Sunday, 31 July 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 5)

What an absolutely great weekend of football. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of our great game must have enjoyed every second of the action they saw this weekend. It is weekends like this that remind me why I watch the CFL. From Winnipeg's emotional win on Thursday to Hamilton's statement win, and from Edmonton's come-from-behind win on Friday to Calgary's grind-it-out win on Saturday, fans of the CFL were treated to four quality matchups.
  1. The only blemish this week was the atrocious officiating, especially in the Montreal-Hamilton game. There was horrible officiating in the Toronto-Edmonton game as well; however, that was to be expected because the head ref was... Andre Proulx. Proulx is probably the worst official in any sport.
  2. One thing I've noticed the first third of the season is a major improvement in kick and punt coverage. The CFL is full of many dynamic returners (Chad Owens, Marcus Thigpen, Jovon Johnson, Tim Brown, etc.), yet there have been only two return TDs in 2011 compared to nine at this point last season.
  3. I'm a hip-hop fan, and we as fans all agreed that the word "swagger" died in 2008. Can someone please relay that message to Winnipeg? Sorry guys, Swaggerville is kinda lame.
  4. For the second consecutive week, I watched Ben Archibald get abused by an opposing Defensive End. Last week, it was Justin Hickman; this week, it was Odell Willis. I'm starting to wonder if Calgary let Archibald walk because they knew he wasn't the player he once was.
  5. Buck Pierce went down with an injury, forcing Alex Brink to take over. Brink, to my surprise, played very well. He even orchestrated the winning drive for the Bombers. Brink showed a lot in Week 5, and I'm starting to think Winnipeg isn't in as much trouble if Pierce goes down as I originally thought.
  6. We're five weeks into the season, and I have to ask: where the heck is Paris Jackson? He has yet to catch a pass in 2011. I understand that BC has a lot of skilled players at Receiver, but for Jackson not to have caught a pass is ridiculous.
  7. Montreal prides themselves on being a very disciplined football team, but they lead the league in penalties and amassed an astounding 14 in their Week 5 loss. Penalties cost you games, and while the reffing was bad, you can't let the refs call that many on your team. There are problems in Montreal, but fixing this one should be near the top of the list.
  8. Probably what will be talked about most from this weekend's games is the odd series of events at the end of the first half of the Toronto-Edmonton game. While it was undoubtedly the correct call – there was time on the clock when the whistle was blown – there did seem to be some time issues on the two previous plays. I don't know if anything sinister happened, but the optics aren't good.
  9. I talked about Chad Kackert in this space last week, and I'm once again wondering if he is really that good or if the Argos can just run the football. I suspect it's a little of both, which makes me wonder how good Cory Boyd really is.
  10. The Argos are in a bit of a tailspin, and it all revolves around – surprise – the Quarterback position. Dalton Bell has been given two chances to take the reins from Cleo Lemon, failing both times. Much like Lemon, Bell seems to force throws and tosses bad interceptions. Steven Jyles must be licking his chops knowing that Lemon and Bell are all that stands between him and a CFL starting gig.
  11. At the start of the year, Fred Stamps said that he was the best Receiver in the CFL. Some laughed; others cringed; many dismissed. Well, it doesn't sound so crazy now, and I don't think many people would disagree with Stamps's preseason proclamation.
  12. Could there be two more opposite teams than Edmonton and Toronto? Edmonton sits 5-0 and came into the season with no expectations after missing the playoffs in 2010; Toronto sits 1-4 and came into the season expecting to take the next step after making it to the East Division Final in 2010. Whatever Edmonton's doing is working, and whatever Toronto is doing isn't.
  13. Kavis Reed has done a remarkable job in Edmonton. Unless the Eskimos completely collapse and don't win another game all season, I feel confident in declaring him the CFL's Coach of the Year.
  14. Does anyone else feel like Chad Owens isn't the same player he was last year?
  15. I understand that we live in a vast country, but why did the Stamps-Riders game have to start at 9:30PM on a Saturday? Was there something in Regina that prevented that game from being an afternoon contest?
  16. Saskatchewan, put the all green uniforms (green helmet, green jersey, green pants) out to pasture. They make the players look like giant pickles. But at least they are better than those red and black numbers from last season. Yuck!
  17. When a player makes a big hit, it is commonplace for the player to celebrate. But when a player makes a big hit and the opposing player not only holds onto the ball, but gets the much-needed first down, celebrating the hit makes you look like a buffoon. Tristan Jackson, I'm talking to you.
  18. I know Rene Paredes went four for five last night, but I just feel as if Calgary's kicking situation is eerily reminiscent of Hamilton's last year. I don't trust Paredes to make the kick if he's called upon.
  19. I really like a lot of the young, Canadian talent at the Receiver position in the CFL right now. I look at Shawn Gore of BC, Cory Watson of Winnipeg and Spencer Watt of Toronto and I see potential stars. All three have varying skill sets, but they all have the opportunity to play in this league for a very long time.
  20. I'm starting to scare myself. I went 0-4 in Week 2 and followed that up by going 4-0 in Week 3. I went 1-3 in Week 4 and followed that up by going 3-1 this past week. That puts me at 10-10 for the year. Not horrendous, but I want to do better. I have yet to be above .500 all year, and I want to change that next week.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Preaching Patience Pays Off

If you will permit me, I'd like for all of us to hop in my DeLorean and head back in time.

The date is July 10, 2011.

The day before, the Tiger-Cats had just lost to the Edmonton Eskimos in a listless effort that no one – fan, player or coach – was happy with. The Cats had started the season with much promise, yet they were behind the eight ball – again. The Cats were 0-2, and things were looking bad.

To a man, everyone on the team preached patience; they said that the wins would come. That didn't stop many fans from reacting with anger and hostility towards another slow start. Doom predictions were everywhere, and while there were rational fans calling for the same patience the team was preaching, they were shouted down by the outraged majority.

In case it has been forgotten, back on July 10, 2011 the following was "true" according to many fans:
  • Kevin Glenn was a bum and should be replaced by Quinton Porter
  • Marcel Bellefeuille was "Marcel Bellefool" and should be fired
  • Khari Jones was over his head as Offensive Coordinator and should be fired
  • Bob O'Billovich was over the hill and didn't care because he was thinking about his retirement
Remember those days?

Well, fast forward three weeks and this is what we have:
  • Glenn, who is streaky, is back in top form
  • Bellefeuille is showing why he is a good Head Coach
  • Jones has gotten the Offense back on track
  • Obie is being given major kudos for some shrewd moves he's made, especially the move that landed Receiver Chris Williams

So while those early-season struggles were frustrating, the proof is in the proverbial pudding: being patient pays off.

There will no doubt be a stretch in the future, maybe even again this season, when the team struggles. When that happens, remember the lessons learned in July 2011. Patience is a virtue, and I think we all learned why over the first five weeks of the 2011 CFL season.

Hamilton 34, Montreal 26

The CFL's East Division just got a lot more interesting. Hamilton has now officially broke the Montreal jinx. For the third-straight meeting in Hamilton (two-regular season, one preseason), the Tiger-Cats send Montreal home with a loss. Last year, it was written off as meaningless because the Als had wrapped everything up. The preseason was written off because it's the preseason. The naysayers have lost their ammo, because this game was both meaningful and emphatic.

Positives

Avon Cobourne was the focal point all week, and he delivered come game time. He had 126 total yards, running with a purpose whenever he touched the ball. The Avon Cobourne that the Ti-Cats hoped they were getting when they signed him in the off-season is the Avon Cobourne we all saw tonight.

Maurice Mann and Chris Williams have both had big games, and this week it was Dave Stala's turn. Stala scored two TDs, giving him five on the season, and posted his first 100-yard receiving game of the year.

I loved what I saw from Justin Hickman. He had two sacks tonight, continuing his great play over the first month of the season. The combo of Hickman and Baggs is one of the best in the league.

Aside from a short spell in the second quarter, Kevin Glenn was in top form. His passes were crisp and on target for most of the night. This is the second game in a row that Glenn has looked impressive; it seems as if his early-season struggles are now behind him.

I said it last week and I'll say it again: the Ti-Cats Secondary has been great. Some big plays were given up, but there were a lot of times when the DBs lived in the hip pocket of the Montreal Receivers. Calvillo threw for a lot of yards (356), but it came on a lot of attempts (45). The job that Corey Chamblin has done with the Secondary shows why he is the right man to lead this Defense.

I absolutely loved the play calling. Khari Jones really seems to have settled into his role as Offensive Coordinator. My favourite play of the night might have been the Quarterback draw that was called in the fourth quarter. It was the perfect call for that situation. I was big on Jones even before he was hired, but I am especially high on him after the last couple of weeks.

