Inside Enemy Territory, Vol.2 No.3

Inside Enemy Territory
Vol.2 No.3

by Russ Harrison
7.15.07

CLOSE, BUT NO COHIBA

Last night's 29-20 loss to the Alouettes was easily the most sustained effort by the Tiger-Cats so far in the regular season. I was impressed by the overall intensity of the club as it competed hard right up to the final gun.

The play of the offense, despite some obvious problems with the O-line and some shoddy receiver play in spots, was more in keeping with a professional offense on a competitive team. This much-maligned unit showed a robust balanced attack in the second half -- Jesse Lumsden rumbled for key first downs as the bright spot -- giving fans some hope that the light is visible at the end of the tunnel.

Defensively, the team desperately needed to make key second-half adjustments as Anthony Calvillo was picking the D apart, hitting early and often against the soft vanilla coverages of defensive coordinator Ed O'Neil. As the second half progressed, the front seven pressured A.C. using a multitude of blitz and pressure packages, disrupting Calvillo's timing and keeping the Cats in the game.

Hopefully in future weeks we will see more of a mix in defensive schemes. Even with all the current reshuffling of the secondary, it is preferable to take some chances and force the offense to react more than simply allow death by chain gang through passive schemes.

Nick Setta did well again, hitting two of three field goals and punting for a high 46.5- yard average on six punts. On the field goal he missed, a questionable decision by Jason Maas to try to force a deep ball to Thyron Anderson instead of going for a safer pass to improve field position for a half-ending field goal forced a long attempt by Setta that missed. Charlie Taaffe was not very pleased with that decision. Nonetheless, the special teams are playing fairly well apart from the no yards issue which continues to be a problem.

I can take five-yard no yards penalties as long as the returner is tackled right away and the cause of the penalty is more an issue of the ball's trajectory being disrupted by wind where the cover team is hard-pressed to stay outside the five-yard restraining zone. It is the 15-yard no yards penalties caused by guys simply not stopping before the restraining zone that get my goat. Fortunately that wasn't the case last night.

The team didn't close out a winnable game with a victory, but the progression from the first two games was pretty evident to me. I can accept losses in a rebuilding context where the team plays hard and the progression in team play and in critical areas is present.

THE DYNAMIC (?) DUO

The forum fallout from this latest installment of the Maas or Chang Saga is predictably divided into two main camps, The Maas Mob and The Chang Gang. As a Chang Gang guy, I am all for Timmy Chang becoming the starter of the team given its current situation on the field.

Jason Maas had a challenging evening, facing blown O-line blocking assignments on a number of occasions and five pass drops by my count (three by Ralph alone). Nonetheless, he finally got off the schnide by hooking up with Talman Gardner on a 67-yard bomb in the second quarter.

It was easily the best effort of Maas as the Ticat starter since the Edmonton game last year at Commonwealth. That being stated, his INT in the end zone early in the fourth frame was an ill-advised, rookie-like mistake that cost the Cats points and momentum, prompting Taaffe to employ the hook on Maas and bring in Chang.

Chang does not walk on water, but when he gets time to throw, look out. His 71-yard completion to Brock Ralph electrified the IWS faithful and brought the Cats back to a 26-17 deficit in one fell swoop. However, the Als defence proved more than effective down the stretch and Chang's relief effort fell short.

In today's Spec, Steve Milton advocates even a shorter leash for Maas on Thursday when the Tabbies go into Vancouver to face the Lions. That is a perspective I can certainly live with. However, I think it is time for Chang to get a start with a similarly short leash.

The starting QB controversy will continue to rage until one of these guys demonstrates that he is the man who can lead the team to wins and separates himself on the field through results, not some semantics/cliche exercise by advocates in ticats.ca threads.

I find it laughable that people are pushing the idea that Chang will be a wilted flower if he can't win right away as a starter, as if pivots in Hamilton could ever be insulated from the venom of the denizens of Old Civic when things don't go well. My contention is that given the inconsistent state of our O-line and receiving corps that Chang can make more plays with his mobility and arm than Maas can, straight up. Maas may have the experience factor and ability to read defenses at a higher level than Chang at this point, but given his track record, it is getting harder and harder to argue that having Maas start makes a big difference in the team's chances.

I don't think Maas has the arm endurance to make all the throws he has to through an entire game. He simply doesn't have the opposing defences in dread of the deep ball if he seems to only hit one every three games or so. Teams have to respect Chang's arm and gunslinger style even if he is a somewhat-unknown commodity here in Canadian ball.

