Alouettes & Eskimos kick off an “interesting” Week #8 in the CFL

I tend not to overthink my blog when i sit down to write it, as I just want to focus on this Montreal Alouettes team and give it the voice that it richly deserves. But I am almost not sure where to start exactly.

This past week, from the final gun of last Thursday’s loss versus BC to this very eve of game day, it’s been a whirlwind of news and views across the entire league. There’s certainly no shortage of interesting things to talk about.

In the interest of keeping it Alouettes-focused, we’ll delve into some major topics and how it pertains to Thursday night’s game versus the Edmonton Eskimos, a team that finds itself with the same record as Montreal and very much in a Grey Cup hangover.

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Alouettes fans have been clamouring for it and their wishes have come true; After another underwhelming performance last week by Boris Bede, a new kicker will be in the lineup for Montreal. GM/HC Jim Popp courted a few suitors but in the end, it was former BC Lions kicker Anthony Fera who stood out the most and he will make his Alouettes debut against Edmonton.

To make room for Fera, Bede has been put on the 6 game injured list. I think it’s clear as day that Bede is NOT injured, but this is yet another creative loophole that our esteemed general manager is using to his advantage. Considering what other teams have allegedly been up to in regards to circumventing the rules, this hardly seems scandalous.

Fera was a solid kicker last season for BC, but was bested by Richie Leone in training camp and deemed expendable by the Lions. This will be a tremendous opportunity for the former Texas Longhorn. The future is still very much Boris Bede’s, but some time on the sidelines to get some new perspective can do wonders for him.

One only needs to see what sitting on the bench did for one Anthony Calvillo when he first arrived in Montreal. He was completely shell-shocked in Hamilton, clearly asked to do too much for that floundering team at the time. Calvillo’s first two years in Montreal were spent holding a clipboard and learning how to be great.

The rest, as they say, was history. I’m not saying that Bede will be the Anthony Calvillo of kickers, but there is a ton of potential still in Boris and he is still young enough that his career can be rescued before it’s too late.

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Not every career can be saved by Montreal; Just a little over a week after he was released by the Alouettes, Canadian-born quarterback Brandon Bridge will continue his football career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

As it stood, it was a no-win situation for Bridge to remain in Montreal. This organization is firmly behind both Rakeem Cato and Vernon Adams and the utter lack of playing time for Bridge made that abundantly clear. Deeming Bridge only good enough for short-yardage play, it would have taken a catastrophic injury for Brandon to truly see playing time under centre.

It’s unfortunate as despite his limited action, Bridge still has two rushing touchdowns to his name in 2016. He has the physical gifts to be a dominant player in this league, he just needs more honest playing time. Bridge has a much better chance of that in Saskatchewan, as that team is struggling to find a rhythm and many members of its fanbase appears ready to move on from veteran QB/Grey Cup winner Darian Durant.

I’m not sure if he will develop in Saskatchewan the way he could have with Anthony Calvillo if given the chance, but it’s a new beginning for Brandon. I am sure that he’ll have October 22th circled on his calendar, when Montreal visits Mosaic Stadium for the last time. Perhaps by that point, Bridge will be deemed worthy to be given the reigns of “Canada’s team” and will be ready to show this Alouettes organization that they made a rather costly error in letting this particular bird fly away.

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But perhaps the most troubling news just came out of Edmonton, when it was learned that this team’s head coach/general manager reached his boiling point and completely tore into his team this past Sunday after practice, suggesting that no one was irreplaceable if it came to that.

No one expected Jim Popp to turn this team into a powerhouse after the tumultuous season of 2015. But watching this team struggle like it has the past few seasons has clearly taken its toll on its architect. This supposed tirade is the kind of thing that can shatter all trust in the locker room and once you have lost the room, you are often not long for the unemployment line.

There’s a certain level of success that Montreal fans have come to expect not just from this team, but from Popp as well. This is the only general manager this current Alouettes team has ever known and despite some questionable personnel moves, is still held in high regard by many around the league. But has this unenviable task of trying to do it all costed Popp what matters most?

