Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hamilton 41, Montreal 28

I think it is safe to say that no team is looking forward to the closing of Ivor Wynne Stadium more than the Montreal Alouettes. The Ti-Cats have defeated the Als in five straight contests at Ivor Wynne, and most of them have been tremendously lopsided. The latest was Friday night's 41-28 pounding that was not as close as the score indicates.

Positives
The only proper place to start is with Henry Burris. Burris was magnificent on Friday, completing 28 of 32 passes for 326 yards and five touchdowns. In two game played at Ivor Wynne against the Als, Burris has an incredible nine touchdown passes to just seven incompletions. Let that sink in for a second. That's an absurd level of efficiency.

Any debate over who should be the starting running back for the Tiger-Cats should now be put to rest. As the whether gets colder this is Avon Cobourne's load to carry. Cobourne had his third 100-plus-yard outing in four games and was once again a clock-killing machine. Any rust or tired legs that he may have had earlier in the season is long gone. Chevon Walker still has a place on the team, but Cobourne is now the lead back.

It has been an up-and-down season for Andy Fantuz, but Friday was a lot of up and no down. Fantuz exploited holes in Montreal's secondary all night to the tune of seven catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. This was Fantuz's best game in some time, maybe since his eight catch, 135-yard performance against the Als back in July. This is the type of game that could get Fantuz back on track heading down the final stretch of the season.

Sticking with Canuck pass catchers, Dave Stala continues to prove why he is an important cog in the offense. While his final numbers were spectacular, four catches for 40 yards, he did haul in two big touchdowns and one of them was definitely of the spectacular variety when he managed to haul in the pass despite a Montreal defender wearing him like a shirt. It was a spectacular catch and one that shows Stala still has a place on this team.

Newcomer Brandon Peguese had a heckuva game. He was a force all night and picked up one tackle, one sack, one forced fumble and one tipped pass (on a third-down play no less). He was also in the backfield creating havoc most of the night. He has been stellar since arriving from BC earlier in the month and the defense has been better since he stepped on the field. That doesn't seem like a coincidence.

Another newcomer acquired through trade that acquitted himself rather well was Ricardo Colclough. Colclough was thrust into a starter's role in the linebacking corps because of the lingering injury to Markeith Knowlton and the recent injury to Brock Campbell. Colclough didn't finish with great stats, but he made some plays and didn't look out of place. Hamilton is once again looking like a place where linebackers can shine and Colclough is just the latest example of that.

Negatives
I say this a lot after a big win, but there wasn't a lot that I didn't like in Friday's game. The only thing that springs to mind is the play of Chevon Walker. Returning from an injury that cost him three games, Walker didn't do himself an favours when he fumbled on his first carry of the game. Later, he missed a block that led to a sack and he just didn't seem in rhythm with the rest of the offense. I'll chalk that up to his being rusty after missing three games and won't be too harsh on the guy. It was a bad game, but I am sure he'll find a way to bounce back.

Final Thoughts
No getting too high after this win because we all know what happened that last time we all did that. The Cats came out flying against the Als and seriously beat them for a full 60 minutes. The only slow spot was the third quarter, but the defense – yes, the defense – kept the Als at bay and allowed just a single touchdown in those 15 minutes when the offense sputtered.

Now the Ti-Cats find themselves in control of their playoff lives. They sit tied with the Eskimos, but Edmonton must have a better record than Hamilton if wish to cross over into the East come playoff time. Hamilton's next challenge: a date with the Eskimos in Edmonton next Friday night. If the Cats can win that, their playoff chances are probably pretty solid. Now we just have to hope the team that showed up in the last two home games touches down in Edmonton and not the one that inexplicably lost to Winnipeg two weeks ago.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Preview: Alouettes at Tiger-Cats

8-4
4-8
Following last week's egg laying in Winnipeg, the Ti-Cats get back at it tonight at Ivor Wynne Stadium when the take on the Montreal Alouettes. This will be the last visit that the Als will take to Ivor Wynne and it might be the last time that we fans get to see Anthony Calvillo in Hamilton.

But no mushy-mushy stuff, this is a football game that the Tiger-Cats must win (how many times has that been said since the end of last month?) if they hope to stay in the race for the third and final playoff spot in the East. With Winnipeg taking on Toronto, Hamilton needs to win in order to either keep pace with the Argos or stay one game ahead of the Bombers.

One factor in Hamilton's favour is the fact that when the Als come to Ivor Wynne, they usually leave with a loss. It has been over two years since Montreal has won in Hamilton and the Ti-Cats have won four straight at home since then, including two 40-plus-point outbursts. In fact, in those four games, the Ti-Cats have won by margins of 37, 23, eight and 14. It has been complete domination by Hamilton recently

But despite those numbers, the Ti-Cats can not be complacent. This is still a team that has been maddeningly inconsistent this season and will need to bring their A-game if they hope to make that four-game streak a five-game one. To do that, the passing games needs to get going after a terrible outing last week in Winnipeg; the defense will have to pressure Calvillo for a full 60 minutes; and the offense will have to limit turnovers, preferably committing zero, and both units will have to play smarter and not get called for penalties. Last week's flag-fest in Winnipeg was one of the most undisciplined displays in recent memory.

Perhaps the biggest new twist to this game will be the unveiling of the Avon Cobourne-Chevon Walker backfield tandem. Tiger-Cat fans have been screaming for both players to be used and they will finally get their wish tonight. Hope here is that the duo can have the same impact as the short-lived, though fairly successful, Avon Cobourne-Terry Grant tandem the team used for a few games near the end of last season. That duo got off to an amazing start, posting close to 200 combined yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in their initial outing just over a year ago in Moncton against the Calgary Stampeders. If the Cobourne-Walker combination can come even close to that, the Ti-Cats should pick up their fifth win of the season.

Will the Ti-Cats get themselves back in the playoff hunt or will the Als leave Ivor Wynne Stadium for the final time with a win? We'll find out when things kickoff tonight at 7:00PM.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hinds Continues to Help Out

Occasionally I use this minor platform of mine to get the word out about people who do good things. Most notably, I used this space to help my long-time friend Steve become a Scotiabank Game Changer. But a few months ago I also wrote about Ti-Cat defensive back Ryan Hinds and the good work he is doing to help out children in Guyana.

Well, Hinds is back with a new initiative to help raise funds for Guyana Help the Kids. This Sunday, from 10:00AM to 4:00PM at the Robar Centre on Nebo Road, Hinds brings Touch-a-Tractor to Hamilton's East Mountain. For just $10, kids of all ages – yes, even big kids like a certain 30-year-old blogger – can get up close and personal with a number of pieces of heavy machinery. It sure sounds like a fun event and a great way to raise some money for a good cause.

If you want more information on the event, you can find it on the Facebook page. To keep up with everything Hinds is doing with Guyana Help the Kids, I suggest you head over to his blog.

Monday, 24 September 2012

10 Five Things I Learned... In Week 13

I might get some heat for this, but I didn't watch all the games this weekend. With two games played on Sunday, it was a lot of flipping between those games and the NFL action. With the Saturday night game going head-to-head with the Michigan-Notre Dame game, there was a lot of flipping there also. The only game I watched from start to finish this weekend was the horrible Hamilton-Winnipeg game on Friday night. So instead of the normal 10 things, this will only be five.

(1) Argos won't win anything without Ray
Ricky Ray left Saturday's game with a knee injury and losing him for any extended period of time could be catastrophic to their playoff prospects. Don't get me wrong, the Argos will still make the playoffs, but if Ray is lost for too long or for the season, the Argos won't get to the Grey Cup. They are probably still good enough to finish ahead of the Ti-Cats and Bombers for second in the East, but they won't catch the Als for first place without Ray at the helm.

(2) Pierce is the clear leader of the Bombers
You could see the difference between Winnipeg this week and in previous weeks. Yes, they are clearly a much better team at home, regardless of who plays for them, but they also looked energized and rejuvenated with Buck Pierce back under centre. The problem with Pierce, and this has been said a million times over, is that he is not reliable for a full season. He is clearly the guy the Bomber players want at quarterback, but with his injury history, he's not the guy they can rely on.

(3) Eskimos or Ti-Cats will just be fodder
One of Edmonton or Hamilton is going to make the playoffs (as much as Winnipeg is just a game back of the Cats, I don't see them getting above both to finish third) and with the way they play, it looks like both would be one-and-done. Both teams look terrible on the road, with just three combined road wins between them, so to think either of them will win not one, but two road playoff games is a stretch. Whichever team finishes second in the East probably won't be challenged all that much on Semi-Final weekend.

