MILTON: Ticats’ ground game has defences on the run

It is football’s version of truth serum and the right dosage can keep a dozen men honest.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offence has become committed to a running game and, more importantly, they’ve got CFL defences buying the commitment.

That, in turn, has been helping the Ticats win – they’re 2-1 for the first time in nine years after Friday’s 31-17 victory over Winnipeg – and has fostered a self-belief where so many games are decided: In the foxholes.

The vastly-improved offensive line is no longer a meaty dartboard trying to fend off an onslaught of arrows that has only one bull’s-eye in mind: The Hamilton quarterback.

The line is now the vanguard of a twin-pronged offence that creates doubt and, combined with stability of personnel and upgraded techniques, that smidgen of defensive uncertainty has really helped the blocking bloc.

“One hundred per cent, ” agrees third-year Ticat Brandon Revenberg, one of the best guards in the league.

“You’re getting teed off on when the D-line knows it’ll be a pass almost every play. They’re just thinking, ‘What different pass rush am I going to do?’ They’re not thinking, ‘I’ve got to read this. Is it a screen, is it a run, is it a draw?’

“Last year they’re thinking, ‘It’s a pass; how am I going to mess with these guys?’ Now, it’s getting them wondering more, so it has them a little more slowed down.

“For us it’s a big confidence-booster. We’re not playing catch with them all the time. Essentially, they have to react to us in the way we always had to react to them.”

When June Jones took over as head coach and offensive coordinator late last August, he was advised by his offensive linemen that defensive fronts were just pinning their ears back on the rush, and the team should establish a more consistent running game.

Jones didn’t need to hear that – he could already see it, and throughout his career, among all those passes, he’s always had a credible running game. But he listened and acted accordingly.

Jones uses the run to set up the pass, and everyone knows it.

But when you’ve got Mercer Timmis going off for 133 yards one game, Sean Thomas Erlington for 92 the next, and Jeremiah Masoli a threat to hit the exit at any time, it doesn’t matter what you think you know. This could be the passing play when one of them breezes right past you, which gives you pause.

There are a lot of intertwining factors at work here.

Dennis McKnight, an NFL lineman for a decade, moved from special teams coordinator to line coach, and brought new techniques with him.

As Revenberg mentions, regular linemates make for stronger communication, and there was a “revolving door” of offensive tackles last year. But Tony Washington at left tackle and Ryker Mathews at right have halted that spinning. Revenberg at left guard and veteran centre Mike Filer have been superior, as anticipated, while rookie Darius Ciraco’s play at right guard has outstripped expectations, justified the trade-up to draft him earlier, and shifted potential starting guard Landon Rice into the heavily employed tight end role, where he’s been quite effective. That provides extra protection on passes, but also aids the run and Jones says the formation is likely here to stay.

“It’s been there for 13 games now, ” he smiles. “We’re going to throw him a pass eventually.”

There were some big run games from C.J. Gable under Kent Austin, but there was never that continuum of commitment to the rush.

Jones says publicly that he wants to hoof it 17 to 25 times per game and in the past dozen games, only twice – including the season opener in Calgary – has his team failed to make at least 15 carries.

They’ve lost both times.

NOTES: DE Adrian Tracy, who left Friday’s game with injury, didn’t practise Monday and is iffy for Thursday night in Saskatchewan. … Sean Thomas Erlington took a recovery day, so John White got some A reps. Luke Tasker took individual drills but not competitive drills and DB Richard Leonard who missed Friday’s game, hopes to practise Tuesday.

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.
Steve Milton
Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (243 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.

12 Comments on MILTON: Ticats’ ground game has defences on the run

  1. Could never figure out Austin’s lack of a running game. C.O. Prime was fullback for 4 or 5 yrs. and I can count on 1 hand the number of times he touched the ball.
    Way better to have the run wear down defenses while setting up the pass.

    • Cat Fan // July 3, 2018 at 10:12 am //

      Pretty sad when Austin couldn’t see it yet other teams fans were telling me how happy they were that the run game including guys like Gable and Prime were under used.

  2. as I said all last year TSN media etc are dead wrong…the OL was not the problem

    thanks for finally seeing the prob experts lol

  3. Gratifying to see the run game excel, and great to see a coupla homers get a shot. John White got some 1st team reps yesterday, so they’ve got to find out if he’s worth the dime they paid for him. He might get a few reps on Thursday, when Mike Jones goes in. I’ve always believed that you have to create doubt in the D’s foot seven, to have success in this league. With the free yard, and the quickness of D/lineman these days, they can’t just be firing across the line, without worrying they’re going to pay a price. JJ says it’s not so much of a play-pass offence, but when he says something, do we see the opposite! Crafty old bird! Play-pass is another way of beating a b***s-to-the-wall rush like he’ll probably see from CJ & the Riders.