It’s been extremely tough to defend Popp’s coaching decisions as of late and while the notion of staying on to coach this team to provide stability was a noble one, it’s proven to be a huge mistake. I would absolutely hate the Jim Popp era to end with him leaving this franchise altogether with this pall hanging overhead and the longer Jim stays on as head coach, the more this looks to be happening.

It’s hard to argue that the long-term plan is to eventually put Anthony Calvillo in as head coach and that Popp is essentially keeping the seat warm for him. But for the sake of this team now and for the sake of Calvillo’s coaching career, it may be time for a drastic move. Jim Popp needs to fire his current head coach and hand over the reins to either Noel Thorpe or Kavis Reed, depending on which of the two is content to be a lame duck interim coach.

It’s not a fair situation to put either man in but if any of these allegations of tirades and frustration are even just remotely true, then this team has hit critical mass. I have all the respect in the world for Jim Popp as a leader of men, but there is way too much smoke here for there not to be just a little bit of fire. There’s two-thirds of the season still to be played and it’s still very salvageable.

A win Thursday against Edmonton will be nice, but it won’t cure all of the woes that have befallen this team. Like Nik Lewis said in his own tirade a few weeks ago, everyone in that locker room needs to take a long look in the mirror. That goes double for this coaching staff and head man in charge.

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So what can we expect from the Eskimos? Well, the defending Grey Cup champs are slumping right now, deep in a three game losing skid. They have one of the game’s finest quarterbacks in Mike Reilly and he’ll be looking for redemption after having his eight game streak of 300+ passing yards snapped by Ottawa last Saturday.

He will also want to wake up the slumbering beasts that are Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman, his two deep threats. Last week, the Eskimos only managed one touchdown versus the RedBlacks and it was due to the defense. The rest of the points were scored by former Alouette Sean Whyte. Edmonton has the talent on offense; they will need to take full advantage of Montreal’s beleaguered young secondary.

The Alouettes won’t have Billy Parker in the lineup, so Greg Henderson will make his CFL debut alongside of Ethan Davis and Jonothan Mincy. Henderson had his struggles in the pre-season games, which gave Mincy the edge in starts. Davis has struggled to find his form in Montreal and could be in for a very long night lining up against the likes of Walker, Bowman and Nate Coehoorn.

Montreal’s O-Line will be getting a much-needed boost as Luc Brodeur-Jourdain will be making his return. Coincidentally enough he returns to the same place where he tore up his knee last season, requiring surgery and an extended stay on the injured list. He’ll be backing up Kristian Matte, who has done well for the most part in replacing LBJ at centre.

With Luc returning to the lineup, this will give Montreal more of a veteran presence and can also take the pressure off their two rookies that have struggled in replacement duty. With LBJ back leading these guys, the goal of keeping Kevin Glenn upright will be a lot easier to accomplish.

For Montreal to win, it all comes back to the basics; Protect the ball and make plays happen. If this offense can get clicking right away and create opportunities early and often, they really do have a chance to win. Edmonton is currently 8th in the CFL for points allowed, a very surprising stat considering that Eskimos DC Mike Benavides is known league-wide as a defensive wizard.

It won’t be enough to try to take out Mike Reilly with bone-crushing hits; the guy is tougher than a two dollar steak. Montreal’s front seven will have to bring a ton of heat and force Reilly to make some bad throws. Penalties will also be a huge factor as both teams must find a way to stay disciplined if they want to notch their third win of 2016.

Last but not least, Montreal has to remember the last time they played the Eskimos back in November. It was a winnable game and Kevin Glenn played outstanding football. But mental errors did the team in and it cost them a shot to cross over into the playoffs. While this game is far from determining a playoff spot, Montreal has to be extra motivated in order to come out of Commonwealth Stadium with a win and really send Edmonton into a tailspin.

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That’s all for now. My thanks again to the fine folks at the Eskimos Empire podcast for having me on to discuss Thursday’s game. Be sure to give them a listen here.

As always, follow me on Twitter for more last-minute thoughts and opinions on your Montreal Alouettes. Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.

GO ALS GO!!!

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