The Hamilton Tiger-Cats' defence was their biggest question mark heading into Saturday's clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but at the most crucial moment, it was the Ticats' defence that stepped up to give them their first win of the season, a 25-20 victory. The Hamilton defence still had its struggles on the night, but provided a crucial sack of Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce in the last few minutes to give the Tiger-Cats the ball, and Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris skillfully created enough of a drive to run out the clock from there. It wasn't necessarily enough of a defensive performance to convince observers that this Tiger-Cats' team is set to contend this year, but it was more impressive than anything they've done to date, and that's good news for Hamilton fans.
The Tiger-Cats really improved on the pass defence front Saturday, and that was crucial to their victory. They put Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce under pressure all night, sacking him six times and hurrying him on countless other plays. Overall, Pierce only completed 15 of his 26 pass attempts (57.7 per cent) for 186 yards. That's a substantially-stronger pass defence performance than Hamilton had delivered to date, so Tiger-Cats' fans should be happy about that.
The Hamilton rushing defence, however, which was the largest problem heading into this week, still seems like a work in progress. Bombers' running back Chad Simpson collected 116 yards on just 11 carries (10.5 yard per carry), continuing Hamilton's tradition of conceding over 10 yards per carry to the opposition's lead back. Overall, the Tiger-Cats conceded 144 rushing yards on 17 attempts (8.5 yards per carry), which is slightly better than the they'd allowed thus far, but still remains a significant cause for concern amongst Hamilton fans. If they don't get better against the run, it's hard to see the Tiger-Cats winning a lot of games.
Still, Hamilton did a lot of things right here, and the Tiger-Cats' offence looked particularly in sync. Quarterback Henry Burris turned in a terrific performance, completing 26 of his 32 attempts (81.3 per cent) for 362 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Receivers Bakari Grant, Sam Giguere and Ed Gant all had solid days too, combining for 264 receiving yards and a touchdown on 15 catches. The ground game wasn't all that effective Saturday, as running backs Chevon Walker and Lindsey Lamar combined to pick up just 29 rushing yards on nine carries (3.2 yards per carry), but Burris scrambled effectively to collect 47 yards on six rushing attempts. Most importantly, though, the Hamilton offence was finally good enough to make up for their defensive problems.
In the end, though, this came down to the resistible force of the Winnipeg offence against the moveable object of the Hamilton defence, and the moveable object won out. This carries disclaimers, of course, as the Blue Bombers haven't been that great thus far. They've particularly struggled in the ground game, and that worked just fine against the Tiger-Cats Saturday. Thus, don't go expecting Hamilton to instantly turn into a contender for the league's top positions. Still, Saturday's effort was a major improvement for the Tiger-Cats, especially on defence. If they can play like this more often and repeat this defensive effort against stronger offences, it may be a better season than many Hamilton fans had hoped.