Simply not good enough: 10 thoughts on Hamilton’s 31-15 loss to the Toronto Argonauts

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost 31-15 to the Toronto Argonauts in front of a sold-out house of 24,312 at Tim Hortons Field on Friday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Coaching questions

The Ticats have a coaching problem that extends beyond the X’s and O’s.

Hamilton got called for too many men on the field when Jonathan Kongbo ran onto the field late in the play clock for no apparent reason. This came two weeks after the team had only 11 men on the field for the final defensive play against Ottawa.

There was also the curious decision not to challenge a long completion to DaVaris Daniels on a late Argos drive. The pass did look to be completed but given that we saw no additional angles on the broadcast other than ones that obscured the ball, it seemed worth reviewing. Fans hate fishing expeditions but considering the timing and the fact Orlondo Steinauer had not used either of his timeouts, it would have been worth a shot to see if maybe Daniels didn’t completely secure the catch.

Calling a timeout with 3:09 left after allowing nearly 20 seconds to come off the play clock was also a head-scratching choice by the Ticats bench boss. You would think that after over three seasons on the job, Steinauer would be better at this stuff but he seems to have actually regressed.

A lot of people like to place the blame for the team’s poor start on the coordinators, mostly offensive play caller Tommy Condell, but Hamilton’s coaching problems run much deeper. The mental mistakes good teams do not make are prevalent with this group on a near-weekly basis. The Tiger-Cats can’t execute the basics and a lot of that falls on the people in charge.

Final drive collapse

After giving up 20 points in the game’s first 24 minutes, Hamilton’s defence did a nice job of shutting down the prolific Argos’ offence for nearly two quarters, allowing just three points and six first downs until Toronto’s game-ending touchdown drive late in the fourth.

This has unfortunately been an all-too-frequent occurrence under Mark Washington, where they cannot get stops when it matters most. After cutting the lead to eight, Hamilton’s defence gave up a 73-yard drive that was capped with a Chad Kelly rushing touchdown. A stop there and things may have turned out differently.

Trading threes for sevens

Kicker Marc Liegghio has mostly been superb since signing with the team earlier this season but their reliance on him to be their main point-getter is a major problem.

Liegghio booted another three field goals on Friday night, remaining perfect on three-point attempts this season, which is noteworthy given his struggles in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, field goals are not going to beat teams like the Argos, who were scoring majors while the Ticats were settling for threes.

If you want an explanation as to why one team is 5-0 and the other is 2-4, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Powered by Powell

It was an up-and-down game for rookie quarterback Taylor Powell in his first career start.

The final numbers were impressive, especially considering he was going up against arguably the CFL’s best defence. He finished 27-of-41 passing for 283 yards and added another 37 yards on the ground. He also scored Hamilton’s only touchdown on a 13-yard scramble.

Powell truly shined when the team was forced to go away from the short game and let him air it out. He found Terry Godwin on a couple of deep passes and looked more poised than you would expect from a rookie getting his first meaningful reps.

Powell really only made one mistake, his second-quarter interception that was tipped twice and landed in the hands of Tiger-Cats killer Jamal Peters. Powell bobbled the snap and forced a throw into coverage that was knocked in the air by Royce Metchie before bouncing again off the hands of Duke Williams and ultimately landing in the waiting arms of Peters.

That one error aside, Powell seemed decisive in his throws most of the night and showed flashes of a player worth developing.

Maybe he comes back down to earth once teams get film on him but for a first start, I think the rookie played better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

Boxes checked

The quarterback on the other side of the ball was starting just his sixth game and after an offseason of what felt like premature hype, Chad Kelly has silenced any doubters, yours truly included.

I was skeptical of Kelly coming into the season but that stemmed from needing to see a larger sample size. After five games, he has shown me enough.

The one aspect of his game that I think gets overlooked is that he makes the players around him better. The Argos don’t have a world-beating receiving corps but Kelly puts the ball in the right places and allows his receivers the opportunity to make plays. Part of that is play calling but it is also instinctual and Kelly has shown the necessary intangibles to be perhaps the best quarterback in the league so far this year.

All that is really left for him to do is stay healthy all season and play like this in the biggest moments, which isn’t something he can prove until the post-season. Until then, it is no longer a case of can Kelly play high level but just how high he can ascend.

The wrong type of holes

Hamilton’s offensive line was supposed to be a strength heading into the season but on Friday, it was perhaps the weakest positional group on the field.

They couldn’t open holes for the running back or stymie Toronto’s pass rush despite their opponent being down three key pieces.

James Butler, coming off a game where he averaged over nine yards per rush, finished Friday’s game with just 14 yards on eight carries and while they only registered two sacks, it felt like the Argos were in the backfield on nearly every dropback.

Centre David Beard has been erratic on his snaps, firing them high on multiple occasions, one of which came on the play where Taylor Powell committed his lone turnover on the night. The snap seemed to throw the timing of the play off which resulted in Jamal Peters’ pick.

The normally reliable Brandon Revenberg committed a boneheaded unnecessary roughness penalty that pushed the Ticats back from the two-yard line to the 17. The drive stalled on the next play and Hamilton kicked a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.

When you are starting a rookie, he needs all the help he can get and Powell did not get any from his offensive line on Friday.

Pulling out all the stops

Trick plays are usually only needed when you are outmanned but that doesn’t make them any less fun to see.

The Tiger-Cats pulled a couple of rabbits out of the hat on special teams against the Argos.

The first one came in the second quarter with a superbly executed onside punt. Bailey Flint put just the right amount of air under the ball that allowed Nic Cross to run under it and catch it without issue.

The next trick came when Tyreik McAllister and Lawrence Woods faked a reverse that allowed McAllister to scoot down the sideline for a 72-yard return.

These are usually game-altering plays but unfortunately for the Tiger-Cats, these two only netted them six points after the offence settled for two field goals on the ensuing drives.

East pecking order

If it wasn’t evident before Friday, it should be now: the East Division runs through Toronto.

There is a clear pecking order this year, with the Argonauts well in front of the other three teams. The Montreal Alouettes, Ottawa Redblacks and Ticats are all battling for second spot.

The good news for Ticats fans is they are only a half-game out of second despite sitting two games under .500. With the Als on a bye this week, Hamilton does not have to worry about Montreal distancing themselves but the Als do have a game in hand after having two of their three byes in the first seven weeks.

The Redblacks seem rejuvenated with Dustin Crum at quarterback but it has only been one game. Let’s see what they look like in the next few games before we start talking about a Bytown revival.

Any path to the Grey Cup will require a trip through Toronto but none of the other three teams have done anything to take themselves out of the running yet.

Too many conferences

There seemed to be an inordinate amount of referee conferences during Friday’s game with a lot of them happening for essentially no reason. There were lengthy huddles on both too-many-men flags and on the roughing-the-passer call on Wynton McManis on Hamilton’s lone touchdown drive.

These types of easily identifiable fouls should not require long chats between the officials. All these conferences do is make the game drag and make everyone look foolish when the call is obvious.

Up next

Despite the loss, Hamilton has a legitimate chance to be over .500 a month from now as their next three games are against the Redblacks, Alouettes and Edmonton Elks.

The first of these three takes place next Friday when the Tabbies travel to Ottawa. The Ticats have owned the Redblacks of late, winning the last eight games between the two teams. The last time the Ticats lost in Ottawa was the 2018 East Final.

If Hamilton can get to 5-4 after these three, they will have positioned themselves as the top challengers to Toronto’s divisional throne. If they fail in all or most of them, things could get ugly as the schedule in the second half of the season is rather unforgiving.

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.