No rest for Tiger-Cats in their quest for CFL playoffs

Tiger-Cats slotback Andy Fantuz and wide receiver Onrea Jones stretch during practice at Ivor Wynne...

Tiger-Cats slotback Andy Fantuz and wide receiver Onrea Jones stretch during practice at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., Sept. 17, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

HAMILTON - Having relieved at least some of the pressure of a five-game losing streak with a convincing 51-8 of the Edmonton Eskimos, life as a Hamilton Tiger-Cat got a little more enjoyable on Monday.

That result and a rather condensed schedule that saw them play their past three games in a 13-day period even got them an abbreviated walk-through as opposed to a full-out pads-on practice.

But any thought of any kind of extended breather for the fine folks in the black and gold is immediately dismissed as soon as any of them look at the standings.

Yes, that monkey of a losing skid is off their collective backs but even a 4-7 record still leaves them a full game behind both Edmonton and Saskatchewan in the dreaded CFL crossover.

Just finishing ahead of 2-9 Winnipeg Blue Bombers who the Ticats travel to Manitoba to face on Friday will not necessarily ensure a playoff berth.

They need to have at least as many points as the fourth-best team in the CFL West, currently the Edmonton Eskimos who are 5-6 or the Eskimos could cross over and take that third playoff spot in the CFL East away from Hamilton.

Now there’s a long way to go before we get there, but the point is the Tabbies are both very much in a battle to make the playoffs.

The 51 points against the Eskimos on Saturday expanded the Ticats reputation as the top-scoring team in the CFL. Through 11 games the Henry-Burris-led unit has racked up 348 points, 36 more than the next highest scoring team the Calgary Stampeders.

But it was the defensive improvement on Saturday that is going to determine whether this team makes it to the playoffs.

And anyone who watched Saturday’s game sees that as a distinct possibility.

When the key personnel that make up this defence — and here we’re talking about linebackers Rey Williams, Jamall Johnson, and Markeith Knowlton (when he returns) half-back Dee Webb and Greg Peach (one of the few down linemen who has been a starter all year) — are given the kind of aggressive game-plan they had on Sunday, this unit can be good.

It’s taking advantage of the skill-sets your players possess and getting after the quarterback, not conservative zone coverage that is going to get the most out of this group.

Williams and Webb both made reference to it on Saturday. There was nothing conservative about the defensive approach. It was aggressive from the first snap to the final whistle.

And as Johnson pointed out Monday, that’s fun for this group.

“The last few weeks there have been spurts or short periods in the game where the play calling was a little more aggressive,” he said. “I think this week we started off more aggressive and it allowed us to have more fun.”

But Johnson also cautions that aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean go get the quarterback on every play.

“If we are aggressive we still have to be disciplined within that aggression,” he said. “For the most part I thought we were on the weekend. We want to be aggressive. We like to move around and give the offence different looks and send some heat after them every now and then. Just keep them on their heels and it’s something we should keep doing throughout the rest of the season.”

Continuity, particularly in the secondary has been an elusive goal for the Ticats this year. This past week marked the first time all season that the secondary returned unchanged from the previous week.

But head coach George Cortez cautions change may still be in the offing.

The team dealt non-import fullback Darcy Brown to Edmonton last Thursday in exchange for import corner Ricardo Colclough (pronounced Coke-ly) and there is the feeling that he could eventually supplant Nick Graham at corner.

Graham, signed after he was released in Saskatchewan, has started the past two games for the Ticats.

Colclough, who was stuck behind a couple of more experienced CFL corners in Edmonton, is hoping to get an opportunity in Hamilton.

“I don’t think they traded for me just to come and stand on the sidelines,” Colclough said.

As a spectator for Saturday’s win, what caught Colclough’s eye was the pressure the Ticats front four got on the quarterback. A couple of newcomers — Brandon Peguese and Torrey Davis — played key roles in making things tough on Kerry Joseph.

“When you get pressure with the defensive line, it makes things a whole lot easier for the guys in the secondary,” Colclough said.

Colclough hopes be one of those guys benefitting from that pressure in the very near future.


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