While watching the Western and Eastern Finals it is clear to see that there is a specific template that allows CFL teams to become championship teams. That template relates to how a team should go about building a balanced team that can overcome challenges and makes plays regardless of the conditions.
Every team in the division finals this year had a competent quarterback that was able to lead while under pressure, playmakers at wide receiver, a workhorse running back that could keep defenders honest, a sound offensive line, and a defence that could contain the opponent’s offence.
Orlondo Steinauer has mentioned, “we are trying to get better for 2023, but that is our process to get better than the year before.” In 2023 the Tiger-Cats need to make 3 personnel adjustments that will allow them to become the balanced team that fits the template of a Grey Cup championship team.
A Starting Quality Quarterback
In 2022 the Tiger-Cats had three quarterbacks that played significant time and were in a position to lead the Hamilton offence. The starting quarterback was Dane Evans, and Dane has the physical tools to be a starting quarterback in the CFL but he was lacking poise under pressure. Orlondo Steinauer has described Evans as a “reckless competitor”.
When under pressure the reckless portion of Dane Evan’s game stands out, Evans turned the ball over regularly, usually in big moments near his end zone. The problem with being a reckless competitor is that he tries too hard to make “the play” and ends up making a major mistake. Evans was excellent as a backup quarterback, and that may be his comfort zone.
Matt Shiltz and Jamie Newman also contributed to the Tiger-Cats offence this year, and both flashed the potential to be good quarterbacks. The most accurate way to describe the Tiger-Cats quarterback room in 2022 is that they were a group of hard-working backup quarterbacks.
To address this situation the Tiger-Cats have decided to trade two future CFL draft picks, a 3rd-round pick in 2023 and a 5th-round pick for 2024, for the opportunity to acquire the rights to Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
This trade does not guarantee that Mitchell will be playing quarterback for the Tiger-Cats in 2023, but it does mean that Hamilton gets the first opportunity to sign Mitchell to a contract once he is officially a free agent. Orlondo Steinauer mentioned, “Bo is a winner and wants to be where he can succeed.”
So the Tiger-Cats need to maintain the strengths of their 2022 team and give Bo motivation to come to lead the Tiger-Cats offence. Steinauer was asked why the Tiger-Cats made a play on Mitchell and he said “Bo is a champion, won big games, and has done it with various receivers. We know that he has been well-coached and we felt that he has a lot of gas left in the tank.”
It is not clear if Mitchell will sign with the Tiger-Cats and if he does, how that will affect the chemistry of the Tiger-Cats quarterback room. If they do successfully sign Mitchell then it will give them the proven starting quarterback that they need.
A Workhorse Runningback
A common feature of every team in the division finals of the CFL playoffs this year is that they had a workhorse running back. Consistent power runners allow offensive units to avoid getting behind the chains on first down and allow the team to have a reliable weapon to pick up first downs in 2nd and short situations.
Essentially, a good power back would allow the Tiger-Cats offence to be less predictable on offence, and it would also help with pass protection.
An effective running game also tends to allow quarterbacks to get settled into the flow of the game. The wide-open Tiger-Cats offence is exciting but it is not always reliable, especially in close games. Running back Wes Hills started to show potential at the end of the season, and if the Tiger-Cats can add a true power back it will give their offence more ability to control games using the running game.
A Dominant Edge Rusher
The Tiger-Cats defence is a solid unit, and the strength of that unit is the defensive backs and linebackers. These units together could potentially become the best defence in the CFL, but there is a major aspect of their defence that is missing. That missing piece is a dominant edge rusher that can apply consistent pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
The defensive line was the weak point of the Hamilton defence, and they struggled to stop the run and produce quarterback sacks. A dominant edge rusher would allow the Hamilton defence to force the opponent’s offensive units to play on their heels, and that would allow the defensive secondary to force more turnovers.
This off-season the Tiger-Cats have kicked things off by looking for a change at quarterback by acquiring Bo Levi Mitchell. But even with the change at quarterback, the problems that existed in 2022 will still exist no matter which quarterback is leading the offence.
Acquiring a workhorse power back would allow the quarterback to have a chance to lead with a cool and calm head rather than feeling the need to force big plays leading to spirit-crushing turnovers. In addition, a dominant edge rusher would allow the Tiger-Cats effective defence to rise to another level.
The combination of a calm, collected offence and an aggressive defence would make Hamilton the favorites to win the CFL East in 2023 and win a Grey Cup on their home turf.
Follow me on Twitter: @AaronSauter7
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