Negatives

There are some negatives, and one of them is the number of big plays that the Cats gave up. There were a lot of times when Hamilton had Montreal pinned with a second and 10 or more and allowed the first down. The "D" stiffened when it had to, but I wasn't impressed with the number of big plays the Defense gave up.

As much as I hate to say it, I have to ask: is Arland Bruce now irrelevant? Bruce was held without a catch, and he was rarely even looked at. I'm not one to start or perpetrate rumours, but has the emergence of Chris Williams made Arland Bruce expendable? I hope not, because I think Bruce has a lot of good football left in him; however, we could be looking at the beginning of the decline of a great player.

Final Thoughts

Does everyone remember when the Ti-Cats were 0-2 and everyone from the GM to the Head Coach to every player was being booted out of town? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

The Cats have now won three in a row, and they've done it in different ways. They won a blowout at home against Saskatchewan; they won a tight one on the road against BC; now they've won a slugfest at home against Montreal. The Cats have proven they can win in many ways.

For the second week in a row, the Cats took the lead and then countered everything their opponent did. The Cats never trailed after they scored their first TD to make it 7-3.

This is starting to look like a team that has taken its lumps and is now ready to win. From here on out, there is no opponent on Hamilton's schedule that can't be overcome.

Hamilton has beaten the one team that everyone said they had to beat to prove they are legit. This was a great team win.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Preview: Alouettes at Tiger-Cats

3-1
2-2












As end-of-the-first-month clashes go, they don't get much bigger than this, at least for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

There is one team in the CFL that is the measuring stick for everyone. One team that all other teams must compare themselves to. One team that engenders both tremendous respect and intense dislike. That one team is the Montreal Alouettes.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have spent the better part of two off-seasons building a team that can compete, and defeat, the Als. They brought in a pass rusher (Stevie Baggs); a Linebacker (Rey Williams); and a Defensive Coordinator who preaches pressure, pressure, pressure (Corey Chamblin) all in an attempt to knock the Als off their perch. But the biggest addition was the Cats poaching of one of Montreal's best weapons, Running Back Avon Cobourne.

Until proven otherwise, Montreal is the team to beat. The Alouettes are the two-time defending Grey Cup champions. Hamilton wants to be where Montreal is. To do that, they must beat the Alouettes. No better place to start than on Friday night at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

I encourage everyone out there to get down to the stadium to see this game. But if for one reason or another you cannot make it, you can catch the game on television on TSN or on the radio on AM900 CHML starting at 6:30PM.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 5

Last week, all four road teams won. I only took one road team (Hamilton) to win. So the week after going 4-0, I crash back to Earth with a 1-3 showing. Hopefully I will rebound in the same fashion I did after my 0-4 week.

British Columbia at Winnipeg

Winnipeg will be playing this game with heavy hearts following the sudden death of Defensive Line Coach Richard Harris. Tragedy has a way of galvanizing a team, and I expect Winnipeg to use the tragedy as motivation. The Bombers win this one easily.

Winner: Winnipeg, 31-17

Montreal at Hamilton

This is the game of the week. Hamilton is back to .500 after starting the year 0-2. Montreal comes into this game having suffered the most stunning defeat of the year at home against the previously winless Saskatchewan Roughriders. This is going to be a tight affair, and while many will take the Als to win, my gut says the Cats win a close one.

Winner: Hamilton, 30-24

Toronto at Edmonton

Edmonton is the surprise team of 2011, being the lone remaining undefeated team in the CFL. The Argos have looked lost the last couple of weeks. After winning in Calgary to start the season, the Boatmen have done little to inspire. This one has upset written all over it, but the Eskimos haven't seemed like the type of team to overlook anyone, and with Dalton Bell getting the start, the Eskies take this one handily.

Winner: Edmonton, 34-19

Calgary at Saskatchewan

This is a game between two underachieving teams. The Stamps have not looked impressive in either of their wins. This is not the same Calgary team from a year ago. The Roughriders finally resembled a football team last week, going into Molson Stadium and escaping with a win. I'm not sold on either club, so when in doubt, go with the home team. The Riders win an ugly one.

Winner: Saskatchewan, 22-15

Recap
Winnipeg, Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan

Season Record: 7-9

Catch a Rising Star

There are plenty of fascinating storylines in the early portion of the CFL's 2011 season: Edmonton and Winnipeg's rise back to prominence, Anthony Calvillo's continued campaign for the position of greatest QB in CFL history, Saskatchewan and BC's ineptitude. But for fans of football in the southern most city in the CFL, the story of the year, so far, has been the rise of Chris Williams

Williams has been dynamic, explosive and has contributed mightily in Hamilton's two wins so far this season. Yet the story of Chris Williams is not your standard tale.

Back in Feburary of 2010, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders executed a trade that saw Receiver Prechae Rodriguez head to Saskatchewan for Receiver Adam Nicolson, a 2011 third-round draft pick and the rights to a player on Saskatchewan's negotiations list. At the time, I said that Chris Williams could be the key to the deal, thinking, at the time, that he could be the player to help Hamilton in the return game (remember, this was prior to Marcus Thigpen's arrival later that year). Never in my wildest imagination did I expect to see this from Williams, especially this soon. But despite my thinking, factors other than Williams's skills played a role in his delayed ascension.

Following the 2010 season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made a concerted effort to find a larger Receiver, one that could exploit the smaller Defensive Backs that a lot of teams – namely Montreal – employ. Two players shone brighter than the rest: Aaron Kelly and Bakari Grant. Kelly, who stands at 6'5", was given the first crack coming out of the preseason, but suffered an injury in the first game of the season against Winnipeg.

It was in Week 2 that Williams was given the opportunity to showcase his talents... and he blew it. Williams did not have a good game. He dropped a gimme pass that bounced off his shoulder pads and had a very costly fumble that Edmonton recovered. That type of performance in a player's first game usually means they won't get a second game. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Williams's first impression was atrocious. Fate, however, was on Williams's side.

Just before Hamilton's Week 3 matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders it was announced that Maurice Mann would be inactive due to an injury suffered earlier in the week that required stitches. The player filling in for Mann? None other than Chris Williams. Williams was given a second lease on life, and he delivered. While Williams did not have many yards, only 37, he did catch two touchdowns and helped Hamilton acquire their first win of the season.

Even with his two-TD performance, it was possible that Williams would have been the odd man out if Maurice Mann was able to recover from his injury to play in Week 4 against the BC Lions. That thought process should now be shelved indefinitely. Against the Lions, Williams had a game for the ages. He took the first pass of the game 71 yards to set up Hamilton's first touchdown of the game; his next catch was off a tipped ball, where Williams kept his concentration and scampered 32 yards to set up Hamilton's second touchdown of the game; Hamilton's third touchdown came from Williams himself. When all was said and done, Williams finished with eight catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. Any doubt that still lingered from the Edmonton game was eradicated completely with that performance.

Williams's stellar play has put the Tiger-Cats in a position where they have a plethora of talented Receivers, but only so many spots for them to play. Disregarding the Canadians, the Cats have, in addition to Williams, the aforementioned Aaron Kelly, Bakari Grant and Maurice Mann, as well as All-Star Arland Bruce III and Marquay McDaniel. You can also add Marcus Thigpen to that rotation as well, because he, for some reason, gets listed on the depth chart as a Receiver (and on the team roster as a hybrid Receiver/Running Back). That's seven players that could start for a lot of teams. Bruce, Mann and Thigpen are givens as long as they are healthy. Williams needs to remain in the lineup because you simply cannot bench a player after he records nearly 200 yards receiving in a game; however, the Cats are still determined to start one of the taller Receivers, so one would think that Grant or Kelly would get a spot. The problem is that that is simply too many Receivers. The Tiger-Cats have too much talent at Receiver, which is a problem many teams wish they had. At some point all these players will be healthy, and there are simply not enough spots to go around. The question remains: who to sit? The answer is not so simple. Williams, however, needs to be in the equation regardless of who the team decides to go with.

One area where Williams has a leg up on his competition is his versatility, especially on Special Teams. Williams is an excellent kick returner, as evidenced by his return in the preseason against the Montreal Alouettes. In the CFL, where the return game is of the utmost importance, being able to break one cannot be overlooked.

So what does the future hold for this potential star in the making? When I see Williams play, I am reminded of another undersized Receiver: Weston Dressler. Dressler has been a stud for the Roughriders since his rookie season in 2008 – when he won the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie award – and has been an important cog in Saskatchewan's offensive machinery. I see a ton of similarities between the two, with the exception of speed. Dressler is no slowpoke, but Williams has speed that you simply cannot teach. Williams is quicker than a hiccup, and that can be deadly in the wide-open Canadian game.

