Friday, 12 November 2010

How They Stack Up (Special Teams)

The somewhat forgotten member of the football triad might be the one that has the biggest effect on Sunday's outcome. Special Teams have always been important, but usually get lost in the shuffle because they aren't viewed with the same respect that is given to Offense and Defense. But in the playoffs, field position and field goals play a large part in who goes on and who goes home.

Kicking: Noel Prefontaine (TOR) vs. Sandro DeAngelis (HAM)
To say that Sandro DeAngelis's first season in Hamilton has been a disappointment would be stating the obvious. DeAngelis came to Hamilton with a résumé that had him among the elite at the position. His first season saw him miss some crucial kicks (namely in a one-point loss to Calgary in Week 2), and he connected on a middling 76.2% of his field goals. He did finish fourth in the league in scoring, but DeAngelis was not the clutch kicker this season that the Tiger-Cats hoped he would be.

Prefontaine started the year in Edmonton and was traded to Toronto just prior to the trade deadline in October. Prefontaine has always had a big leg, and even at his advanced age, he can still boom them. Also, he missed only five field goals all season, so his accuracy is still top notch as well.

Advantage: Argonauts

Punting: Noel Prefontaine (TOR) vs. Eric Wilbur (HAM)
Prefontaine doubles as the Punter for the Double Blue. His punting average is a very respectable 42.9 yards per punt, and he did have the year's longest punt, at 81 yards. Like with field goals, Prefontaine still has plenty of life left in his leg.

Eric Wilbur came into a perfect situation when he signed with Hamilton in August. His only goal was not to have a punt blocked. During the first five games of the season, Justin Palardy (now the Kicker in Winnipeg) had three punts blocked, the final one being in Regina in what turned out to be the turning point of the game against the Riders. Wilbur was brought in following the Saskatchewan debacle, and has performed marvelously. His average is just above Prefontaine's, at 43 yards per punt, and he has boomed more than his fair share. He also puts plenty of hang time on his punts, which allows for the coverage unit to be in perfect position to not give up a big play. This will come in handy this week against the league's most dangerous return man, Toronto's Chad Owens.

These two are so close, but one player is a rookie and another is a proven playoff veteran.

Advantage: Argonauts

Returners: Chad Owens (TOR) vs. Marcus Thigpen (HAM)
Probably the two most dangerous return men in the East face off once again. Owens has not had that big of an impact on the games between these two teams as many would expect. In fact, I would say that Thigpen has outdueled Owens in the previous three meetings.

Even with that being the case, Owens is still a bigger threat than Thigpen. Owens has been, hands down, the scariest player in the entire league this season. He finished the year with over 3,000 total yards and is a threat to score whenever he gets his hands on the ball. Thigpen has been great; Owens has been greater.

Advantage: Argonauts


I am not the least bit surprised that the Argonauts swept the three Special Teams areas. They have lived and died by Special Teams this season. Coordinator Mike O'Shea has been the gutsiest play caller in the entire CFL with some of the trick plays he has pulled out. I can't believe I am about to type this, but O'Shea deserves a lot of credit for making the Argonaut Special Teams group the best in the CFL.

Dave Easley is no slouch either, and Hamilton's unit has been pretty good as well, especially in the return game and in kick coverage, but Hamilton's Special Teams do not hold a candle to Toronto's.

Advantage: Argonauts

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