3 must-win battles for the Ticats in the Eastern Final

When the Toronto Argonauts host Hamilton in Sunday’s Eastern Final, they’ll do so with plenty of recent success against their Ontario rival.

This will be the fifth meeting between the Argos and Tiger-Cats this season, with the former winning the last three, including a lopsided 31-12 decision in Week 15.

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As Hamilton looks to strike back with everything on the line in round five, here are a few areas they could really make some hay in the Battle of Ontario.

The run game

Positively, the Ticats seem to have found something since bringing running back Don Jackson back into the fold in Week 13. In three regular season starts, Jackson averaged just under 110 offensive yards per game and scored a pair of touchdowns. That helped him secure top spot on the depth chart for Hamilton’s playoff win over Montreal last weekend.

And, despite a game where yards were hard to come by, Jackson played an important part in a 23-12 triumph over the Alouettes. Jackson ran for 46 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and added a pair of receptions for 15 yards. Once again, he was a crucial piece for the Tiger-Cats and has a chance for another big outing Sunday.

Don Jackson scored a touchdown in the Ticats Eastern Semi-Final win over the Montreal Alouettes last weekend (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

While the Argos did a lot of good things defensively this season, they had issues defending the run at times. Toronto allowed 111.6 yards per game on the ground and gave up big games to the likes of William Stanback and William Powell down the stretch. Jackson isn’t that far removed from being a bona fide number one in this league, and he’s been used as one by Hamilton in recent weeks.

Interestingly, one team Toronto did defend effectively on the ground this season was Hamilton. Jackson only touched the ball in one of those games going back to Week 4, though, and that was as part of a committee backfield. After another solid outing, I’m excited to see what Jackson has in store on Sunday.

The defensive line

One of the league’s best front fours was in dominant form against Montreal in the Eastern Semi-Final. Hamilton’s starting defensive line of Dylan Wynn, Ted Laurent, Ja’Gared Davis, and Julian Howsare combined for five sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries on an afternoon where the Als just didn’t have an answer.

“I’m proud of what we did,” Wynn said this week. “We’re definitely not there yet…we’ve definitely got some stuff we need to fix and tighten up. I’m just happy, you know, we were able to produce the way that we were to help the team win, but we’ve got to tighten some stuff up, especially against Toronto this week.”

Ja’Gared Davis and the Ticats defensive line were key in Hamilton’s Eastern Semi-Final win last weekend (CFL.ca)

Hamilton’s challenge against the Argos is a cut above what they faced last weekend vs. Montreal. Toronto allowed just 32 sacks during the regular season, the third lowest total in the league. If the Ticats’ defensive line performs the way they did last weekend, however, they’ll be an absolute handful regardless of who they’re playing.

Now, if Hamilton is able to get the better of the battle in the trenches, the next challenge is getting after McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Bethel-Thompson is a battler and is strong on his feet, which means Sunday’s opposing quarterback can be hard to bring down for a loss.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” said Wynn. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him…the man brings his hard hat to work and I’ve had the benefit of being his teammate at one point. If there are people in this league that kind of turn down or fold under pressure, he’s not one of them. We know we’re going to get his absolute best when it comes to game day and we’re excited for it.”

Defending the pass

In saying that, Bethel-Thompson can be prone to making mistakes, especially if there’s consistent pressure in his face. Toronto’s starter threw 11 interceptions to go along with 12 touchdown passes during the regular season. If the Tiger-Cats are going to force a few turnovers, it starts up front and finishes in the secondary.

Hamilton tied for the league lead with 17 interceptions during the regular season and there’s nothing but talent in that defensive backfield. Cariel Brooks and Desmond Lawrence have formed an elite connection on the boundary side, while Jumal Rolle put together an All-Star calibre season at field corner.

Even without a full complement of regulars, Hamilton gets the job done. The Ticats picked off Montreal’s Trevor Harris once last weekend, thanks to last minute starter Stavros Katsantonis at safety. We’ll see if Ciante Evans, who was a late scratch in the Eastern Semi-Final, gets back in against Toronto.

Either way, you can bet Hamilton’s talented defensive backfield will be ready to pounce if Bethel-Thompson starts forcing throws under pressure.

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