In a short amount of time, Chris Williams has shown that he belongs in the CFL. Where he goes from here is anyone's guess, but it looks to me like we are all watching the first chapter in The Chris Williams Superstar Story being written.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Power Poll (Week 4)

Ranking teams is always subjective because you have to take into account more than just a team's record. The way a team plays means more sometimes than what their win-loss difference is. But win-loss does help to distinguish teams. This week, win-loss helped immensely.

1. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 2)

The last of the unbeatens. Raise your hand if you had this at the beginning of the season. No one saw this coming. But Edmonton has done everything they are supposed to do. They've won at home; they've won on the road; they've blown teams out; they've won nail biters. Edmonton, right now, is the best team in the CFL. Wow, that felt weird to write.

2. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 1)

I nearly kept the Als at the top because even though they lost, they did so without Anthony Calvillo for most of the game. But even with Calvillo, it felt like the Riders would at least keep it close, if not win. The Als did not look great, whereas Edmonton did. For that reason, the Als drop one spot.

3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 4)

I very nearly put Winnipeg ahead of Montreal, but the Bombers have only really put together a complete game once. That once was this past weekend in Toronto, but I need to see more out of the Bombers before I feel comfortable placing them ahead of Montreal.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 6)

I can already hear the calls of homerism coming from my detractors, but hear me out. The Cats have played two very good games the past two weeks – both wins – whereas the only team that could conceivably be ahead of them out of the remaining teams – Calgary – have not looked good pretty much all season. If the Cats and Stamps were to play today on a neutral field, I think the Cats would be the favourite. For that reason, the Tabbies jump above the Stampeders.

5. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 3)

I really do not know what to make of the Stampeders. They haven't looked convincing in either of their wins, and they didn't look good in either of their losses. They have the talent to be the best team in the league, but there is just something off with them. I have confidence that they could beat the teams below them (somewhat), but from week to week, you have no idea what you're going to get out of Calgary.

6. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 8)

It doesn't take long to get from the outhouse to the third floor of an apartment complex. The Riders looked downright atrocious in their three losses, but that goes away, for the most part, because they went into Montreal and beat the Alouettes. They are the first team to beat Montreal at home in July since Marc Trestman became Head Coach. Now we'll see if the Riders can keep the mojo going, as they have a home date with the number-five-ranked Stampeders in Week 5.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 5)

If these were the whiner rankings, the Argos would finish first. The Boatmen have not looked good since their season-opening win in Calgary. Something is wrong in Argoland, and it begins with the Quarterback position. I know, I know, everyone harps on the Argos' QBing, but until it's fixed, it will be what defines the Double Blue. The Argos are on a three-game losing streak and face their most difficult game of the year: on the road against the undefeated Eskimos.

8. BC Lions (Last Week: 7)

A team has to be at the bottom, and despite their overall good play, the Lions are the only winless team left in the CFL, so they occupy the number-eight spot. It was very tempting to put the Lions ahead of the Argos because, to be honest, I think if these two teams played that BC would win; however, until they do so, I just can't put them ahead of Toronto. That opinion may change next week, but as of right now, the Lions sit in last.

Highest Climb: Hamilton, Saskatchewan (+2)
Steepest Fall: Calgary, Toronto (-2)

Monday, 25 July 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 4)

Is there any doubt that professional football is the most difficult sport to predict? This week, all four road teams won. The most surprising game, obviously, was the last one. No one, not even the most homerific of Riders fans, thought that Saskatchewan would beat Montreal. You gotta love the CFL.
  1. The biggest story of the week is the injury suffered by Anthony Calvillo. His health will have a direct effect on Montreal's fortunes. He is the best in the game right now, so losing him would hurt a lot.
  2. I don't normally comment on the things said in the pre-game show on TSN, but I sat mouth agape when Milt Stegall began Friday's broadcast by saying that it might be time for Wally Buono to step down. Not because I think he's wrong – I don't – but because I wasn't expecting to hear that. I'm not Stegall's biggest fan (I find him to be rather arrogant), but I do like how he's not afraid to speak his mind.
  3. The Lions finally found a rushing attack. If BC can continue to run like they did against Hamilton, they will find a way to win some games.
  4. Jerome Dennis talked an awful lot prior to the Hamilton-BC game, and none of what he said ended up making a bit of difference. First, he didn't play. Secondly, his tips clearly didn't pay off, as Kevin Glenn had his best passing day of the season. Maybe Dennis should keep his mouth shut in the future.
  5. The refereeing in the Cats-Lions game was terrible, even by CFL standards. There were more than a couple questionable calls, but by far the stupidest was the objectionable conduct penalty on Dave Stala for punting the ball out of the end zone following his first touchdown. Only a lunatic would throw a flag there or defend a flag being thrown. Does everyone forget the celebration that made Stala a YouTube sensation in 2010? I hope the league issues an apology to the Tiger-Cats and Stala for that moronic call.
  6. So Cleo Lemon leaves the Argos-Bombers game with an injury, forcing Dalton Bell to play the majority of the game. This gave Bell his chance to seize the starter's role for the Boatmen. Bell came in with the Argos leading 17-6 and proceeded to do absolutely nothing. Lemon actually looked decent during his time in the game, but Bell had the opportunity to take the starting job and failed. Looks like it will be Lemon back behind Centre in Week 5.
  7. If Buck Pierce stays healthy and plays all season, the Bombers will win more than they lose. With that Defense, the Bombers only need capable QBing to win. With magnificent QBing, they'll win a lot of games.
  8. Chad Kackert is making me wonder if Cory Boyd is really as good as we all think, or if it is just that the Argonauts know how to run the football.
  9. It looks to me like Winnipeg and Toronto have switched places from a year ago. The Argos are falling, and fast, while Winnipeg looks like they might be ready to make some noise.
  10. The hit that led to E.J. Kuale's ejection has been the source of much debate over the last two days. For the record, I agree with the call. It was a dirty hit and Kuale deserved to be ejected.
  11. The hit, as well as some other calls, had Jim Barker whining after the game. Suck it up, Suzie! You lost because Winnipeg was the better team. Maybe you should teach your players not to take cheap shots at the opposing QB. Jeremaine Copeland and Ricky Foley need to shut up too. Too much whining from coming from Argoland.
  12. Is there a better Quarterback-to-Receiver combo in football than Ricky Ray to Fred Stamps? As far as I am concerned, they are the best. I would take that combo over any other combo right now.
  13. Edmonton looks to be turning into a Running Back factory. Arkee Whitlock, Calvin McCarty, Jerome Messam and Daniel Porter could probably all start for teams in this league. That fact that Edmonton runs four deep at Running Back will be a huge plus come playoff time.
  14. I would like to take this time to apologize to all the Eskimo fans out there. I was wrong, wrong, wrong about Edmonton. I thought they'd win four games this year; they've won four in July. The Esks are for real.
  15. I just don't get Calgary. They confound me more than any other team in the league right now. I just don't know what to think of them.
  16. Did Ricky Ray and Henry Burris switch bodies at halftime or something? Ray had his mojo working (his completion percentage was horrible, but the Eskies were up big), and Burris couldn't hit the broad side of McMahon Stadium. Then in the second half, the roles were reversed. Burris came out of the tunnel with his A-game, while Ray couldn't complete a pass to save his life.
  17. Why is it that recently, whenever Montreal and Saskatchewan meet, there must be some weird ending? We all remember the 13th Man, then there was the Canada Day shootout, and now we have the Hugh Charles fumble. Why on Earth were the Riders running with 26 seconds left in the game? Take a bloody knee!
  18. OK, I get it, Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green are both big Receivers who wear the same face mask and visor and have similar numbers (Richardson wears 18, Green wears 19). Can we stop with the look-a-like comparisons now? I don't need to be reminded of it every week.
  19. Whenever anyone starts a sentence with, "I'm not trying to say that [Player X] is like [Player Y]," you know they will immediately compare those players. During the Saskatchewan-Montreal game, a graphic was shown that compared Anthony Calvillo and Darian Durant based on their early careers. The stats showed that Durant was better at this stage than Calvillo was, but that's misleading. Instead of going on a 10,000-word diatribe as to why, I'll just say, can we please put a moratorium on comparing anyone to Anthony Calvillo? He's one of the five best QBs of all time. No one in the CFL right now deserve mention alongside him at this point.
  20. After last week's stellar showing in my picks, I crashed back down to Earth, going 1-3. My lone win makes me happy because it was the Ti-Cats. Losing on Toronto and Calgary didn't surprise me. Those were the two toughest games to pick, in my opinion, so far this season. So I thought I'd get a .500 week because there was no way that Montreal would lose to Saskatchewan. *shakes head* Hopefully I'll do better next week. After going 0-4 in Week 2, I bounced back with a 4-0 showing. Maybe this week's 1-3 will correct itself and I'll go at least 3-1 next week.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Hamilton 39, BC 31

That was a great game! So much fun to watch. The Cats started out on fire, taking an early 21-7 lead; then BC stormed back to tie it; then it was back and forth for the rest of the game. The Cats never trailed, only being tied near the end of the game. Great win that will hopefully quell all the talk. Was it a great win? No, but not every win has to be. To go to Vancouver and win is big for any team, and the Cats have now done that in three consecutive seasons.

