The 2023 season began with high expectations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They made numerous big moves during the winter, turning over nearly half the roster in an attempt to acquire the right talent to win their first championship in nearly a quarter century.
With a 3-6 record at the halfway point, the season has not gone the way many had thought it would.
The Tabbies have done a decent job of beating the teams they should, with their three wins coming against fellow under-achievers Edmonton and Ottawa (twice). Against the league’s upper echelon, they have struggled mightily, with five of their six losses coming in blowout fashion to Toronto (twice), Montreal (twice) and Winnipeg.
It was their most recent defeat, a humbling 24-10 loss to the previously winless Edmonton Elks last Thursday, that really shone a light on where this team currently resides in the CFL’s hierarchy.
As they get ready to embark on the second half of the season, let’s take a look at where they have been and where they might be going.
Things went downhill quickly for this group and only got worse from there. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is currently on his second stint on the six-game injured list and wasn’t particularly good when healthy. In 11 quarters of action, Mitchell tossed nine interceptions to just three touchdowns and failed to provide any sort of spark to the offence.
Mitchell’s replacements, Matthew Shiltz and Taylor Powell, haven’t exactly lit up the stat sheet either, which is a major reason the Ticats are averaging a paltry 18.9-points per game, second-fewest in the league.
The offensive line was supposed to be a strength but has instead been a massive disappointment. Veterans Joel Figueroa, who was a big free-agent signing back in February, Chris Van Zeyl, and Kyle Saxelid have all missed multiple games over the first nine weeks, forcing the team to rely on inexperienced players who haven’t been up to snuff.
The lone offensive bright spot is running back James Butler, who has been the team’s most reliable weapon and is on pace to become the first Tiger-Cats ball carrier to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground since 2010.
It will be interesting to see what will happen now that the team has replaced offensive coordinator Tommy Condell with Scott Milanovich. Early returns were not great and I’m not sure how much better things will get going forward.
This team has been an absolute mess defensively since the season began. Hamilton is at or near the bottom of the league in multiple statistical categories, including allowing the most points per game over the first half of the season.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Ticats also can’t stop teams from gaining yards on the ground (eighth-ranked rush defence) or through the air (seventh-ranked pass defence).
Unlike on offence, injuries cannot be used as a reason for the defence’s poor showing. With the exception of Dylan Wynn, who recently returned from injury, no presumed starters have missed multiple games due to injury. Ja’Gared Davis is on the six-game injured list, though that move came after Hamilton tried to trade him to Calgary for a song.
The Tiger-Cats already fired one coordinator, so it seems unlikely that another axing will be in the offing. However, one has to think if things keep going the way they are going, a change will need to be made this offseason to get this talented-on-paper defence back on track for 2024.
The one area of the team that hasn’t been a disappointment is special teams. The kicking game was, up until recently, in good hands with Marc Liegghio. The former Blue Bomber struggled against the Elks but has otherwise been reliable.
The return game has been good as well with rookie Tyreik McAllister providing big plays on a semi-regular basis. The coverage units have been excellent, led by rookie Carthell Flowers-Lloyd. The first-year Ticat leads the league in special teams tackles with 19, five more than his next-closest competitor, and at this point in time has my vote for both Tiger-Cats rookie and special teams player of the year.
Hamilton could still do enough to make the playoffs, though the back half of the schedule is so treacherous that a turnaround into a legitimate title contender seems all but impossible.
Six of their final nine games come against the league’s four best teams, meaning the Tabbies will need an upset or three just to ensure a playoff spot.
This team missing the playoffs, or even just being chum for whichever two-seed they play in the East Semi-Final, would be a massive underachievement. After going 8-10 a season ago, changes were made because that wasn’t deemed good enough. To finish the same or worse would be a disastrous outcome, especially with the Grey Cup being held at Tim Hortons Field in November.
If the season continues to trend in the current direction — and given what’s ahead, there’s no reason to think it won’t — this year could go down as the most disappointing in franchise history.