Starting the 2011 season 0-2, after early predictions had the Hamilton Tiger-Cats ready to contend for the East, is a lot like a "Hangover": You hope your indiscretions of the previous Friday nights are really just bad dreams.
Although it's still too early to hit the panic button, watching the uninspired performance of his team should at least be giving head coach Marcel Bellefeuille some serious bed-spins. In that case, a collective head shaking may be in order. If you're a beleaguered Tiger-Cats fans, head slapping may be more like it. After scoring a league-low 26 points in their first two outings, can you really blame Pigskin Pete and the rest of Tabbie Nation if they did try to administer their own brand of home-town justice?
The best remedy for an ailing offence is to exploit an equally incompetent defence and in that case, welcome Saskatchewan. The Green Riders have given up a league-high 81 points through two games.
Offensively, this is a talented Tiger-Cats team. But looking good on paper doesn't always get you the results you want. Like having the most expensive ingredients in the kitchen, it doesn't always guarantee a fine tasting soup. Even the most complicated recipes start out with the most basic ingredients and in an offensive huddle, they are called O- linemen.
To suggest that everything "starts up front" is an understatement. If you can't block, protect and display a certain level of nastiness, than you have no business being an offensive lineman. If you can't do it in Steeltown, you have no business wearing the black and yellow. Better to take the back entrance to Ivor Wynne Stadium, than the long walk of shame through the neighborhood on Balsam Ave. After two games, a rut and a well worn path is slowly starting to take shape by the back door.
Giving quarterback Kevin Glenn time to throw the ball, is about giving receivers like Arland Bruce time to run his routes, is about scoring points, is about winning games. The ladder of progression is a simple one in offensive terms. Despite the brutality of the game, every play is like a well choreographed ballet: Receivers, running backs and quarterback all working in harmony with timing and precision.
The job of a defence is simple: Disrupt, in whatever way you can, that harmony and precision. When a defensive back roughs up a receiver within the first five yards of scrimmage, it's about throwing him off his intended path, compromising his route and disrupting his timing to get to the spot his quarterback is expecting him to be. When defensive lineman run loops and stunts or linebackers and defensive backs blitz, it's about confusing the O-line, sending one more person than can be blocked or creating a path to the quarterback in quicker fashion, forcing him to scramble or throw the ball earlier than he wants.
That, in a nutshell, is what good defences do and what the Tiger-Cats have been unable to adjust to. There is no point in talking about the deep threat of Bruce, the explosiveness of Avon Cobourne or the sure hands of Dave Stala, if you can't address those issues first. For teams unable to make things up on the fly, deviate from the script and engage in a little "sandlot football" from time to time, what you get is an anemic offense.
Having the "fat, clumsy guys" up front start the ballet doesn't necessarily reflect the grace and fine lines but it remains the most essential ingredient to any successful offensive play. To suggest that the Ticats misfortunes should be heaped on the broad shoulders of the big guys up front may not be all that fair ? given that receivers running sloppy routes, quarterbacks not getting the ball out on time and running backs not picking up their blocks ? have all been complicit in Hamilton's offensive woes.
For an O-lineman, wearing that mantle of responsibility, sits just fine. After all, they have big shoulders to carry the criticism and when it comes to sacrificing life and limb for the good of the team, hearts to match as well.
In the end it's the entire Tiger-Cats team that needs to perform and if an 0-2 start isn't providing sober enough reality, than perhaps a Roughriders team that pushes them to 0-3 will. In that case, better to feel the effects of a Roughriders beating and the ensuing "Hangover" than the hometown justice of the Hamilton faithful. Where one can be alleviated with simple aspirin, the other requires a disguise.
Sandy Annunziata enjoyed an 11-year CFL career that culminated in back-to-back Grey Cup championships in 2004 and 2005. The former CFL All-Star will be writing for the 55-Yard Line on the league and everything Canadian about it. No stranger to covering the CFL before joining Yahoo! Sports Canada as an analyst for the Fan590 and Rogers Sportsnet, the former offensive lineman will take you beyond the field and inside the locker room as he examines the game, the health of the league, the business of sport and the sometimes fragile psyche of pro football players.