throws a lot of INTs and lacks a game breaking receiver and you have the recipe for a very good defensive outing.
This brings me to Sunseri and our offense. The Ti-Cats actually boast the #3 run defense in the CFL. They are very strong at the interior of their DL with Bulcke and Laurent. They also are solid at LB with Simoni Lawrence (who is a damn good player) and Rico Murray. I don’t see us shying away from the run but it will likely prove more difficult then the last couple weeks where we pretty much just steam-rolled the Bombers on the ground. Sunseri will need to pass and I’m sure he will. It’s a favourable match-up for Tino in his first start. The Ti-Cats force the least turnovers, have the least sacks (way to support Tackle Hunger jerks!), allow the 2nd highest completion % to opposing QBs and allow the 2nd most points per game. This won’t be a cake walk for him but there’s no reason to think he can’t have success. Look for the Riders to take a deep shot early (maybe even on the first play) to either Taj or Bagg (who damn well better catch it this time!). Play-action crossers could be very effective if the LBs are cheating up on the run. I also like lining Messam up a TE and passing to him on a leakout every now and them. Don’t expect us to stray too far from what’s gotten us this far, lots of running and controlling possession of the ball.
We will need another solid outing from our special teams again. Hamilton is a returner factory. They had Thigpen, Williams and this year have 3 different guys with kick return TDs. Granted all of them are hurt this week and they have airlifted in Terell Sinkfield but still as long as we don’t allow any game changing plays on teams (or better yet if we can be the ones making those game changing plays yet again) then I like our odds of grinding out another road victory.
I expect us to start the first quarter very shaky but settle things down in the second and play solid from there on out. These are the Riders so they will find some way to make it interesting and make things stressful to watch but in the end I see no reason why we shouldn’t emerge with another victory.