I say "somewhat" because Chang's NCAA days prepared him well for the CFL's wide-open passing attacks while learning under June Jones and his run-and-shoot attack in Hawaii. The way some fans write about Chang, you would think he was mired in some eight-pass-per-game running school a la Tom Osborne's Nebraska circa 1983.

What is evolving here is that the Taaffe experience in Montreal is repeating itself somewhat now. The Ham-Calvillo tandem, albeit with a much more established and successful program in Montreal, saw a gradual changing of the guard as Calvillo emerged as the team's eventual starter under Taaffe. Ham remained a key player in the partnership because he was a top-flight CFL QB with a lot left in the tank and the Als could ride him as the starter as long as was necessary until Calvillo's transformation under Taaffe was complete.

In 2007 Steeltown, things aren't that rosy by any stretch. The team's inability to score a sufficient amount of points to remain competitive in most of its games has even the biggest Maas supporter in apologist mode far too often.

Even in the darkest days of the Cats during the long decline of Danny Mac at the tail end of his career, Danny had enough in the tank to remain a competitive starter. The 1-17 season in 2003 was one where the Cats were only out of a few games in blowout fashion, but lost a multitude of close games. He still had enough spark in his arm that teams had to respect the deep ball.

Even when I see Maas have a relatively successful effort like last night, it's like watching Sisyphus rolling rubble all night long. "Boulderdash," you might say.

I still contend that Chang will be the starter as soon as he's able to pull a game out of the fire. I defer to Taaffe's judgement as to when that happens. I concur with his decisions so far this year to put Chang in there and give the kid a chance to develop. My feeling is that the transition to Timmy being the starter will be swifter -- sooner than later -- simply because the starter isn't in a position given his controllable issues and matters outside his control on the offense to separate his level of play from that of his backup. It's that simple.

The issue of who gives the Cats the best chance to win at QB is a debatable point given the current situation. Time is on Chang's side.

FLAG FOOTBALL

I've expressed myself on the no yards issues re the special teams, but it's the other mental mistakes out on the field that is driving me nuts watching the Cats play.

How Brock Ralph can be FOUR YARDS OFFSIDE on a pass attempt boggles what's left of my mind. In his entire CFL career, if Rocky DiPietro were offside more than 10 times, I would be very surprised. Ralph is doing this weekly, costing his team field position and momentum time and again.

Not only that, but his unwillingness to turn the ball upfield when he has blocks and space to do so, opting for the easy scurry out of bounds, is really galling. I watched Darren Flutie season after season turn the ball inside and hit people with at least a gear less than Ralph has. In just that respect, you can appreciate greatness through effort even more. Unlike Flutie, Ralph appears lost, if not invisible in whole stretches of games when he isn't dropping passes. I do not like taking any player to task, but Ralph had better thank his lucky stars for Timmy Chang's great pass to him that salvaged a total waste of an evening.

People make Kamau "Incompleterson" jokes in contrast, yet Kamau does come up with circus catches that impress. All I get from watching Ralph most of the time is wonderment that the circus is still in town.

One more bane to my football enjoyment: never go offside on a kickoff. Dwight Anderson did last night, and even though he was able to produce a fumble recovery last night off a kick, his flag killed the play. It gets back to keeping one's head in the game.

I hope Charlie Taaffe institutes fines for flagrant penalties arising from mental errors. This team's margin for error is not good, so if the culture surrounding mental focus and preparation is to progress, players have to be fully accountable, up to and including being cut for being penalty liabilities.

That is it for this week's installment. This week is a short week, so my next IET will be posted either Friday or Saturday, I expect.

Oski Wee Wee,

Russ Harrison,
Montreal, QC

Nice Post as Normal Russ.

Excellent summary, and comments,Russ. We've come to expect nothing less from you. Can't disagree with any of your thoughts.

Just one little thing! 'Sisyphus rolling rubble' and 'Boulderdash'! I know there's such a thing as poetic license, but really!

