Late game INTs sink Alouettes in Edmonton

The ability of this Montreal Alouettes football team to shoot itself in the foot time and time again never ceases to amaze this intrepid blogger.

I’m starting to think that I can copy/paste all of my previous posts and just update the  name and players of the opposing team at this point. Because once again, the defense played well but the offense was just not clicking. Despite them trying to give the game to Montreal numerous times, the Edmonton Eskimos proved victorious this past Thursday in Alberta’s capital.

Montreal lost by a gut-wrenching score of 23-12. While only allowing 23 points can be seen as a victory of sorts from this defense, a lot of those points came off of Montreal turnovers. The Alouettes’ game plan seemed to be to just hang around until the end and let the defense do all the heavy lifting. It was towards the end when down by 4 that this team imploded and now the knives are out, with Als fans eager to hurl blame at anyone and everyone on this team.

It really was a defensive showcase, as both teams’ quarterbacks struggled to get anything going. After Eskimos QB Mike Reilly barely held onto the ball long enough to break the end zone’s plane early on, it was a battle of the kickers Sean Whyte and Anthony Fera, who was making his Alouettes debut. Two Edmonton goal line drives turned into fumbles recovered by Montreal. Momentum swung like a pendulum for both teams.

But as Montreal drove down the field late in the fourth quarter down by a mere 4 points, once again Kevin Glenn suffered some really bad luck. An errant pass ended up being snatched by J.C. Sherritt and brought back 79 yards before Alouettes receiver Corbin Louks was able to punch it out of Sherritt’s hand before he could score. Brandon Rutley recovered the ball and Montreal maintained possession, but now they were starting at their own SIX yard line.

The Eskimos would not be denied, as Edmonton’s Deon Lacey read the mail perfectly and snagged Glenn’s second pass attempt and returned it to the house, driving the final nail into the Alouettes’ coffin. Edmonton snapped its three game losing streak and sent Montreal packing, tails tucked firmly between their legs.

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Rightly so, a lot of heat finally starting to come Anthony Calvillo‘s way by way of the fans of this organization. These fans derided the “efforts” of such coaching by names like Mike Miller and Turk Schonert, while AC was being given the benefit of the doubt for the first few games.

But for a fan base that isn’t accustomed to losing, the blame has to go SOMEWHERE. And while GM/Head Coach Jim Popp has been taking a ton of the heat, many are now looking towards the legendary CFL quarterback as the reason that this offensive attack is putrid at best.

For all the pre-game talk from the TSN panel on how he and Kevin Glenn are establishing a rhythm in Montreal, it’s looking like it’s all smoke and mirrors. I am having a hard time believing that a Hall of Fame quarterback like AC and a well-experienced coach like Jacques Chapdelaine are having such a difficult time with producing a workable offense.

During the pre-game show, former CFL All-Star and analyst Milt Stegall pointed out something that I have been saying for a while now; You can’t expect Anthony Calvillo to be great at coaching overnight. He has been hurried along by this organization and compared to what other great CFL quarterbacks turned coaches have gone through like Dave Dickenson and Jason Maas, he is unable to really pay his dues and as a result, is being done a tremendous disservice.

It’s one thing for an idiot fan like me to say these things; after all, I have never played not coached a game of football so my thoughts aren’t worth a hill of beans to many in this league. But in 20+ years of watching and following this league I have seen a lot of trends emerge, especially in this organization. When a former CFL player is echoing these same statements as mine, hopefully someone of importance within the team is listening.

My guess, and it’s strictly a guess at this point, is that Chapdelaine has given several plays for Calvillo to interject into the game plan and they are being flat-out ignored. Once again, I point to the work that Chapdelaine and Glenn did last season in Saskatchewan. Yes, the Riders lost a lot of games but points were being scored! Edmonton’s defense has been non-existent these past few weeks. Are we really saying all of a sudden that they are these masterful giants that can corral a pair of superstars like Duron Carter and Nik Lewis? Or is it a matter of the Alouettes’ OC simply thinking he doesn’t need coaching advice?

Put it this way: When Samuel Giguere and Brandon Rutley are among the leading receivers in a game, you have a serious problem. These guys are better suited to the run game, yet are being used as checkdown receivers and that can be a telltale sign that you’re being out-coached. Which Calvillo and Popp are in spades.

And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any inkling of change. It’s as though this team’s plan all along is hoping to bump in to a few wins ass-backwards and do just enough to qualify for a playoff spot. What’s really maddening is that with how average most of the teams in the CFL are playing as of late, it could actually work!

So while I’m a tad surprised that fans are now starting to lash out against the once untouchable AC, I don’t think they are entirely without blame.

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This team’s struggles notwithstanding, there were a few bright spots this past Thursday. B.J. Cunningham is not going to make people forget about S.J. Green, but he’s out there playing like a man possessed. He makes outstanding catches day in and day out and will be among the league’s elite in a year or two. When Kenny Stafford is back in the lineup, it will be a murderer’s row of talent in this receiving corps with Cunningham, Carter, Lewis and the returning Stafford.

Anthony Fera made his Alouettes debut and immediately endeared himself to fans who were sick and tired of Boris Bede‘s kicking struggles costing this team games. In fact, all 12 points the Alouettes scored against the Eskimos came off the foot of Fera. Going 4/5 and having 2 of his 4 successful field goals come from beyond 40 yards, Fera has safely secured himself a spot on this roster for the time being.

Fera wasn’t perfect, missing a 53 yard field goal on the final play of the first half. But until Bede shakes himself out of his funk, this team can rest a bit easier knowing that this former Texas Longhorn can boot the ball with some authority.

Finally, a ton of props have to go to this young secondary of the Alouettes. Billy Parker didn’t play last Thursday so in slotted Greg Henderson, who took some ugly penalties in Montreal’s first pre-season game and looked really out-of-place. But for his first official CFL game, Henderson played pretty decent. His pseudo coach (and lone starting veteran!) Jovon Johnson was also knocked out of the game for a bit and was replaced by Ramon Taylor, who was really outstanding in relief.

Along with Ethan Davis and Jonathon Mincy these young pups had several tackles, some monster knockdowns and kept both Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker off the score sheet. That is no small feat in itself! I’ve been praising Mincy all season as being a pleasant surprise, but Ethan Davis played his strongest game yet after being a liability more often than not on the football field as an Alouette.

If Parker and Johnson are healthy, I’d like to see a combination of both Mincy and Taylor on the weak side of the field. This is not an easy defense to be playing in, but these youngsters are starting to find their form. Along with Marc-Olivier Brouillette quarterbacking this secondary, there’s a lot of positive to be taken from this otherwise difficult loss.

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Montreal now finds itself back at Stade Hebert this week to prepare for another road game, this time not needing to fly out west. They will instead ride the rails into our nation’s capital to take on the first place Ottawa RedBlacks.

Quite a few Alouettes fans will be making the trek to TD Place to support the team. They will be in tough against a very vocal fan base that along with their MOP quarterback Henry Burris, feel they don’t get the respect they deserve. This will not be an easy game by any stretch for the Birds of Prey.

If you are wanting to check out the Alouettes’ practice, you can find the schedule here. As always, it’s free to attend and as far as I know, they will not be asking fans to sign in like they are apparently doing in Saskatchewan. 🙂

Be sure to tune into the Alouettes FlightDeck this week as Tim Capper and myself review last Thursday’s heartbreak and preview this coming Friday in Ottawa. Here’s hoping the drama is kept to a minimum this week and this Alouettes team can find its winning ways again.

GO ALS GO!!!

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