The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are in trouble, the only question is how much.
The Ticats lost 37-20 Saturday night in Regina, repeating many of the mistakes that cost them dearly in the season-opener against Toronto – an anaemic offence, a suspect secondary – while adding some new ones as well. The most concerning: a shocking lack of discipline, including 15 penalties for 187 yards and the ejection of linebacker Will Hill that is likely going to be the subject of additional discipline.
Quarterback Zach Collaros was 19 of 34 for a paltry 189 yards and a touchdown – the only offensive major the Ticats have scored in eight quarters this season. With exception of one scoring drive in the third quarter, the offence was largely devoid of rhythm and the protection was, at best, suspect. The one surrendered sack on the stat sheet does not properly reflect Collaros’ constant need to run for his life.
And don’t just blame offensive coordinator Stefan Ptaszek for the unit’s woes: head coach Kent Austin resumed the play-calling duties against Saskatchewan after allowing Ptaszek the opportunity to do so for exactly one game.
The defence was no better. For the second straight contest, new coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s unit got strafed by a veteran quarterback, this time allowing former Ticat Kevin Glenn to throw for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, they had a pick six and the occasional defensive gem but there were also moments of mass confusion and discombobulation, with players seemingly unsure who was supposed to be on the field.
The penalties were frequent, costly and mind-numbingly boneheaded at times. The Ticats took three unnecessary roughness penalties on the same drive to open the third quarter, allowing the Riders to push their nine-point lead into double-digits. Brandon Banks, the smallest guy on the field, managed to take one of them from the bench.
Then there’s Hill, who grabbed an on-field official by the jersey after the aforementioned third quarter touchdown, earning himself an ejection, a likely review by the CFL and an instant reputation as a loose cannon.
Austin, who had his own issues respecting the personal space of an official last season, all but threatened his players after the game.
“Penalties are a concern, especially stupid ones. Undisciplined players aren’t going to play for us,” Austin said. “If you’re going to hurt the football team and you have a pattern of doing that, you won’t play for us.”
Here’s the glass has-at-least some-backwash interpretation of the situation and one Austin trotted out to his players post-game: the Ticats have been here before. They started the 2014 season with a 1-4 record and opened the following year at 1-6 before making the Grey Cup games both times.
But this is year 5 of the Austin regime and it is therefore not unreasonable to expect this team to have some sense of stability and continuity. Austin’s had full control of the players, staff and every other aspect of football operations: whatever this is, it’s his to own.
The Ticats are 0-2 this season and while that’s bad, it hardly seems insurmountable – especially given this team’s history of doing things the hardest way possible. But they are also 1-9 in their last 10 regular season games and 4-12 if we go back a little further. That’s the glass-is-broken-and-let’s walk-on-it version.
Let’s go full doom and gloom: all-star linebacker Simoni Lawrence and veteran centre Mike Filer went down early in Saturday’s game due to injury and though they returned in the second half, their status will bear watching – those are key pieces on a squad already missing some talent. And the Ticats now have four straight games against tough West Division opponents coming up, including next week’s home opener against B.C.
Trouble in Tiger-Town indeed.
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