In everyday life — okay, politics aside – it’s not ethical to kick ‘em while they’re down.
But in pro sports, it’s one of the Ten Commandments: don’t let your opponents off the mat. On the contrary, remind them why they’re on their backs, then keep reminding them.
That will be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ assignment at Mosaic Stadium Thursday Night, as they look to open a season at 3-1 for the first time since 2004, Year One of the Bob Young Era. Exploit what’s ailing the Saskatchewan Roughriders, especially early, and don’t let them regain any home-crowd advantage.
To a man, the Ticats and their coaching staff know that the Roughriders will be juiced with rebound adrenalin from the opening kickoff. Loading up with veterans and targeting survival into late November, they’ve staggered out of the gates at 1-2, losing two straight to, horrors, East Division teams, including last week’s embarrassing 23-17 decision at home to the previously hapless Montreal Alouettes.
And suddenly the Riders are sitting at No. 9, aka last, in 3DownNation’s Power Ranking, while being described in a variety of creative ways by their rabid, and judgemental, fans. You won’t find “good” or any of its synonyms among the adjectives.
“Saskatchewan will be very aggressive,” agrees Ticat head coach June Jones, referring particularly to the Rider defence. “They’ll be putting their ears back and coming. They had a disappointing game last week. They’ll come after us.”
That’s the Chris Jones way. The Saskatchewan head coach’s defence can do significant damage, particularly off the edges, where 34-year-old Charleston Hughes can still steam in from one end, leading the league with four sacks, and even-harder-to-restrain Willie Jefferson patrols the other.
“He (Jones) is a little bit of a wild card in the sense that he won’t be afraid to call the same things twice or if it’s not working he’s not afraid to switch it up,” says Ticat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who’s off to a brilliant start. “Characteristic-wise, those guys are always big and physical and athletic. We’ve been kind of preaching all week, more so than any other week, be ready physically.”
The Riders have controlled the run in their trio of games against the other three eastern teams and that frames one of the central themes of this game.
Hamilton wins when its offence rushes often and effectively, creating just enough uncertainty to spring its phalanx of excellent, and mostly fast, receivers. The Alouettes’ Chris Williams blew by the Rider coverage — mostly Duron Carter — and Hamilton has three or four guys with that level of rpms.
Had the Hamilton head coach been around the league a little longer, Offensive Jones vs. Defensive Jones, would be one of those classic CFL confrontations, tagged by some kind of kitchy nickname. But while they recognize the tendencies, they’re not yet deep into each other’s head.
The Ticats need to avoid early sacks to neuter the crowd support, then make some hay on defence.
If Jones vs. Jones becomes a push, the Ticats’ defence must chew up a Saskatchewan offence that has, to be kind, sputtered.
With Zach Collaros’s concussion, Canadian Brandon Bridge gets his second straight start, although he was yanked after a weak first half last week. Chris Jones has been quite open in saying that backup David Watford will play again if Bridge wavers.
The Riders have scored only three offensive touchdowns and have curiously kept Carter mostly on defence, and didn’t give the ball to Jerome Messam last week. That combination has stimulated widespread indignation among Saskatchewan’s chattering classes.
The Riders offence is very suspect in the middle of the line and Hamilton’s been getting an enormous push from Jason Neill and Ted Laurent in the middle of their defensive line. And Nikita Whitlock may be more available to help there with running back John White on the active roster.
Bridge beat the Ticats 27-19 with three touchdown passes at Tim Hortons Field early in June Jones’ tenure. And if Messam becomes a factor, Carter gets some time at receiver and Bridge can get the ball out quickly to the likes of Naaman Roosevelt, the Riders could possibly right their ship, and their mentality, quickly.
It’s Hamilton’s job to make sure they don’t. One of Hamilton ’s blemishes has been not creating enough turnovers and this would be a good time and place to apply the vanishing cream.
After Thursday’s game the Ticats embark on their first of three bye weeks.
In mid-spring, had they been offered a 2-2 record heading into that bye off a brutal starting schedule – against the predicted top four teams in the west, three of them on the road – they’d have shrugged and accepted it.
Now they’ve got a chance to head out at 3-1.
If you’re going to be a championship team, you have to win the games you should win, particularly when the other team is clearly vulnerable.
And, for the Ticats, this is one of those games.
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