(4) Sanders clearly fumbled
I don't know what the replay officials saw on that play, but it was pretty clear to me that Jock Sanders fumbled. We saw the replay at home and the ball was clearly coming out before any part of Sanders' body hit the ground, so I don't understand how the incorrect call was made in the booth. My understanding is that they have the same camera shots that we do at home, so if it was obvious at home, it should have been just as obvious up there.

(5) Players of the Week
It was a bit of a battle for top offensive player, but I'm giving it to Chad Simpson. Andrew Harris had a great week and would have been worthy of the award, but with both he and Simpson playing running back and Simpson having more total yards, neither player scored a touchdown, the award goes to him.

Another Bomber gets the defensive player nod and that is Alex Hall. Hall was a force on Friday night, picking up two sacks to go along with his team-high five tackles.

Any doubt that the top special teams award will go to Trent Guy? He had a 129-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown and no other special teams play would come even close to that this weekend.

While he didn't win the offensive player award, BC's Andrew Harris put up 181 total yards against the Eskimos, which was by far the best day of any Canadian, and is the top Canadian for this week.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Winnipeg 34, Hamilton 12

Remember when Montreal had that hex on the Ticats? The one where they won like once in 21 games or something? As soon as they gt rid of that one, they picked up another, but this time the hex was put on by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Since that fabled four-in-seven series in 2010 – the Cats and Bombers played four times in the season's first seven games – Winnipeg has won six straight over the Ti-Cats, including four straight in Winnipeg. The latest loss came in a 34-12 rout on Friday night.

Positives
Since being inserted into the lineup, Avon Cobourne has done nothing but produce. The fire in his belly last night was evident. You heard the TSN announcers say how angry he looked when the Cats decided to kick a field goal instead of go for it on third and one in a one-score game. Cobourne is a leader and while his numbers weren't as gaudy as the previous two weeks, he was probably the best player on the field last night.

If not for the spectacular season Chris Williams is having on returns, more people would be talking about what Luca Congi is accomplishing. Congi has missed two field goals all season and has made every kick over 40 yards. Since one of the concerns heading into the season was Congi's leg strength, it is nice to see that he is becoming reliable from longer distances. Last night, Congi was the only player to register a point for the Ti-Cats. He is a player that has gotten little press this season, but he has been the team's most consistent player all season long.

Negatives
For most of three seasons, I had to listen to fans (and read comments on here) about how Kevin Glenn wasn't a winner, how he was nothing more than a .500 quarterback and a million other negative comments about him. I want to know where that same criticism of Henry Burris is? Whenever I used numbers to back up any claim I made about Glenn, the horde would just want to talk about wins. Now that Burris has managed just four wins in 12 contests, all I hear from his apologists is stuff about his numbers. Funny how that happens. While I don't think Burris has been the biggest problem with this team – probably not even in the Top 10 – his hot-and-cold play has been the reason behind a couple of losses, this one in particular. Burris was just terrible against Winnipeg. He was missing receivers and he didn't even bother to run (didn't the Cats trade for him because of his running ability?) when the opportunity occurred. To put it bluntly: he sucked. He was everything that fans complained about with Glenn. The upgrade to Burris looks like no upgrade at all and I am starting to wonder when the heat will fall on him.

The other big upgrade the team made in the off-season was ditching Marcel Bellefeuille for George Cortez. Well, George Cortez has spent most of the season making fans wish Bellefeuille was still calling the shots. I want to like Cortez, I truly do, his decision-making leaves a lot to be desired. The one that will stick out in this one was his decision to kick a field goal on third-and-one instead of go for it, which is standard in the CFL. The Cats kicked and Congi hit it, but it was the last time Hamilton would score all night. Why he didn't go for it is a mystery to me.

Penalties absolutely killed them tonight. They took 17, which if you're keeping count at home is five more than the amount of points they scored, for a total of 135 yards. Sure, some of them were specious – Rey Williams being called for "offside" because he had his arm pointing across the line of scrimmage is one of the stupidest calls I have ever seen in my life – but the fact of the matter is, the Ti-Cats once again went to Winnipeg and shot themselves in the foot.

Final Thoughts
This season is over, isn't it? They aren't winning the Grey Cup, they aren't hosting a playoff game and they probably won't even make the playoffs. This is just a bad football team. Is this the most disappointing season in Tiger-Cat history? I think it is the most disappointing one that I can remember. I know there have been seasons where the team was expected to be good, but most of those followed seasons in which they were bad. This was a team that was one game away from playing for a championship last year, so expectations were sky high and for good reason.

I know a lot of people are ready to quit this team, and I don't blame them one bit, but maybe I just enjoy the punishment because I will continue to solder on. Perhaps out of loyalty or perhaps out of pure idiotic naivety, I won't say the season is truly over until the season is actually over. Until Hamilton has been eliminated from the playoffs, I will hold out hope that they will find a way to turn it around and win the Grey Cup. Is it likely? No, but that won't stop me from believing that anything can happen.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Blue Bombers

4-7
2-9











The Cats head to the 'Peg this week with a chance to get right back into the playoff race and put the final nail in Winnipeg's 2012 coffin.

Hamilton got back on track with last week's systematic beating of the Edmonton Eskimos, but the team will need to defeat the Bombers to make sure last week wasn't just a one-off stop in Winsville. Hamilton is still fighting for their playoff lives and they cannot afford another hiccup.

Winnipeg has lost their last three games by a combined score of 121-27, but sandwiched between the 52-0 loss to the Riders and the 44-3 loss to the Stampeders was a 25-24 loss to the Riders. The difference between the first two games and the last one was that the one-point loss came at CanadaInns Stadium. Winnipeg has actually been a very good home team. Winnipeg is 2-3 at home and there biggest loss at home was by 10 points to Montreal. There other two losses were by a combined four points. Contrast that to their road games and you see that Winnipeg plays much better when they are in their house than when they travel. That makes tonight's game scary, especially considering the Ti-Cats have won just once in their last four trips to Manitoba. Winnipeg has also won five straight total against the Ti-Cats.

The return of Buck Pierce is also something the Ti-Cats should be concerned about. Pierce has played well against Hamilton since signing with the Bombers in 2010 and his return could give the home side a much needed boost.

With Pierce's return and Winnipeg's recent success against the Tabbies, this one has the feel of a game that will be closer than it should be. But all concerns of a trap game aside, if the Ti-Cats play anything close to how they played last week against Edmonton, they should come home with a win. We'll find out if that happens when the game gets underway at 8:00PM on TSN.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Campbell Named Defensive Player of the Week

No sirs and madams, that is not a typo; a Hamilton Tiger-Cat player has been named the top defensive player.

OK, OK, that line would have made more sense had the Ti-Cats not thoroughly dismantled the Eskimos to the tune of 51-8, but given the angst over the defense since the season started, it is a minor miracle that any Tiger-Cat player would garner an award on that side of the ball. Oh, and the player who won the award was linebacker Brock Campbell.

Campbell was one of a number of Tiger-Cat players who had great games against Edmonton. Campbell finished with a game-high seven tackles and one sack, the first of his CFL career. This was just Campbell's third start and he has filled in admirably for the irreplaceable Markeith Knowlton. Campbell has not looked out of place in his first few games in the CFL playing one of the toughest positions on the defense.

I am surprised that Campbell's win wasn't accompanied by any other Tiger-Cat award winners, and I am also surprised that Campbell won the award himself. He had a great game and is a deserving winner, but I thought Dee Webb would have been a tremendous choice as well. Webb had the huge momentum-shifting blocked field goal that led to a touchdown and the interception return for a touchdown. While the blocked kick occurred on special teams, I thought combining the two could have been enough to warrant giving Webb the award for top defensive player. Chad Owens has won offensive player of the week based on combined yardage (see Labour Day 2012 and his 400-plus combined yards), so Webb winning defensive player could have happened.

And if defensive player was out of the question, Webb could have been named special teams player of the week. And if not Webb, then Bakari Grant for his big return touchdown was pretty deserving. Not taking anything away from what Tim Brown did, but there was really only one truly extraordinary special teams play and it didn't occur at BC Place.

