Milton: Ticats don’t need much to begin downward spiral

Four weeks, plus a day, this city waited to see its Favourite Sons in the flesh and for a while, it was all sweetness and light.

Then the darkness, the eclipse that has shadowed this team throughout this young 2017 season, rolled in. With a 41-26 vengeance.

When a team is fragile — and that’s what the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are at this juncture, although most of them deny it – it doesn’t take much to stumble from the sunshine into the shade.

For nearly a half of football, the Ticats stayed with, and ahead of, the B.C, Lions but then? In analytics, they call it regression to the mean. So a good start by the Hamilton offence, which also finished well, the emergence of a viable running game, some concrete pressure from the defensive fronts, and a pair of interceptions and a fumble return by cornerback Richard Leonard, all in the first half, may have provided encouragement to those in uniform but to the rest of us, turned out to be mere teases. A glimpse of what could be but which definitely is not and may never be.

So a good start by the Hamilton offence, which also finished well, the emergence of a viable running game, some concrete pressure from the defensive fronts, and a pair of interceptions and a fumble return by cornerback Richard Leonard, all in the first half, may have provided encouragement to those in uniform but to the rest of us, turned out to be mere teases. A glimpse of what could be but which definitely is not and may never be.Once Travis Lulay got his feet under him after replacing starting BC quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who was intercepted and hurt on his first play from scrimmage, the Ticats defence, especially the back six, were benevolent hosts. They did make three

Once Travis Lulay got his feet under him after replacing starting BC quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who was intercepted and hurt on his first play from scrimmage, the Ticats defence, especially the back six, were benevolent hosts. They did make three picks, but were far more often picked on.Head coach Kent Austin, himself being harshly

Head coach Kent Austin, himself being harshly criticized by the hard-core fans, promised he would not keep groups together just for continuity’s sake, so it’s safe to assume there will be changes in the defensive backfield for Thursday’s massive undertaking against the Edmonton Eskimos.

The passing yardage (over 1200 yards) that three veteran quarterbacks have amassed against this defence in three games is unspeakable and the next three weeks they’ve got the Murderer’s Row of Alberta coming to the plate: Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Reilly again.

The defence had held the Lions to just six points through the better part of two quarters. But a couple of near-sacks that Lulay eluded in his own end stimulated a 95-yard touchdown drive that proceeded with little resistance and gave B.C. a lead it would never surrender. Pressure on the quarterback and hard coverage in the defensive backfield became more or less a memory after that.

If you’re losing and delicately balanced, as the Ticats are, those kinds of things happen and begin repeating themselves. A small item like a near-miss snowballs into a big item like a long and successful drive. That drive leads to another because confidence builds for one side and shrinks for the other.

It happens on the other side of the ball too. The tap turns off with almost no warning.

The offensive line generally gave Zach Collaros more time than he had in the first couple of games and they scored a pair of majors in the first 16 minutes, but after that the offence completely lost itself for a full half-hour of play. After one two-and out, they were held to another, then another.

Their nine possessions in the middle two quarters produced seven two-and-outs, an interception which led to the Lions’ second touchdown in 59 seconds, and only one first down, although that did result in a field goal.

A decent fourth quarter by the offence has to be viewed in the light of the Lions’ 18-point lead at the time.

Sudden negative turns can be functions of a number of factors including, but not limited to, an erosion of self-belief; better in-game adjustments by the opponents; or talent which is not equal to a 60-minute challenge. All of those have shown up this June and July.

Sports history has repeatedly demonstrated that when little leaks lead inevitably to floods, a brittle team can sub-consciously find itself fearing the leaks….and even waiting for them. The Ticats may not be there yet but you wouldn’t want to see them get any closer.

Some of the Ticats pointed out afterwards that there were many ways in which they were better than in the previous two games, and that is true, but that bar was pretty low, no? And when the game was most on the line, there was enough regression to put it well out of reach.

And Travis Lulay didn’t need that kind of help.

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
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Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (88 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.

