The Edmonton Eskimos are back in the playoffs for the first time since they lost to the Calgary Stampeders in the 2009 West Division Semi-Final. They are playing at home for the first time since the 2004 Semi-Final, also a loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
On Sunday, the Eskimos will look to make it back to the West Final for the first time since they won the game in 2005. They have been to a division final in 2008, but that was as a crossover team through the East Division.
Edmonton won the regular season series between the two clubs, but it was the Stamps who won the lone game at Commonwealth Stadium, 30-20.
In his first 150 pass attempts in the CFL, Calgary’s starter, Drew Tate did not throw an interception. In his three starts since replacing Henry Burris, Tate has thrown at least one interception per game, for a total of five. During those three games, he has thrown four touchdown passes.
Despite the fact that Tate and the Stamps have gone 3-0 in the games started by the Iowa product; those five interceptions just may be the road the Eskimos need to take to win the game.
Under defensive coordinator Rich Stubler, the Eskimos forced the second most turnovers of any defence in the CFL, finishing only behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
By the same merit, the Eskimos offence turned the ball over the fewest times in the regular season. With a turnover ratio of +16, Edmonton won all 11 games this season while winning the turnover battle in the game.
When they tied or lost the turnover battle, they were 0-7.
Offensively for the Eskimos, Ricky Ray threw just 11 interceptions – the third lowest total of his career behind a shortened 2007 season, and his first year in the league in 2002.
Ray is backed up by All-Canadian running back Jerome Messam, who is questionable for the game, although he will more than likely be in the lineup for the Esks.
Messam became the first Canadian running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Sean Millington in 2000.
Messam’s Canadian counterpart, Calgary’s Jon Cornish finished the season fifth in the league in rushing despite a season that did not see him become the starter until the second half.
In his first 11 games of the season, Cornish ran for just 252 yards and two touchdowns. In the final seven games of the year for Cornish, he recorded 611 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
The Alouettes and Tiger-Cats come into their playoff game limping. Hamilton lost their final two games of the season, while Montreal lost their final three. The Tiger-Cats had nothing left to play for after they were in the playoffs and out of reach of both Winnipeg and Montreal.
In both Week 18 and Week 19, the Alouettes had their chance to clinch first place in the East for a fourth consecutive season, but they failed to get the job done, losing to the Stampeders and the BC Lions.
The two losses relegated the Alouettes to hosting the East Division Semi-Final. Something they have not had to do since the 2005 season when they beat the crossover Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Hamilton enters the game playing the two-quarterback system. In the Tiger-Cats’ final five games of the season both Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter saw plenty of action on offence. The format was good for a record of 1-4 during the five-game stretch.
If the Ticats are to move on and play the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg next Sunday, the biggest key to their game will be getting pressure on quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
During Montreal’s regular season-ending 43-1 loss to BC, Calvillo was hit on several occasions, and threw just nine completions in the game.
In the four regular season games between the Alouettes and Tiger-Cats, Hamilton struggled to stop Calvillo and the Alouettes offence. Calvillo did not throw a single interception in the four-game set, while throwing for 1,333 yards and seven touchdowns.
Calvillo’s top target, Jamel Richardson also torched the Hamilton defence in the four meetings, hauling in 33 receptions for 512 yards and two touchdowns.
The only aspect of the game that Hamilton succeeded in limiting the Alouettes was the rushing game. Montreal running back Brandon Whitaker did not score a rushing touchdown in the four games, while his biggest game saw him run for just 79 yards.
While it may be a risky strategy considering he did rush for just shy of 1,400 yards, perhaps the Ticats best plan of attack is not to worry about the rushing game, and solely focus on getting into passing lanes and hitting Calvillo.
The Tiger-Cats are perhaps the most inconsistent team the CFL has even seen, which makes them all the more dangerous coming into a game they probably shouldn’t win.
However, the Alouettes are a little banged up, with top offensive lineman Josh Bourke out for the season, and Calvillo has showed regressive signs lately.
Montreal may finally be ripe for the picking. But knowing the Alouettes, they will find a way to win again.
For more commentary from Tylier Bieber, visit his blog at CFLDaily.ca