I also thought that Henry Burris and his 418 passing yards would have been enough to see him named the week's top offensive player, but BC's Travis Lulay took that award home. Lulay went 24 for 40 for 390 yards, two touchdowns and one interception; Burris went 23 for 33 for 418 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Maybe I'm biased, but Burris had more yards, more touchdowns (though he also had more interceptions), a better completion percentage and a better passer rating. Lulay had 42 rushing yards on two carries, but I still think Burris should have been the winner.

In any event, it was a great weekend for the Tiger-Cats and I'm glad at least one player was recognized for the team's overall great performance.

Monday, 17 September 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 12

A bit of a blowout week in the CFL with just one game ending with the winning team less than one score up on their opponent (BC by five over Toronto). Both Calgary and Hamilton handed 40-plus-point losses to their opponents, and Montreal beat Saskatchewan with relative ease. A rather ho-hum week in the CFL, but there is still plenty to talk about.

(1) Roughing the passer needs changing
I understand the desire (and maybe even the need) to protect the quarterback, but some of these roughing the passer calls take things to the extreme. Numerous times this seasons I've seen players sneeze in the direction of certain quarterbacks and get called for roughing. There were a few calls in Edmonton-Hamilton game that, to me, stretched the roughing the passer rule to its very edge. I know there is a concern about player safety, but this is football and you can't take all the violence out of the game or you end up being left with no game at all. I know this will probably fall on deaf ears (there is no way the league will make a rule in this climate that protects players less), but it has been an issue that has bothered me for sometime and just came to a head this week.

(2) Nik Lewis' milestone
The more I watch Nik Lewis play the more I end up liking him. I used to despise him for his antics, but he has become one of my favourite players to watch. This past week, Lewis picked up his 700th career catch and passed the 10,000-yard mark in career receiving yards against the Bombers. Lewis, a surefire Hall of Famer, reached both milestones on the same catch in the second quarter. Lewis has caught at least one pass in every game he has played in the CFL and if he continues to play at the high level he is playing at now, he cold end up as a CFL record holder before his career is over.

(3) Kevin Glenn's milestone
Anyone who has read my stuff before knows how much I admire Kevin Glenn. I have been a fan of his since his days in Winnipeg, became a bigger fan when he signed with Hamilton and remain a fan now that he is in Calgary. So it brought a smile to my face when Glenn, against of all teams Winnipeg, passed Dieter Brock for 12th all-time on the career passing yards list. Glenn is only in his 12th season, so it is possible he could get himself into the top 10 before his career is over.

(4) Bombers' offensive ineptitude
Having watched the Joe Paopao-led Tiger-Cat offense, I know what bad football looks like, but what is going on with Winnipeg's offense right now is worse than anything I have ever seen. The Bombers have not scored a touchdown in the first quarter so far this season; that in and of itself is a remarkable feat of futility. But on top of that, the Bombers have not scored an offensive touchdown of any kind since the third quarter against BC on August 24th. For those keeping track, that was the final game of Paul LaPolice's tenure as Winnipeg head coach. It has been over 199 minutes since the Bombers last put it into the end zone because of their offense. In the CFL, where offense is king, it's no wonder Winnipeg is 2-9 right now.

(5) Odd play for the highlight reels
Wild and wacky plays are nothing new to the CFL. Throw any game on and you're bound to see something strange happen. Such was the case in BC this week when a fumble recovery of a fumble recovery led to a touchdown by the Argos. Lions running back Andrew Harris had the ball knocked out of his arms and Toronto's Kevin Huntley plucked it out of the air, began running towards end zone and looked to score a touchdown until Marco Iannuzzi channelled his inner Don Beebe and knocked the ball out of Huntley's arms. Iannuzzi then tried to knock the ball out of bounds, but whiffed and Toronto's Matt Black scooped it up and scored a touchdown. It was one of those, "Did that just happen!?" plays that makes the CFL one of a kind.

(6) Game-changing penalty
The Argos, despite being just 6-5, look like a team that could win he Grey Cup. But they won't win a championship if they continue to play undisciplined football. The Argos could have won Saturday's game against BC, but one penalty (and a really stupid one at that) cost the Argos the game. Ricky Ray hit Spencer Watt for what looked like a beautiful 62-yard touchdown pass, but it was called back on perhaps the stupidest holding penalty I have ever seen. After Watt had already gone by him, knucklehead extraordinaire Maurice Mann decided to hold BC's Byron Parker for no reason at all. The hold did not help Watt get into the end zone and did not need to be made. The penalty wiped the touchdown off the board, Toronto had to settle for a field goal and they lost the game by five. Trading Mann was one of the best decisions Bob O'Billovich ever made as Hamilton's GM.

(7) Sometimes numbers do lie
Jay-Z once said "Men lie; women lie; numbers don't." But in the case of Kerry Joseph, numbers do lie. If you look at Joseph's stat line, 21 of 33 for 290 yards, you'd think he had a pretty decent day. Except the team he was quarterbacking lost by 43 points. Joseph was replaced by Steven Jyles who was replaced by Matt Nichols who then had to be replaced by Kerry Joseph. I said a couple of weeks ago that the Eskimos should go with Joseph because he gives them the best chance to win now. I take that back. Since then, the Eskies have lost three in a row and Joseph has looked ordinary at best. I don't know who the best QB for the Eskimos is, but it doesn't look to be Joseph.

(8) Willy's first chance
Drew Willy was thrust into the role of starting quarterback because of an injury to Darian Durant and I think Willy acquitted himself nicely. He went a respectable 22 for 34 for 225 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Not world-beating numbers, but not bad for a guy that was fifth on the depth chart when training camp opened. Durant is still the unquestioned starter in Saskatchewan, but Willy looks to have a future as a CFL quarterback.

(9) The receiver pecking order in Montreal has changed
For the last couple of years, it has been Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green, but now people should probably change that to put Green at the head. Green is now clearly the No. 1 option for Anthony Calvillo and the proof is in Green's league-leading 953 yards to Richardson's 18th ranked 483 yards. Yes, Richardson has missed games, but Green has clearly surpassed him as the top guy in Montreal, and Brandon London picked up the slack for Richardson more than adequately when the latter was out with his injury. Richardson, whose contract is up at the end of the season, might be in his final months with the Alouettes.

(10) Players of the Week
Warning: potential homerism coming up in this section.

After a month of not playing particularly well, Henry Burris deserves to be the offensive player of the week for his first 400-plus-yard performance as a Tiger-Cat on Saturday afternoon. Burris was masterful in guiding the Hamilton offense in their 51-8 pounding of the Eskimos, throwing for 418 yards and three touchdowns. It was the type of game Burris put up back in July, but had been sorely missing as the Ti-Cats went on a five-game losing streak. But Burris was every bit his former MOP self in Hamilton's dismantling of the Eskimos.

I didn't see many outstanding defensive performances this week, so this award goes to Hamilton's Dee Webb. Depending on how you view things, Webb could be considered for special teams player of the week because of his blocked kick that led to a field goal, but I'm adding that play with his 98-yard interception return for a touchdown and giving him my defensive player of the week award.

And while Webb gets the above award, his partner on the blocked field goal, the man who returned the block for a touchdown, Bakari Grant gets the special teams award. I didn't really want to give it to Grant, but his was the only special teams performance that stood out this past week, so he gets it.

And rounding out the Tiger-Cat sweep.... I'm kidding. The top Canadian award goes to none other than Jon Cornish. Another stellar game from No. 9 as he picked up two touchdowns to go along with 53 yards on the ground in Calgary's 44-3 win over Winnipeg. Cornish would have had more yards, but he played sparingly in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, when Calgary had such a big lead. But there is no doubt that he was the best Canadian-born player on the field this past weekend.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Hamilton 51, Edmonton 8

If anyone tells you watch one team blow out another is boring, they're lying. The Ti-Cats absolutely demolished the Eskimos yesterday afternoon and I enjoyed every minute of it. While the Ti-Cats didn't play the perfect game, they came darn close. This was a butt whooping.

Positives

I'll get to individual players in a second, but I have to say that this win was a total team effort. The offense racked up over 500 yards of offense, the defense forced two turnovers, picked up five sacks, scored a touchdown and held the Eskimos to eight points. The special teams even contributed with a score, and not from a Chris Williams kick return. Everything worked yesterday and everyone deserves equal share for the win. Now the players.

