Atrocious offence kills Cats in loss to Bombers (and 13 other thoughts)

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

There is no sugarcoating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 26-12 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night.

They got their asses kicked.

A week after coughing up a 24-point lead to the Calgary Stampeders, the Ticats failed to find the end zone against an admittedly stout Bombers’ defence, settling for four field goals in their two-score defeat.

Hamilton’s offence was putrid all night. Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Dane Evans looked more like a first-year player than the franchise pivot he is paid to be, the offensive line was abysmal, the receivers dropped too many passes and the run game was non-existent.

The defence was mostly solid, holding the Bombers to a single touchdown drive all night — Winnipeg’s second major score came courtesy of an interception returned for a touchdown by Winnipeg’s all-around terror Willie Jefferson — and, much like Week 1 in Saskatchewan, they kept the team in the game while the offence played as if they had never been on a football field before.

Now 0-3 for the first time since 2017, the final year of Kent Austin’s tenure running the franchise and the last time the Tabbies failed to make the post-season, the Ticats need to figure this out before their season starts to go completely off the rails.

A truly offensive performance

Hamilton’s patchwork offensive line was always going to have their hands full against Winnipeg’s tremendous front four but I don’t think even the most ardent Ticats skeptic would have believed they would look this bad.

Winnipeg’s all-universe defensive end pairing of Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat lived in Hamilton’s backfield, with both generating a ton of pressure and Jefferson notching his first sack of the season.

That was Winnipeg’s only takedown of Dane Evans in this game, which is why sack numbers can often be misleading. The Bombers’ defensive line won’t have big numbers on the stat sheet but they were the collective difference makers in this game.

The Ticats were playing their third different offensive line unit of the season and it showed. Without all-star guard Brandon Revenberg available, the Tabbies went with Kay Okafor and the former university defensive lineman showed why he has yet to make a starting spot his own. Okafor was routinely beaten by Winnipeg’s interior defensive line and it forced Dane Evans to escape the pocket on numerous occasions.

The problem wasn’t only Okafor, however. Chris Van Zeyl has not been the dominant player we have come to know, while Jesse Gibbon botched a couple of snaps. Tyrone Riley was probably the team’s best lineman on the night, at least early, but over the course of an entire game, you can only expect so much out of a rookie going up against guys like Jefferson and Jeffcoat.

There were a lot of areas where this team failed miserably on Friday night but the offensive line is at the tippy top of that list.

Hands like frying pans

Dane Evans threw a pair of interceptions again against the Blue Bombers, giving him six on the year. He has thrown exactly two in each game this season but he didn’t have a fumble against Winnipeg, so I guess that is progress.

While those picks will go on Evans’ ledger, not all interceptions are created equal and both throws required a bit of misfortune on the Tiger-Cats’ part.

Each interception occurred from a ball bouncing off the hands of receiver Steven Dunbar Jr. The first was a double tip that resulted in Willie Jefferson’s game-sealing touchdown on a throw that was a little too far inside. The second came when the second-year pass-catcher got blown up on a route in the middle of the field, resulting in Bombers’ defensive back Nick Taylor coming down with the ball.

While Evans isn’t solely to blame for the turnovers, the first throw was not a good one while the second was thrown in a bad spot on the field.

Six interceptions is six interceptions and Evans continues to be a little too cavalier with the football for my liking. He now has more interceptions than ta trend he absolutely has to reverse if this team is going to do anything this season.

Domagala should be Done-magala

Hamilton has had a kicking problem since Lirim Hajrullahu decided to take his talents to the National Football League.

Last year, the tandem of American Taylor Betrolet and Canadian Michael Domagala was pitiful. Missed kicks cost the team a shot at a win over the Toronto Argonauts when Domagala missed a game-tying extra point late in their one-point loss at BMO Field and it was always a tense moment whenever the Ticats were tasked with kicking a field goal.

The team released Bertolet late last season, riding with Domagala as the team marched towards a Grey Cup berth. Many hoped the Ticats would go out and find a veteran replacement, but they opted instead to bring Domagala back and have him compete for the spot with other young players.

Domagala won the job in what felt like the right move considering his performance in camp and in the team’s pair of preseason contests.

But with the lights shining brighter and the games finally counting, Domagala has regressed to his unreliable form once again.

Two missed field goals against the Bombers cost the Ticats six points. The first miss came with the Bombers up a single point while the second came with the Ticats down just nine. Those are two misses that need to be made.

Domagala has missed at least one kick in each game this season, missing a field goal late in the first half against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 1 and an extra point against the Stampeders in Week 2.

To make matters worse, the St. Catharines, Ontario native also booted a kickoff out of bounds against the Bombers as well, setting up the two-time champions at their own 50-yard line on a drive that would ultimately go nowhere thanks to the team’s stellar defence.

The kicker isn’t the sole reason the Ticats are 0-3. In fact, he may not even be one of the top five reasons. But when your job is to make field goals and kick the ball off properly and you are failing to do either consistently, then it is a problem nonetheless.

