The start of the 2022 Canadian Football League season has been a wild ride, filled with a good quantity of games decided by a single score or less. We have seen a pair of games decided by a last-second shank by kickers, we have seen games come right down to the final play, and we have seen games that are of higher quality than we saw in 2021 across the board. All in all, it has been a glorious start to the season, especially for those fans who have seen their teams shatter expectations.
But the great start to the season hasn’t stopped there from being a handful of big surprises that we didn’t quite see coming to start the year. There are certainly more than three that could have been chosen for this, but it was a short week, and time was limited. Here are the three biggest shockers out of the gate in this CFL season.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Being 0-4
When you think of the biggest shock of the young season, you need not think any harder than the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ dismal start to the season. They have dropped all four of their first games, and they have come in shocking fashion, especially in their loss to the Edmonton Elks in week four. Each week, they step on the field with a roster talented enough to be Grey Cup contenders on paper, but they have found ways to lose in every week. It has been self-inflicted wounds, and it’s a real mystery as to why it has happened.
Looking back on the moves made in the offseason, nothing was done to suggest the Cats weren’t planning on competing in the East this season. Sure, they allowed Jeremiah Masoli, Brandon Banks, and Jaelon Acklin to walk, but they had their replacements already on the roster. The thought process was clear, they both liked their chances to win with Dane Evans, Bralon Addison, and Tim White stepping into those vacated roles, but they would also get a little bit younger, thus extending their window to win a championship a few years.
Many people were convinced, much like their management team was, that those internal replacement players were good enough to keep the Tiger-Cats at the level they had been at for the two previous seasons. As predictions for the standings rolled in, the Cats found themselves atop the East Division on a fairly regular basis, and if they weren’t first, they were close. Some people, on the other hand, picked them to finish towards the bottom, but there weren’t many who saw this coming.
Hamilton’s losses have been tough to watch to start the season. Week one in Saskatchewan left them looking uncompetitive. In week two, they choked away a massive 21-point lead after halftime to the Calgary Stampeders. In week three they once again looked uncompetitive, this time against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And finally, in week four, they made some incredibly poor decisions and allowed the Tre Ford-led Edmonton Elks to beat them at home. It seems that whatever could go wrong for Hamilton has gone wrong for Hamilton to start the season.
Related: CFL Power Rankings – Week 4 2022
Should you give up on the Tiger-Cats if you were a believer at the start of the season? No, probably not. They are still a talented football team, but something isn’t clicking. When the time to hunker down and win a game comes around, something always seems to go wrong. Their head coach, Orlondo Steinauer has a good track record as a head coach in the CFL, but now is when the big money is made. He needs to diagnose the issues, and he needs to solve them.
With the East being historically terrible to start the year, the Cats aren’t out of it, even with an 0-4 record. What Steinauer does from here is seriously important, and could be the difference between not only making the playoffs or not making it, it could be the difference between whether he has a head coaching job in Hamilton for 2023. Can he find a way to get Don Jackson involved in the offence? Can he find receivers who are consistently going to make plays, and who won’t allow a pass that hits them in the hands to be intercepted? Can he get Evans back on track like he was in 2019? Can he get the defence going to its full potential?
With everything still to play for, Hamilton doesn’t have to sit around and sulk about their 0-4 record. If they can solve their issues and get their act together during their week five bye week, they still stand a better than good chance to win the division, and potentially even host the East Final at the end of the season. The time is right now, because waiting any longer isn’t an option.
The BC Lions Hot Start
From one end of the spectrum with the Tiger-Cats, we got straight to the other side with the BC Lions and their incredible start to the season. Some people are going to be upset with the Lions’ start being called a surprise, but there’s good reason for them to be here. With an offensive line that lost a couple of good pieces without much offseason addition, a quarterback who had very little previous professional experience, and coming off the back of a disappointing 2021 season, the Lions were a massive question mark, but they are now one of the better teams in the league four weeks into the proceedings.