First guy I am going to single out is Dee Webb. Webb has played some very good football since arriving in Hamilton last October, but he had undoubtedly his best game, and made his biggest impact, against Edmonton. Webb was the guy who blocked the second quarter punt that was scooped up by Bakari Grant and returned for a touchdown. That was a game-changing, and perhaps season-changing, play. Later, Webb had his second interception in as many games, but he returned this one for a touchdown. Webb should receive consideration as the league's top defensive player this week, he was that good.

The man who picked up the blocked field goal had a bit of a redemption game himself. Grant dropped three or four catchable passes against Toronto a week ago and found himself in the fans' doghouse. Against Edmonton Grant made a handful clutch catches, including one on a tipped pass, and had the touchdown on the blocked field goal. Grant didn't do much in the second half, but he earned his stripes (no pun intended) in the first half.

Avon Cobourne was a beast out there yesterday and was the single-biggest contributor in the Ti-Cats' five-plus minute drive in the fourth quarter. Cobourne racked up 63 of the team's 105 yards on that series an capped it with his second touchdown of the season. Also, for the second game in a row, Cobourne played special teams (punt coverage) and even picked up a tackle. No matter what happens with rookie phenom Chevon Walker, Cobourne has earned his place and should never be sat again.

The Ti-Cats made a number of trades in the last week and a half to try and fix the defense, and one of those acquisitions, Brandon Peguese, sure came through in his first game in Black & Gold. Peguese wrecked havoc all afternoon and picked up his first sack as a Tiger-Cat. But he wasn't alone; Bruce Davis, Greg Peach, Jermaine McElveen and the rest of the defensive line really stepped their game up. If this is what the defensive line can do, more wins will be forthcoming.

Henry Burris hadn't played great during the losing streak, but he certainly played great on Saturday. He had his first 400-plus yard passing performance as a Tiger-Cats and threw for three touchdowns. Burris now has 27 on the year and is sure to break Kevin Glenn's single-season record. It was a very nice game from Burris, who will probably be named the league's top offensive player for his performance.

Negatives

It is very hard to find anything bad when a team wins by 43 points, but turnovers were an issue once again. Chris Williams had another fumble and this seems to be the only flaw in his game. He has fumbled way too many times in his CFL career and it is something he has to work on correcting. Burris tossed another two interceptions, but one was not his fault at all. Burris expected his receiver, Williams, to do one thing and he did another. In the end, none of the turnovers made a difference, but it is still something that needs to be corrected.

Final Thoughts

Playoff hopes that were either called dead or on life support just got a giant shot in the arm. The must-win games began on last Saturday, but the Ti-Cats did claw their way to within a game of a playoff spot with this win. But one win is not enough; the Ti-Cats have to go on a run here. With an upcoming schedule that is rather favourable, the Cats could be back in the mix for the division title before the month is out.

Next up for the Tabbies are the 2-9 Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Bombers have lost their last three games by a combined score of 120-27 and have pretty much quit on the season. It has been a collapse of epic proportions and one that no one really saw coming from the team that represented the East Division in the Grey Cup just one season ago. With the Bombers on the ropes, the Ti-Cats have to deliver the knockout blow next week at CanadInns Stadium.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Preview: Eskimos at Tiger-Cats

5-5
3-7











Last week was a must win, this week is a must win and if the Ti-Cats lose to the Eskimos, we'll be right back here talking about that game being a must win. The Ti-Cats are in the midst of their worst losing steak since 2008 and desperately need to beat the Eskimos in their final trip to to Ivor Wynne Stadium if they have any hope of climbing back into the playoff race.

The offense scored 31 points last week but that number is deceiving. Of those 31 points, 14 of them came in the final five minutes when the game was already decided. It was a sloppy performance with plenty of dropped passes and another Henry Burris pick six. The only positive last week was the running of Avon Cobourne, and with Chevon Walker out again, Cobourne will get the chance at a repeat performance. The Eskimos defense is one of the best in the league, so points could be at a premium.

Defensively, the Ti-Cats will be tasked with stopping the three-headed monster of Hugh Charles, Jerome Messam and Cory Boyd. Messam gashed the Tabbies last year at Ivor Wynne, rushing for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Edmonton's 38-23 romp over the Ti-Cats. Enter Torrey Davis. The run stuffer was acquired from Calgary for games just like this one and he gets thrown right into the fire against a fearsome threesome of Edmonton tailbacks.

The Cats will also have to keep an eye on Fred Stamps. Stamps is having a somewhat down year, but a lot of that could be attributed to Edmonton's unstable quarterbacking situation. Steven Jyles has been in and out of the lineup with various injuries and at 38, Kerry Joseph is not the player he was five years ago. Still, Stamps is a threat whenever he is on the field and the Ti-Cats will have to limit him if they hope to end their losing streak.

This is one the Ti-Cats have to win. Forget the Bombers, because they are done; the Cats will be chasing the Eskimos and Roughriders hoping to avoid missing the playoffs because of the crossover. To ensure the crossover doesn't happen, they need to beat the Eskimos. We'll find out if the Cats can end their brutal five-game losing streak when the two teams meet at 3:00PM tomorrow afternoon.

Mitchell and Obie to Step Aside By 2014

There are sure to be a lot of happy Tiger-Cat fans with word that team president Scott Mitchell and vice-president of football operations Bob O'Billovich will no longer be in their respective roles when the team moves into their new stadium in 2014.

Mitchell has been a controversial figure, especially since he was the public face of the very nasty stadium debate between the team and the city. Mitchell's interests were the team's, not the city's, and he took a lot of flak, especially from west harbour advocates and people still haven't forgiven him for some of the things he said. But I had no problem with what Mitchell said or did during the whole fiasco, but I feel like I'm in the minority on that one.

But the more interesting tidbit, at least for football fans, is the revelation that Bob O'Billovich will move into a consultative role by 2014. We all knew that Obie's days as general manger were coming to an end, but we now have a somewhat firm date by which we can expect a new guy to be calling the shots in the front office. Obie has taken his fair share of criticism, especially from me, for some of the things he's done was general manager, but he did help bring the team out of its so called "dark period" and become a team that people take seriously. Things don't look all that great at the moment, but Obie did a pretty good job of turning around the league's laughingstock.

Now let the speculation begin on who will replace each man.

Hage's Season is Over

For the second consecutive season, Marwan Hage's season is over due to injury. Hage will miss the final eight games of the regular season and any playoff contests due to a triceps injury that will require surgery. Last year, Hage missed everything after Labour Day due to a knee injury.

Now some might begin to wonder whether this is the end for Hage, but I think that is a tad premature. Two season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons is worrisome, but Hage had never been seriously injured prior to last season, so this isn't the case of an injury-prone player breaking down even more. Hage is also just 31 years old, so even with the injury he could still have four or five more years of top-end production left in him. I don't think this is the last we've seen of Hage in a Tiger-Cat uniform.

I wish him a full and speedy recovery, and look forward to many more years of Hage pancaking opponents while wearing the Black & Gold.

We Should Have Seen This Coming

With the notable exception of Chris Williams, there has been nothing to cheer about for fans of the Ti-Cats since the end of July. It has been five games since the Ti-Cats last claimed a victory, a thrilling 35-34 come-from-behind victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Everything looked up for the Ti-Cats when they entered their bye the following week. Some were arguing, rightfully, that the Cats were the best team in the league at the time. What has happened since has obliterated any thought of the Ti-Cats being the best team in anything. The team is now 3-7 and the season is quickly getting away from them. But in looking at the situation, should we really not have seen this coming?

Despite Obie's "more better" proclamation last winter, we probably should have all been prepared for what has transpired. I'm not saying a five-game losing streak, but when a team changes so much, growing pains are to be expected. Maybe not to this extent, but a losing streak or some adversity was on the menu this year for the Tabbies, regardless of how things were spun by the team.

Coaching, and especially player, changes happen often, but the Ti-Cats went out of there way to overhaul the coaching staff and roster of a team that fell one game short of the Grey Cup last year. I'm not here to argue whether those changes were the right ones, but the number of major changes that occurred in Hamilton during the winter months made a rough patch or disappointment inevitable.

The team also made a number of questionable roster decisions after training camp started that have also led the team to where they are today. They let Belton Johnson go so they could start Marc Dile, which looks like a horrible move in retrospect. They sat Markeith Knowlton in Week 1 because of ratio problems, but thankfully they quickly reversed that decision the following week. They continue to sit Avon Cobourne, only playing him when Chevon Walker is injured and Sam Giguère continues to see more playing time than Dave Stala, despite the latter clearly outperforming the former.

