Declawed: Redblacks Defense Has Track Record of Containing Explosive Ti-Cat Offense

Photo credit: Adam Gagnon (CFL)

The highflying Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been difficult to stop this season for most CFL defenses, but the Redblacks have held their own.

Under first-year defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, Ottawa has employed a playmaking defense that has made the difference in head-to-head matchups. While sweeping Hamilton 3-0 in the regular season, the Redblacks held their passing game largely in check.

Containing the likes of Jeremiah Masoli, Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker can be a tall task. The Ti-Cats offense has averaged 28.5 points (3rd in the CFL) and over 400 yards per game (1st in the CFL) and Masoli averaged a league-best 9.1 yards per pass completion.

In the Eastern Semifinal last weekend, the Ti-Cats hung 48 points on the Lions and Masoli was virtually unstoppable. He had 259 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while only attempting 19 passes.

Against the Redblacks however, the Ti-Cats offense has mostly sputtered. Hamilton averaged less than 20 points per game over the three matchups with Ottawa and lost the turnover battle. In their season series, the Redblacks forced three fumbles and four interceptions.

Coming up with takeaways has been a defining factor of this year’s defense. The remade defense has allowed roughly the same points as last year’s unit (25.1 points per game in 2017 and 23.3 per game in 2018), but the difference has come in the sheer number of turnovers they have forced.

The Redblacks have the third most takeaways this season (41) and the third-best turnover ratio (+9). Here is the breakdown of turnovers forced between the last two seasons, pre-Thorpe and after he took over as head of the defense:

2017         2018
11 interceptions         16 interceptions
6 forced fumbles        19 forced fumbles

Not only has Noel Thorpe brought a ‘take the ball away’ mentality to the Redblacks in his first year in Ottawa, but he also has integrated numerous impact players that were added in the offseason. The list of free-agent additions on defense, in hindsight, is pretty staggering.

  • Rico Murray (5 interceptions – First in the CFL)
  • A.C. Leonard (6 sacks – Leads Team)
  • Danny Mason (4 sacks)
  • Kyries Herbert
  • Rookie starters Avery Williams and Anthony Cioffi

Two of those players, Murray and Leonard, were named to the East Division All-Star team last week. Longtime Redblack corner Jonathan Rose was selected as well amidst a career year.

Against those defensive stars, Hamilton did have some success in the second matchup with the Redblacks. They scored 31 points in Ottawa but faded late following the season-ending injury to All-Star receiver Brandon Banks. The Ti-Cats stumbled in their final two drives of the game after he went down and lost by one score.

In the next matchup a week later, they managed only 13 points and averaged only 5.1 yards per pass completion. The resulting five or so quarters against Ottawa after the Banks injury were not particularly surprising given his special skillset and role within the offense.

Since being promoted to full-time receiver last season, the speedy Banks has stood out as the piece that unlocked June Jones’ ‘run and shoot’ offense, drawing the attention of the defense away from Hamilton’s other receivers.

Along with Banks, the Ti-Cats are also without starting receiving options Jalen Saunders and Terrence Tolliver. Hamilton went without Saunders and Tolliver down the homestretch however and was without Banks in last week’s blowout playoff win.

The matchup between the red-hot Redblacks secondary, which should include a returning Antoine Pruneau, and the hampered Ti-Cats receiving corps will be a key factor in the Eastern Final.

Check back on this Friday for a full breakdown on how the Redblacks and Ti-Cats matchup for Sunday’s Eastern Final!