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.
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