Rookie coaching mistakes and a lack of chemistry between the players was the inevitable byproduct of the off-season overhaul. With eight games remaining, the time is now for the team to turn things around. That said, the growing pains and struggles we have all witnessed to this point should have come as no surprise to anyone.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Cats Deal Brown to Eskimos

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have sent fullback Darcy Brown to the Edmonton Eskimos for defensive back Ricardo Colclough and a 2015 sixth-round draft pick.

Brown was either criminally underutilized or completely miscast in his role with the Ti-Cats. He was a slotback in university and was drafted to be a fullback, a role he seemed ill-suited for, and barely made any impact with the team. He was a very good special teams player, but guys don't get drafted in the first round to be good special teams players.

I don't blame Brown for his lack of success with the Ti-Cats, I blame two coaching staffs that didn't really know what to do with him. I thought after he signed his contract extension in the winter that we would see noted offensive guru George Cortez take advantage of his size (6'4", 251 lbs.) to create some interesting mismatches. Instead, Brown played even less than he did under former head coach Marcel Bellefeuille and was even a healthy scratch in a couple of games. Edmonton will give him a fresh start.

In Colclough, the Cats get a first-year CFL player, but an six-year NFL veteran. Colclough was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 and played on their Super Bowl winning team just one year later. After bouncing around the NFL and UFL, Colclough signed with the Eskimos in March.

The Cats also announced that they have released defensive tackle Robert Rose. Rose looked great when he arrived in Hamilton last fall, but he never lived up to his enormous potential this season. The recently acquired Torrey Davis will likely take Rose's place in the lineup.

Best of luck to both Brown and Rose in the future.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Ti-Cats Add Peguese to Lineman Mix

In an effort to fix what ails the defense, the Ti-Cats have acquired defensive lineman Brandon Peguese from the BC Lions for future considerations. This marks the second trade in the last week for a defensive lineman. Just last week, the Cats acquired Torrey Davis from the Calgary Stampeders.

Part of me is happy that the team is going about trying to find players, but another part of me wonders how much impact these players will have this season. Both Davis and Peguese were backups and I don't know how much the Ti-Cats can gain from picking up backup players from other teams. I know that backup players move from one team to another and can thrive, so it is a wait and see approach, but I don't hold out too much hope that these are the two guys that will transform the unit.

Finding the right players along the d-line is something the Cats have been trying to do all season. The d-line has been one of the biggest areas of concern on the team, if not the biggest, and nothing the team has done has been able to change that. I think the biggest problem with the d-line is that the team hasn't come close to adequately replacing players they've lost, either through retirement, free agency or to the NFL. In the last three years, Stevie Baggs, Justin Hickman, Garret McIntyre, Khari Long, Demonte' Bolden, Darrell Adams, Matt Kirk, Jermaine Reid, Luc Mullinder and Maurice Forbes have all left the team for one reason or another. Kirk, Reid, Mullinder and Forbes were Canadians and a lack of Canadian depth on the d-line has forced 2010 draft pick Eddie Steele into a backup role because there is no non-import depth behind him. That has necessitated changes to the ratio that otherwise wouldn't be there if there was a Canadian able to back up Steele. Hickman and McIntyre are plying their trade in the NFL, and Baggs and Bolden are now teammates in Calgary. Losing that many players in such a short amount of time has really hurt the cohesiveness of the unit, and not finding replacements has led to the problems we see today.

Hopefully one day we'll talk about Peguese and Davis the same way we wax poetic about Hickman and McIntyre.

10 Things I Learned... In Week 11

The race to playoffs has begun and we are starting to see the contenders separate from the pretenders (at least in the East). Montreal and Toronto look to be on a collision course for the East Final, while BC looks like they will win the West and face whichever team survives the death match that is ensuing between the Stamps, Eskimos and Riders. Should be an interesting second half of the season.

(1) Three teams sweep the back-to-backs
Often heard during the two weeks where the eight teams play back-to-back games is how hard it is for a team to sweep their opponent. This season, that didn't prove to be the case. The Argos, Stamps and Riders swept both games of the back-to-back, while BC and Montreal split theirs with the home team winning both times. So next year, when people say that a team cannot sweep, remember how three teams did it this season.

(2) Play of the Year
Not for its artistry, but for its result, the botched snap Hail Mary touchdown from Matt Nichols to to Corbin Sharun might end of being the bets play of the year. The Eskimos were attempting a field goal at the end of the first half and a bad snap forced Nichols to improvise. He hit Sharun, who did an excellent job of fighting for the end zone, for a touchdown. It ultimately didn't help Edmonton, but it was a great play to witness live.

(3) Ending of the Year
In the same game, the best ending to a CFL game might have taken place as well. Down by two with under 90 seconds left, the Eskimos drove the field, picking up a third-and-18-conversation along the way and set up Grant Shaw for the winning field goal from 42 yards out. Shaw clanked the kick off the upright and the Eskimos lost. The amazing confluence of events that set up that ending was nothing short of spectacular.

(4) Ricky Ray starting to get comfortable
While he still isn't perfect, it does look like Ricky Ray is beginning to get really comfortable in his new offense in Toronto. Ray looked crisp and sharp in back-to-back games against Hamilton, and despite a porous offensive line and less than stellar receiving corps, he is starting to play like the Ricky Ray that won two Grey Cups in Edmonton.

(5) Punt vs. Field Goal
One of the most debated decisions from the past week will be Tim Burke's choice to punt instead of kick a field goal in the dying moments of the Banjo Bowl. The problem wasn't so much with the decision as much as it was with the execution. If Mike Renaud pins the Riders deep instead of kicking it through the end zone, the Riders probably have too much space in too little time to drive for the winning field goal. Burke said later that he made the wrong call, but that's with knowing the result. If things had gone the way the Bombers had hoped, the decision would have been a smart one.

(6) Nik Lewis: Mr. Dependable
When it comes to receivers, the stats show that there is no one more dependable than Nik Lewis. Amazingly, Lewis, who is nearly 700 career catches and 10,000 career yards, has caught a pass in every game he has played in his CFL career. In that span, the streak has only been in jeopardy three times (meaning he had just one catch)" June 24, 2006 against Saskatchewan, September 29, 2007 against BC and September 1, 2008 against Edmonton. Lewis is a future Hall of Famer and it is pretty obvious why.

(7) Calvillo's streak ends
The consecutive 300-yard game streak came to an end, unsurprisingly, against the Lions. BC's defense might be the best in the league and Calvillo has not been great on the west coast throughout his career. Calvillo is still having an excellent season, he leads the league in passing yards, but the streak of 300-plus-yard games ends at eight.

(8) BC is Montreal's kryptonite
Montreal is probably pretty happy to see their game at BC in their rear-view mirror. BC has been a house of horrors for the Als. Since Marc Trestman took over in 2008, the Als have not won in BC Place and were only able to beat the Lions in 2010 when the team played at Empire Field. The last two losses have been blowouts, 38-10 this year and 43-1 last year, and haven't won at BC Place since 2000. If there is one place the Als do not perform well, it's BC.

(9) Willy gets first real action
An injury to Darian Durant forced Drew Willy to see some significant action in the Banjo Bowl and he looked decent. His numbers weren't spectacular, 17 for 23 for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but he looked poised and calm in playing most of the game for Durant. It is way too early to make any sorts of judgments on Willy, but he is a young signal caller to keep an eye on.

(10) Players of the Week
The awards were pretty easy this week. Offensive player goes to Chad Kackert. Kackert had 239 total yards and three touchdowns against the Ti-Cats on Saturday. The guy carved up the Hamilton defense all afternoon.

Defensive player goes to Chris Thompson. Thompson had two end zone interceptions for the Eskimos. Thompson is one of those guys that can go unnoticed for a few games, but he is always capable of pulling off games like the one he had against Calgary on Friday night.

Demond Washington is special teams player of the week. Return a punt for a touchdown and you pretty much get this award. Return a punt for a touchdown when no other special teams player does anything else of note and you definitely win this award.

Top Canadian was Jon Cornish. A career best 185 rushing yards and one touchdown, on a beautiful 59-yard run at that, makes this a no brainer. After a somewhat slow start, Cornish is really starting to turn it on and now leads the league in rushing by a significant margin after 10 games.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Toronto 45, Hamilton 31

It may not be officially over, but it is pretty much over after this latest loss, this one a 45-31 drubbing at the hands of the Argos. Say goodbye to any hopes of a home playoff game, say goodbye to a first-place finish and say goodbye to any hopes of a Grey Cup appearance. Following this loss, the season is pretty much over. Sure, the Cats might sneak into the playoffs and maybe they stun Toronto or Montreal to reach the East Final, but at 3-7, this season is unlikely to end with a championship. Such is the sad state of the Tiger-Cats right now.

