HAMILTON -- It may only be Week 3, but there’s a lot on the line heading into the latest installment of the Battle of Ontario on Saturday between the Argonauts and the Tiger-Cats.
Ivor Wynne Stadium in Steeltown will put two teams aiming to generate some momentum.
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The Argos are fresh off a 39-36 home-opening win over the Calgary Stampeders, and currently sit in second place in the East because of Montreal’s win over the same Stampeders on Thursday night.
Hamilton wasn’t so fortunate, falling by the exact same score, 39-36, against the reigning champs in BC in an exciting showcase of big plays and quick scores.
While the loss dropped the ‘Cats to 0-2 this season, last week’s performances for both the Argos and the Tabbies was less about the standings and more about finding a groove on offence and making their new star quarterbacks comfortable.
Both happened last weekend, and with the teams entering this game confident and hungry for a win, getting the two points on Saturday suddenly carries a significant amount of weight.
The key to success for the Ticats will be to keep the offence moving in the right direction, especially after a tight loss to the Lions in which it played well enough to get a win. Last year’s breakout receiver Chris Williams said his team should be able to take last week’s positives into Saturday.
“We did some good things, stuff that we can build upon,” Williams said. “Hopefully that helps us come out and put together a good game on Saturday. We’re definitely improving week-to-week. There’s been good and bad in both games so far, and we’ve just got to put everything together.”
Quarterback Henry Burris agreed that everyone was starting to get on the same page last weekend, and that as the offence continues to evolve there will be fewer mistakes and better execution.
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“The thing is, that momentum has carried over into practice this week, and we’ve had a good time in practice these first few days,” Burris noted. “You’re seeing guys start to really play right now, and that’s where we’ve been evolving and trying to get to as an offence.”
The Ticats will try to keep that momentum alive against an Argos defence that is also trying to create an identity for itself. Led by newly-hired defensive coordinator Chris Jones, the Boatmen deploy a defence that is constantly using different ways to pressure the quarterback, with a number of unpredictable schemes.
“They do a good job of game-planning and if you look at their first two games, their structure is similar, but they played a lot of different coverages from the first game to the second,” rookie Head Coach George Cortez said. “Sometimes they blitz, and sometimes they just have the illusion of blitz. One of the things of all consistent defences is that they try not to be patterned, and I think they do a good job of that.”
Burris said he’s anxious to get on the field and see what his offence can do against Jones’ defence, and that the ‘Cats have a very talented group that just needs to become more consistent.
“It’s exciting, because we know that once we get this thing rolling, we know that we can be something very good,” said Burris. “We know that we have the capabilities of having a very good team here, but it’s all about guys doing their jobs and holding their own. We know that we’re as talented – if not more so – than any other team in this league.”
While the offence has been the topic of discussion in Steeltown, Saturday’s game may well come down to the defences.
After going through the motions in Week 1, the secondary bounced back with a much better performance last week in BC, giving up just 178 yards through the air and holding Travis Lulay to 17 of 31 passing attempts.
They’ll need a repeat performance this week if they hope to slow down one of the league’s fastest-emerging offences, led by Ricky Ray and rookie Head Coach Scott Milanovich. Last week the Argos offence sustained several long drives and controlled the time of possession on their way to amassing 525 yards of total offence.
|The last time they met|
Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011
Toronto 33 – Hamilton 16
Dalton Bell got the call in what would be his final game as an Argo, throwing for 216 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Double Blue to a 33-16 win at the Rogers Centre. Andre Durie had one of his biggest games as an Argo with 144 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions, while Cory Boyd rushed 18 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. All three quarterbacks took reps for the Ticats, as they prepared for their playoff battle with the Montreal Alouettes.
Ray threw for 407 of those yards, but that number could’ve been a lot higher if not for key drops and a few costly penalties.
It may be early, but through the first two weeks of the season the Boatmen lead the league in average net offence per game with 436. Comparatively, they’ve finished in the basement in each of the last five seasons, with their worst season coming in 2009 when they averaged just 283 yards per game.
Even during their most successful years over the past decade they’ve predominantly been a defensive team, ranking a league-worst ninth in net yards during their Grey Cup year in 2004, and climbing only to fourth in the league in 2005 with 377 yards per game – the same year Hall of Fame quarterback Damon Allen won the league’s Most Outstanding Player honour.
While there’s a lot to improve on for that unit, especially when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone, Milanovich said there’s been clear progress as Ray continues to build chemistry with his receivers.
“It’s getting better,” Milanovich said. “There are still going to be weeks when somebody comes out and has your number, and it’s a struggle, but that happens with anybody in this league.”
“We can’t have the penalties. We took two penalties that hurt us and put us in long yardage, and we had a drop on one, so that was three of the drives. Some of the time you’ve got to give them credit, and some of the times I’ve got to give our guys a better chance to be successful based on what they’re playing down there,” he said.
With the recent burst of offence, most of the focus has been on Ray, but Milanovich said a lot of credit also has to be given to the offensive line, which bounced back with a strong effort against the Stamps after a tough first game.
“It was much better than it was a week ago,” said Milanovich. “We need to continue to get better there – they’re also learning a new system of protection and things that are a little bit different than what they’ve done in the past, but it was a good second game and we expect them to continue to get better.”
Saturday’s meeting is the first of four this season, with the next one not coming until September 3rd, when the Labour Day Classic returns to Ontario. Last year the Ticats took two of three games to win the head to head season series.
Kickoff is at 7 P.M. ET and can be seen live on TSN.