After three games, and especially after the last two, it seems as if the formula for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is big plays offensively, timely stops defensively, and best-in-the-league special teams play. If those three things happen, the Ticats win.
Case in point, Hamilton lost the time of possession battle significantly — Montreal had the ball for almost 13 more minutes — and lost the turnover battle, yet still won the game by 31 points.
Just think about that for a second.
I don’t know if that is some peak CFL or just one of those weird things that happens a couple of times during a season, but by some of the tried and true measures we use to figure out whether a team should win or lose, the Ticats were steamrolled in two of them.
Here are some other thoughts.
Be back in your seat for the third quarter
Slow starts have defined the Ticats for some time, so seeing the team get out to them again this year is nothing new. But what has changed is how they respond coming out the halftime break. While the scoring difference in the first half is 45-22 in Hamilton’s favour (not a bad split by any stretch of the imagination) it is the second half where things really tip in their favour. The Ticats have outscored their opponents 83-18 in the second half of their first three contests.
The splits between the third and fourth couldn’t be closer (42 in the third, 41 in the fourth), but it is the third quarter where the team takes a manageable lead and turns it into a big one. Then they cruise, relatively speaking, and pull away in the fourth.
The hallmark of a good team is being able to put your foot on another team’s throat and the Ticats have done that consistently to start the season and is a big reason why they are 3-0 for the first time since 2004.
Masoli was… *shrug emoji*
So how does one judge a QB performance that sees said QB pass for over 400 yards, lead five touchdown drives, complete over 80 per cent of his passes, rush for 30 yards and two scores while throwing for another touchdown, but toss three interceptions? Last year, those gaudy numbers didn’t always translate into wins, and the ill-timed picks would doom the team to a close loss, yet you put both in one game and… the Ticats win running away?
The win is all that matters, or at least that is what Masoli critics used to say, and numbers are for geeks like me, but you can’t say this was a great game by No. 8 nor can you say it was a bad one. It was a weird one, one in which nothing seemed normal. Maybe it was a product of how bad the Als are, or maybe it says more about how good the Ticats are if three interceptions (including one in the end zone) doesn’t doom them. I guess we won’t know until we see what they do against a team that isn’t winless.
Banks stay Banks-ing
One thing we do know is that Brandon Banks is still one of the best in the league at what he does. Through the air, Banks caught seven passes for 152 yards, and he added another 30 on the ground and a rushing score, his first score on the ground since 2017.
Banks was hobbling a bit during the game, but it didn’t stop him from eating up the Als secondary. His chemistry with Masoli is second to none, and both players are showing they are far more than just a product of June Jones’ run-and-shoot offence. Banks now sits atop the league in receiving yards — teammates Bralon Addison and Sean Thomas Erlington, who each had 100-plus yard games on Friday as well, also reside in the top six in receiving yards, at No. 4 and 6, respectively — but Banks is clearly the straw that stirs this drink and as he goes, so goes the offence.
Win the trenches
The Ticats dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the line. Offensively, the team did not allow a sack for the second straight game and have surrendered just one so far through the first three games. Defensively, six sacks says it all. Ja’Gared Davis had a trio himself, his first sacks this season, and Dylan Wynn, Ted Laurent and Julian Howsare each pitched in with one each. Hamilton invested a lot in both of their lines this off-season, and were given some fortuitous gifts courtesy of the New England Patriots and Toronto Argonauts, and it is clear that investment is paying off huge right now.
The Reinebold Effect, part 3
It feels like a broken record to praise the Ticats special teams, but it is hard not to when they once again played a major role in the team’s victory. No majors in this one, breaking their two-game scoring streak, but a few big returns set the Ticats up with great field position.
Frankie Williams is turning into a returning stud. Four punt returns for 117 yards and two kickoff returns for 68 yards are not numbers that pop off the page, but his tenacious attitude on teams, where the first hit rarely takes him down, is something that stands out. His speed is underrated, and he does all this while also starting as the team’s field-side corner. Tremendous.
Lirim Hajrullahu missed his first field goal of the season, but his kickoffs were solid and he only punted once, so not a bad game for him either.
Aggressive in the wrong way
I understand the heat of the battle, and I get it if you say the tackle by Nick Shortill was a little late. But under no circumstance should a player be able to punch/slap another player in their helmet without being assessed a penalty like Stefan Logan did to Shortill on the return following Hajrullahu’s missed field goal.
How the refs missed that is beyond my comprehension.
Also, Jeremiah Masoli seemed to lead with his helmet on his final rushing TD of the night and… isn’t that supposed to be a penalty? In a just league, both Masoli and Logan will be lighter in the pocketbook come Wednesday, but the CFL’s wheel of justice is almost as bad as the NHL’s so who the heck knows what the outcome will be.
Aggressive in the right way
So this whole “going for two” thing wasn’t a one-game fad and is now a staple of the Ticats’ offence. Hamilton went for two three times against Montreal and were successful on all three attempts. As I said in this space a week ago, I am all for the team going for two after every score and I hope this keeps up as the season progresses.
I also LOVED the team’s decision to go for the surprise onside kick in the second quarter after their first touchdown. The execution wasn’t there — Nick Shortill whiffed on slapping the ball out of bounds — but I am a big proponent of team’s playing to win and that was an example of the Ticats doing just that.
Kudos to a brilliant goal-line stand
I have to give it up to the Als, and especially Henoc Muamba, on a tremendous goal-line stand in the second quarter. The Ticats were rolling, up 15-3, and ready to extend that lead going into halftime when a pass interference call set them up on the one-yard line. Three attempted plunges later and it was Montreal’s ball. The Als defence stiffened in that scenario, led by Muamba, and it was just a superlative play from an Als team that showed very little for most of the game.
Let’s talk attendance
A lot has been made about attendance being down across the CFL so far this season, and we have seen less-than-capacity crowds at both Ticats’ home games this season. The home opener two weeks ago drew 22,287 and Friday’s game drew just a bit more than that at 22,407. The Ticats routinely sold out Tim Hortons Field during the first four years of the stadium’s existence, so to see the team fail to sell out both of their home games is a little disheartening.
But don’t be influenced by the gloom and doom a bunch of amateur attendance-ologists are proclaiming online. Most of the people commenting on Hamilton’s attendance “woes” have never stepped foot inside Tim Hortons Field, do not understand its layout or what the team is trying to do when it comes to attracting a younger audience. You would think after the much-publicized Grey Cup plan that people would get it, but they don’t. This is not Montreal or B.C. or Toronto. Tim Hortons Field has always been set up to have communal areas and the team has been very public about how they aren’t as concerned about butts being in seats as they are about people being in the building.
Yes, the stands look empty and that doesn’t make for an attractive look on television, but the concourses are usually filled with people — legitimately, it would not surprise me if the numbers reached into the thousands — and that is only from what I can see from my seat on the west side. I am sure the concourse underneath me looks the same.
I am a sit-in-my-seat fan. I like to hunker down and watch the game. I socialize in so much as I talk to the people I go to the games with, but I don’t leave my seat very often. I’ve been to every game at Tim Hortons Field and can probably keep my socks on to count how many times I have left my seat during a game. But my fan experience is not everyone’s fan experience, and I know plenty of people who like to mingle in the common areas, watch the game on a TV monitor somewhere in the stadium, and hang out with their friends that way. So before you worry about what some rando from not-Hamilton says on Twitter about the attendance in Hamilton, come to a game and see for yourself. Attendance may be done slightly, but I do not believe it is a case for concern in Hamilton just yet.