Positives

One player who refused to give up, and this should come as no surprise, was Avon Cobourne. Cobourne had his best rushing day in his two years with the Tiger-Cats, picking up 119 yards on 13 carries. He ran like a man possessed and was the only good thing about the Tiger-Cat for most of the day.

Not much to rave about defensively, but Jermaine McElveen was a force out there, at least in the first half. He had two sacks and made a great read on a screen pass to break it up in the backfield. McElveen was probably the best player on the defense today, not that that is really saying all that much.

Negatives

Don't let those two garbage-time touchdowns fool you, Henry Burris was terrible today. In fact, Burris has been pretty terrible since his great July. Sure, his numbers look good, but he hasn't been reliable at all. He's thrown two pick sixes in the last two games and that just can't happen. I held back on issuing my mea culpa on Burris until later in the season. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions until I saw what he had left around Labour Day. Well, Labour Day has come and gone, and I will not be writing any sort of apology to Burris for what I said when he was brought in. I'm starting to wonder if it might be time for Smilin' Hank to be put out to pasture.

Another big-name acquisition who has been invisible is Andy Fantuz. Like Burris, his final stats mask what has been a disappointing first season in Hamilton for Fantuz. Perhaps it is lingering effects from the injury he suffered against Calgary, because ever since he took that hit, he hasn't been the same player. The team signed him expecting to get the 2010 version of Fantuz and instead they have been treated to the 2011 version.

Dropped pass absolutely killed the team against the Argos. Bakari Grant, who I am a fan of, was the worst offender, dropping, by my count, four catchable passes. But he was far from the only player that let the ball hit the turf. Everyone, with the exception of Dave Stala, let a ball or two go through their hands.

Missed tackles were a killer on defense. Time and time again, Argo players shook off the first tackle and picked up additional yards, with Chad Kackert becoming an expert in the field in one afternoon. I lost count of how many times Kackert simply swatted off the first defender to touch him. It was an atrocious display of tackling out there.

Final Thoughts

I have to think that there is going to be changes of some sort coming this week. We already know that the team has brought in Torrey Davis, so one of the usually active defensive linemen are out. But more changes that than need to be made.

At 3-7, it sure looks like a lot of moves the club made since the end of last season wee the wrong ones. Some bigger than others, but at this point is there anyone out there that wouldn't be happy with the Bellefeuille-Glenn tandem?

There isn't a whole lot to be optimistic about right now and it sure does look like this season will end like every other since 1999: in disappointment. A Greu Cup berth, let alone a win, seems almost impossible to fathom at this point. I'm not even sure this team will win enough games to qualify for the playoffs.

But despite all that, I'll still keep hoping that next week is the week everything starts to turn around. I still hold out hope, because I always hold out hope, that the team will turn the season around and make a run at the Grey Cup. That's probably not realistic, but at heart I am a fan and a fan will always keep hope alive.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Argonauts

3-6
5-4
Following the Labour Day letdown, the Ti-Cats will be looking for revenge and a stop to their four-game losing streak as they head to Toronto to take on the Argos.

The Ti-Cats did a decent job of limiting the Argo offense during he first three quarters of Monday's game; it was the fourth quarter that was a problem. An 11-point lead evaporated into a three-point loss in the span of 15 minutes. That's not just on the defense for allowing the points, but on the offense for not delivering some of their own. Both units will have to perform better if the Cats are to escape Toronto with a victory.

One area that doesn't need any work is special teams. Yes, the Cats gave up a lot of return yards to Chad Owens, but they gained a bunch of their own thanks to arguably the best player in all of football, Chris Williams. Williams was once again terrific and will look to equal or better that performance tomorrow afternoon in Toronto.

Injuries are also a story for the Ti-Cats, who will be without the services of centre Marwan Hage and running back Chevon Walker for tomorrow's game. With Walker out, Avon Cobourne will see action for the second time this season. Cobourne had over 90 total yards and a touchdown in the only game he's played in so far this season. A repeat of that would be excellent. Also returning to the lineup is receiver Bakari Grant. Grant has been out with a hand injury, suffered on July 21st against the Alouettes, and he can be a big part of what the Ti-Cats do offensively.

This is an important game for the Cats. A win gets them right back into the thick of things in the East Division, while a loss likely dooms them to no better than a third-place finish. This was a team that many saw as being Grey Cup calibre before the season began, so now is the perfect time to remind everyone why they thought that back in June. The game kicks off tomorrow afternoon at the Rogers Centre SkyDome at 1:00PM.

What's Wrong With the Cats; Baggs is a Stamp

Looks like Stevie Baggs is back in the CFL, this time with the Calgary Stampeders. I have made my thoughts known on the whole mess that went down between Stevie Baggs and the Ti-Cats, so I won't go into it any further. I wish him luck in Calgary where he joins Kevin Glenn, Chris Bauman, Marquay McDaniel, Mark Dewit, Tad Korengay and Demonte' Bolden in what I have dubbed "Hamilton West."

What's wrong with the Ti-Cats? It was a question I was asked by Drew Edwards on Wednesday and today you can see my answer. Drew decided he wanted to ask a smattering of people just what is wrong with the team right now. He got answers from Bob Young, George Cortez, Andy Fantuz, Avon Cobourne, Dave Naylor, John Salavantis, a CFL insider who wished to remain anonymous and myself. If this song popped into your head reading that list of names, you're not alone. Anyway, my answer was a simple one: change. Click the link and read my take as well as the take of the others.

The Good and the Bad

There is a lot of negativity right now in Tiger-Cat Land and that is understandable. I was very angry after the Labour Day Classic; I even went so far as to openly wonder if the team will win another game again this season. But having had a chance to think about things all is not lost and this season is not over. Despite the four straight losses and the mounting concerns that the final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium will end with a whimper and not a bang, I thought it was time to look at both the good (yes, there is some good) as well as the bad surrounding the Ti-Cats.

The Good: They've lost their last two by five total points
This cannot be overlooked. Despite all the angst, the Ti-Cats lost their last two games on field goals in the final minute. That tells me that the team isn't as far off and have a chance to turn things around this season.

The Bad: They've lost four in a row
The flip side of that is the old saying that "you are what your record is." The Ti-Cats are 3-6, they have lost four in a row and two of those losses have come at home. Professional sports is a results-oriented business (we have been told this countless times over the years) and the Cats are not getting the results they need. They may not be far off, but moral victories have to start giving way to actual victories very soon (as in Saturday).

The Good: Chris Williams
Getting to watch Chris Williams in person has been a treat for everyone. We are truly watching one of the greatest seasons a player has ever had unfold before out eyes. Whether the team doesn't win another game and finishes 3-15, wins out and finishes 12-6 or does something in between, we all got to watch the Chris Williams show live and in person and that is something to be happy about.

The Bad: Every other receiver not named Chris Williams
Conversely, pretty much every other receiver has been a disappointment. Andy Fantuz has been underwhelming for most of the season and is on pace for less than 1,000 receiving yards. That is not the player the Cats thought they were getting back in February. Sam Giguère, who came to the team with a lot of hype in May, has been invisible. A lot was expected of Giguère and will not live up to those lofty preseason expectations. Dave Stala has been decent, but rarely used; same for Onrea Jones and Aaron Kelly. Bakari Grant is the lone receiver that gets an 'INC' on his report card because he hasn't played since July 21st against the Als.

The Good: The defense during the first three quarters
The Tiger-Cat defense has been a source of much frustration and fan anger, but if you look at their points allowed in the first three quarters of their losing streak (I prefer to judge defenses based on points, not yards, because you win by scoring not by gaining yards) and the defense has actually been pretty good. They allowed 17 to Calgary, 17 to Winnipeg, 18 to Montreal and 11 to Toronto. Those are great numbers. The fourth quarter has been a problem, but the first three quarters of the last four games have shown that the Tiger-Cat defense is capable of playing well.

The Bad: The offense during the last four games
What was supposed to be the better unit has been pedestrian during the four-game losing streak. The team has scored 30 points or more just once, in comparison to four times in their first five games. The biggest problems have come in the fourth quarter, where they have score just 26 points in those four losses. The third quarter used to be the problem quarter for the Cats, but now the fourth seems to be their nemesis.

