Ticats defence turning a corner?
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Tiger-Cats defensive end Jermaine McElveen celebrates after sacking Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo (not shown) at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., Sept. 28, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
HAMILTON - DEFENCE!!! DEFENCE!!!! DEFENCE!!!!!
The word echoed from loudspeakers, careening with deafening repetition off the empty stands at Ivor Wynne Stadium this week, as the Hamilton Ticats offence practiced for Friday’s road din in Edmonton.
But the Ticats own defence is finally getting the message, too.
In a season during which it has shown very little roar, there appears to be a stiffening resolve, a defensive line with more push and a secondary that doesn’t spend most games running into more walls than Wile E. Coyote.
“We’ve been getting after the quarterbacks up front. That’s been our goal, get after the QB with a four-man pass rush. We’ve done a good job the last four or five games,” defensive tackle Jermaine McElveen said, as the Ticats prepare for a key intra-division game Friday.
While the Ticats have been a model of inconsistency from Henry Burris to a new coaching staff trying to find its footing in the CFL, Hamilton’s defence has been the scapegoat for much of the team’s problems.
While the Ticats offence has had its moments of shining glory, this is a team that has given up 31.5 points a game — more than any other team. The defence has surrendered territory at alarming rate — 414.3 yards a game.
“We did give up a lot of points. But the errors were so basic and the mistakes were easily corrected. I feel we’ve been doing that and we’re getting guys in the correct position now. Earlier in the year we had a lot of new guys, then we had guys in and out of the lineup, all the time. Right now, I think we’re just beginning to hit our stride,” said McElveen, who has six sacks and a couple of forced fumbles, in the last four games.
Hamilton’s pass rush as a whole has been much better over that span, notching 13 of its 23 sacks on the season over those last four games.
Last week, against Montreal, the defence limited Anthony Calvillo to just 197 yards passing, allowing a mere 12 completions. Better yet, they also stuffed the run game, and this is a team that has been vulnerable to a ground assault all season, giving up an average of 123.5 yards. Only Friday’s opponent, the Eskimos, have been more charitable.
“Beginning of the year, the secondary was switched around. We had injuries back there; we had injuries up front. Now we have had a more consistent rotation. We have a secondary that is putting hands on receivers and that’s giving us time to get into the backfield,” said McElveen.
Greg Peach had three tackles against the Alouettes and the addition of Brandon Peguese, who had a sack and a forced fumble, has been most helpful. Then, on the backside, Richardo Colclough — in a trade from Edmonton — has filled a niche at strong side linebacker.
“I don’t want to say that I have anything to do with the way we’ve started to play right now,” said Colclough, “but yeah, we’re starting to figure it out. The defensive line is starting to play better. Our secondary is coming along.”
Aside from establishing a comfort zone with each other, the increased pressure from Hamilton’s front four, said McElveen, is a reflection as well of the improved play in the secondary.
“Not everybody understands what goes into a sack. It’s not just about beating the guy in front of you. It takes everybody on defence to get a sack. If the ball comes out quick I don’t care if you’ve got Warren Sapp and Lawrence Taylor next to each other, they aren’t going to get there.
“Our DBs have done a good job messing up the QBs timing and giving us time.”
“It’s all linked. The D-line gets pressure, it makes our job easier. If we do a good job on coverage it makes their job easier. If we can get the quarterback to hold the ball a little longer than he wants it means good things are going to happen.”
Hamilton’s defence hasn’t always gotten a lot of help from a big-play offence, either. Hamilton’s defence has spent more time on the field than any other CFL unit. But, against Montreal, Burris and the offence played a more controlled game winning the time of possession by almost a two to one margin.
“That’s a big plus when your offence can keep the defence fresh and off the field,” says McElveen. “The field is so big in this league that if you have your defence out there long enough the other team will score eventually. Our offence did such a good job keeping the ball. If you keep us fresh we are going to be awesome.”
Awesome. Defence. It’s been a long time anyone with the Ticats defence has been able to use those two words in the same sentence.