Last night, the Montreal Alouettes had a lot to be excited about. Playing in front of a nearly packed Percival Molson Stadium and a potential worldwide TV audience, there was a positive energy in the air. Despite ending the pre-season on a losing note, the Birds of Prey were ready to kick off the 2015 CFL season and silence the critics once and for all.
Instead, what the fans in Montreal got was a listless offence that produced several cringe-worthy moments and the sight of two of their team’s signal-callers knocked out of the game.
The Alouettes were in a dogfight with the Ottawa RedBlacks for most of the game, but they simply let the victory slide through their fingers, losing a heartbreaker by a 20-16 score. This was a completely winnable game for Montreal but you can never really count out Ottawa’s wily veteran QB Henry Burris, who himself probably had a few haters to silence.
As shaky as he looked in the first half turning over the ball, Burris proved that slow and steady wins the race as he came alive in the fourth quarter and carved up a very tired Alouettes defense with surgical precision.
This morning, a lot of questions have to be answered. And I think of lot of them have to directed towards OC Turk Schonert. His play-calling was so uninspired that I had to double-check that Ryan Dinwiddie wasn’t given back the OC job. If Jonathan Crompton’s outings as QB have shown nothing else so far in 2015, it’s that this system is clearly not designed for his skill set.
Last year Crompton made tremendous use of the read option, to much success. He handed off the ball to his running back, to much success. This year, Crompton is trying to make that deep play happen….and either missing his target completely or getting picked off by a defender. It’s simply not a recipe for a winning season.
I had warned everyone about Ottawa’s defense and with good reason. Not only they force a number of turnovers (including a gutsy one-handed pick by former Alouette Moton Hopkins), but they managed to send both Crompton and Dan LeFevour to the medical room. After Crompton was kept out for precautionary reasons, the former Ti-Cat LeFevour was summoned to duty. He only lasted one series, as he was felled with a serious shoulder injury. As of this post going viral, it’s looking like Dan’s season is finished.
Alouettes Nation, if you’re looking for a ray of hope from this dreadful game, then please have your boarding pass ready. Yesterday evening, Air Canada was cleared for takeoff!
Despite getting zero reps in practice this week, Brandon Bridge was forced into action with both Crompton and LeFevour felled by injuries. And for a guy who’s still very much a rookie and was forced into the game colder than the other side of the pillow, Bridge did a very respectful job in leading the offense on short notice. While final QB numbers like going 5 for 10 and throwing 62 yards aren’t going to blow anyone away, the team did respond well to him under centre. Although Bridge’s one INT lead to Ottawa’s winning touchdown, he’s got nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s situations like this that make me wish the Alouettes had retained Jeff Garcia’s services as QB coach, if not as OC. He managed to get so much out of Crompton last season and I can only imagine what he could do to help school youngsters like Bridge and Rakeem Cato, who will also be seeing action very soon.
So next Friday could mark some history depending on how Crompton’s shoulder does this weekend (Early reports have him as day-to-day with a separated shoulder) as we could see the Canadian-born Bridge starting for the Alouettes! Before last night, the league hadn’t seen a Canadian-born QB play in a game under centre since 2010. And it’s been well over 30 years since a Canuck took snaps in Montreal! If this coaching staff can give Brandon all the tools he needs and builds a game plan around his mobile style of play, there’s still hope.
Realistically though, the Alouettes are no doubt looking to sign an established CFL quarterback before next Friday. But good QBs don’t just grow on trees. And if the Alouettes tried to trade for a Drew Tate or Kevin Glenn right now, they’d be paying through the nose. Like it or not, Montreal will just have to grit their teeth and roll the dice on the rookie QB born in the 905 area code.
While last night’s final score wasn’t the success that everyone had hoped for, the Alouettes themselves have to be feeling good about having a nearly full house for the first official game of 2015. I think having that $30 CFL kickoff special helped tremendously, as it provided great value while giving casual fans a reason to take in a football game. It also helped to not have a torrential downpour of rain. Sunny weather + football almost always equals a fun summer’s night in Montreal!
But two things still need fixing at Percival Molson Stadium: Crazy T-shirt Guy and the new T-Shirt Cannon. How freaking hard is it to take a look at whether Montreal is on offense or not before sending CTG out to rile up the fans? Or how about NOT sending out the cumbersome cannon (which was a tad lacking in actual firepower) just after the RedBlacks boot the ball away?
What’s next, starting the wave when the Alouettes offense is on the field? Oh wait, they tried that too last night. Thankfully, most of the fans were smart enough to delay it until the defense was able to take over. I keep thinking that these are just opening night jitters and that the team will eventually catch on. Because they’ve only had twenty of these opening nights, y’know.
All in all, I do see the effort being made by this team and I have to say they have come a really long way. Let’s hope that this will continue going forward as the first of many hot summer nights on the mountain is now in the books.
Suffice to say, there’s a lot of work to be done this weekend in Montreal. The next few games will be a real test, facing Calgary twice in the span of a month as well as Winnipeg and Hamilton. No one is hitting panic just yet, but some of these errors should have been fixed in training camp and weren’t. It’s a long season though; injured Alouettes lineman Ryan White sums it up perfectly with this tweet:
And also, Michael Sam is back in Montreal, if only to make the media wags who said he’d never EVER come back look foolish. But that’s another column for another day.
GO ALS GO!!!