The Good: Revenge came come quickly
They lost on Labour Day, but have a chance to exact some revenge rather quickly with the rematch scheduled for Saturday. At 4-6, and one game behind Toronto, the Ti-Cats would be back in the thick of things. They would still be in the third spot, but they would recapture the tiebreaker over the Argos (at least until the two teams meet once more in the final week of the season) and would trail them by just two points for second place.

The Bad: The season could be over on Saturday afternoon
A loss to Toronto on Saturday would all but end the Ti-Cats' season. They would sit at 3-7 and would have to go 5-3 over the final eight games just to match last season's 8-10 record (a record that got Marcel Bellefeuille fired) and 6-2 to get to 9-9. They would, at a minimum, be six points back of both Toronto and Montreal (possibly eight back of the Als) and their chances of hosting a playoff game would be over. They might still sneak into the playoffs, but the Grey Cup title that many expected would be a pipe dream.

The Good: Winnipeg's terrible
The only saving grace for the Ti-Cas in their quest to make the playoffs is that they don't have anyone nipping at their heels. The one team below them in the standings is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and they are so bad they just lost 52-0 to Saskatchewan. Winnipeg might be 2-7 and even own a victory over Hamilton, but the Bombers are no threat to creep up and challenge the Ti-Cats for a playoff spot. In the East, the Cats are pretty secure even at 3-6.

The Bad: The potential for a crossover
Hamilton's playoff hopes will not be derailed by Winnipeg, but by the fourth-place team in the West. As it stands right now, the Roughriders, not the Ti-Cats, would be the third playoff team in the East. There is a very real threat that the last-place team in the West will have a better record than the Tabbies. The Ti-Cats need to get things going in the right direction to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Things are pretty tense around these parts, but not everything is as hopeless for the Ti-Cats as their 3-6 record makes it appear. Things are bad right now, but I heard in a movie once that it is always darkest before the dawn. Hopefully, dawn arrives on Saturday.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Williams Wins Again, a Trade and All-Time Coaches

A lot of news from the last couple of days that I need to catch up on, so here it goes.

Chris Williams has once again been named the Special Teams Player of the Week. What more can be said about Williams at this point that hasn't already been said countless times? I've already said he's going to be named the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player at the year-end awards ceremony and I also think he is a legitimate shot to win the top award, Most Outstanding Player, as well. If he keeps winning these awards, and this is the third straight week in which he has, I don't know what I am going to say about him. I am seriously running out of ways to say "he is awesome."

The Cats made a deal yesterday with Calgary for defensive linemen Torrey Davis. Davis is a mountain of a man and could be just what the team needs in the middle of their defensive line. Davis and Robert Rose could form a pretty formidable defensive tackle combination for the Tabbies. Davis won't play this week against Toronto, so we will have to wait until the following Saturday against Edmonton to see what he can do.

Finally, the Ti-Cats unveiled the head coach nominees for the all-time team. Five coaches are up for one spot: Al Bruno, Ron Lancaster, Ralph Sazio, Jim Trimble and Carl Voyles. I remember both Bruno and Lancaster, and I remember them fondly, but the pick here has to be Sazio. He won three Grey Cups in four appearances and won 10 playoff games in his five years as Hamilton's head coach. No other Tiger-Cat coach can match that, and while I am sure there are still some people angry over his defection to the Argos, he is pretty much universally considered the greatest coach in Tiger-Cat history.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 10

We have now reached the midway point of the 2012 CFL season and things are starting to become clearer. It looks like BC and Montreal are on a collision course for Toronto, while the Argos, Eskimos and Stampeders look like the most likely teams to crash that party. Saskatchewan halted their five-game slide by crushing the Blue Bombers, while Hamilton lost their fourth in a row. Winnipeg, well, not much can be said about them. The parity that was alive and well during the first month of the season looks to have gone away.

(1) Labour Day Classics lived up to their name
The two games played on Labour Day were classics in every sense of the word. The Argos won on a field goal with less than a minute left and Calgary scored the game-winning touchdown with under 90 seconds to play. Those two games rank up there with the best we've seen this season and they had everyone on the edge of their seat for the full 60 minutes. For those in attendance and those who watched on television, they were treated to a pair of classic CFL contests.

(2) Horse collar rule needs amending
After the call in the BC-Montreal game, I think it is time to revisit the horse collar rule. Cauchy Muamba was called for a horse collar tackle on Eric Deslauiers when Muamba grabbed the shoulder area of the jersey, not the collar or inside the neck of the pads, and pulled him down. That's not a horse collar tackle, that's a tackle. If that is going to be the call, then why not make it illegal to grab the jersey when you are behind a player? I didn't like it when the call was made and I still don't like it today.

(3) Illegal participation: what's the point?
In the Toronto-Hamilton game it looked like illegal participation was going to be called on an Argo player (I can't remember which one) for losing his helmet and continuing to chase down field. The Argo helmet was laying at midfield and the player walked 30-40 yards back to pick it up. Clearly he lost it and then continued to play, which is against the rules. The flag was thrown, but it was picked up. I don't understand why. I think the rule is a silly one because it goes against a player's instincts, but it is the rule so it should be called.

(4) Chris Williams is simply amazing
If there was only one player I would pay money to see it would be Chris Williams. In just his second season in the league, Williams has already broken the record for most kick return touchdowns in a season with six and has become the only player in CFL history to return a punt for a touchdown in three straight games. Considering all the great returners that have played in the CFL in the past, that is truly an amazing feat. I can't wait to see what he has in store for the remaining nine games of the season.

(5) Winnipeg has hit rock bottom
I thought things were bad enough in Winnipeg... and then played in Regina. I was once watched as the Tiger-Cats lost 48-0 to the Argos in Toronto, but the listless effort (and that's being nice) that the Bombers gave in their game against the Roughriders was something else entirely. They look like they have completely given up. They fumbled two consecutive kickoffs, which is nearly impossible to do at any level of football, let alone at the professional one. This came after Bomber GM Joe Mack made former head coach Paul LaPolice the scapegoat for all the Bombers' problems. Looks like the problems went much deeper than the head coach.

(6) Paris Jackson may have made the catch of the year
Every year there are a handful of amazing catches (think Clarence Denmark last year), but this season's best catch may have come in Montreal. Lion receiver Paris Jackson hauled in a pass after he tipped it and fell to the turf. He caught the ball while on his back. It was an amazing display of concentration from the little-used veteran, but that showed just what type of player Jackson used to be. For my money, it is the catch of the year.

(7) Cornish's hit was a good football play
There was a lot of talk during the Edmonton-Calgary game that the block by Jon Cornish on Almondo Sewell might be met with discipline from the league office. TSN replayed the hit over and over again, and I didn't see anything that would warrant Cornish being fined. It was nothing more than a devastating block and a nice football play.

(8) Never count out Arland Bruce
Quiet for most of the season, Arland Bruce became the go-to guy for the BC Lions against Montreal when Geroy Simon left the game with an injury. Those that questioned whether Bruce still had it were given their answer. Those games might not be every week occurrences now, but the future Hall of Famer can still come through when his team needs him.

(9) Rematch weekend is important
For the teams that lost on Labour Day weekend – BC, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Edmonton –the rematches this week are hugely important. No team wants to be swept in back-to-back games by the same opponent. For BC, they need to beat the Als to regain the edge in what is a potential Grey Cup preview; Winnipeg cannot drop to 2-8 and must rebound from that humiliating 52-0 loss; the Ti-Cats need a win to get back into the race in the East and to quiet the growing number of critics that are starting to surface; and Edmonton does not want to drop two to Calgary and loss their grip on second place in the West. We will learn a lot about the four losing teams from this past weekend in the upcoming rematches.

(10) Players of the Week
There were quite a few offensive players who had great weeks – Ricky Ray, Chad Owens, Anthony Calvillo, Arland Bruce – but when you score three touchdowns you get the award, which is exactly what Brandon Whitaker did against the BC Lions.

Defensive player could have went to a couple of players, and I really wanted to give it to Saskatchewan's Tyron Brackenridge, but Almondo Sewell played such an excellent game for the Eskimos that it was impossible to ignore. He had a sack and three tackles, one being on a key second-and-one stop of Bo Levi Mitchell. Sewell had a dominant game for the Eskimos and deserves the award.

