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Dissecting the Tiger-Cats: Part 4 Assessing the Defensive Position Groups

At the start of the 2022 season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence was one of the best units in the CFL. The Tiger-Cat’s back seven was led by successful veterans, many of those veterans had experience playing with one another. Talent and chemistry tend to be a formula for success on the football field, and when this defence was healthy they did play well together.

There were some injury issues, Cariel Brooks started the season on the injured list, and linebacker Simoni Lawrence was on the injury list multiple times during the season. The Tiger-Cats defence was deep enough to absorb these losses and still maintain a similar level of performance, but other complicating factors affected the performance of the defence.

The Tiger-Cats defence tended to play well in the first three-quarters of most games, but then they seemed to run out of gas and struggle at the end of games. This resulted in the Tiger-Cats five blown leads that occurred in the first half of the season. What created this situation in which a good defence finished games poorly?

The answer lies in the offensive unit being able to put together drives in the 2nd half, and many times the offence turned the ball over near their red zone. The offence continually put the defence into a compromising situation that led to the defence giving up points on a short field. Football is the ultimate team game, and when the offence is not effective it adds significant pressure to the defence to produce turnovers to end scoring drives.

To compensate the defence would have needed to get more quarterback sacks, and create more turnover situations. With this in mind, we will now take a look at how the defensive units performed during the 2022 season.

The Defensive Line

Despite not having a dominant edge rusher or an elite run stopper, the Tiger-Cats defensive line found a way to pressure quarterbacks and contain the run. Micah Johnson and Julian Howsare were able to pressure quarterbacks and each of them had 7 sacks.

Julian Howsare also had two interceptions which is an exceptional stat for a defensive lineman. Malik Carney, Mason Bennett, and Ted Laurent all contributed to the success of the defensive line and were used to fill in where needed. Dylan Wynn started the season with the spotlight on him, and he did produce 4 sacks, but he ended the season on the injured list. Early in the season, the defensive line struggled to produce pressure and sacks, but they did improve after the first several games.

Where this unit needed to improve was stopping the run, if a team had a good power back, this unit struggled to take that weapon away from their opponents. This resulted in the back seven needing to help more with run support which opened up play-action opportunities for opposing quarterbacks.

Defensive Line Grade: C

The Linebackers

One of the most popular players for the Tiger-Cats is linebacker Simoni Lawrence. Coming into the season the pressure was on Lawrence to play dominant football and be a catalyst to lead the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup championship.

What resulted was Lawrence having a slow start to the season, and then running into injury issues on a week-to-week basis for the rest of the season. Lawrence did produce 41 tackles but relative to expectations he struggled to produce. Luckily for the Tiger-Cats, Jovan Santos-Knox and Kyle Wilson played this year and closed the gap produced by the absence of Lawrence. Jovan Santos-Knox had 105 tackles and a quarterback sack.

Santos-Knox also made critical plays down the stretch as the Tiger-Cats were fighting for a playoff spot. Kyle Wilson also made an impact with 45 tackles, and his presence allowed the whole of the linebacking crew to be better than its parts.

Linebackers Grade: B

The Defensive Backs

The CFL is a pass-heavy league and a team must have an effective defensive backfield to compete in this league. The Tiger-Cat’s defensive backs are a star-studded group and they were able to help cover up many of the issues that Hamilton had to overcome. Tunde Adeleke was the leader of this group most of the season, and he acted as the “quarterback” of the defensive backfield.

Jumal Rolle, Ciante Evans, and Cariel Brooks were all difference-makers for the Tiger-Cats despite injury issues. Richard Leonard emerged as an excellent playmaker and produced 65 tackles, a quarterback sack, and 4 interceptions for the season. Kameron Kelly is listed on the roster as a defensive back but was asked to fill in for injured players in the linebacking unit at times. Kelly showed outstanding versatility and had a great season with 51 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 interceptions. This unit is one of the best aspects of the Tiger-Cats, hopefully, this unit can stay together and continue to excel.

Defensive Backs Grades: B+

Next article: Part 5 Assessing the Specialists

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