Positives

There is only one place to start, and that is with Chris Williams. That was a monster game by the diminutive New Mexico State grad. Williams took the first pass of the game over 70 yards, followed it up with a big catch on a tipped pass, and capped it with a TD. That was all in the first half! Williams was quieter in the second half, but he still racked up 189 yards on eight catches. Williams could be to the Ti-Cats what Weston Dressler has become to Saskatchewan, and he has put that debacle in Edmonton behind him. Williams was filling in for an injured Maurice Mann, but he's making it awfully difficult to take him out of the lineup.

It started with a huge Special Teams tackle by Rey Williams, then it continued with a big sack by Jamall Johnson and it ended with Markeith Knowlton making a big play that basically ended the game. Is there any doubt that Hamilton's Linebackers come to play every second of every game? Not in my mind. They're so great that they often get overlooked because it's expected, but I wouldn't trade any of these guys for anything. Great game by the 'Backers.

On more than a few occasions, Justin Hickman made Ben Archibald – last year's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman – look like a raw rookie. Hickman beat on Archibald like he owed him money. Hickman was also a bonehead, but that will be detailed later.

There was a reason that the Tiger-Cats signed Avon Cobourne, and tonight was that reason. When the Cats needed to salt the game away, they handed the ball to the man known as "Deuces" and let him do his thing. Cobourne rushed for his first 100-yard game in Black & Gold. He ran for most of those yards on one run at the end of the fourth, but that run put the game away.

Coming into the season, the Secondary was a source of concern. While there were some rough patches, I think the Secondary has come together rather nicely. Bo Smith, a guy I have ripped in the past, has turned into one of the better Defensive Backs on the Cats; Ryan Hinds continues to impress me more and more each week; and Marcel Young improves each week. Carlos Thomas didn't have the best game, but he was matched up against Geroy Simon, which is hard for even the most seasoned of DBs. That said, Simon was shut out in the first half, so the Secondary did something right. In any event, the Secondary has turned into a bright spot for the team so far in this young season.

Negatives

I said I'd touch on this, but Justin Hickman's two penalties led to a CB touchdown. One was a very questionable late-hit call, especially in light of a later hit by Keron Williams on Kevin Glenn that went uncalled, but the penalties hurt the Cats. Without those calls, the Lions don't score, and if they don't score, this is a different game.

There was some incredibly bad tackling in this game. Jamal Robertson is always hard to bring down on the first hit, but he ran over more than his fair share of Ti-Cat defenders. There were also some missed tackles on Lions Receivers as well. Players need to wrap up and not go for arm tackles so often.

The Lions couldn't run on a team full of armless torsos the first three weeks, but they ran over the Cats tonight. Jamal Robertson got his groove back, but BC also made a concerted effort to get the run game going. In any event, Hamilton's run 'D' needs to be better going forward.

Final Thoughts

After last week's win, people wanted to put it on the awfulness that is the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This week, I'm sure people will say, "Big deal, the Cats have won against two winless teams." But in my books, a win is a win is a win. The Cats have now won two in a row and have looked better in each game. Confidence is building on this team, and that can be contagious.

But next week is without a doubt the biggest test of the season for the Tabbies. Coming to town is the undefeated (yes, I am presuming that the Als will beat Saskatchewan) and two-time defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes. The Cats are going to need to bring their A-game. Next week is going to be great.

But next week is next week, and the team has earned the right to celebrate this win. This game was everything I love about the CFL. Great win by the Cats.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Jerome Dennis Conundrum

Earlier this week, in a somewhat surprising move, the Ti-Cats released Defensive Back Jerome Dennis. Just a day later, the BC Lions signed Dennis.

This brings up an interesting conundrum seeing as the Tiger-Cats travel to Vancouver to take on the Lions tomorrow night. Dennis has been with the Cats all through the off-season, Training Camp, the preseason and the first three games of the 2011 season, so he is intimately familiar with the schemes and tendencies of Hamilton's Defense.

At first I was worried, but then Dennis came out and said the following in an interview with The Vancouver Sun:
“I know the [Hamilton] defence inside out. I pretty much know the offensive scheme. I’ll leak all of that to my new team. I’ll let everybody know anything we need to do to win. I’ll sit down with the players and coaches and share my knowledge. Individually, I’ve already gone to Geroy [Simon] and told him how he can beat his man."
Drew Edwards then went and got comments from Tiger-Cats Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille where Bellefeuille downplays any advantage that the Lions might have because they signed Dennis.

Now, the one thing I learned long ago was that when someone yaps, they don't have much to back it up. In my opinion, if Dennis really had inside information on the Tiger-Cats, he would not have mouthed off in the press. He'd have kept that information in house and shared it with his teammates. The fact that Dennis lipped off tells me that he doesn't know as much as he wants people to think he knows.

The Lions might beat the Ti-Cats tomorrow night, but if they do it will have little to nothing to do with Jerome Dennis.

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Lions

1-2
0-3
Hamilton finally got the monkey off their back with their big win against Saskatchewan last week. That proverbial monkey, however, still sits on the ever-weakening back of the BC Lions.

Hamilton looked every bit the Grey Cup contender in their walloping of the Roughriders. The Offense looked to be getting into a nice rhythm as the game went on. Quarterback Kevin Glenn looked comfortable in the pocket, and the team stuck with the running game throughout, even when Avon Cobourne went out with a foot injury. The Offense wasn't at their best, but it was a vast improvement over the previous two weeks.

The Defense played one of the five best games I've ever seen a Defense play. The stats for the game are mind-boggling. You'd have thought the Cats were playing a middle school team with the way that the Defense smothered Saskatchewan's Offense.

Special Teams kicked in (no pun intended) with a great game as well. Hamilton played with a short field for most of the afternoon and capitalized on it by putting 33 points on the board.

If the Cats can repeat that type of performance, they will hang with anyone.

The Lions will enter this game a very desperate team. No one wants to go 0-4 to start the year. I can't quite comprehend why BC has yet to win. It seems every week it's something new that scuttles the Lions' plans for victory.

With this game being played in Vancouver, the Lions will need to establish themselves early to keep the boo birds from coming out. If the Tabbies get a lead, it could be a long night for Travis Lulay and Co.

This is a late start Friday night, with kickoff scheduled for 10PM EST. But if you're a night owl, you can catch the game on television on TSN or on the radio at AM900 CHML.

Smitty's Selections: Week 4

Four games played, four correct picks by me. Coming off an 0-for-4 showing the week before, I needed that. It also shows that I probably have no idea what I'm doing and that luck, more than anything, plays a role in my success or lack thereof.

Hamilton at British Columbia

Hamilton is coming off their most impressive performance against a terrible Saskatchewan team, whereas BC is coming of their worst performance against a very good Edmonton team. BC is still looking for their first win, while Hamilton has won in Vancouver the last two seasons. This one will be close, but Hamilton ekes out the victory.

Winner: Hamilton, 27-23

Winnipeg at Toronto

I have gone back and forth on this one more times than I can remember. One day I think Toronto should be my choice based on it being their home opener. Then I think the choice should be Winnipeg, because their Defense is off the charts. Then I think Toronto, because Winnipeg's Offense is so bad. Then I think Winnipeg, because Toronto's Offense doesn't have much without Cory Boyd. Then I think Toronto, because Buck Pierce is banged up. Then I think Winnipeg, because Cleo Lemon sucks. So for no reason other than a gut pick, I'm taking Toronto at home to squeak out a win.

Winner: Toronto, 23-20

Edmonton at Calgary

I'll go on record saying this is probably the game of the week. The Battle of Alberta ranks behind only the Battle of Ontario (huge bias) in terms of CFL rivalries. The surprising Eskimos are off to their best start since 2002, while Calgary has been hard to figure out. Just like Winnipeg versus Toronto, this one could go either way. Once again, based on nothing but a gut feeling, I'm taking the Stampeders to win this one on home turf..