I had Brackenridge pencilled in for top special teams player, but then Chris Williams did what Chris Williams always does. Another punt return for a touchdown, this one breaking the single-season record for total kick returns touchdowns and Williams once again gets the award.

Canadian of the week is Jon Cornish. Cornish rushed for 71 yards, caught four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown. No other Canadian player came close to Cornish in Week 10 and his selection was a slam dunk.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Toronto 33, Hamilton 30

That was definitely not how I expected the final Labour Day Classic played at Ivor Wynne Stadium to turn out. I honestly believe that the Ti-Cats would destroy the Argonauts. But another second-half lead evaporates and the team is now very close to must-win territory after losing their fourth in a row, this time 33-30 to the Argos.

Positives

I should probably just call this the "Chris Williams Section" and move on. I hate to think of where this team would be without Williams. Another punt return for a touchdown, his record-breaking sixth return for a touchdown this season, made him the first player in CFL history to score on a punt return in three straight games. He is single-handedly trying to get this team into the playoffs and is by far the best player on this team.

I was very impressed with newcomer Brock Campbell. Filling in for Markeith Knowlton and Carlos Thomas at one of the toughest positions on a CFL defense, Campbell made a few plays and didn't look to make many mistakes. With both Knowlton and Thomas injured, the Cats might be alright with Campbell manning that position for the time being.

Dee Webb came to play yesterday. His biggest play was a blocked a field goal, but he was around the ball the entire game. Webb put together perhaps his best game since being traded to Hamilton last year and he is establishing himself as the key cog in the secondary.

Negatives

This loss falls 100 per cent on the offense. People will look at the final score, see that the Ti-Cats scored 30 points and think that the defense once again let the team down. Don't let numbers fool you; the offense was the weak link today. When they had the wind in the third quarter all they could muster was six points on two field goals. When you have the wind you are supposed to take advantage and try to build a lead. The Ti-Cats could have really put things away if they could have scored touchdowns instead of settling for field goals once again. The offense was supposed to be the strongest unit and now it is becoming a big liability.

Staying with the offense (which is what this entire section will be about), all the fears I had back in January when Henry Burris was acquired are starting to creep back up. What happened to the player that was on pace to set league and team records? What happened to the guy who looked poised and confident at all times? Since the bye week, Burris has been extraordinarily ordinary, with his 13-for-30 passing performance being the latest example of his ordinariness. He has regressed as the season has gone on and I am starting to worry that the player that got himself benched in Calgary is starting to resurface. That player of the month award for July sure seems like a long time ago.

Finally, will someone please tell me where I can find Andy Fantuz? The guy as been invisible the last couple of games. I know teams try to take him away, but he has just four catches for 49 yards the last two weeks. The team did a lot to bring him here and you'd have to consider his first half season in Hamilton to be a failure. Yes, he had a big catch called back on a penalty, but he also tipped a pass that landed in the hands of Patrick Watkins for an interception. Fantuz has so far not been the difference maker he was brought in to be.

Final Thoughts

Entering the season I was sure about three things. One, the Ti-Cats would win on opening day; two, they'd win on Labour Day; three, they'd win the final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. So far I am wrong on the first two and I sit here writing this and wonder if I am going to be wrong about all three. I try to stay positive as much as I can, but I say this with all sincerity: I don't know if this team will win another game this year.

Chris Williams can only do so much and if they keep asking him to carry the team on his back, like he is doing now, he is going to get burned out. The offense and the defense have to figure things out before this season gets away from them.

There just seems to be something missing from this team, but the Grey Cup expectations that were on this club did not come from the fan base, they came from the team's own front office that told us all that making changes needed to be done to make the team "more better." Well, 3-6 after Labour Day and losing to the Argos is nowhere near "more better."

The Ti-Cats have now lost four in a row and things don't get any easier. They have very little time to lick their wounds before they head down the highway to take on the Argos at Rogers Centre SkyDome on Saturday afternoon. If the Ti-Cats don't find a way to win that one, this season could be over. I'm not ready to throw the towel in just yet, but in less than a week's time my attitude could be very different.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Preview: Argonauts at Tiger-Cats

4-4
3-5











We've waited two years for this matchup, but real Labour Day Classic is back! Last year we put up with the Labour Day Classique, and while it was nice to watch the Cats smash the Als, it just wasn't the same. Well, for the final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium, we get to enjoy one last real Labour Day Classic between the Tiger-Cats and the Argonauts.

Sentimentality aside, this is actually a really important game for both teams. One game separates the two and with back-to-back games against one another, the winner of the first game will be able to breathe a little easier going into the rematch on Saturday.

Chris Williams can't do it all by himself, so the Tiger-Cat offense is going to have to start producing. This feels like one of those games where Henry Burris is going to remind everyone why he is headed for the Hall of Fame after his career is over. This also feels like a game where Andy Fantuz is going to dominate. I am expecting some big things from the passing offense.

The running game will also see a boost of explosiveness with the return of Chevon Walker. Walker missed the last game with an injury, and while his return likely means a return to the bench for Avon Cobourne, Walker can take one to the house on any play and that could be useful against a stingy Toronto defense.

We all know the difficulties the Tiger-Cat defense has tried to overcome over the course of the season, but Toronto is a team they could get things on track against. The Argos pass protection has been atrocious so far this season, so getting to Ricky Ray might be easier for the maligned Tiger-Cat front four. Add in some well-time blitzes from Rey Williams and Jamall Johnson and it could be a long day for the Argo offense.

And I'd be in dereliction of duty if I didn't somehow mention Chris Williams. The last time Williams faced the Argos as his breakout game on special teams. He took two kicks back for touchdowns, a punt and a missed field goal, and won his first of three Special Teams Player of the Week awards because of it. With Earl Winfield in the house and being honoured at halftime for his 1988 Labour Day performance, I think the stars are aligning for another Chris Williams show tomorrow afternoon.

The crowd will be large and loud for the final Labour Day Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium and the fans will be hoping the home side gets the victory and takes over second place from their provincial rivals. The last Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium gets underway at 1 p.m.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Ivor Wynne Memories: Labour Day 1991

With it being the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, I said I am going to post some of my personal memories I have of the stadium. This edition will look at my favourite Labour Day Classic, the 1991 beatdown of the Toronto Argonauts.

Labour Day is a different game from most. This one really gets the blood flowing and the hatred for the opposing team is off the charts. When it comes to Labour Day, Hamilton has been host to quite a few memorable moments. Whether it be Earl Winfield's three touchdowns in three different ways in 1988 or the 30-30 double overtime thriller in 2004, great things happen on Labour Day. One of those great things happened in 1991 when one of the biggest upset in CFL history occurred on the field at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The Ti-Cats were dreadful in 1991. Entering the Labour Day Classic, the Cats had yet to win a game and stood an 0-8 and in last place in the East Divsion. The Argos were an impressive 6-2 and would steamroll their way to a Grey Cup championship later in the year. But on one glorious Monday afternoon, the Ti-Cats were the better team and by a significant margin.

I went to the game because I acquired cheap tickets from the football team I played for at the time. It was my first year of playing football and the the Hamilton Minor Football Association (HMFA) had a deal with the Tiger-Cats to provide cheap tickets to to a couple of games for players in the league. One of the games was Labour Day. Now, you have to remember that back in 1991 fan attendance was down. For that Labour Day game, I sat in the end zone with my dad and we had a whole bench to ourselves. The place was empty. There were maybe 10,000 people there. But those 10,000 or so people went home happy.

I don't recall much of what happened that day because I went to that game not to watch the Tiger-Cats, but to watch the Argos. More specifically, I went to watch The Rocket. Growing up, my dad and I were huge Notre Dame fans and our favourite player was Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail. When he signed with the Argos in 1991, I was bummed and excited at the same time. Bummed because he was playing for the one team I hated more than any other, but excited because this would be my chance to see him play. That first opportunity came on Labour Day. The weird things is, I don't remember much of what Rocket did that day. I couldn't tell you his stats or anything.

Even more so, I couldn't tell what actually happened in the game (so much for a memory, eh?), but I remember that it was a sunny day and the Ti-Cats absolutely spanked the Argos to the tune of 48-24.

I might not have any memories of what happened on the field, but I got to see "The Rocket" play live and the Ti-Cats mercilessly pound the Argos. I may not remember many details (any details?), but I can still say that the 1991 Labour Day Classic was my favourite one played at Ivor Wynne Stadium.