What we learned in Hamilton’s 37-20 loss to the Roughriders

Hamilton went into the new home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the first and gave the home side their first win in their new digs. The Ticats fell 37-20 to the previously winless Riders and here is what we learned from Hamilton’s latest defeat.

Undisciplined, thy name is Tiger-Cats

So where to start?

Should it be with the 15 penalties or 187 yards?

Should it be with Will Hill losing complete control of himself and getting ejected for grabbing a ref by the collar?

Should it be the three penalties on the team’s first five plays, including an illegal kick out of bounds after conceding a safety on a punt so as not to give Saskatchewan good field position?

What about wasting a timeout on the first play of the fourth drive?

Should I go on?

The team didn’t just shoot itself in the foot, it blew off its entire leg with a machine gun. The Riders needed no help in winning this game, but the Ticats decided to give them some anyway. Just a horribly undisciplined game from, quite literally, the very beginning.

The defence sucks

With a bye week to figure stuff out, and with a few changes made in the back end, you would think the Ticats might have a little more success on the defensive side of the ball. You would be wrong.

The Riders tallied 464 yards of offence, picked up 31 first downs, and converting on four of five trips into the red zone. You are going to lose a lot of football games by giving up those numbers.

And remember that problem on second and long against the Argos? It’s still a problem. The Ticats allowed an average of 10.7 yards on second down and let Saskatchewan convert 17 of their 26 second-down attempts. That’s a 65 per cent success rate. That would be good against air!

One Saskatchewan drive best encapsulates Hamilton’s defensive ineptitude. With the Riders nursing a seven-point lead and the defence having them in second and 16 at midfield, a stop might have been able to swing the game back into Hamilton’s favour. Instead, the Riders pick up one first down on an 18-yard pass from Kevin Glenn to Naaman Roosevelt, and then two plays later, Glenn hit Nic Demski for 15 yards on a second and 10. The drive ended with a Tyler Crapigna field goal that made the score 30-20. Had the defence found a way to get off the field in either of those second-and-long situations, but especially on the second and 16, who knows what happens.

But at least there was one bright spot, and that was Justin Rogers’ interception return for a touchdown. He made a great break on the ball when Kevin Glenn was late on an out route — sound familiar? — and took it to the house. It was one of the few moments in the game where it looked like the Ticats could win. Unfortunately, that feeling was fleeting.

The offence sucks

It only took until 1:54 left in the third quarter of their second game, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats did score an offensive touchdown. It was their only one, but it happened.

But other than that, the offence was as bad as it was in Week 1 versus the Argos. Much like with the defence, the numbers are ugly. Just one red zone appearance — the aforementioned touchdown drive — a minuscule 195 yards of offence, six of 19 on second down and less than 24 minutes of possession. It doesn’t matter who you play, that’s rarely going to be good enough.

The Ticats made a number of moves on the offensive side of the ball, some that worked (that we will get to in a bit) and some that didn’t (that we will also get to later), but perhaps the tinkering isn’t done just yet.

Also, how in the heck does Luke Tasker go catch less in a game? And to be targeted just twice? That should never happen, and cannot happen in the future.

And the offensive line might suck worst of all

There is no sugarcoating this: the Ticats offensive line was awful. Sure, they allowed just one sack, but they also allowed 11 QB pressures and it looked like Zach Collaros was running for his life most of the game and never got comfortable in the pocket.

A lot of that was due to the player of the team’s bookends, left tackle Xavier Fulton and rookie right tackle Jordan Swindle. These two were particularly awful against the Riders, with both of them getting beat numerous times, most notably by Willie Jefferson. It was a horrible performance from the entire unit, but Fulton’s and Swindle’s performance really stood out for all the wrong reasons.

After two games, Swindle does not look like he belongs, and the Ticats cut veteran right tackle Jeremy Lewis back in the spring to give Swindle the opportunity to start. Lewis is still unemployed and the Ticats might be smart to make amends and bring the former Miami Hurricane back to Steeltown because the replacement for him has been nowhere near as good.

C.J. Gable was benched because?

The big story before the game was the team benching veteran running back C.J. Gable in favour of sophomore Ross Scheuerman. Gable’s poor pass protection and paltry nine yards rushing against the Argos were used as the reason No. 32 was sat down against the Riders, but can anyone say that Scheuerman did anything to deserve to continue to start over Gable?

The second-year man’s struggles in pass blocking was singled out by the TSN crew and he finished the game with just 19 yards on five carries and a long of just six. Sure, those numbers are slightly better than Gable’s versus the Argos, but not so much so that Scheuerman staying in the starting lineup is a given. Obviously, the flow of the game dictated the Ticats getting away from the run, but the same was true with the last game against Toronto and that didn’t seem to stop the team from making the change.

Hamilton’s issues in the run game are not exclusive to one player. This is a philosophical problem more so than a personnel one. Hamilton just doesn’t run the ball, and if the new guy’s pass blocking isn’t even as good as the guy he replaced, then going back to the Gable just makes sense. We will see what the team thinks this week, but if Gable was benched after one poor performance, then Scheuerman should be as well.

Jalen Saunders can play ball

Now to the positives: Jalen Saunders isn’t leaving the starting lineup anytime soon. The former Oklahoma Sooner led the team in receiving with six catches for 78 yards. Not huge numbers — the Riders’ Naaman Roosevelt had 10 catches for 167 yards and routinely abused Hamilton’s young secondary — but when the team puts up less than 200 yards of offence, one guy getting nearly half that will stick out. Saunders looks like a keeper and if the Ticats can ever get their deep passing game going, he is going to be a real threat.

Sergio Castillo, still perfect

After going two-for-two on field goals against the Argos, Sergio Castillo was once again was perfect kicking the ball. He attempted, and made, his first two converts of the season, and he was also two-for-two on his field goal tries. You know who has missed a field goal, as well as a few extra points? Brett Maher.

Looking ahead

Very few people would have had the Ticats at 0-2 to start the year, but here they are and things do not get any easier over the next month. Hamilton plays their next five against West Division teams, with home dates against the Lions and Eskimos coming up, followed by a two-game road trip through Alberta, and ending with a home contest against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It is very possible that this team could be 0-7 and looking towards next year before we even get to Labour Day.

The team’s one saving grace is that the East Division once again looks to be horrible. Just one team sits above .500 and that’s the Toronto Argonauts at 2-1. The Als have won just once and the Redblacks are also winless, with just their opening week tie keeping them from sharing the basement with the Ticats. But even the East in 2017 is as bad as in 2016, an 0-7 start would be disastrous.

In the immediate future, the Ticats take on the 2-1 B.C. Lions in the first home game of 2017 for the black and gold. Much like last year, home is not where the heart is, as after 12 games the home side is just 5-6-1 so far in 2017. Hamilton is the last team to get a home game, and they very much would like to reverse the trend that saw three road teams win in Week 3.

But that will likely be much easier said than done, as B.C. brings an explosive offence to Tim Hortons Field on Saturday night. After surrendering nearly 1,000 yards of offence and 69 combined points in the first two games, stopping the Lions is going to be a tall task. B.C. may have the scariest offense in the league, and with the Ticats having already surrendered 100-plus-yards to four different receivers — S.J. Green, Jeff Fuller and DeVier Posey in Week 1, and Naaman Roosevelt in Week 3 — one has to wonder what Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham, Nick Moore and Chris Rainey could do on Saturday. Add in the league’s second-leading rusher in Jeremiah Johnson, and things are looking like they are going to get much worse before they get better.

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