The bad and worse of Hamilton’s loss to the Stampeders

The Ticats stink. There, I said it. It is undeniable at this point. It is not longer about asking if they are a good team; they aren’t, and that’s not even debatable. But now we actually have to accept the fact that this team is bad. It plays in the East, so being bad doesn’t mean much, but this is a bad football team.

Sure, the Calgary Stampeders are the class of the CFL and this version could potentially go down as one of the greatest single-season teams in CFL history, but that doesn’t mask just how awful the Ticats played in their 36-17 loss yesterday afternoon.

There were a couple bright spots, but it was another putrid effort from the black and gold. Something all too familiar in 2016.

Good: Brett Maher, Andy Fantuz and Mike Daly

I am going to get the positives out of the way now because this is going to go south rather quickly. Brett Maher, Andy Fantuz and Mike Daly played great games. Maher went three for three on field goals including a Ticats team record 58-yarder in the second quarter. Maher has had his ups and downs this year, with there being way more ups and than downs, and yesterday was another big up game from him.

Then there is Andy Fantuz. The Ticats receiving corps is decimated by injuries, so it was expected that No. 83 was going to the go-to guy in the absence of Luke Tasker and Chad Owens. But there is stepping up and then there is what Fantuz has done the last two weeks. On the heels of his first 100-yard game of the season last week against Saskatchewan, Fantuz went out and caught 15 passes for 130 yards against the Stamps. Those 15 grabs were one shy of the CFL record for catches in a game shared by Terry Greer, Brian Wiggins, Derrell Mitchell and Arland Bruce. Fantuz now has 85 catches for 926 yards on the season and is experiencing something of a career resurgence in 2016. He may no longer be the consensus best Canadian receiver in the CFL, but he is sure playing like it lately.

Does anyone want to tell me why Mike Daly only gets into the starting lineup when someone gets hurt? All Daly does when he gets on the field is make plays. He had a beautiful pass breakup in the second quarter and a wonderful interception that led to the only Ticats touchdown of the afternoon. He has continued his stellar play from when he was thrust into the starting lineup for six games last year. This team has a lot of problems in their secondary, but Mike Daly is not one of them.

Bad: New week, same problems

So what are the problems, you ask? Well, if you have been watching this team all year you know exactly what they are. So let’s do this list-style, since those are all the rage on the Internet these days.

1. Don’t run: After thinking maybe, just maybe, the Ticats were going to start running the ball after C.J. Gable’s big Labour Day performance and Ross Scheuerman’s Herculean effort against the Als two weeks ago, the Ticats for the second straight game ran the ball just seven times and their backup quarterback was the team’s leading rusher in yards and carries. You just have to shake your head.

2. Can’t tackle: Time after time, Calgary broke tackles or made Ticats defenders miss. After Jerome Messam ripped off a 26-yard run on 1st-and-20 late in the game, a kid seated behind me at Tim Hortons Field screamed out, “YOU SUCK, DEFENSE!” Many of us laughed. Sadly, that young fan is all too right.

3. Can’t cover: Corner is an absolute tie fire for the Ticats this season. It does not seem to matter who they put in that position, those guys just aren’t good enough. Both Cassius Vaughn and the newly acquired Johnny Adams looked complete lost, especially when either was tasked with covering DaVaris Daniels. Daniels torched both guys whenever they tried to guard him, hauling in five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Neither player could stop him. It was hard to watch. And I don’t like calling for guys to get cut, but Cassius Vaughn has had ample opportunity to prove he belongs and constantly shows that he doesn’t. If he is one of the five best defensive backs that the Ticats can field right now, this team is in more trouble than I already think they are.

4. Can’t block: Zach Collaros was knocked from the game with a possible head injury and both he and Jeremiah Masoli were running for their lives behind an offensive line that does not seem to be getting any better as the season progresses. No matter what changes the team makes, what players they shuffle in or out, the results are the same. The Stamps recorded just two sacks on Saturday, but the pressure was there from the opening kickoff. Bo Levi Mitchell had all day to operate behind his stout o-line, and that’s why the Stamps have not lost since Week 1 and the Ticats have not strung two wins together since mid-July.

