Confident Ticats welcome Blue Bombers
Hamilton's Stevie Baggs wants Winnipeg to know that Steeltown's got some swagger, too.
"Here's the deal. I'm going to put it out there," the Tiger-Cats defensive end said only half-jokingly.
"Don't just look at the sacks for this season. Look at the tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, touchdowns, special team tackles. I'm talking about an all-round football player and I'm talking about Shakespeare."
Baggs, or "Shakespeare," was being egged on by Winnipeg media Thursday as the former Blue Bomber tried to make a case for being the best defensive end in the league.
Baggs later suggested with a big smile that reporters do their research and ask other coaches around the league.
The Ticats and the Bombers meet Friday night at Ivor Wynne Stadium with a share of second place in the East Division on the line. Winnipeg comes in with an 8-5 record and a hurting starting quarterback in Buck Pierce, who missed last week's game against Montreal — a 32-26 loss — with sore ribs.
That prompted the question of what goes through Baggs' mind when faced with the prospect of playing against a hurt quarterback.
"Finger-licking good," Baggs responded, continuing the show while licking his fingers in front of the smiling scrum of reporters.
"You don't play this game to hurt anyone," he quickly added. "On a serious note, that's the main thing. We play this game fair. We play it aggressive, but fair and we're not out to hurt anyone."
Pierce was not impressed when those same Winnipeg reporters recounted the story.
"I'm not having my radar set to Stevie Baggs in any aspect at all," he said. I'm going out there to execute my game plan and we're not too worried about him."
And he wasn't surprised by Baggs' self-confidence.
"We expect nothing less of him to say that," he said. "We'll see. I'll give him credit. He's a good player. He's a good defensive end. He gets upfield. He makes plays. But leave it on the field. I think our guys up front, I think we still lead the league in sacks, don't we? So I'd put my vote in for our guys."
Defence still strong
He has a point. Winnipeg's defence is still a formidable force and continues to be one of the league leaders, especially against the pass, where they lead the CFL in average yards passing allowed per game (236.5) and lowest percentage of pass completions (56.8 per cent). They also have the most interceptions (17) and the most quarterback sacks (41).
"I have so much respect for that defence," Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said. "First of all, they rush the passer well. But I think, more importantly, they play at an intensity level that other teams, week in and week out, other teams have a hard time matching it."
Winnipeg's turnover ratio, at a league-leading plus-14, has also been a large reason for their success, he added.
The last time these two teams played was August 26 when Winnipeg beat Hamilton 30-27. But the Bombers have lost four of their last five games, all since Labour Day, and now head into Hamilton hurting. Aside from Pierce, who will start, they've lost all-star running back Fred Reid and linebacker Joe Lobendahn, among others, for the season due to injury.
Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice said getting a win wouldn't just mean putting some space between Winnipeg and Hamilton in the standings. He wants his team to get back on track, despite the injuries.
"The first thing is you try not to make excuses [about the injuries] and then you just say, 'Alright, let's get a game plan to win,"' he said.
Tiger-Cats' new backfield
Meanwhile, Hamilton (7-6) has won two straight and has a new backfield tandem — Terry Grant was placed on the roster two games ago to join veteran Avon Cobourne. Grant had one rushing TD and caught another against Calgary in Moncton. Then last week he rushed for 115 yards and one TD against Toronto.
Marcus Thigpen moved to slotback in order to make room for Grant, and had two touchdown receptions against Calgary.
"They've got a lot of good speed on the field so you have to make sure you wrap them up and don't let them break tackles," said LaPolice.
Winnipeg has already won the season series against the Ticats, having also won the season opener 24-16 on Canada Day, and that will have playoff implications should the two teams finished tied.
Hamilton took leads into the fourth quarter in both games, and while Ticats such as quarterback Kevin Glenn and receiver Chris Williams have downplayed any suggestion that they seek revenge for letting two victories slip away, Baggs talks a different story.
"Is a pig pork?" he responded when asked if he felt Hamilton "owed" Winnipeg a loss. "Of course, we owe them one. They got two wins on us this season. Is a cow beef? Yeah, we owe them one no question. I mean that's the name of the game, man. To win, and they have two wins. We have zero on them, so we can't let them sweep us.
"It's imperative for us to come out here and just do what the coaches have asked of us and that's pay attention to detail, play physical, run to the ball and everything else will happen."