Whether the Ticats do or do not make a change is anyone’s guess but I was concerned about the team trotting Domagala out there again this season and after three weeks, nothing has changed that opinion.

Dylan the difference-maker

Tiger-Cats’ defensive tackle Dylan Wynn returned to the lineup against Winnipeg after a one-week sabbatical to deal with a calf injury and the difference he makes being out there was noticeable.

Friday night was the best game I have seen from the defensive line thus far and a lot of that credit goes to the three-time East Division all-star.

By my count, Wynn made three drive-ending plays, one a run stop on a second-down carry by Brady Oliveira and two from pressures that forced a pair of errant throws from Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros.

The Ticats’ rush defence was once again on point, holding Winnipeg’s tailback duo of Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine to just 59 yards on 17 carries between the two. The team had a paltry four-yards-per-carry and just 22 rushing attempts.

After a down-by-his-standards 2021, there were some questions as to whether Wynn was still an elite-level player. After Friday night, those questions should be no more.

The good Evans

As far as quietly great seasons go, Ticats’ defensive back Ciante Evans is maybe having the best in the CFL in 2022.

Evans has been exceptional so far this year and was once again excellent against the Bombers, with his most memorable plays coming on a pair of pass breakups on deep shots from Zach Collaros to receiver Dalton Schoen.

With all the additions the Ticats made to the secondary this off-season, Evans was moved from field halfback — where he played last season — to field corner. It has been a seamless transition for the player who has probably been Hamilton’s most consistent defensive back so far in 2022.

Hard Knox life

If the title of the best season no one is talking about doesn’t belong to Ciante Evans, then it definitely belongs to Hamilton linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox.

Santos-Knox currently leads the CFL with 20 defensive tackles, three ahead of Riders’ linebacker Darnell Sankey, and the Waterbury, Connecticut native has been far and away Hamilton’s best defensive player through their first three games.

Against Winnipeg, the former Blue Bomber had a game-high seven tackles, one sack and two pass breakups to continue his tremendous start to the season.

Playing next to Simoni Lawrence means the University of Massachusetts product doesn’t generate many headlines but if he keeps his pace up, people are going to start to take notice sooner rather than later.

Silent Simoni

It was a wild day in the CFL on Friday and that was before the game even started.

Former Tiger-Cats’ coach Jeff Reinebold stirred the pot with his appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show when he called out Tiger-Cats’ linebacker Simoni Lawrence for his lack of big plays during the Ticats then 0-2 start.

Simoni, not one to stay quiet, shot back at his former coach and while some are misinterpreting why Lawrence responded, the Tiger-Cats’ legend clarified later that it wasn’t about the comments but about where the comments were made — Lawrence and Pedersen have an ugly history dating back to Pedersen’s racial-coded language about the future Canadian Football Hall of Famer in 2019 — and it was thought that maybe this could fuel Lawrence to a big game.

Not so much.

The three-time East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player was rather silent on Friday night, notching just three tackles in the loss.

Lawrence has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in 2022 with just 13 tackles in three games and that continued despite his former coach’s harsh words.

Out of the Woods

It looks the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have found another great return man in, rookie defensive back Lawrence Woods.

Making the team after his electrifying 99-yard punt return touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts in the Ticats’ final preseason game, Woods has carried that over into the regular season.

While he has yet to break one for a score, it seems like only a matter of time until he does.

Against the Bombers, the 24-year-old speedster out of Truman State University totalled 134 return yards on four punts and three kickoffs and his 46-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter set the Ticats’ offence up with good field position. The Tabbies would fail to capitalize on that field position, settling for a meaningless 41-yard field goal that turned a two-score Winnipeg lead (25-9) into a two-score Winnipeg lead (25-12).

Woods was one of the few rookies to make the Tiger-Cats out of training camp and so far his rookie season has gone about as well as one could have hoped.

A game of firsts

It took three games but the Ticats’ defensive line is on the board with their first sack of the season and the secondary collected its first interception.

The sack came courtesy of Julian Howsare, who blew by Blue Bombers’ offensive lineman Liam Dobson to bring down Zach Collaros. Hamilton’s defensive line has not started the season well despite the addition of former all-star Micah Johnson, but they played well against the Bombers and it was nice to see that performance lead to the unit getting their first quarterback takedown of the season.

Hamilton’s lone takeaway of the night came from Richard Leonard, who picked off Collaros deep in Winnipeg territory after pressure from linebacker Kameron Kelly forced Collaros into an off-target throw that was easily plucked out of the air by Leonard.

The two-time East Division all-star is back in Black and Gold after a year spent in Calgary and is looking more like that all-star player that left Hamilton than the one who struggled to make a mark with the Stampeders.

Stupid CFL rules

The CFL has some stupid rules, there is no getting around that, and a few of their more head-scratching ones were on full display on Friday night.