I guess, but considering the bengal bunkerisms that populate this site, you can cut me a little slack. LOL :wink:

Russ:
Thanks for the time and effort you put into your reports.
There is a sizeable consensus on this forum that is in agreement (and did you read Steve Milton's look at Saturdays game too?) with what you are saying.
I think your conclusion that Charlie is letting Maas and Chang battle it out to see who will emerge as the starter is the only logical explanation for Maas being allowed to start each game. I just wish Charlie would not wait so long to put Chang in because so far the games have been pretty well out of reach before he is given the nod.
I fear that time is running out already on this team with regard to the playoffs. 0-3..0-4 is about the limit any team can realistically overcome. This team has too many new players and coaches for a quick turnaround.
So for the long term things look promising..but this season will be a rebuilding year in every sense of the word. I hope I am proved wrong because the fans deserve more than a throw-a-way season justified by "we are rebuilding for the future."

Nice post Russ.

Oh, and thank you for sending the A's Cheerleaders to the game on Saturday.

LMAO

It was my pleasure just to see them there at the game! :wink:

Oski Wee Wheeeeeeeeee,

I get the need not to throw Chang to the wolves, for sure. It is important to make sure that our attack is balanced, that a play action game can work, and to roll the kid out so that he's simply not in the same area for the D to zoom in on the rush constantly.

Maas, whether as starter on a short leash or as a bullpen artiste, can give a steadying influence for the club. I do not agree that he should be cut given who is currently available as free agents or possible backup fodder from other teams.

What could make Maas useful (or extend his usefulness, depending on your point of view) is to take the pressure of starting off him, but work this as a tandem for as long as it takes for one of these guys to emerge as the de facto starter.

I do believe Taaffe has adopted this approach, albeit without Chang as starter yet or with a rotation happening. In light of the fact we're losing games, I prefer to lose knowing the kid is getting meaningful game action instead of complete mop-up jobs as has been the case with Ticat backups historically.

People may whine about it, but it does allow for Chang to develop. Make no mistake, this kid is our team's future at quarterback, IMHO.

I was encouraged to see that the rhetoric of using Holmes with Lumsden finally materialized in the second half of last night's game. Still, five touches for Corey on offense is way too little. He has to be on the field as much as possible, whether spelling Lumsden at HB, motioning into the slot from a two-back set, or lining up as a slotback proper.

I feel the play design of the packages on Saturday was creating difficulties for the Als -- the multiple motions and stacked receiver sets from those motions were getting guys free. Crossing routes also got going wit Gardner's TD being a prime example. Crossing routes with Holmes would be especially effective in tandem with Gardner going deep, drawing the rover to Talman and allowing Holmes to get separation.

The O-line will hopefully build upon the run-blocking effort yesterday. We are going to have to try pounding the rock to slow down the BC pass rush and get pass acton happening. Dyakowski looked good at right guard and should start over Cook this weeek, I feel.

More work has to be done but the yardage numbers don't lie. We were at least competitive with the Als.

Dropped passes can't keep occuring like they did in the first half. Maas has had enough problems historically getting off to a good start to have well-delivered balls get dropped. Somebody should set a Jugs Gun to "Favre Skin Peeler" setting and force Ralph et al. to bear down and get their hands in proper position for throws.

I don't expect the Cats to beat BC, even if Pierce is less than 100%. I would love to see us hang with them for as long as possible. The team needs to be opportunistic. If we can cut down on the brainfart penalties, keep our turnovers low, and get the ball in Jesse and Corey's hands as much as possible, we can make a game of it.

Oski Wee Wee,

Your posts are always a good read,and this time mirrored my sentiments exactly.A point you didn't really touch on,is the fact our secondary was completly lost early in the game.We got behind way early.When our D backs are clicking along with Karikari at safety it will be awhole new ballgame.I look forward to reading your post later this week.

Good response Russ but....I think Charlie might be protecting Chang too much. Chang is mobile, can throw on the run, get the ball away quickly and has a great deep throw. All of these talents will be needed this Thursday. Surely he can be given some plays that use his strengths early in the game rather when we are way behind on the scoreboard. Putting him in to try to salvage a lost game is as much a version of "throwing him to the wolves" as starting him. To heck with B.C. Let them figure him out. Right now they are probably laughing because Maas will start. They already know what to expect. I'd say its Maas who is being "thrown to the wolves".

The advantage of a tandem is that you force the opponent to prepare for two guys instead of one, limiting the effectiveness of keying on one guy. I agree that Chang's athleticism and arm strength poses more challenges for BC's defence, although they will definitely try to confuse him.

They know what to expect from Maas. Advantage BC.

Oski Wee Wee,