Cats must sharpen toothless offence

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

The landscape has changed a bit since we last saw the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in town.

They came here early in the season last year with a 3-0 record under new head coach Greg Marshall. Tom Higgins's Eskimos team had started the year with an 0-3 record.

Coming off a 1-17 season the year before, the Tiger-Cats had become The 'Beasts From The East' again.

They also came here last year with other teams from their conference pounding their chests in the background about how the balance of power had switched from West to East.

The East was 10-0 against the West when the Tiger-Cats took the field here the night of July 17. The Eskimos finally stopped the bleeding with a 51-30 win.

Through the first seven weeks of the season, no team in the West had a winning record. In the end, the B.C. Lions went a more-than-respectable 13-5 but Edmonton and Saskatchewan struggled home at 9-9 and the East still won six more games against the West than the other way around. The Eskimos lost all four games in the East and were swept by the eventual Grey Cup champion Argos. Three teams in the East, including the 8-7-1 Tiger-Cats, had winning records.

Now, the landscape has returned to what it looked like before a season that western clubs hope was a one-year aberration.

At 0-4, the Tabbies return this year as the only winless team in the league. The conference has failed to feature a single team with a winning record after week five.

Going into this week, the West is 8-4 against the East.

With Hamilton here tomorrow night and the next two Eskimos home games featuring Toronto and Montreal, the East-West storyline is going to be a focus until the Labour Day run.

"We're sitting here 0-4," said Marshall after the 'Cats blew a 19-13 halftime lead against undefeated B.C. at home before 27,692 fans last weekend.

To a lot of eyes they look like they've reverted back to that 1-17 team - with all those dropped passes, stupid penalties and ill-advised Danny McManus passes. Against B.C., two touchdown passes were called back as a result of penalties.

"Moral victories only count for so much."

Marshall made the promise back when the Tiger-Cats started the season at 0-2.

"We're not going to fall apart as a team," he said. "We have some strong people and some good players."

The coach, going into the B.C. game, questioned the Tiger-Cats preparation.

"You can't play at 100% and with full aggression and confidence if you don't know what you are doing," he said.

Effort, he said, hasn't been the problem.

"We have tried hard to win football games. When we were down by a couple of touchdowns to Saskatchewan, we didn't give up. We didn't give up when we were down against Montreal. We will continue to play hard throughout the entire game. That's all I can ask."

Statistically, only 77 points scored on offence tells the story. And tomorrow night they're going up against the team which leads almost every defensive category.

Most yards total offence: Edmonton.

Fewest yards total offence: Hamilton.

Hamilton is last in 21 offensive categories.

The degree of difficulty, admittedly, has been different.

The Eskimos have played the 1-4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers twice, met 2-3 Ottawa Renegades twice, the 2-2 Montreal Alouettes once and now get the 0-4 Tiger-Cats. Not a winning record in there anywhere.

Hamilton plays the 4-1 Eskimos coming off the 4-0 B.C. Lions, the 3-2 Saskatchewan Roughriders twice and the 2-2 Als. Not a losing record in there anywhere.

The Tiger-Cats have yet to play Winnipeg or Ottawa, a team they have at home next Saturday night. Winnipeg and Ottawa are their opponents for three of their next four games. The Tiger-Cats have three games against the Renegades this season.

In there somewhere should tell the tale if Marshall can lead his team back to the playoffs for a second straight season.

With none of the Eastern teams having winning records this year, a winning streak could go a long way.


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