Starting with the offensive line, who could have expected that they would get better while losing Ryker Matthews and Hunter Steward? Through three games, the Lions’ offensive line has only allowed two sacks, one in the second game of the season against the Toronto Argonauts, and one against the Ottawa Redblacks in week four. They have also blocked incredibly well for their running backs, primarily James Butler, who has rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns. It doesn’t hurt when you have a mobile quarterback, but regardless, the Lions’ offensive line has greatly outperformed their expectations in the first three games of the season.
Speaking of that quarterback, Nathan Rourke has been unbelievable to start his first season as a starting quarterback in the CFL. His first two games of the season came in routes against both the Edmonton Elks and the Toronto Argonauts, while he managed to help the Lions to a win over the Ottawa Redblacks in week four, despite some key mistakes. Those mistakes included two interceptions and a fumble, and cutting those down will be key for the youngster. That’s just about all the negative you can find in his game to start the season, however, as he has thrown for 1,077 yards on 88 completitions, while throwing nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. On the ground, Rourke has been equally impressive, rushing 15 times for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
For as impressive as the offence has been in scoring a league-high 137 points, the defence has been just as good, allowing just 49 points, with 31 of those coming in their most recent game. In two of their three games, the Lions’ defence has allowed fewer than 20 points, with their season-low coming in week three, where they allowed the Argonauts to score just three points. The Lions are also tied for most interceptions in the league with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but have played one fewer game than their rivals in green.
Offensively, they have been nearly unstoppable, and defensively, they have been one of the best teams in the league when it comes to taking the ball away. Those two things are setting them up to have a season where they are legitimate Grey Cup contenders, but as they continue to face more West Division opponents, the intrigue is going to become less about how good they could be, and more about how consistent they can be. They will have a real test against the Bombers in week five, and how they deal with that is what everyone is waiting to see right now.
The Redblacks’ Sputtering Offence
When was the last time where a team had an offseason where they replaced nearly every single starter on their offence? That was exactly what the Redblacks did during the 2022 offseason, signing a new quarterback, some new receivers, virtually an entirely new offensive line, and some new (but familiar) faces at running back. There are only a handful of players from the 2021 Redblacks’ offence still on the roster, those include Nate Behar, R.J. Harris, and Dino Boyd, and the expectations were lofty. But so far this season, the offence has spun its wheels, especially when they get into the red zone.
The Redblacks issue hasn’t been moving the ball for the most part. Sure, against the BC Lions in week four, they struggled, amassing only 253 yards of total offence, but considering their defence forced three turnovers, with all of them happening deep into BC territory, that number is likely at least somewhat skewed. Overall in 2022, the Redblacks offence, led by veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, has gained 1,060 yards, eighth in the league overall, but third among the four teams with three games played.
They aren’t far behind other teams (within 200 total yards of the Calgary Stampeders who have played three games, Edmonton Elks who have played four games, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who have played four games), but where they trail heavily is in the touchdowns category.
More than nearly anyone else, the Redblacks have been settling for field goals. In their three games, Lewis Ward has trotted out 11 times, making 10 of those attempts. When you have a kicker with a career average of a click under 90 percent, it’s obviously fantastic, but setting for 3.67 field goals per game isn’t going to make you a super successful football team. The Redblacks have attempted the fourth-most field goals per game to start the season, and cutting that number needs to be one of their top priorities.
What is it going to take to start getting into the endzone? It’s not a lack of talent on the field. It’s not a lack of creativity in the playcalling, even if some of those creative designs haven’t worked. It comes down to execution, exactly what the players, Masoli in particular, have been preaching. Things have looked pretty on the way down to the red zone, but when it’s time to score, they need to be tidy with the ball.
Perhaps their three-touchdown game against the Lions is going to help spark that confidence. When they got the opportunity to punch the ball into the endzone, they took advantage in week four, and if they can keep going that, you would think that this team will be just fine. That has to become consistent, and the sooner the better.
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