Winner: Calgary, 30-24

Saskatchewan at Montreal

The only easy game of the week to predict. While Saskatchewan has given Montreal all it can handle the past couple of seasons, right now two teams couldn't be further apart than the Riders and Als. Montreal takes this one easily.

Winner: Montreal, 38-20

Recap
Hamilton, Toronto, Calgary, Montreal

Season Record: 6-6

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Is Anthony Calvillo the Greatest of All Time?

With Anthony Calvillo's assault on the record books underway – he broke the career mark for touchdown passes last Friday, and, barring injury, will break a few more before the year is over – one question is being posed by the media and fans alike:

Is Anthony Calvillo the greatest player to ever play in the CFL?

The simple answer is no. Anthony Calvillo is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and is definitely the greatest player of the last decade, but he is not the greatest of all time.

It is hard to compare players at different positions, so the focus here will solely be on Quarterbacks, and even among that smaller group, Calvillo is not the best.

I am not old enough to have seen some of the greats, like Russ Jackson or Ron Lancaster, play. I've heard stories and seen highlights, but clips and anecdotes are not enough for me to make an informed decision.

I was but a pup when Warren Moon finished his career in Edmonton with a fifth consecutive Grey Cup, and while I remember what Moon did in the NFL, I can't say for sure how great he was. I don't doubt that he was, but I can't speak to it since I didn't see it.

I did get to see all-time greats like Danny McManus, Matt Dunigan, Damon Allen and Tracy Ham play, and while they were all phenomenal Quarterbacks, I would not rank any of them ahead of Calvillo.

So while I can't comment on players I never saw, and while I don't think a group that I did see play deserve mention above Calvillo, there is one player that I am old enough to remember and who, for my money, will always be the greatest Quarterback, if not player, in CFL history.

I think it is pretty obvious that I am talking about Doug Flutie.

Flutie won six Most Outstanding Player awards in seven seasons, won three Grey Cup championships, and was voted in 2006 as the greatest player in CFL history by TSN.

But with Doug Flutie it wasn't just about the stats or the awards or the championships. Doug Flutie brought magic to the field, and with all due respect to every other player I've seen play – including Anthony Calvillo – no one else has come close to replicating that "Flutie Magic."

No other player before or since has dominated the way that Doug Flutie did. If Flutie had played in the CFL for his entire career, his name would be all over the record book.

Anthony Calvillo is one of the best to ever play in the CFL, but the label of "The Best" will always be used to describe Doug Flutie.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Medlock Named Special Teams Player of the Week

For the first time this season a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats has been named one of the CFL's Players of the Week, as Justin Medlock has been named the Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 3.

Medlock, who was acquired via trade in the off-season, was four-for-four on field goals in Saturday's win against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Medlock has been Mr. Automatic in 2011, which is a drastic departure from last season, when Sandro DeAngelis was about as reliable as the Hamilton public transit system. It is such a breath of fresh air to have a guy like Medlock on the team. There are no worries with him. Everyone, from the players to the coaching staff to the fans, just trusts that he will make his kicks.

Congratulations to Justin Medlock on a well-deserved award.

Tiger-Cats Release Jerome Dennis

In what Drew Edwards is describing as a "better is better" move, the Tiger-Cats have released Defensive Back Jerome Dennis.

I thought Dennis had a chance to be the standout performer in Hamilton's Secondary this season. I liked what I saw out of him in 2010, and I thought he would carry that forward into 2011. He played in Week 1, was benched in Week 2 and played again in Week 3 when an injury forced Carlos Thomas out.

It looks like the play of Daniel Francis over the weekend caused a chain reaction that sees Dennis out of Hamilton. Francis returning from injury makes him the starting Safety, which pushed Jason Shivers back to Defensive Halfback, which makes Dennis expendable.

It is still a surprising move, but one has to wonder if perhaps Dennis didn't take to the new defensive scheme of Corey Chamblin as quickly as the coaching staff would have liked.

In any event, I'm sure Dennis will find a team out there willing to take him in. He's a good player and can contribute to any of the other seven teams in the CFL.

Power Poll (Week 3)

Minimal changes this week as the top teams keep winning and the bottom teams keep losing. There are clearly three categories of teams: The Best (Montreal and Edmonton), The Worst (BC and Saskatchewan) and The Rest (Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton).

1. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 1)

The undisputed class of the league. Montreal allowed Toronto to stay around into the fourth quarter on Friday, but capitalized on some key Argonauts mistakes and turned the game into a bloodbath. In this early part of the season, I'm starting to wonder if anyone can hang with the Als.

2. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 2)

When it comes to impressive performances, no one ranks ahead of the Eskimos. No one thought the Eskies would be 3-0, yet here we are three weeks in and Edmonton is undefeated. Each week they beat a previously winless team, but that doesn't matter. Edmonton has won and continues to win. Next week, the Battle of Alberta gets renewed; that will be Edmonton's first real test. Win that, and this team might be on their way to a magical season.

3. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 4)

Calgary earned their win in Week 3 over Winnipeg. That was a hard-fought, rugged win. Either team could have taken it, but in the end it was the Stamps who gutted out the victory. They look shaky, but they are the better of the three teams immediately behind them, so for the time being they park themselves in third.

4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 3)

Winnipeg's Offense will be their undoing. The Defense is one of the best, if not the best, but for a third straight week, the Offense has been horrendous. Winnipeg has a championship-level Defense, but if the Offense doesn't soon catch up – which won't be easy with a nicked-up Buck Pierce and Joey Elliott out for the year – the Bombers will continue to fall down these rankings.

5. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 5)

The hardest decision was who to put at number five and who to put at number six. I settled on the Argos at five because, while the score looked bad, the Boatmen were in Friday's game against Montreal until mistakes caught up with them. I'm still not sold on the Argos. Until they get reliable and consistent quarterbacking, this is not a team that can be counted on. Their home opener against the Blue Bombers in Week 4 should be a good litmus test for both teams.

6. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week 8)

The Cats, simply out, beat the pants off the Riders. Now, was that a product of Hamilton finally finding their rhythm or Saskatchewan being so tremendously terrible? I'm not sure yet, and because of that I'm not ready to put my full faith behind the Tabbies. They looked good on Saturday, but a repeat performance will have to occur before I start believing fully in them.

7. BC Lions (Last Week: 6)

Regardless of the week, the outcome remains the same. Whether poor coaching decisions or dropped passes or costly turnovers, something always seems to scuttle the Lions' plans to get their first win. BC seems to be following the same script they've followed the past few seasons. Sooner or later, it is going to catch up to them.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)

The only reason Lions fans shouldn't be worried is because the Riders are in the same division. Saskatchewan, simply put, is a bad football team. They stink in every imaginable way. It is looking like it is going to be a long season in Riderville.

Highest Climb: Hamilton (+2)
Steepest Fall: Winnipeg, BC, Saskatchewan (-1)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 3)

