Despite how this 2016 season started, the Montreal Alouettes have a lot to be thankful for as they prepare to defend the nest Monday versus the Edmonton Eskimos.
While a 4-9 record is not really anything to write home about, the Als are very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. The team is still feeding off the energy of a dominant win last Sunday in front of a packed house. But that was against a bad Toronto team that looks like it has pulled the plug on their season.
Monday’s game will be a much more serious test of the Alouettes’ resolve as they face not only the defending Grey Cup champions, but an Edmonton team that is fighting to claim ANY spot in the playoffs. They currently would cross over the East if the Grey Cup playoffs started today. The Esks want to maintain their momentum as well as derail Montreal’s hopes for the promised land.
Jacques Chapdelaine was able to post his first win as a head coach last week and as this team buys into his program more and more, he will want to prove that this coaching change is no fluke. Montreal will send Rakeem Cato back out to get the W and his confidence is at an all-time high. After posting a personal best four touchdown game, he’ll be facing an Edmonton defense that is starting to click at the right time.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that this Alouettes team faces is the offensive juggernaut that is Eskimos QB Mike Reilly and his top two receivers, Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman. Even in losing efforts this season, Reilly has looked outstanding. Being able to heave bombs to both Walker and Bowman helps the cause as these two are on a record-shattering pace.
Walker and Bowman are on pace to reach 4000 receiving yards combined while Reilly is less than 300 yards away from reaching 5000 on the season and he’ll look to test Montreal’s rookie secondary early and often. I often feel like a broken record saying these guys will be tested, but each and every week they answer the bell and have quietly been a force to be reckoned with in their own right.
Montreal’s front seven will have to find a way to disrupt Reilly, a task that is easier said than done. He’s taken some unbelievable shots to his body and still comes back for more. In fact, Reilly has thrown at least one touchdown in his past seven games and has a remarkable 11 games where he’s thrown for at least 300 yards. Safe to say, the Alouettes are not facing just any old quarterback Monday afternoon.
This is where the fans can help their team by being by being loud on defense. So far it’s not looking like the sellout that is was last week versus Toronto, but these Thanksgiving games are often well-attended by Alouettes Nation. Coach Chapdelaine has stressed how important the positive momentum from the fans are for these games. So if you haven’t gorged too much on turkey at the tailgate (more on that later) and fallen asleep, your team needs you to be LOUD Monday afternoon.
On offense, Montreal will have to come out firing like they did against Toronto. Rakeem Cato was able to stretch the field last week and he’ll be looking for his usual targets again this week. That’s including former Eskimo Kenny Stafford, who came alive last week with a pair of touchdowns. I expect Cato to also find Nik Lewis and the emerging talent that is B.J. Cunningham early and often to get those crucial second down touches that move the chains.
Duron Carter will be looking to get some touches as well in order to back up his claim that opposing DBs always have their hands full with him. He’ll be lining up against Brandyn Thompson, who was a part of the Ottawa RedBlacks’ feared “D-Block” secondary corps last season and will want to prove his worth to Eskimos defensive coordinator Mike Benevides.
Despite their ups and downs this season, Edmonton’s run defense has been solid all year and they’ll look to contain Cato, who caught the Argos napping on a few occasions with his fast feet. Montreal won’t have Tyrell Sutton in the lineup due to a rib injury, so Brandon Rutley will get the call to pound the rock when needed.
Edmonton will bring the house with their fearsome defensive line, which features talented names like Almondo Sewell, Philip Hunt and Odell Willis. The last time the Eskimos played at Percival Molson Stadium, their defense absolutely rag-dolled young Rakeem, planting him EIGHT times on the turf.
That simply cannot happen again Monday afternoon. Montreal’s O-Line has had their struggles this year, but they will have to do whatever it takes to keep their lithe quarterback upright. Cato was making much better decisions last week and hopefully that will stay with him as he looks to put together Montreal’s first wining streak of 2016.
This game will not only be a must-attend for the on-field product, but the atmosphere Monday will be tremendous even before the game gets underway!
Montreal’s tailgate is like nothing else that this league has seen and the Thanksgiving holiday brings out the very best. In case you haven’t had your fill of turkey on Sunday, there will be deep-fried turkey and all the usual Thanksgiving trimmings as well!
The great guys at Les Gars Qui Vivent out-do themselves year after year and will be bringing it big on Monday. Be sure to swing by the silver trailer and blue tent on the east side of the stadium to meet some great fans and have some good eats!
I’m looking forward to a very hotly contested affair. Both of these teams are desperate for a win and have a lot of ground to make up. With Hamilton on a bye, Toronto facing the CFL’s best team in the Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa losing in OT to the resurgent Saskatchewan Roughriders this past Friday, Montreal can’t afford to let this game slip through their fingers.
Has this Alouettes team truly bought into Jacques Chapdelaine and will they be ready to bring it against the defending champs? For the sake of their playoff hopes, I truly hope so. It really doesn’t get any easier going forward.
For now, this team is fighting for a playoff berth. And for that reason, there’s a lot of to be thankful for. Enjoy this Thanksgiving game, regardless of where you watch it.