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HAMILTON — On paper, Sunday’s Eastern Final features a battle of the CFL’s two best teams.
The Ticats and Eskimos rank first and second respectively on offence, among the league’s elite in categories such as first downs, plays from scrimmage, sacks allowed and completion percentage. On the other side, both defences are in the top three in both sacks and total points allowed.
At quarterback, Trevor Harris and Dane Evans have similar qualities. Both pivots thrive on efficiency, attempting the majority of their passes at a depth of nine yards or fewer. Evans’ 72.2 per cent efficiency rate leads all qualified quarterbacks, while Harris isn’t far behind at 71.8 per cent.
With Jeremiah Masoli sidelined, Evans has emerged as one of the league’s most impressive young pivots. Harris, meanwhile, has had plenty of success against the Ticats, but hasn’t played against Hamilton since a record-setting, six-touchdown performance in last year’s Eastern Final.
As the Ticats look to end a 20-year Grey Cup drought, the Eskimos are chasing history, with hopes of becoming the first ever crossover team to win a Grey Cup. Here are three numbers that could define Sunday’s matchup.
It’s no secret where the ball is going in the Ticats’ offence. Even so, stopping the dynamic duo of Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison is easier said than done. Both receivers ranked in the top six in the league in targets, seeing the ball go their way on 45 per cent of the team’s passing attempts.
The Ticats’ top two receivers play off one another, and are sure to have a significant impact on Sunday’s game. While Banks led the league with 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns, making him a leading candidate for Most Outstanding Player, Addison wasn’t far behind, hitting 1,236 yards in just his second season.
Part of what makes Banks and Addison so successful is their complementary styles. Banks is the CFL’s most targeted receiver downfield, converting 21 of 40 attempts at 20 yards depth or greater. Addison, meanwhile, does his damage in the short to mid range, turning high-percentage looks into longer gains.
The Eskimos’ defence ranked first against the pass, allowing just 222.9 per game — but Banks and Addison will provide a unique challenge against one of the CFL’s top units.
Despite missing five starts, no quarterback attempted more short passes in 2019 than Trevor Harris. The Eskimos’ offence is predicated on quick reads and high-percentage attempts, which put the ball in the hands of playmakers such as Greg Ellingson, Ricky Collins, DaVaris Daniels and Tevaun Smith.
It’s the perfect fit for Harris, whose career 70.6 career completion percentage ranks No. 1 among qualified quarterbacks. This season, Harris’ average depth of 8.7 yards is the lowest among starters, while the Eskimos’ pivot leads the CFL with 322 attempts in the 1-9 yard passing range.
This poses a unique challenge for opposing defences. The Eskimos allowed just 25 sacks in 2019, the fewest in the league, and a big part of that is the quick ball movement by Harris and the team’s dynamic playmakers. At the same time, Harris has had success when challenging defences vertically, compiling a 129.6 quarterback rating on attempts of 20-plus yards, third to only Matt Nichols and Cody Fajardo.
The Alouettes knew what was coming in the Eastern Semi-Final, yet couldn’t disrupt the Eskimos’ passing attack, allowing 36 completions on 39 attempts. Ticats defensive minds Orlondo Steinauer and Mark Washington will need to find ways to make Harris uncomfortable.
The last time the Ticats faced Trevor Harris, then with the Ottawa REDBLACKS, Harris broke a CFL record with six touchdown passes and a 90.6 per cent efficiency rating. Harris has since repeated his playoff dominance, breaking his own record by completing 92.3 per cent of his passes in Sunday’s semi-final.
In his last two playoff games — not including the 106th Grey Cup — Harris has completed 91.5 per cent of his passes for 788 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. So how can the Ticats ensure the Eskimos’ quarterback won’t repeat his clinical performances of the past?
While the Ticats have yet to face Harris this season, their defence is not what it was a year ago. Under new head coach Orlondo Steinauer, the Ticats held opposing quarterbacks to a league low 79.9 quarterback rating to go with an efficiency of 61.9 per cent — despite missing shutdown corner Delvin Breaux for eight contests.
Part of the Ticats’ success against the pass this season is a result of the pass rush. While Ted Laurent is one of the league’s ratio breakers at defensive tackle, no interior lineman had more sacks than Dylan Wynn‘s 11. Wynn and defensive end Ja’Gared Davis combined for 24 sacks, forming the second most productive duo in the league behind the Riders’ A.C. Leonard and Charleston Hughes.
Hamilton’s defensive front has made life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks, and if they can crack an Eskimos’ O-line that allowed a league low 25 sacks, Harris will have trouble replicating his recent playoff success.