35 Comments on Milton: Ticats don’t need much to begin downward spiral

  1. BC Dave // July 16, 2017 at 2:12 am //

    yeah, I’d have to sat that it did not not look too good for us for about one and a half quarters but suddenly we found our groove and just took over. So nice to have Travis there and we have great receivers but as I keep saying, I love that Burnham guy !!!

    • Philski // July 16, 2017 at 8:33 pm //

      The only “groove” dude was that Lulay was playing the hapless ‘Cats. Any other team, especially the likes of the Stumps, Esks or Bombers, and they would still be scraping Lulay off the field.

  2. Ham Bone // July 16, 2017 at 4:10 am //

    How ’bout trading your aging 2nd stringer Travis for Kent’s bonafide elite starter Zach?

  3. ticats63 // July 16, 2017 at 6:56 am //

    Has the coach lost the room? Seems like it, and if that’s the case, then kiss another season good-bye.
    As others have pointed out, Austin took the two teams he inherited to consecutive Grey Cup appearances, has slowly dismantled them, including the coaching staff, and here we are, at 0-3, facing 0-6 by the end of the month.
    When does hockey start?

    • TicatTO // July 16, 2017 at 7:46 am //

      I’m not sure Austin has lost the room but the coordinators may have. The defence with so many different packages and personnel groupings is chaotic . BC was taking full advantage of the Ticat confusion by running a hurry up offence and killing us with it. The offence which had success in the first quarter could not make the in game adjustments later on which led to virtually no scoring for two consecutive quarters.
      This of course made things worse for the defence as they looked completely exhausted.
      At this point, I not sure what you can do. Firing coaches or wholesale player changes never work. We just have to hope this somewhat disfunctional group will get it together eventually.

      • Hockey Sucks NFL is starting soon Rule football not this 3 down shit .

      • TicatTO – I agree that there seem to be too many substitutions especially on the DL. Nothing wrong with rotating players in to keep them fresh but the frequency of change seems to be having the opposite effect. It would make more sense to me to leave the same personnel in for a complete series unless there is some urgent need to change someone out. Because of the ratio implications it isn’t just one player going off (DL mainly) but two which may be adding to the confusion.

    • TicatTO // July 16, 2017 at 7:50 am //

      I’m not sure Austin has lost the room but the coordinators may have. The defence with so many different packages and personnel groupings is chaotic . BC was taking full advantage of the Ticat confusion by running a hurry up offence and killing us with it. The offence which had success in the first quarter could not make the in game adjustments later on which led to virtually no scoring for two consecutive quarters.
      This of course made things worse for the defence as they looked completely exhausted.
      At this point, I not sure what you can do. Firing coaches or wholesale player changes never work. We just have to hope this somewhat disfunctional group will eventually get it together.

  4. I think if you took any of the league’s top teams and removed their starting corners and defensive halfbacks and replaced them with their best rookies that they would not be fielding a team any better than the Ticats. I believe 2 of the rookie defensive backs will likely be league all-stars in the future if given time to develop but at the moment are not good enough to win games with.

    • Well said Mark. I thought Lyn did a good job filling in at SAM for the suspended Hill. Leonard too has impressed me – seems to have a real nose for the ball. Wooten looked like he had a better game too.

      • I was not impressed that Leonard could not outrun Lulay on the 2 point play interception but he still looks good.

  5. Ticat Mike // July 16, 2017 at 8:38 am //

    Despite the loss, the Cats probably played their best game to date. Statistically, they were even with BC in most areas except passing yardage where once again, our secondary got torched — wide open BC guys a plenty, blown coverages, or simply lack of ability to cover. Again, Lulay appeared to have more time in the pocket than Zach. Collaros is jittery in the pocket, happy feet — the pocket collapses a lot quicker and he is scrambling. This is not the crisp Collaros / offense of two years ago. He has few weapons to work with. I do like Scheureman (the RB) work. But this offense has so many poorly designed and predictable plays, its quite nauseating.
    Other observations and continuing issues: front 4 cannot pressure on their own with much consistency. TEd Laurent — where are you? DBs– we know you’re young and mostly inexperienced — and cannot cover. LBs — average at best. Banks — lost your mojo — likely gone during or after this season. Maybe we improve. Maybe the injured DBs return and we get better. Maybe we continue this downward spiral. Maybe it’ll be time for a house cleaning from top down. IN the meantime, brace yourself for more ugly football.

