HAMILTON -- Henry Burris and the Ticats offence look to add to their league-leading offensive point total against a very good Eskimos defence led by LB JC Sherritt on Saturday afternoon in Hamilton.
With the Tiger-Cats and Eskimos amped for an afternoon affair at Ivor Wynne Stadium, there’s a certain kind of urgency in the air.
Both teams are eager to get back on track and hoping to do so at the expense of the other.
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While this game might seem like it has added importance for the Ticats, Henry Burris doesn't exactly see it that way.
“What is desperation,” said Burris hypothetically when asked whether urgency should come into play this weekend. “The thing I always say is that regardless of whether you just lost a game or won a game, you have to come out and play as if it’s your last snap – like it’s the most important thing ever. If you don’t play the game that way, you won’t be successful."
That should be the stance of a quarterback – calm, cool, collective, and most of all, forgetful. And while he knows his men can’t dwell on what’s happened in previous games, he knows it’ll be up to him to be the leader of the offence and get the Black and Gold rolling again.
“Have we made mistakes? Yes, that’s why our record is what it is. Have we made plays? Yes, but we need a whole lot more of those,” the first-year Ticat said. “It starts with me doing it and setting an example for my guys.”
The numbers say it’s been an exceptional year so far for the 37-year-old pivot, who was acquired by the Ticats over the winter in the same trade that sent Kevin Glenn to Calgary.
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He currently boasts a quarterback rating of 105.5, which ranks first in the league, with 2,946 passing yards and 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He also leads the league’s highest-scoring offence, with the ‘Cats averaging 29 points a game.
But as impressive as those numbers are for any quarterback in his first year with a new team, they don’t quite tell the entire story.
Last Saturday’s loss to the Argos may have been the season so far in a microcosm for the Ticats, who scored 31 points and had close to 400 yards of total offence, but couldn't score a touchdown in three straight trips to the red zone to open the game.
“We’re our own worst enemies. We know what other teams are going to do, what they’re going to throw at us,” said Burris. “But the bottom line for us is that we’ve just got to make sure that we finish drives off."
“We came away with nine points on our first three drives [in Toronto] and we should have had at least 14 or 17 points,” he added. “The scenarios are there and they’re not hard to see. But we’ve got to clean those things up right now, and we have the people to do it.”
Knowing that with the weapons on offence and the ability to score close to 30 points a game, this team is a lot closer to being a contender than its record may indicate.
“We’re still the leading team in scoring in this league, but we’ve got to do it more consistently,” said Burris. "We’d probably be scoring even more points if we did it that way."
The Esks know exactly what the Ticats are going through, only on defence rather than offence. Led by tackling machine JC Sherritt along with an impressive cast of other all-star defensive talent, the Green and Gold started out of the gates as one of the most dominant defensive teams in recent memory.
|The last time they met|
Jerome Messam led the way with 15 carries for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Ricky Ray completed 25 of 32 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown as the Esks rolled over the 'Cats 38-23 at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Ticats made it closer with a second-half surge, but couldn't battle back all the way after giving up 25 points in the first half. Calvin McCarty also had 61 yards on five carries, and Fred Stamps caught an impressive 14 passes for 130 yards. Meanwhile, the Green and Gold defence held Avon Cobourne to just 28 yards on six carries, and quarterback Kevin Glenn to just 140 yards through the air.
In their first four games of the season they allowed just 56 points (for an average of 14 points per game), en route to a 3-1 start that included an impressive 27-14 win against the Lions at BC Place.
While it may have been unreasonable to expect that kind of success to stretch out over the duration of the entire season, the Esks have allowed 149 points in six games since then, for an average of 24.8 points per game.
Part of the issue has been injuries, with what started as a deep unit being forced to go without defensive lineman Etienne Legare for the first six weeks; the club’s top rush end Marcus Howard for the last six weeks; and Ted Laurent, a force at defensive tackle, for the previous four games.
Legare suffered an ankle injury in the Calgary rematch on Friday and is back on the shelf for several weeks, while Howard, who suffered a setback last week, won’t play in Hamilton, either.
Laurent, a six-foot-one, 303-pound load inside, should be ready to go on Saturday, which will add some snap to the war in the trenches.
“It’s part of the game, but I will say it has taken a toll on us, a little bit,” said linebacker T.J. Hill. “There are key players on our side of the ball that have been out for a while.
“Luckily, we’ve got Ted Laurent coming back this week. Versatility, toughness, he could do a lot at his position. He’s very athletic for his size. Whether you know it or know, he’s very quick and light on his feet.”
It’s hard to ignore the toll of injuries in any sport let alone football, but in the wake a heartbreaking 20-18 loss last weekend at Commonwealth Stadium – the second in a row to the hated Stamps – Head Coach Kavis Reed said the Eskimos’ defensive vulnerability is more than a matter of injured personnel.
“Defensively, we have had some miscues, we’ve missed tackles,” Reed said. “If I have to pinpoint one thing on defence that has created issues for us, it has been our tackling.”
“Ever since the Saskatchewan game (a 28-20 victory over the Roughriders on Aug. 10), our tackling has been inconsistent,” added the head coach. “Last week was a clear indication that our tackling needs to be addressed because we had five or six guys around the ball and Jon Cornish was still able to get a (59-yard) touchdown.”
“Our tackling has been a situation with our defence.”
Since teams don’t practise tackling their own teammates, Reed has had his defenders working on angles, on group tackling, and the basics like wrapping up the opponent with your arms, not just delivering the sort of body blow that makes for a highlight hit . . . if it works.
“For us, we have to make sure that our guys fundamentally do things the right way, wrapping and making sure you bring your feet, as well,” said Reed.
“But it’s a game of angles and one thing we haven’t done well is handle the angles properly.”
Saturday’s meeting will be the first of two between the Esks and Ticats this season, with the next one back at Commonwealth coming up on October 5.
Kickoff is at 3:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Ticats.ca and Postmedia