Fraser Caldwell | Ticats.ca
HAMILTON -- There are no marks for effort or improvement in the CFL. If there were, the Tiger-Cats’ defenders might feel less frustrated through the first half of their 2012 campaign.
Unfortunately, only the final totals on the scoreboard are rewarded, and those have not been kind to the Black and Gold in recent weeks.
The exasperation of veteran linebacker Jamall Johnson is plainly evident as he speaks in the midst of Week 10.
His unit has made no shortage of strides and has acquitted itself well for long stretches of recent games. But with contests in the balance, momentary lapses have been their undoing.
“On a week-to-week basis I think we’ve been playing pretty good football,” says Johnson. “There’s been some lapses and maybe at the most inopportune times we’ve allowed points or haven’t been able to get a stop that we need for whatever reason.”
The manner of the Tiger-Cats’ losses – the paper-thin margins of the past month – is irrelevant to Johnson. He cares only that his team has found defeat where it could so easily have tasted victory.
“It’s frustrates me just to be losing,” explains the linebacker. “I don’t care how many points it is. If we lose 6-3, it’s frustrating."
“The frustration comes from the lack of execution when we need to execute. We’ve had an opportunity to win pretty much every game that we’ve lost this year and we haven’t done it.”
Johnson believes that the answer to such letdowns is a greater sense of urgency among his teammates – the determination to hold fast regardless of the down or situation.
“We’ve got to start rising to the challenge and playing like every down is our last, fighting like our life depends on it,” says the linebacker.
“No matter what’s going on, whether they’re kicking field goals or something happens on special teams, when 30 points are on the board it looks like [the loss] is on the defence.”
Defensive back Dee Webb – who enjoyed a stellar game on Labour Day – identifies three keys to a better defensive display from the Tiger-Cats: the proper attitude, technique and accountability.
“We just need to be aggressive and make the tackles when we have the chance,” suggests Webb. “We can’t give them any second opportunities. We’ve got to play within the defence and know our assignments.
“When your number’s called you’ve got to make the play. When you get a chance to shine, you’ve got to make that play.”
The Tiger-Cats effectively avoided the proverbial ‘big play’ against the Argonauts on Labour Day, forcing the Double Blue to nickel and dime their way downfield instead.
Ultimately though, the inadequate short passes of the first half grew in size as the game wound down, and paved the way for the visitors’ critical late scoring drives.
Johnson argues that in order to corral Ricky Ray’s short game in the second round of the home-and-home series on Saturday, the Ticats must respond quickly and physically to limit, disrupt or entirely eliminate such passes.
“We’ve got to bring a higher level of physicality to the game,” says the linebacker. “If guys are catching little, short passes, we’ve got to come up and smack them and make them not want to catch those balls. Or we can come down and tackle them and rip the ball out or separate them from the ball and it’s not a catch."
“Then we’ve got to be more consistent in just our individual assignments, whether it’s containing the quarterback or being in the right spot in our coverages. Those little things will help to eliminate some of the things that we’ve been facing.”
The Ticats will have little time to make adjustments for this weekend’s rematch, with only two abbreviated workouts in the cards before Saturday’s kickoff.
With the second half of the season underway, Johnson and his teammates will look to better execute, and play to their unit's potential.