It’s difficult to distinguish what exactly puts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on a higher throne than their eight Canadian counterparts, a heavy compliment for this Grey Cup-bound team.
Head coach Orlondo Steinauer’s formed a great football team through and through.
And this Sunday Hamilton (16-3) will look to put a ring on their stellar 2019 season with a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (13-7) in the Grey Cup.
It’s impressive enough that the Ti-Cats stormed through the CFL with a rookie head coach and backup quarterback, but its 20-point wins like Sundays versus Edmonton — where Hamilton’s not clicking at perfection — that make this club so dangerous for the Bombers.
Dane Evans would do just fine as a football-distributer to Hamilton’s offensive weapons, but he brings more to the table. Passing for 3,754 yards and 21 touchdowns in 11 regular season starts, Evans is smart, accurate, and confident in Tommy Condell’s offence.
Beside or behind Evans is a backfield by committee. On Sunday it should be made up of bruiser Cameron Marshall and Canadians Maleek Iron and Jackson Bennett. Marshall, a former Bomber, has averaged over six yards per carry since 2018 despite only 84 rushes.
“Receiver” may be the answer to this article’s opening. Brandon Banks leads the way in this positional category as likely the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player. Banks is complimented by speedster Bralon Addison, the sure-handed Luke Tasker, and playmakers Jaelon Acklin, Mike Jones, and Anthony Coombs.
Banks and Addison are Evans’ Batman and Robin. Both finished in the top five in receiving yards (Banks, 1,550, first and Addison 1,236, fifth).
Condell often designs plays where either quickly gets the ball in space (i.e. bubbles, sweeps, quick outs), making it no surprise that the two finished atop the league’s YAC statistic (Banks 657, Addison 558). They’re a problem for any defence.
At the line, stud East All-Star tackles Ryker Mathews and Chris Van Zeyl are the headliners on the elite Hamilton offensive line and will be key players during the Grey Cup.
Brandon Revenberg, also an East All-Star, is arguably the league’s best offensive guard. Eight-year veteran Mike Filer and former Calgary Dino Darius Ciraco make up the Tabbies’ big men on O.
Simoni Lawrence is the heartbeat of Hamilton’s defence, but the East Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player is surrounded by stars. Lawrence finished the regular season with 98 tackles, four sacks, and three interceptions.
On the defensive line, Ja’Gared Davis finished the first 18 with a team-high 13 sacks. Davis moves around while beating blockers with straight bull rushes or nasty spin moves.
And on that topic, Dylan Wynn is a beast in the interior with 11 sacks. Then there’s the veteran Ted Laurent, who is still routinely blowing up short-yardage plays.
Justin Tuggle and Rico Murray join Lawrence in the linebacking crew, Murray being one of the most underrated players in the CFL. Tuggle added an impressive 81 tackles himself.
While the yardage numbers may not show this, for my money Hamilton’s got the best secondary in the CFL, a group that needs to come up huge in the Grey Cup.
They aren’t afraid of man coverage, something corner Delvin Breaux specializes in. While Breaux may not be the CFL’s best defensive back anymore, he’s still near the top. And lately, Winnipeg’s been taking deep shots to Darvin Adams, who will see a ton of Breaux.
Cariel Brooks and Richard Leonard are two of the purest cover men in the CFL. Each excels at keeping their man in front of them.
Out at field corner, Frankie Williams is a ball hawk with a knack for breaking up short passing plays. Oh, and their interceptions leader Jumal Rolle (5) is a backup.
When this group’s clicking, it makes safety Tunde Adeleke’s job quite easy.
Defensive end Julian Howsare, who had six sacks, rounds out the starting 12, and players like Nick Shorthill, Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Connor McGough, and Rolle all rotate in on D.
Kicker/punter Lirim Hjarallahu’s nailed a Grey Cup-winning kick with Toronto in 2017. This season Hjarallahu tied a career-best 47 made field goals, along with a nice season punting.
Returner Frankie Williams reached paydirt twice in the regular season — good for the East’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player — while Brandon Banks standing behind the goal post is a wrinkle for any team thinking of attempting a long field goal.
Hamilton was one of two teams not to surrender a kick return touchdown this season and finished second in both opponents kick (20.1 yards) and punt (9.1 yards) return average.
Without a deep dive into film study, there are zero glaring weaknesses within this Ti-Cats roster. It’s a task the Bombers coaching staff will have to study long and hard if the blue and gold are to have any shot at defeating this mighty Hamilton squad in the Grey Cup.
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