The first happened when Tiger-Cats’ rookie offensive lineman Tyrone Riley was called for unnecessary roughness in the first quarter for hitting Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill after the whistle. On the surface, the call makes sense. The whistle blew and Riley hit Bighill, that deserves a flag. But context matters and in context, Bighill was just as responsible for being hit as Riley was for making the hit.

The ball was dead after a Dane Evans pass was batted down by Bombers’ linebacker Kyrie Willson but Bighill kept playing as if the ball was live. We see this a lot in games but if a player like Bighill is going to act as if the ball is still live, they bear some of the responsibility for hits that occur after the whistle.

I understand the need to keep players safe and I am all for those measures but in this instance, I think the fault lies not just with Riley for laying the hit but with Bighill for creating the environment where the hit would be made to begin with.

The second occurrence of a brutal roughing call was when Bombers’ defensive lineman Jake Thomas was called for roughing on Dave Evans. On that play, Thomas was thrown over by Ticats’ left guard Kay Okafor — if anything, Okafor should have probably been called for holding as he tossed Thomas over him — and as Thomas landed he hit Evans with his legs. The commentary team said that players need to be in control of their bodies at all times but I challenge you to get thrown by a 300-pound man and stay in control of where your legs and feet go. A bad call all around.

The final eyebrow-raising penalty occurred in the fourth quarter when Riley was again called for an infraction, this time for holding on Bombers’ defensive lineman L.B. Mack, who was subsequently called for offside on the play.

The only reason Riley held Mack was that Mack was offside. Anyone with a working set of eyes could see that. Riley held Mack up to avoid the Bombers’ defensive end from taking a free shot at his quarterback, which no offensive lineman in their right mind would let happen if they can stop it.

This feels like a rule that needs to be changed. The simple solution is just blowing every play dead when a defensive player is offside. That might tick off quarterbacks who use hard counts to induce offside calls and get “free plays,” but it would also eliminate these types of plays where a defence is essentially rewarded for going offside.

Referees could also use common sense in instances like these, but that is like asking a goldfish to dunk a basketball.

Clock shenanigans

The CFL has been perpetuating a play clock myth on the viewing public for so long that some of you probably don’t even realize it.

The 20-second play clock in the CFL is a lie.

For starters, studies have shown that the NFL and CFL have about the same amount of plays on average each game. The NFL operates with a 40-second play clock while the CFL operates with a 20-second one, so how can that be?

This is where the myth comes in.

The CFL has a 20-second play clock in name only, because in many instances teams get a lot more than 20 seconds between plays.

An example of this occurred on Friday night, as the time between the end of one play and the snap of the next was almost a full minute.

In the third quarter, Bombers’ receiver Greg Ellingson caught a nine-yard pass and was tackled by Ciante Evans with 5:57 left on the clock. The next play the Bombers ran, a quarterback sneak by backup QB Dru Brown on second-and-one, wasn’t snapped until the clock read 5:06. That is a 51-second run-off between plays, almost triple what should be allowed with the league’s purported 20-second play clock.

While I do believe that a running 20-second play clock that starts as soon as the last play ends, much like the NFL’s 40-second clock that begins the second the previous play ends, is not likely to work, a change needs to be made to how the CFL play clock operates. No team should be able to run nearly a full minute off the game clock between plays in any circumstance.

Invisible Addison

Ticats’ receiver Bralon Addison was listed as a game-time decision heading into Friday’s contest, despite not being listed on the team’s injury report in the week leading up to the game.

His performance against the Bombers — two catches for seven yards — has to make you wonder if whatever injury the former all-star suffered that caused that designation might be more serious than we think.

Addison was a focal point of the Tiger-Cats’ offence the first two weeks, catching eight passes in each contest with 72 and 96 yards respectively. To see him be an afterthought against Winnipeg was surprising.

The Tiger-Cats have a full week off between games, not taking the field again until Canada Day night next Friday, so Addison’s injury status throughout the week will be something to monitor.

Up next

The Tiger-Cats will host the Edmonton Elks at Tim Hortons Field on Canada Day in a game the home team needs to win to get their season back on track.

The lacklustre showing from the entire East Division so far — the four teams have a combined two wins between them — means that the Ticats’ 0-3 start hasn’t dug them into as big of a hole as their record might suggest. They are in last place and they are the first team to three losses, but they sit just one game back of the second-place Montreal Alouettes and are tied in the win column with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Hitting the panic button now would be premature. Even though this has been far from the ideal start for the two-time defending East Division champions, all is not lost. At least not yet.

However, if the Ticats were to lose at home to a terrible Elks team you can bet your bottom dollar that Tiger-Cats fans nationwide will be looking for their own red button to pound.

While there is no such thing as a must-win this early in the season, Hamilton’s Canada Day clash with the Elks is as close to a must-win as it gets.

A win and there will be a sigh of relief heard from coast to coast, with a sense of relief washing over those partial to the Black and Gold.

A loss and we might be able to start writing the obituary on this team less than a month into the new season.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.