TORONTO — The Calgary Stampeders are the betting favourite going into Sunday’s Grey Cup matchup with the Toronto Argonauts. On paper, however, there’s little separating the top team in the West from the top team in the East.
Ranked as the second-best unit in the league, the Argos’ offence averaged 32.7 yards per game more than Calgary’s offence, which finished fifth in the CFL in yards per game. The Stamps, meanwhile, have the edge on defence, allowing a league-low 314.7 yards per game, one spot ahead of the Argos at 329.1 yards per game.
The Stampeders swept the season series with Toronto, outscoring the Argos 64-31. But a lot has changed since Week 10, the last time these teams played, from the Stampeders’ struggling offence to the Argos’ surging ground game.
While the Stamps got back on track in the Western Final, they struggled to close out the season after clinching the division, finishing 2017 with three straight losses. The Argos go into the Grey Cup on a 6-2 run since Labour Day.
If one stat sets these sides apart it’s turnovers. The Stampeders led the regular season with a plus-20 differential, while the Argos were in the negative at minus-three. Those troubles followed the Argos into their Eastern Final, in which they turned the football over three teams (but still won the turnover battle, 4-3).
Three things to keep an eye on this week are the sack race; two great secondaries; and the importance of running the football.
We break it all down:
1. WINNING THE SACK ATTACK
A 50-50 proposition
50 – The league lead for sacks, shared by the Argos and the Stamps.
The Grey Cup will be a battle of the CFL’s two best pass rushes, with both teams recording a league-best 50 sacks and the Stampeders owning a league-leading 125 pressures.
That could make the difference in Sunday’s game, as the Argos have seemingly found a way to dent Calgary’s armour, recording eight of the 30 sacks (the second-fewest in the league) the Stamps have allowed; the Stamps, meanwhile, forced Ricky Ray out of the game after a big hit in the first meeting of 2017.
For the Stampeders, that front seven is the deepest it’s been all year, especially up front. Ja’Gared Davis returned to start opposite of Charleston Hughes in the Western Final, while Cordarro Law could be set to play his first game of the season in the Grey Cup. While James Vaughters helps the rotation at end, Micah Johnson brings pressure up the middle as well or better than anyone else.
While the Stamps are getting healthier, the Argos’ defensive line is also fully healthy, going into Sunday’s championship with all four of their regular starters, including three divisional all-stars. Rare was the occurrence when both Shawn Lemon and Victor Butler were healthy for the Argos, but when both are on the field, Toronto averages exactly one sack more per game (3.4, up from 2.4) and has gone 5-2 compared to 5-7 when either one of those defenders is out.
The Stampeders’ O-line should be well equipped for the Toronto defence, however, while the Argos’ O-line maybe less so having allowed 40 sacks in 2017 (the fourth-most in the CFL).
Look out for game-changers like Hughes, Law, Davis, Lemon and Butler.
2. GAINING GROUND
Can the Argos run Wilder?
120.1 – The Argos’ rushing average over the last eight games.
The Toronto Argonauts finished the season as a middle-of-the-road rushing team, averaging 90.2 yards per game and sticking close to the rest of the pack. A closer look at the numbers, however, and 2017 becomes a tale of two seasons.
While the Argos’ rushing attack ranked at the bottom of the league past Labour Day, averaging 65.4 yards per game on the way to a 4-7 start, the emergence of James Wilder vs. the Eskimos started something special in Toronto. Since then, the Argos have averaged 120.1 yards per game on the ground, going 6-2 in the meantime.
On the flip side, the Stampeders’ run defence was tops in the league throughout most of the 2017 season, but struggled going into the playoffs. After allowing closer to 60 rushing yards per game most of the year, the Stamps allowed an average of 141.3 rushing yards per game over their last three regular season contests, prompting some concerns over their run defence.
Those concerns, of course, didn’t appear to be justified in the Stamps’ win over Edmonton, with Calgary allowing a mere 68 yards on the ground.
The Stamps go from one test to another when they take on Jamies Wilder Jr., while the Argos look to lean on the CFL’s hottest running back to build on their recent success.
3. STINGY SECONDARIES FACE OFF
259.0 — Passing yards against the Argos over the last seven games.
Bo Levi Mitchell and Ricky Ray are two of the CFL’s finest pivots, yet the veterans could be frustrated early and often in Sunday’s head-to-head.
The Stamps and Argos rank first and third respectively in pass defence this year, with Toronto beginning to peak and Calgary enjoying consistent top-notch backfield play all season.
Ray will be tested by the CFL’s best defensive backfield; a unit that has allowed only 254.6 passing yards per game with an opponent QUAR of 55.3. On the other hand, Calgary’s offence, which struggled over the second half of the season (averaging 17.1 first downs per game in the second half of the season compared to 22.4 in the first half), looks to pick up where it left off in the Western Final.
In the win over the Eskimos, the Stampeders generated 20 first downs and 400 yards of offence. The Argos may have something to say about that. While the Stamps’ secondary has been in a league of its own, the Argos have closed the gap since Labour Day — and especially since the addition of veteran corner Mitchell White.
With the shutdown corner in their lineup, the Argos have cut down their average opponent passing yards nearly 11 yards per game — from 269.8 the first 12 games to 259.0 the last seven outings, including last week’s Western Final.
With the Argos going 5-7 before dressing White and 5-2 after, it’s clear that the veteran shutdown corner has had a strong positive impact on Toronto’s defence.
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