There is nothing like the CFL. Every week brings something unique to the table, and every week fans are satisfied in new and exciting ways. This week was no different. Edmonton and Montreal continued to crush opponents, Hamilton got off the schneid, Toronto and Calgary continued to confound, Winnipeg's Defense was Winnipeg's Defense, and BC and Saskatchewan just looked lost. Week 3 in the CFL was a sight to behold.
  1. The only place to start is to give a tip o' the cap to Anthony Calvillo for breaking the all-time career mark for touchdown passes. If he continues to play at the level he's playing at now, he could put this record out of reach for a very long time.
  2. Now that Calvillo has broken the record, can we get a moratorium from commentators bringing up the new number every time he throws a TD pass? I don't need to hear Rod Black say, "And there's number 402." He broke the record, so there is no need for analysts to sound like broken records.
  3. I know it's not just me, but I have noticed that players' helmets are popping off at an alarming rate. Having played football, I can say that helmets are not supposed to fly off like that. It should take a good pull and a tug to get them off your head. To see them flying off like dandelion heads being played with by a seven-year-old girl is disconcerting. The league needs to do something fast.
  4. If I have to hear Glen Suitor say that this will be Doug Brown's last season one more time, I will build a time machine and go back in time and make Doug Brown retire this past off-season. Enough! We get it. Brown is a great player, but I don't need to be reminded every time Winnipeg plays that he's retiring at season's end. I got it the first 40 times you said it, Suits.
  5. I found seeing two blocked field goals in one game to be very exciting. The blocked field goal might be the most interesting and unpredictable play in football, if not all sports.
  6. Is there any Receiver that refuses to get tackled more than Nik Lewis? It takes at least three shots to get this guy to the ground.
  7. Who had the Over/Under at 2.5 games before Buck Pierce got hurt? You would have had to push like Mike Wilbon on Pardon the Interruption.
  8. I have to give a big hand to Joey Elliott for finishing the game with a torn ACL. That showed guts. I thought it looked bad when Keon Raymond awkwardly fell into Elliott after recovering a fumble, but to find out it's an ACL injury is surprising because Elliott stayed in the game. A big round of applause for Elliott for gutting it out.
  9. During the second half of the Argos-Als game there was a faint, but audible, "Argos Suck" chant. It warms my heart to hear that.
  10. With all the attention focused on Anthony Calvillo – and rightly so – Brandon Whitaker quietly had his best game as a pro. Whitaker had 214 total yards, led the Als in receiving yards and scored a TD. That's what you call a breakout performance.
  11. Proving one of my favourite idioms correct – that a broken clock is right twice a day – Rod Black actually said something that I agree with. He said that for football fans, seeing a game at Molson Stadium should be on everyone's "bucket list." While I hate that term, he's right. I went to Montreal for a game last year, and the stadium is awesome. If you get the chance to see a game there, go. You will not regret it.
  12. I'm just going to be blunt: the Saskatchewan Roughriders are a terrible football team. Their Offense is stagnant, their Defense is a complete sieve, their Special Teams are a notch above decent and their coaching has been atrocious. Nothing on this team is working right now, and it doesn't look like a fix will be coming any time soon.
  13. Could one of the problems with the Riders be that Darian Durant is missing Andy Fantuz and Rob Bagg more than anyone knows?
  14. Everyone always wondered why Greg Marshall never got a chance to be a Head Coach, and while I know it's early, perhaps we shouldn't be wondering anymore. Maybe all those front offices that passed on Marshall knew what they were doing after all.
  15. It was nice to see Hamilton start the game by establishing the run. It was even nicer to see them stick to it. Sure, it was easier to do with a big lead, but it was still refreshing to see the Cats commit to running the football.
  16. I stated at the beginning of the year that Edmonton was going to be the worst team in the CFL and that they would only win four games. Well, they have made me look like quite the idiot. Not only will Edmonton win more than four games, it could easily be argued that they are the best team in the league.
  17. As much as I underestimated Edmonton to start the year, I overestimated BC by the same large margin. I had the Lions finishing first in the West Division, and they now sit at 0-3. This seems to be the Lions' game recently: start slow and finish strong. One of these years it is going to catch up to them, but I don't think it will be this year, because the Riders are also 0-3 and they look immensely worse. BC will once again get into the playoffs with an under .500 record.
  18. If you did a one-sixth-poll (if something this silly existed) for MOP, Anthony Calvillo would probably be the winner; however, a ridiculously close second would be Ricky Ray. Ray is on pace for over 6,000 passing yards and has yet to throw an interception in 2011. The Ricky Ray of 2005 is back, people, and that only bodes well for the Eskimos.
  19. Congratulations to Geroy Simon on becoming only the fourth player in CFL history to eclipse 14,000 receiving yards. The future Hall of Famer is on pace for over 1,600 yards this season, which would give him enough to pass Milt Stegall as the league's all-time leader in receiving yards.
  20. After last week's disgusting 0-4 display, I needed a big week, an undefeated week, to get myself back to .500. Mission: accomplished. Yes, folks, 4-0. Calgary, check; Montreal, check; Hamilton, check; Edmonton, check. Now I wonder if I can keep the momentum going.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hamilton 33, Saskatchewan 3

That, my loyal readers, was a butt whooping of epic proportions. As I sat in my seat I turned to the folks I was with and I said, "This is the Steeltown Beatdown. (Patent Pending!)" Cliched? Yup. Hackneyed? Of course. True? One hundred percent! That is the way people thought this team would play. They demolished the Riders, pure and simple.

Positives

Where to begin. I guess it's with the Defense. That has to be one of the most dominant defensive performances I have ever witnessed. First offensive play for Saskatchewan: interception. Total yards at halftime: 41. Total number of plays in the first half: 16. Number of first downs in the first half: 2. If the Defense continues to play like this, the Offense will only have to manage games. Tremendous performance from the men in Black & Gold.

Last week I took Chris Williams to task for some key mistakes he made. This week he was one of the best offensive players on the field. He didn't make a lot of plays – only five catches for 38 yards – but he caught his two career touchdowns as a last-minute replacement for Maurice Mann. It looks like the Cats have some serious depth at Receiver.

By far the team's best weapon this week was Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen didn't break one for a TD, but he did have a number of excellent returns. Thigpen also filled in admirably when Avon Cobourne left the game with an injury, scoring a rushing touchdown and making key plays on more than a few drives.

This is more a positive for the season than just this one game, but I will say that it is really comforting having a Kicker like Justin Medlock on the team. Whenever he goes out there to kick a field goal, I have full faith that he will nail it. That really puts the mind at ease. It's great to have Medlock in Black & Gold.

I think the Tiger-Cats coaching staff needs to be given some kudos, in particular Khari Jones. Jones has taken a beating the first two weeks, with some even calling for his dismissal, but I think he called a heckuva game today.

One final shout out goes to the Secondary. Two interceptions today by DBs – one each by Bo Smith and Marcel Young – and blanket coverage for most of the day. The Secondary did their job, so the front seven could do theirs. It was a total team effort, but I felt specific praise needed to be heaped on the Secondary.

Negatives

There wasn't a whole lot to say negatively about the game, and everything I will point out is really just nit-picking.

I didn't like that the Cats settled for a field goal after the Rey Williams interception. When you get the ball inside the 10 yard line, you should score touchdowns.

The rookie Receivers that played today made a couple of errors that rookies tend to make. Both Bakari Grant and Chris Williams ran routes that saw both of them in the same area. That shouldn't happen. But I chalk that up as a rookie mistake, which isn't a big deal.

Final Thoughts

That's the type of performance that Hamilton fans, and national pundits, believed the Tiger-Cats were capable of back in June. They took it to the Riders and beat them in every conceivable way. This wasn't a game so much as it was massacre.

Now hopefully this will quiet all the talk around town about how bad this team is. Yes, they beat a winless team that looks to be nowhere near figuring things out, but a win is a win is a win, and wins like this have a way of motivating a team to achieve much greater things. The Cats can take this win and build on it.

On a personal note, I was thrilled and excited to have been named the Wiser's Uncompromising Fan for today's contest. For anyone not in attendance, I was brought on the field in the second quarter and looked like a complete goober as PA announcer Mike Nabuurs talked about me and this site over the loudspeaker. Regardless of anything, it was an awesome experience and made the day even more special.

Anyway, for one day, Hamilton looked just like the team they were built up to be back in the off-season, Training Camp and preseason. A great win, and a great day.

The Tiger-Cats Doughnut is Back... But Better

Around this time last year, Tim Horton's released a doughnut featuring the logo and colours of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

When people think of Hamilton, they think of steel mills, Tim Horton's and the Tiger-Cats. A Tiger-Cat doughnut at Tim Horton's couldn't make more sense.

While I ate my fair share of the doughnut last year, I wasn't a huge fan of it. The taste wasn't great.

A year later and the doughnut returns... but better.

This season's incarnation has lost the sprinkles in favour of a chocolate icing top with two lines of white icing on the sides. The creme centre returns, but the shape is different. Basically, the thing looks like an edible football. The taste is fantastic, and if you are like me and enjoy the Boston creme doughnut, this one is for you. In my highly biased opinion, this doughnut knocks it out of the park. Score: 10/10

Honestly, there is no need to try to improve on this in the future. They have nailed the Tiger-Cat doughnut, in my opinion. I'm sure I will be eating many of these over the next few months.

Well done, Tim Horton's.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bruce Out

Ti-Cat Receiver Arland Bruce III will not be playing in tomorrow's game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders due to a knee injury.

Some professional rumourmongers are saying it is more than just an injury.

There are even some amateur rumourmongers who are saying that Bruce is about to be traded.

I buy the doghouse rumour more than I do the he's-getting-traded one. Bruce was outspoken last week about the play of the team. He didn't say anything that wasn't true, but he also has been playing long enough to know that his words would be taken in, twisted and spit back out.

In what is 100% opinion, I think Bruce will sit out this week and be back in the lineup for next week's game against BC. My belief lies in the fact that Marcel Bellefeuille has spoken highly of Bruce all week, and Bellefeuille is not the type of guy to do one thing after saying another.

Also, Bruce participated in the Ti-Cats' walkthrough, and if he wasn't going to be a part of the team anymore, that never would have happened; he would have been as far away from the team as possible. For anyone comparing this to what happened in Toronto two years ago is jumping to such a ridiculous conclusion that they will probably hurt their knees when they land.

