The season started on an optimistic note for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They made out well in the free agency season, picking up Ted Laurent (their major target) and losing very little non-expendable talent. They started the year well, finishing their first five weeks with a 3-2 record despite a late return for Zach Collaros. Fans had a legitimate hope for a stronger showing in the playoffs. But now, in the home stretch, Hamilton is on a three-game losing skid. The Ticats problems are mounting, and that hope is dissipating fast.
Ticats Problems Continue to Mount
Collaros Out Again
The Tiger-Cats have been very careful with the fragile upper body of quarterback Zach Collaros. They waited until the last possible moment to admit that his injury before the bye week was, in fact, a concussion; they are also waiting until the last possible moment each week to announce that he will not be starting.
You can be sure that they are following the league’s concussion protocols to the letter. It’s likely that he’s feeling fine, and is very close to his next start. But the team can’t play him in the meantime, and with Jeremiah Masoli under centre, their chances of a win diminish noticeably.
The surprise news this week was the suspension of Brandon Banks for violating the CFL drug policy. The violation appears to have involved recreational drugs, not performance-enhancing ones, so apologies all around and two games off and we’ll all forget this ever happened.
The problem is that he’ll miss two crucial weeks. There’s an outside chance that Toronto could catch the Ticats if they lose all their remaining games. But more importantly, their chances of overtaking Ottawa in the standings depend on winning these last few games, especially this week’s matchup with Ottawa.
Banks provides a lethal threat on every kickoff and punt return. He’s also an important target at slotback, where he can pick up crucial yards after the catch to make a short pass into a long play. Losing Banks will mean a significantly tougher road for the Cats’ offence.
Injuries All Around
The second half of the season has played havoc with the Tiger-Cats roster. Top receivers Chad Owens and Luke Tasker are on the 6-game injury list, along with key defensive backs Craig Butler and Rico Murray. Johnny Sears Jr. and Courtney Stephen are also casualties in the Ticats secondary.
The loss of Owens and Tasker has resulted in a less effective passing offence – though Masoli has done well with the diminished set of receivers he’s played with. But worse is the secondary; the Ticats air defence was indifferent at the best of times this season, and is now a shambles. Henry Burris looked good in Ottawa’s win last week in Hamilton, but against an effective and coordinated secondary, Smilin’ Hank would have had a much tougher time.
It’s possible that the Ticats will get some big players back by the start of the playoffs, but the long injury list is going to make for a difficult run.
Their Only Hope
The one hope left for the Tiger-Cats is the hopelessness of their divisional opposition. The Western Division cross-over has already been clinched; in fact the fourth-place Edmonton Eskimos have a better record than any Eastern team. And despite Hamilton’s 6-9 record, Toronto will have to win their two remaining games and Hamilton lose all three of theirs for Hamilton to drop out of a playoff berth. This week’s key game against Ottawa may be the deciding factor for the first place spot, though, and the odds are strongly in Ottawa’s favour at this point.
Finishing second in the East makes for a daunting playoff picture. Hamilton will play Edmonton or possibly the B.C. Lions, neither of which will be a weak opponent. And then they’ll be set up for an Eastern final rematch in Ottawa, against a likely stronger Redblacks team.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Hamilton. But as the Ticats problems continue to mount, the glimmer is fading fast.