  6. Sea of Dead // July 16, 2017 at 8:56 am //

    I have to give the Cats credit for a much better than expected performance in the 1Q of the game where they showed potentially ‘what can be’ at some point this season. Sound defensive play and a mix of run/pass in that quarter was very effective. Just can’t understand why Austin went to virtually ALL PASS in the 2Q which bombed and stalled the momentum that our offence achieved earlier. They never got their mojo back after that until late in the game when the outcome was inevitable. The lack of offence in the 2Q/3Q forced our D to play most of the minutes and the exhausted group could not compete with a talented BC offence.

    I feel that poor coaching strategy on both sides of the ball in the 2Q/3Qs let the game slip away from a very motivated Cat team and that seems to be an issue that just won’t go away. COACHING EXECUTION sucked when we needed it most.

    • GoCats! // July 17, 2017 at 1:34 pm //

      Re: Why the heavy pass play calling when a mix was working?

      It’s the MO of his play calling/offense. Basically at this point, it costs a banged up team the chance to compete, if not win.

  7. I told you so!I was thinking to myself yesterday that i was being too critical of my ticats but no they stink how many yards are gonna pile up before they realize that the DC is terrible . When they are 0-6 are they gonna finally put Masoli in because your boy wonder Zack is a second rate pivot at best . How long are the ticat faithful gonna defend Austin and tillman ? These 2 guys are the ones that built this team . Long dissapointing road ahead

  8. Yup, get a running game going and then abandon it. Don’t make sense.

  9. Brian Eggleton // July 16, 2017 at 9:57 am //

    Don’t understand why TC coach didn’t challenge what appeared to be interference on two end zone plays at the end of the game. Also, Wally’s challenge of interference, after an end zone pass hit the goal post, was brilliant….shows a head coach that quickly understands the nuances of the rules….a sharp contrast in coaches. How quickly a team can adjust appears to be a major issue for this team (confusion reigns). Also, With each year starting so slowly it’s time to review preseason preparations – season readiness….

  10. Hors E Power // July 16, 2017 at 10:10 am //

    I wish nothing more than for this franchise to return to it’s glory. Ti-cats are truly on of North Americas great sports franchises

    • The only Canadian team to soundly beat a NFL team and to be discussed on the David Letterman show!The Tiger-Cats.

  11. People are calling for austins head but let’s be honest who is out there that has the pedigree to take control of a young team and have instant respect. We are a year late as the best choice would have been Orlando.
    A simple and maybe tentative fix would to either say we hire a solo offensive coordinator and not let Austin interfere. Whether you give Stef full reigns or try and get a guy like milanovich…always liked his style of offence in the cfl. But I’m pretty sure he’s employed

    A couple changes I’d do immediately is move tyms inside and move Collins at wideout
    We need to get this guy the ball and playing him outside is not the answer
    Also I like the guy but you might as well move or release banks
    This aultman looked good in preseason and has a better tackle breaking ability and runs north/south when he catches the ball
    Banks can’t even get the ball to the 25-30 on kickoffs. He’s a shell of his former self

    Stop saying Masoli is better than collaros…fans are embarrassing themselves for suggesting that

    • Elliot should replace Tyms as soon as possible.

    • Dug Fluty // July 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm //

      I haven’t read fans saying Masoli is ‘better’ than Collaros but he plays the position ‘different’ than Collaros and what’s needed is a change at the helm. It wouldn’t matter if we had SJ Green, Burnham, Carter or whomever at receiver, we have a starting QB that for some reason is unable to consistently release & throw a catchable ball. And he can’t scramble like Jeremiah and make a play out of nothing.