To put it plainly, I don't think Bruce is going anywhere. I reserve the right to change that opinion; but as I sit here now, Bruce is, and will be, a Tiger-Cat for a long time.

Preview: Roughriders at Tiger-Cats

0-2
0-2
These teams are easily the two most disappointing in the early part of the 2011 CFL season. Both Hamilton and Saskatchewan had Grey Cup aspirations heading into the season, and both now sit at 0-2.

For the Tiger-Cats, the problem has almost exclusively been located on Offense. The passing game has stagnated, the running game has not been there and the play calling has been uninspiring. The Cats have scored a total of 26 points in their two losses, and that is just not going to get it done.

In Saskatchewan, it is the opposite, as the Defense has been a complete sieve. The Riders have allowed 42 and 39 points in their two losses. In both those losses, the Roughriders got next to no pass rush and allowed the Quarterback to stand there and find open players.

In this game one of these things will change. Either Hamilton's Offense will find their rhythm and exploit the Riders' "D" or the Riders' "D" will gain their confidence by shutting down Hamilton's Offense.

I suspect that both of these will come out firing on all cylinders because neither wants to go 0-3. For one team, this could be the shot in the arm to get their season on track. For the other, the questions that they answer now will only get more intense.

For those that will not be able to make it to Ivor Wynne for the game, you can listen to it on the radio on AM900 CHML or watch it on television on TSN. If you live in the United States, the game will also be on NFL Network.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 3

I said I was going to be gutsy. Apparently gutsy equals stupid, because I went 0-fer last week. Yikes! I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again, but getting to 50 wins won't happen if I keep whiffing on picks like that. Hopefully this week will be much better than last week.

Calgary at Winnipeg

To any impartial observer, Winnipeg's Defense has been the best in the league by a large margin so far this season. They have allowed only 16 points in each game and lead the league in sacks with nine. They will have their hands full with Calgary, who seemed to hit their offensive stride in the second half of last week's game against BC. Winnipeg's Offense has been brutal so far this season, and because of that, their undefeated season comes to an end.

Winner: Calgary, 27-17

Toronto at Montreal

The cheap parlour tricks that Toronto uses to win most games didn't work in Week 2. Cleo Lemon was tasked with winning the game and came up short. With Cory Boyd out of the lineup in Week 3, it would be a monumental upset if the Argos beat the Als in Montreal. Anthony Calvillo will become the CFL's all-time leader in TD passes, and the Als will sink the Boatmen.

Winner: Montreal, 41-20

Saskatchewan at Hamilton

This one might be the most intriguing of all the Week 3 matchups because one preseason Grey Cup contender will exit this game at 0-3. Hamilton's Offense has been pathetic in their first two games, while Saskatchewan's Defense hasn't been able to stop anyone in their first two games. Something will have to give Saturday afternoon. If the game was in Saskatchewan, I would probably be inclined to take the Riders (despite never having picked against Hamilton, ever), but the game is at Ivor Wynne, so the edge, slightly, goes to the Tiger-Cats.

Winner: Hamilton, 24-20

British Columbia at Edmonton

The most surprising 2-0 team takes on the "best" 0-2 team. Edmonton is riding high off two very impressive wins, while BC is kicking themselves for the missed opportunities that have cost them two wins. This will probably be the best game of the weekend. The Lions will do what the Lions have done all year: play their opponents close, but lose in the end. Edmonton goes to 3-0, and people start to take them seriously.

Winner: Edmonton, 30-27

Recap
Calgary, Montreal, Hamilton, Edmonton

Season Record: 2-6

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Power Poll (Week 2)

Not a lot of change this week, but one change in particular is sure to spark some anger from that team's fan base. But I will explain my choices just like I did in the previous installments.

1. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 1)

This one was fairly simple. The Als were first last week; they won again, so they stay in first. Until someone beats Montreal or plays considerably better, they will maintain in top spot.

2. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 2)

Similar to Montreal, Edmonton rolled again in Week 2. Until someone knocks them off, they're staying right where they are.

3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 5)

I may have underestimated Winnipeg a bit, because last week I wasn't impressed with their victory, and I ranked them accordingly. I was a little more impressed this week, and was blown away by the Defense. The Offense is still a problem, and if a solution isn't found, this team will run out of steam. But that's for later; right now, Winnipeg is the third-best team in the CFL.

4. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 7)

I think my jumping of Calgary over Toronto (who beat Calgary in Week 1) will be viewed as biased because I hate the Argos. But Calgary looked much better in their win over BC than Toronto did in their win over Calgary. Both of them played horrendous in their respective losses, so for that I jumped the Stamps ahead of the Argos despite the head-to-head result.

5. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 3)

I wasn't sold on the Argos last week, but thought they might have a little of that 2010 magic in them in 2011. They played horrendously against what looks to be a very good Bombers team, but Toronto is still probably the most confounding team in the league. Until they show some consistency, their ranking is likely to be all over the place.

6. BC Lions (Last Week: 4)

BC is 0-2, and they might be the best 0-2 team I've ever seen. They have lost their two games by a combined six points, and each loss can be attributed to odd play calling by the coaching staff. If the BC coaches can stop making bonehead calls, the Lions could be as good as any team in the CFL. Until then, they will continue to be the best of the worst.

7. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 6)

The Riders have issues; that much is certain. How they plan to fix those issues, that is uncertain. The Defense seems incapable of stopping anyone (42 points allowed to Edmonton, 39 points allowed to Montreal), and the team can't expect the Offense to carry the load while the Defense gives up over 40 points per game. That's a recipe for disaster, and right now the Riders are a disaster.

8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 8)

As much as it pains me to say, Hamilton is clearly the worst team in the CFL. The Defense is being asked to do a lot because the Offense doesn't seem to be able to do anything. Two games, 26 points. That's nowhere near acceptable. Right now, this is not a good football team.

Highest Climb: Calgary (+3)
Steepest Fall: Toronto, BC (-2)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Keep It In Perspective, Please

When I wrote my weekly Tiger-Cat game review, I jokingly began the post with a picture of a panic button.

I figured that with the way that people started jumping off the side of the escarpment because of the loss to Winnipeg, I would play to that audience by asking whether or not the panic button should be pushed after the loss last night to Edmonton.

I still stand by my criticisms from last night; however, as with everything, a little time has given me a chance to reflect and put things in proper perspective.

Right now, the team stinks. I don't think anyone would argue with that. The Defense has played as well as could be hoped for, and the kicking game has been a bright spot; however, the Offense and return game have been abysmal.

What does that mean?

Well, to some, it means firing the entire coaching staff or benching a slew of players. I've even read the opinion that Bob Young should be fired as owner (don't ask, I know it makes no sense). Anyone who has dared say, "It's only two games," is shouted down by a mob of people who are clearly thinking with emotions and not logic.

I understand that after the last decade of putrid football, fans of the Tiger-Cats are sick of hearing excuses. I'm right with them; I don't want to hear them either. This team is talented, and there is not a single person who can deny that. There are some weakness, but every team has its weakness. No team is perfect, and no team in the history of the CFL has ever been perfect. But to want to make wholesale changes at this juncture would be a knee-jerk reaction of the worst kind. Many fans eviscerated Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille for pulling Kevin Glenn in the first game. I was one of those fans. Yet some of them want to pull the plug after a rough start?

Right now, the Tiger-Cats are 0-2 and have lost both those games to last season's two worst teams, Winnipeg and Edmonton. These games were marked off by many, myself included, as wins. But they weren't wins, so there is no need to dwell on the past. The team played horrendously in both contests, but that doesn't mean this is a bad team. It is way too early to be talking about how this season is like every other.

Looking forward, the Tiger-Cats see two teams that have also underachieved in the 0-2 Saskatchewan Roughriders and the 0-2 BC Lions. The Cats get the Riders at home and the Lions on the road. If Hamilton wins both these two very winnable games, 0-2 becomes 2-2 and the howling should subside (it will never go away fully, because it is the nature of Tiger-Cat fans to complain about something).

The season is not over or in shambles just yet. It hasn't been good, but overreacting is not the answer. I'm with the sensible ones who see this as a bump in the road. Should the bump get bigger over the next few weeks, I might be inclined to switch sides. But until then, the team should stay the course.

In the end, all I'm asking for is a little patience and a little perspective.

