Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Eastern Final?
After a convincing 31-12 win and a 3-1 season series win, the Argos will once again have to prove their worth against QEW rival Hamilton in the Eastern Final in what I believe at first glance can best be described as a quirky matchup.
Neither team is who we thought they’d be to start the season. Both rosters feel they have a significant upper hand in various segments of the matchup and the quarterbacks have the potential to perform anywhere from ‘unstoppable’ to ‘unbearably inconsistent.’
The result? Likely mayhem, resulting in a memorable back-and-forth game. Let’s take a look at some of the positional groups that will help decide the East division champion.
I’ll dive much, much deeper into McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Jeremiah Masoli as the week rolls on here on CFL.ca but for now the upper hand is given to McBeth, based on the recent head-to-head win by the Argos three weeks ago.
In that game, Masoli and the Ticats’ offence took shot after shot down the field with little success, albeit missing by small margins at times. That approach went against their 2021 season tendencies but it was clear they were gathering information on how to approach a potential future matchup.
For Toronto, Bethel-Thompson has become the spirit animal they rally around on each down. Never shy to make his emotions known through body language and explosive reactions, the Argos’ leading man has control of the offence, a game plan built around him and D.J. Foster ready to be a true dual threat.
If John White weren’t on the six-game injured list I would lean Argos here, but the combination of Don Jackson and Sean Thomas-Erlington should be able to offset the dynamic playmaker that is D.J. Foster.
Jackson’s quick burst and STE’s goal line pass catching threat have changed the Ticats’ attack for the better. Since Masoli returned to the lineup, Hamilton’s offence has leaned more towards diverse approaches and balance than previously and it’s served them well.
With all that being said would anyone be surprised to see Foster completely take over the game and power Toronto to a Grey Cup appearance? Not if you’ve appreciated his work since August.
Much like with their ‘backs, Hamilton is spreading the ball around more with their receivers this season. On Sunday in the Eastern Semi-Final, no receiver had more than five catches, but five receivers had a touch, with only Steven Dunbar Jr. coming up empty from the staring lineup.
If Bralon Addison returns to action as was threatened last week, Hamilton might have the advantage here, but Toronto can — and will — spread it out with the best in the league. With names like Daniels, Gittens Jr. and some tall guy named Eric Rogers apparently returning to action, the Argos get the slight but meaningful nod amongst pass catchers.
The Eastern Final with have an undeniable theme of youth up front protecting each team’s money makers. For Toronto, Peter Nicastro has been an absolute stud since Day 1, literally. In Week 1 he was asked to bounce around the line due to injuries in the Argos’ comeback victory against Calgary, where Nicastro played his college ball. All season he’s been the flexible anchor and difference maker of the line, while Dariusz Bladek and Philip Blake followed their former offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo from Saskatchewan to the Big Smoke and have settled in nicely.
Hamilton has come on as of late with Brandon Revenberg once again up for outstanding lineman and Chris Van Zeyl anchoring the attack at right tackle after an injury plagued season. Still, the other pieces of Hamilton’s protection still have me cautious.
I mean, c’mon.
How are you supposed to split hairs on greatness? I choose to simply appreciate it all, as each team has no fewer than five men up front capable of creating chaos.
The Ticats forced five turnovers in their Eastern Semi-Final win and shut down the league’s leading rusher in William Stanback, while sacking Trevor Harris six times. Meanwhile, Shawn Oakman has been a force unlike many in recent memory — especially against Hamilton — Cordarro Law has taken his game to another level and anyone wearing Double Blue around them is ready to clean up the scraps of a sack or tackle for loss in a hurry.
My job is to analyze, but on this one I defiantly abstain from hot-takery and choose to sit back and giggle to myself about how ridiculous the talent on both sides is.
Chris Edwards has created multiple turnovers, been the mouthpiece of the defence and complemented the well-rounded skill set of Dexter McCoil Sr. perfectly, but Simoni Lawrence is the best linebacker in this game.
Lawrence is playing some of the best football of his career. Meanwhile, 2021 free agent addition Jovan Santos-Knox has slotted in nicely to replace Larry Dean and Justin Tuggle at middle linebacker, while rookie Kameron Kelly brings such a unique experience in football that he can switch from SAM linebacker to corner, or free safety with a moments’ notice.
This game could well be decided with Lawrence’s decision making on Toronto’s run-pass option plays reading outside backers. He’ll have to do more than just tackle or sack to earn Hamilton’s path home to a Grey Cup Dec. 12.
The Argos will feel disrespected by this — and essentially every possible slight between now and kickoff including and not limited to all-star selections, media coverage etc. — but Hamilton has evolved into an excellent back end group, which I wouldn’t have predicted after the retirement of Delvin Breaux Sr. and Rico Murray.
Desmond Lawrence has filled in admirably at boundary corner next to halfback Cariel Brooks, who has been at or near the league lead in interceptions all season. All of that while Tunde Adeleke has used his difference-making range at free safety to get players others can’t when the ball is airborne. Despite getting danced on the goal line in Week 15 by Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Adeleke remains one of the best in the CFL at his assigned task of covering grounds and has evolved into a more vocal leader for Mark Washington’s defence.
Toronto has ball hawks all over the place, but with the ball in the air my slight lean is toward the Ticats.
Hamilton’s return game was as explosive as any team in the league with Frankie Williams receiving, but since Williams was lost to injury David Ungerer, Papi White and more have been solid, but unspectacular. Toronto has found bursts of excitement through Chandler Worthy’s knack for finding the gap and maximizing each return’s value.
Michael Domagala earned some trust from his teammates in the snowy conditions Sunday, but Boris Bede gives Toronto a weapon nobody else has. The length of his range could be the difference and Domagala has to overcome returning to scene of his upright-doinking crime of early September, when a missed extra point cost the Ticats a game and potentially an Eastern Final at home this week.