    • Paul – I have to agree that Tyms doesn’t seem succeeding as the replacement for Toliver on the outside although maybe 2 games isn’t enough yet to get used to the position. He missed catchable balls last night at least a couple of times. Switching Collins to the outside and Tyms back inside might be worth trying. Milanovich is coaching – QBs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL) but I don’t think making ANOTHER change at OC is going to help the offense.

    • GoCats! // July 17, 2017 at 1:41 pm //

      I doubt Austin will accept a “hands off” directive so I fear it is down to firing him.

      As for Milanovich, I doubt he would give up NFL money for an OC or consultant to the OC role.

      If the train wreck keeps going – I wonder about hiring Thorpe as HC/DC as I believe his Montreal contract is up then and likely still isn’t happy about being passed over for HC so many times.

      I agree Masoli isn’t better but he does run better so having him in to shake up the defense like LaFevour used to do might help.

  12. The Cats need two new offensive lineman and a new go to receiver to complete the offence while the defense will be much stronger when healthy.Not a huge list but a necessary one to be competitive.

    You must admit Austin gave the fans a taste of a running game.This guy can coach he’s just short of a few talented players.For example, Earnest Jackson,Jumpin’ Jack Flash could have eased the Cat’s woes.

  13. Lindsay Wilcox // July 16, 2017 at 12:52 pm //

    Ticat DBs seemed to be scared of BC receivers – respect OK, but playing so far off and very loosey-goosey zones where the receivers could run wild and free ?
    And yes, what happened to the running game ? Did KA have a quota of how many running plays he would use ? A couple of times, e.g. TD run, Scheuerman had huge holes to run through. I put more blame on the OC and DC than the players for this loss.

    • The Cats should obtain Marcel Bellefuille as OC coach for next season; he coaches these Lion receivers that all excel in style and talent.No one but him as earned the experience, and has the friendly but business-like personality, to complement Austin.

  14. rockfish // July 16, 2017 at 1:13 pm //

    Play calling was just atrocious. Talk about predictable. How many times in a row did Zach throw to Junior Collins? Even the TSN crew commented on it. We have 4 other capable receivers. Tyms, a large target, has been impressive in the past…why wasn’t he targeted more? Saunders looked impressive when thrown to. And why were virtually all the passes to Tasker short of the first down marker. If Austin called the plays this game, he needs too relinquish those duties to the OC.

  15. Conversely if Hamilton gets a couple of injured DB’s back and strings together a couple of wins they will be fine.
    A lot of football left to be played.

  16. So many problems with the Cats right now, I don’t know where to begin. The biggest problem is that the D is really bad. Every week the opposing QB’s have career days. Reinbold’s unit never seems ready, late substitutions, players don’t know the call and DB’s never make a play on the ball in the air.

    It’s clear to me that Banks has lost more than a step and should be
    released.

    On O, Saunders is the only receiver that scares defences. Scheuerman looked great early but he stopped getting the ball. The play calling was vanilla and I’ll never understand an 8 yard pass when it’s 2nd & 10.

    It’s tough to be a Tiger-Cats fan right now.

  17. I feel like our offense finally found its feet, then proceeded to shoot them both. Gave the rushing team some breath in the first quarter.. and then smothered it. Made some great pass plays, including a few long ones that defied belief when thrown… then kept the receivers in close and well short of the sticks.

    Defensive issues aside — and they did play ok for a while (and let’s remember they WERE playing against perhaps the best set of receivers in the league) — there was no reason the Cats could not have made things more difficult for the Lions, and made for a more interesting finish.

    It was progress, though things fell far short of our hopes. But this isn’t horseshoes and falling short is not acceptable.

    Build on the good, discard the bad, and let’s see better Thurs night vs. the peskie Eskies.

  18. Tough comments Stev6.
    Surprised.

  19. Sorry Steve.

  20. Finally see a running game and didn’t milk that enough. Why?

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