Despite the four wins in a row, despite the absolute domination of opponents the last three weeks, despite sitting in first place in their division, one question remained for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats heading into their much-hyped matchup with the Edmonton Eskimos last night: Could they beat a good team on the road?
The Ticats answered that question rather emphatically with a 49-20 humbling of the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.
It may not have been the three-phase beating the team put on the BC Lions a week ago, but it may have been a more impressive showing considering the Ticats offense seemingly scored at will against the vaunted Eskimos defense.
It was an absolute masterpiece of a performance on both sides of the ball and one that has to make the Ticats the team to beat going into the second half of the 2015 season.
It seems like every week we kick things off by talking about Zach Collaros, but the Ticats pivot was once again spectacular as he threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for another. What made all this even more impressive was that he did it against a defense that had not allowed an offensive touchdown at home in the regular season since Week 12 of last year. In all, Collaros engineered six touchdown drives against the Eskimos last night and his recent run of success has catapulted him into the conversation for league MOP.
The reason Collaros was able to find so much success was thanks in large part to the offensive line. Coming into the game, the Eskimos defense led the league in sacks with 27. When the game was over, they still led the league and still had just 27. The Ticats line kept Collaros clean and, as the unit continues to jell, expect more performances like this in the future.
Sticking with the offensive line, one player in particular that needs to be singled out for his stellar play is centre Mike Filer. Filer entered last year with the unenviable task of taking over for a beloved fan favourite, 10-year stalwart Marwan Hage. A lot of fans were hard on Filer, even going so far as to say the team should get rid of him, as he struggled trying to learn one of the toughest positions in football. One year later and you rarely see Filer’s named mentioned, in a good way. His play has improved dramatically and we no longer hear the calls for his head or for the team to bring Hage back. Filer has grown by leaps and bounds, and anchors what is starting to become one of the better offensive line groups on the CFL.
What other ways can we heap praise upon this defense? Another week, another defensive score, this time on a fumble recovery by defensive end Eric Norwood — his second in as many weeks — that set a record for longest fumble return for a touchdown in team history. It was the team’s eighth defensive touchdown of the year. In eight games. Incredible.
But Norwood’s fumble recovery wasn’t the only bright spot on defense, as the unit forced eight turnovers, including two interceptions by second-year man Mike Daly. Daly has been thrust into action because of an injury to Craig Butler and he has not looked out of place in the starting lineup. I could go on and on about how great the defense is, but everyone always knows about how good they are. They had a chip on their shoulder entering the game after Odell Willis called them the baby version of what Edmonton had. Well, the baby kicked some major butt.
Finally, it seems like every week someone new steps up and this week it was Terrell Sinkfield. Sinkfield had been in and out of the lineup, but was given a second lease on life after the injury to Bakari Grant. Sinkfield made a statement that he does not want to be taken off the field again, as he finished the game with six catches for 118 yards and the game’s first two touchdowns. The former Argo has had an up and down tenure since joining the Ticats late last season, but he is starting to look like he can be a valuable contributor when called upon.
After a couple of relatively clean games, at least by Ticats standards, the discipline issues once again reared their ugly head as the Ticats were penalized 17 times for 192 yards last night. It actually shows just how dominant the Tabbies were against the Eskimos when they can give their opposition nearly two field lengths of free yardage and still beat them by 29 points. But regardless of the outcome, you never want to see that many flags for that many yards. They need to get this stuff in check because they could get themselves in trouble later in the season, or in the playoffs, by taking so many penalties.
One player in particular that did not have a very good games was defensive back Ed Gainey. Suiting up in place of the injured Donald Washington, who looked fantastic in his starts this season, Gainey was usually matched up against Edmonton receiver Derel Walker and just could not stop him. In just his second career game, Walker went off for a game-high 14 catches for 183 yards. All of them didn’t come against Gainey, but a majority of them did. It was not a good performance by No. 11 and one the team cannot have a repeat of too often in the future. With Washington being put on the six-game injured list, Gainey could see a lot of playing time in the coming weeks. He needs to get better if he wants to avoid getting picked on like he was against the Eskimos.
The Ticats have made many statements since a Week 4 loss to Montreal, but none as impressive as the one they made against the Eskimos last night. A lot of people wanted to see if they could go on the road and beat a good team. Well they did more than just beat one, they beat one down. It was a thorough trouncing of one of the league’s best teams and a showcase to the rest of the league that the Ticats are a force to be reckoned with. No one, and I mean no one, looks as dominant right now as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
But the team will not have time to bask in the glory of their latest triumph as they have a quick turnaround. The Ticats will host the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night at Tim Hortons Field. This will be the Als first trip to Hamilton since last season’s loss in the East Division Final and they are coming in off a big win over the BC Lions, but also with a new head coach. Out is Tom Higgins and in is Jim Popp.
The Ticats will also look to avenge their Week 4 loss in Montreal, which included one of the poorest showings of Zach Collaros’ young career. But the Ticats are on a role right now and have a chance to put even more distance between themselves and the East Division’s bottom dwellers.