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 2)

Another week in the books, and the surprises keep coming. Raise your hand if you had Edmonton and Winnipeg at 2-0 (I'm sure most people thought Montreal would be) and Hamilton and Saskatchewan at 0-2. Anyone? Anyone? That's the beauty of sports; when you think you have the answer, the question gets changed.
  1. The Argonauts do it again. Just like last year, they catch a team napping on Special Teams and pick up a huge gain on third down. This type of stuff should not happen. Teams know that Mike O'Shea is not afraid to gamble, and Winnipeg was caught not paying attention. That shouldn't happen anymore.
  2. I don't know whether Cory Watson is going to be a big-time player or if he is going to tease like so many before him. He has flashes of excellence, but follows it up with flashes of Bauman-esque Ralph-ness.
  3. Of all the off-season moves that every team made, perhaps the biggest acquisition was made by Winnipeg when they hired Tim Burke to be their Defensive Coordinator. Winnipeg's Defense has been phenomenal the first two weeks, and Burke has gotten a lot out of a very talented unit.
  4. We saw the Cleo Lemon of old this week as the Winnipeg Defense feasted on the second-year Argo pivot, sacking him seven times. Lemon had no chance to get out of his own way, let alone get out of the way of Winnipeg's tremendous Defense.
  5. The cure for insomnia could have been that Toronto-Winnipeg matchup. It was dull as dull can be. Aside from Winnipeg's Defense (which I seem to have a giant man crush on), there wasn't much to watch.
  6. Those black Calgary helmets? Yeah, no good. Ditch 'em.
  7. Am I the only person who thinks that Henry Burris was forcing a lot of passes to Johnny Forzani? Two interceptions were on passes aimed at Forzani. I don't know about you, but he seems to be getting a lot of attention from Burris.
  8. BC badly, and I mean badly, needs a running game. The decision to release Jerome Messam (more on him later) looks like a pretty bad one in retrospect. The Lions have not been able to run the football in either game, and Jamal Robertson has been a complete non-factor. When you lose two games by a combined six points, the lack of a running game is a main reason why those losses aren't wins.
  9. I know it's extremely early, but I think the next great Canadian Receiver will be Shawn Gore. He fights the dropsies somewhat, but once he conquers that, he'll be a major force.
  10. For the second consecutive week, the Lions had some questionable play calling. In Week 1, it was attempting a field goal late in the game when down by seven; this week, it was calling for long passes on second down, when short passes would have allowed for an easier field-goal attempt for Paul McCallum. It was a head-scratching decision by the Lions' Offensive Coordinator.
  11. Out of all the cities, I think the panic is at epidemic levels in Saskatchewan. Not only are the Roughriders 0-2, they've lost both at home. They travel to Hamilton next week to take on the other disappointing team this season in a matchup of two very desperate teams. A loss by the Riders and the season could be over.
  12. While I respect Damon Allen immensely, I never thought of him as the greatest QB in CFL history, despite holding numerous records. I chalked it up to his longevity more than anything. When Anthony Calvillo passes Damon Allen in the record books, I won't make the same statement. Calvillo, who this week tied the all-time record for TD passes, might be the greatest to ever play the game. He has some competition, but if anyone argues for Calvillo, I won't object.
  13. It seems as if the Als are getting nicked up a bit. John Bowman, S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson all left Saturday's game for stretches. But the worst injury was suffered by Running Back Brandon Whitaker. Just watching him take that hit caused me to grimace. I'll be surprised if he doesn't have at least a mild concussion.
  14. Jamel Richardson wants to be called Optimus Prime. As a life-long Transformers fan (yes, that includes the three Michael Bay films) I must object. Jamel Richardson might be the best Receiver in football, but he is no Optimus Prime. Until Richardson turns his hands into swords, he will never be in Prime's league. (Please note that this is all said in jest, and I used this simply as a reason to drop a Transformers reference.)
  15. Dwight Anderson seems to be one of those players that, when he plays for your team, you love him. You put up with his antics because of the stellar play he puts forth. But when he doesn't, you think he's an insufferable doofus who needs a smack in the mouth. I think that's a fair and accurate statement to make, no?
  16. During Training Camp, the BC Lions cut Jerome Messam for various reasons. With their running game in shambles (as outlined above), the Lions could really use him right about now. Messam had his first career 100-yard rushing day against Hamilton. If Messam can keep his head straight, he could be one heckuva weapon for Edmonton.
  17. It came up a couple of times during the week, but the saying "YAC yards" really bothers me. YAC stands for Yards After Catch, so saying YAC yards is redundant. It'd be like saying the Canadian Prime Minister of Canada. Just say YAC and be done with it.
  18. Fred Stamps had a rather quiet week in Week 1, but he busted out big time against the Tiger-Cats. Stamps seems to always have big games against the Tabbies (especially in Edmonton), so I wasn't surprised to see Stamps go off on Saturday.
  19. With the win, the Edmonton Eskimos won their 600th game in franchise history. Congratulations on that achievement.
  20. Two road teams and two home teams won. I picked two road teams and two homes teams to win. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong ones, which led to the first 0-4 week of the season for yours truly. That sinks my record to 2-6 for the season. I'm going to have to pick it up considerably if I'm going to get those 50 wins.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Edmonton 28, Hamilton 10

Is it time to press it?

Two straight listless performances and the Ti-Cats now sit at 0-2 for the second consecutive year. Not a darn thing clicked for Hamilton against Edmonton: the Offense was putrid; the Defense was ineffective; the Special Teams were dreadful. This was just a bad game by everyone. Not a single thing went right; not a single player played well.

Positives

Um... um... Moving on. Seriously, if anyone can think of even one positive from this game, feel free to say it, because I can't think of one.

Negatives

Can I just say, "Everything," and be done with it?

Is it just me or does Marcus Thigpen not seem like the same player he was last year? He seems very tentative when returning kicks, and he no longer seems like the threat he was last season. I don't know what it is, but he's lost something.

Either the Offensive Line can't block long enough or the Receivers can't get open soon enough, because Kevin Glenn had no time at all tonight.

Perhaps the Defense should worry less about juggling and concentrate on tackling because no one seems to be able to wrap anyone up. It was brutal. I haven't seen that poor a tackling performance in I don't know how long.

If there was ever a way to show you don't belong, Chris Williams showed it tonight. He dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands, and he lost a fumble during a key moment of the game. That was Williams's first game, and it could very well be his last. That is not how you show the coaching staff that you should be on the roster.

Speaking of the coaching staff, they weren't up to snuff either. As big of a fan as I am of Khari Jones, the Offense just isn't working. A mere 26 points in two weeks is just not good enough. Heck, that would barely be good enough per game let alone over two weeks.

On the defensive side, the pressure-style scheme that Corey Chamblin wants to run is going to continue to be a problem, because far too often the constant blitzing leads to big plays because the Secondary just isn't very good.

Then we have the head man himself, and while I hate to say this so early in the season, is it possible that the team has tuned out Marcel Bellefeuille? Could the benching of Glenn last week have been the catalyst for his demise? A second straight year of mediocre early-season results has to fall on somebody, and that somebody might be Bellefeuille. I'm not saying that the organization should fire him tomorrow, but if the Cats can't get out of this funk, someone will have to pay the price.

Final Thoughts

There really are no words that can adequately describe the performance of this team against Edmonton and so far this season. It almost seems like the players don't care. For a team as talented as this to put up two stinkers like this is unacceptable and unfathomable.

There is something very wrong with this team, but I can't quite figure out what it is. The talent is here; that's undeniable. These players know what it takes to win, as there are multiple Grey Cup champions on the squad. Yet there is something amiss with this football club right now, and if things don't get fixed soon, this season could be over before it really had a chance to begin.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Eskimos

0-1
1-0












Are there must-wins in Week 2? Of course not. But for Hamilton, this game comes mighty close.

The Tiger-Cats had high expectations coming into this season; they responded to those expectations by laying a giant egg on Canada Day against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Eskimos had no expectations coming into this season; they responded by pounding the tar out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Edmonton won because Ricky Ray was able to pick apart a weak Riders' Secondary because Saskatchewan couldn't get a pass rush.

Hamilton lost because their offense couldn't get going after the second quarter.

This should be an intriguing matchup, because getting pressure is what Hamilton's Defense is all about. So they shouldn't suffer the same fate as the Riders did last Sunday. Ricky Ray showed that if given time he will obliterate you. Hamilton will have to play just as well defensively in this game as they did against Winnipeg if they hope to get the win.

On offense, the Tiger-Cats will just have to get something going. Edmonton's Defense played pretty well against Saskatchewan, making Darian Durant turn over the football four times (three interceptions, one fumble). If Hamilton can limit the turnovers, they should be able to move the ball on Edmonton.

Hamilton needs this game more than Edmonton. If the Cats head home 0-2, with Saskatchewan, BC and Montreal up next, things could get ugly in Steeltown rather quickly.

As always, AM900 CHML will have the game for you on the radio, and TSN will be airing the game on television.