Eastern Final Preview: Breaking Down Redblacks vs. Ti-Cats

Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick (Canadian Press)

The stakes for this Sunday’s game between the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats could not be any clearer: the winner moves on to the 106th Grey Cup game and the loser’s season is over.

Legacies are cemented in the playoffs, both for teams and individual players. Trevor Harris is trying to shake the unfair notion that he can’t win the big one while Jeremiah Masoli seeks to establish himself as the best quarterback in the East.

The Redblacks are trying to make it to their third Grey Cup in their young five-year history, while the Ti-Cats remain in pursuit of their first Grey Cup championship since the 1999 season.

The last time these two teams matched up in the Eastern Final was back in 2015 and it produced an iconic playoff moment. Greg Ellingson’s 93-yard touchdown catch broke the late tie and sent the Redblacks to their first Grey Cup appearance in franchise history.

But that is the past. How do these teams stack up in 2018?

Ottawa swept Hamilton 3-0 in the regular season and defeated them in back-to-back weeks late in the year to clinch the East Division.

Here are their offensive and defensive stats for this season, including general categories such as points and yards and more specific categories depending on what the respective units for the Redblacks and Ti-Cats have excelled in.

Graphic by Liam Fox

The Ti-Cat passing game has been consistently great this season, including in last week’s 48-8 thumping of the BC Lions in the Eastern Semifinal, but they have been largely held in check by the Redblacks secondary. I looked at that trend earlier this week. The Ti-Cats are in the midst of a 95-minute touchdown drought against the Redblacks defense.

Jeremiah Masoli has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions against the Redblacks this season, while Trevor Harris has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall offensively, Hamilton faded late in the two most recent games versus Ottawa, scoring a total of three fourth quarter points.

On the flipside, the Ti-Cats are accustomed to fast starts. They scored the most first quarter points in the CFL this season. Hamilton has also been able to extend drives at an impressive rate. As seen on the graphic above, they rank second in second down conversion rate and have converted 43% of their second down plays requiring seven or more yards, what is often considered second and long.

Hamilton running back Alex Green played well in both matchups against the Redblacks he was healthy for. Green is a bruising back that should figure into the Ti-Cat game plan more on Sunday.

After an extended injury absence, Green has had the last month to get back into the swing of things and could be relied upon given the frigid conditions this Sunday. It is forecasted to be -4 C in Ottawa, before wind-chill, and the potentially snowy field at TD Place will likely lend itself more to the run game.

If that is the case, the Redblacks will have no issue leaning on William Powell, who finished this season with the CFL’s second-most rushing yards. Ottawa finished dead last in team rushing yards but had no issue relying on Powell as their workhorse back. It will be interesting to see if a now healthy Mossis Madu will be sprinkled in to the game plan to give the Redblacks a change of pace out of the backfield.

Top Hamilton receiver Brandon Banks is out for the season, as are Jalen Saunders and Terrence Tolliver. Banks topped 100 yards receiving in both games he played against the Redblacks. As they did against B.C., Luke Tasker and Mike Jones will need to lead the way for the Ti-Cats in the receiving game, but they have gotten some last minute help this season from Bralon Addison.

Addison caught five passes for a game-high 124 yards against the Lions and totaled over 100 yards receiving as well in the regular season-finale against the Alouettes. Prior to that, he only had a grand total of 10 yards receiving but has stepped-up immensely in Banks’ absence.

Typical of the Redblacks offense, they had a different leading receiver in all three games against the Ti-Cats (Brad Sinopoli, R.J. Harris and Diontae Spencer). The four-headed monster of Sinopoli, Harris, Spencer and Greg Ellingson is formidable when matched-up with any secondary.

Graphic by Liam Fox

The strength of the Hamilton defense is its front seven. The line-backing core in particular has been special: Simoni Lawrence, Don Unamba and Larry Dean, the East Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

Ted Laurent plugs the interior of the Ti-Cat defensive line and has had success against the Redblacks this season. He has three sacks in three games.

For the Redblacks, team leader and safety Antoine Pruneau will be returning to the starting lineup. The All-Star has been out nearly two months but will be back to make an impact in both the pass and run game.

As far as special teams go, the Redblacks have the clear edge in the kicking game, at least in terms of consistency.

Rookie kicker Lewis Ward missed only one field goal attempt all season and finished with a field goal percentage of 98.1%. Hamilton’s Lirim Hajrullahu made all seven of his 50+ yard field goal attempts, best in the CFL, but missed three field goal attempts of less than 40 yards and missed a league-worst five extra points.

The average drive for the Ti-Cats this season has started from their own 32.8-yard line, the worst average starting field position in the CFL.

Hamilton has gotten in trouble with penalties in all three of their matchups with the Redblacks. They averaged a total of 115.3 penalty yards over the three games. That is down from their full-season average of 86.8 penalty yards per game, but even that number ranked as the second-worst in the league.

The Redblacks earned first place in the East Division and home field in the Eastern Final in large part thanks to their regular season success against the Ti-Cats. Historically, home field has been incredibly advantageous in Eastern Finals. Home teams in those matchups are 31-13 since 1973. It is the third time in the last four years that Ottawa has hosted the Eastern Final. They won the previous two times.

The season will be on the line for the Redblacks this Sunday against the Ti-Cats in the Eastern Final. They will look to punch their ticket to the 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton. Kickoff is at 1:00 at TD Place.