Bad: Challenges suck

Let’s call a spade a spade: yesterday’s game was not very good. It had some exciting parts, but for the most part it was a boring football game to watch. What made it worse was a pair of challenges that just sucked the life out of the building. The Ticats challenged a pass interference call and lost, while the Stamps challenged for illegal contact and won. I have no problem with the challenge system, but I am now firmly on board with others, like my colleague here at 3DownNation John Hodge, that say most of what is challengeable needs to be removed, especially things like pass interference and illegal contact.

When pass interference and illegal contact were added to the list of plays that were challengeable, I applauded the CFL for trying something new. I did not realize the Pandora’s box this would open. Were the calls challenged today ultimately the correct ones? Yes. That said, an already boring game was made doubly so because of the interminable wait to find out if these calls would be changed. Replay has to stay; there is no going back when it comes to having some form of replay and anyone who says abolish all replay is a Luddite who cannot be taken seriously. But the genie needs to be somewhat put back in the bottle and plays like pass interference and illegal contact need to be eliminated as challengeable plays. These are judgment calls and we need to, for better or worse, let the referees on the field be the ones to use their judgment. That is why they are there. We accept that players and coaches will make mistakes, so we need to afford referees the same courtesy.

No game is ever going to go perfectly, and the sooner we all accept that the happier we will all be. Refs are going to screw up; players and coaches are, too. But I would rather see a blown call than sit through another three-minute-long delay while the command centre decides if a defensive back hit a receiver a nanosecond before the ball got there. In the immortal words of Owen Hart, “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change.”

Bad: Failure to capitalize

This may come as a surprise to you, but the Ticats actually won the turnover battle. Yes, it’s true! Hamilton forced three Calgary turnovers, while the Ticats turned the ball over just twice. Hamilton intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell on two occasions, including another beauty by ballhawking DB Emmanuel Davis. Davis now has five interceptions on the year and sits tied for second in the league with Argo-turned-Bomber T.J. Heath, and is just one behind the league leader, and Heath’s Winnipeg teammate, Maurice Leggett. When I complain about the secondary, I am not complaining about Davis.

Winning the turnover battle usually means winning the game, yet the Ticats got drubbed and lost by 19. How did that happen? Getting turnovers are nice, but if they aren’t converted into points, they are essentially meaningless. So it is great that the Ticats forced Calgary into three turnovers, but getting just eight points off them is why it didn’t matter that they won the turnover battle. When Calgary gives you three extra chances with the ball, you need to take advantage of them. The Ticats didn’t and they paid for it.

Bad: Down goes Zach again

The Ticats already had an injury list a mile long and you can now add another name to it: Zach Collaros. The franchise QB was knocked from Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury and his status going forward is uncertain. Last year, losing Collaros sunk the Ticats’ season, but this year Collaros is not playing anywhere near at the level he was last year and he has been about as good as Jeremiah Masoli was at the start of the year. The team needs ’16 Collaros to be ’15 Collaros and I do not know if that is possible. If No. 4 misses more time, the team will be Masoli’s once again. He has proven he can be brilliant and terrifying in equal measure, and with the team at 6-8 it will need Masoli to be more of the former and less of the latter if he is thrust into service.

Final Thoughts

The bye week couldn’t come at a better time for a team whose injury list feels like it is as long as its active roster. Tasker, Owens, Stephen et al are now joined by Zach Collaros, and maybe the week off is just what the doctor ordered to get some of these guys back on the field for the stretch run.

The Ticats now enter the final four games that will determine their season. The upcoming home-and-home with the Ottawa Redblacks will be key in deciding home-field advantage for the East Final, and the Ticats may have to win one or both just to make the playoffs (*insert Jim Mora video here*) before they finish up with a pair at home against the suddenly competent Edmonton Eskimos and the who-the-heck-knows Montreal Alouettes.

If the Ticats are to make the post-season, they will probably have to win three of their remaining four games. Two might be enough, but that would be pushing it. If they could do the miraculous and win all four, they are likely hosting the East Final. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s see what this team looks like after a week off and then we will fully discuss potential playoff scenarios.

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