The Ticats started off hot and got some key turnovers late en route to defeating the Toronto Argonauts 34-18 in their home opener at a sold out Tim Hortons Field. That makes it eight wins in a row for the Ticats at home, and they have still yet to lose at Tim Hortons Field.
The game was close at times, but it never really felt like Hamilton gave up control. They scored first and never gave up the lead. It was a pretty emphatic victory against a team that, coming in, looked like one of the best in the league.
Let’s get to what there was to like and dislike about Hamilton’s performance on Monday night.
Stopping a team on 3rd-and-1 once is impressive, doing it twice in one game is downright ridiculous. That is just what the Ticats did against the Argos, stopping two Argos drives cold on 3rd-and-short. The Ticats have now done this four times this season, once against Calgary and once against Montreal, and it is time we really start appreciating just how good this defensive line is and just how good its anchor, Ted Laurent, is. That line held Brandon Whitaker to just 17 yards rushing, and it continues the dominant trend the Ticats established long ago of just not letting running backs beat them. The Ticats have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and only one, Jon Cornish, has managed to crack the 70-yard barrier against this defense. If you run the ball or like to gamble on 3rd-and-short, do not do it against the Ticats. You will fail.
Speaking of running the ball, when C.J. Gable went down (more on that in a bit), Anthony Woodson stepped up and showed why signing him away from the Argonauts might be the most underrated free agent move of 2015. Woodson toted the rock 10 times for 54 yards and brought a physical feel to the team’s rushing attack. The running game was nowhere near the monster it was with Gable last week in Saskatchewan, but it didn’t have to be. But if Gable is going to once again miss an extended period of time, the team is in good hands with Woodson.
Bakari Grant is once again proving why bringing him back was a smart move. He is playing with a chip on his shoulder and he looks poised to have the best year of his career. The man who scored the first ever touchdown at Tim Hortons Field scored two against the Argos on Monday and has quickly become a red-zone favourite for Zach Collaros this season. With solid hands and a big body, Grant is perfect for catching passes in the red zone. Grant shone last night and he is proving week in and week out why he is a valuable member of this team.
Another newcomer that has impressed me in his limited playing time is defensive back Donald Washington. Washington is playing the spot formerly occupied by Delvin Breaux and while he has gotten beat from time to time, he has provided solid coverage and has made a few big plays, including a monstrous sack on Trevor Harris last night. The more I see of Washington, the more I like him. The Ticats spent most of the offseason trying to find Breaux’s replacement and they may have finally found their man.
I think it is time we start giving Jeff Reinebold more credit for the job he has done with Hamilton’s special teams unit. Sure, you can say it is easy to look good when you have Brandon Banks back there, but it is not just in the return game where Hamilton shines on special teams. Against the Argos, the Ticats once again deployed the onside punt to try to steal a possession from their opponent — they did this a couple of times last year as well — and it worked to perfection. It worked so well, in fact, that not only did the Ticats get the ball back, they scored on the play when Brandon Stewart scooped up the loose ball and walked into the end zone. It was a fantastic play and showed how Reinebold has his unit ready for anything. A tip o’ the cap to him for a gutsy play call that, more often than not, has worked out in his favour.
Not much negativity to be found in a 16-point win, but there were a couple of things that concerned me following last night’s win.
The obvious place to start is with the injuries to C.J. Gable and Andy Fantuz. The scuttlebutt is that they both suffered elbow injuries, but the extent of those injuries is not yet known. The team just looked like they were getting healthy — Luke Tasker, Eric Norwood and Ted Laurent all returned from various injuries this week — and losing two of their biggest offensive weapons in one game is a big blow. The Ticats have a very talented roster, but losing Gable and Fantuz for extended periods of time is not ideal. Other players are going to have to step up to fill the void left by these two talented players.
While I praised the Ticats defense for the abilities in stopping the run, they did not do a great job of stopping the pass. The Ticats gave up 389 yards through the air against the Argos, which is usually a recipe for disaster. The Ticats defense has been stout for much of the season, and the Argos’ passing attacking has been one of the best so far this season, so the Tabbies get a mulligan for this one. It still warranted mentioning, but this feels more like a one week thing than something that will be a concern going forward.
It was a fairly dominant performance from the Ticats last night. They momentum never seemed to swing Toronto’s way and the Ticats never gave up the lead after taking it early in the first quarter. The game was far from a blowout, but it never looked like the Argos were really in it.
The Ticats now have a share of first place in the East after last night’s win, with a chance to win their third straight when they take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday. These two teams met in Winnipeg in Week 2, where the Ticats knocked Winnipeg QB Drew Willy from the game and then proceeded to pound the Bombers 52-24.
Winnipeg is one of two teams, Calgary being the other, who have yet to play at Tim Hortons Field, so the Bombers could be in for a rude awakening come Sunday. The Ticats are a different team when they play in their new home, and if the ball gets rolling in Hamilton’s favour early, it could be a long night for the men from Winnipeg.