  4. Austin never believed in Running game, replacing Collaros when was struggling and continuity. Ticats has the highest turnover of players every season and sometimes changes every game. Ticats have lots many good players due to lack of commitment from Austin. I saw him as arrogant and it was all about his way or highway. I am soooooo happy for Players and entire organization. I look forward to watching games on TV. I am far away from Hamilton but Ticats are close to my heart. I am planing to travel for Labour Day Game. Go Cats Go !!!!!!!!!

    • Tiger man // July 4, 2018 at 8:13 am //

      “it was all about his way or highway.”

      And name me a head coach who does NOT believe in this.

      You think Chris Jones, Wally Buono, John Hufnagel or Marc Trestman takes votes from the players when they’re deciding something.

      You see, Al, that’s why assistants and co-ordinators want to become head coaches so that they can rule the roost.

      If a coach implements a plan, it’s because he firmly believes in it, otherwise, why would he do it??

      You’re not in attendance for meetings and when decisions are being made, so you have absolutely no idea what the why’s and how’s are.

      Your statement of “arrogance” is made out of ignorance on your part.

      • Cat Fan // July 4, 2018 at 1:33 pm //

        Sure … the HC believes in the plan where it is his/her plan.

        Repeating the same plan that was on such a long “0 fer” string with few visible changes to help the players out seems daft, if not arrogant.

        Equally puzzling was that Austin was willing to give Lefevour a package when Burris was in town – yet when things were going badly for Collaros, he skipped trying the same thing with Masoli.

        • Tiger man // July 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm //

          Again, someone who knows not the whole story.

          Injuries, and other factors affect decisions. There could have been factors that you would not know about.

          Perhaps, Masoli wasn’t as ready as Lafevour was at the time.

          • Cat Fan // July 4, 2018 at 5:36 pm //

            Absolutely … I don’t know the full story.

            I do know that in 2015 despite Austin’s reluctance to play Masoli – he went with him for both playoff games (won ESF then had better numbers than Burris until the dropped INT/Ellingson miracle catch in the EDF).

            I also know that Austin started Masoli in 2016. At the end of the year, the two split the time where Masoli had the better completion percentage as well as one more win than Collaros.

            I guess Masoli forgot everything in 2017 or was an injured backup that occasionally came in for short yardage until Jones reminded him how to play.

          • Tiger man // July 5, 2018 at 8:01 am //

            CF…we lost Collaros, our starter in 2015, at a time when he was the hottest quarterback in the league.

            Masoli, at that point, was untested. Previously, when Masoli did get some playing time, he did not show well.

            There were a number of those surprised by Masoli’s success in the 2015 playoffs, including myself. He played good enough to win that game. Let’s not forget Mathews, who was the backup to Collaros went down with an injury late in the ESF. Masoli only started in the 2015 EF by default. He was, at that time, the third stringer. Austin’s reluctance was understandable.

            Instead of criticzing Kent Austin, he should be lauded for assisting Masoli, his third stringer, in the most important game of the season, to that point, where he almost won it.

            This is also the same coach who took, in his first year here, an old quarterback and, the following season, a rookie both to the Grey Cup.

            Again, we don’t know what was behind the decision for Kent Austin playing Collaros last season, instead of Masoli.

            He also had on going problems with the Oline, How do generate a running game when they can’t even provide adequate protection.

            Kent also had to replace the DC and special teams coaches.

            How much of the offense was designed by Condell or had his influence?

            If so, was it changed when he left, by how much and when?

            Chris Jones, who has won 4 Grey cups with 4 different teams, is in his 3rd season and has yet to get his team to the big game. Has lost his starter, some say because of a bad Oline, and has been airlifting personnel into regina since his arrival.

            How well is he doing???

  5. Under coach Austin he ran the team without a running game and at the same time was firmly rooted with two national receivers.Each game no running game and always one receiver whom never caught the ball.

    Two chess pieces: the running back, and one receiver became useless pieces on the football field resulting in a cascade of defensive missiles on the Cat quarterback.Some of the international receivers too were not up to standard like Tyms that further dragged down the offence.
    Some fans did call for Banks to be put in as a receiver ( full time ) long before coach Jones arrived but coaches do not bother to read long standing fans comments I assume.

    • Tiger man // July 4, 2018 at 8:01 am //

      “but coaches do not bother to read long standing fans comments I assume.”

      With all their experience and knowledge, and you’re frustrated that they’re not listening to you….what an ego.

      It was Buddy Ryan who once said…

      “if you listen to the fans, you’ll be sitting up there with them”.

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