Once again, the Birds of Prey take flight out West in search of a another victory.
This week’s business trip lands the Montreal Alouettes in the city of Winnipeg, gateway to the prairies. It’s also home to the loudest fans of the CFL, as proudly stated on the walls of Investors Group Field. The Alouettes will have to battle not only the Blue Bombers but also face some seriously loud fans, fueled by Labatt Blue (named after this football team!) and various other libations.
One man who knows how loud these fans can be is Alouettes quarterback Darian Durant, who’s played in this city many times when he was a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This will be his first trip to this barn in Montreal’s colours but I doubt the Bombers fans will take it any easier on Durant than if he was still wearing Sasky green.
This could be the opponent Durant needs to help put Montreal back in the win column. He is 11-5 as a starter against the Blue Bombers and he will also be facing a defense that is banged up, missing key players like Maurice Leggett, Ian Wild and Tristan Okpalaugo. If the Darian Durant that played in the second half of last week’s game shows up, he could really light it up tomorrow.
Montreal would be wise to open things up and let their playmakers shred this young secondary. There will be no Tiquan Underwood in the lineup so Alouettes fans will get the chance to see Eugene Lewis, who had an outstanding training camp and has been biding his time on Montreal’s practice roster.
The Alouettes have always had that diamond in the rough lying in wait at the receiver position, starting with Duron Carter in 2013. He stepped in for an injured Jamel Richardson and the rest was history. Eugene could very well be that next great Montreal receiver that no one knows about, but steals the spotlight all of a sudden with a monster game. Keep an eye out for #87 on Thursday night.
For a second straight game, the Alouettes will have Brandon Rutley as starting tailback, leaving Tyrell Sutton on the sidelines. Despite his fumble last week, Rutley was very solid on the ground for Montreal against the RedBlacks. Both he and J-C Beaulieu can be factors against a tough Winnipeg front seven as they can chip away and make this defense second guess themselves, leading to some wide open plays for guys like Ernest Jackson and the always dangerous B.J. Cunningham.
The CFL’s #1 defense is going to have live up to that title on Thursday if the Alouettes are going to go into their first bye week with a 3-3 record. They have not allowed more than 22 points a game all season but the Alouettes will face a quarterback in Matt Nichols that has been able to consistently find his receivers for touchdowns.
Nichols will be keying in on his targets Darvin Adams and Weston Dressler early and often. Another receiver that Montreal will have to keep an eye on is actually listed as a running back. Andrew Harris is averaging 7 catches per game in 2017, despite his ground game being his bread and butter. There is a lot of big play potential on this Bombers offense.
Nichols claims to be respectful and well-aware of what the Alouettes defense can do. However, one Alouettes defender isn’t buying what Nichols is selling. Here’s what Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert had to say about the subject (thanks to Jeff Hamilton for this quote):
Consider the gauntlet thrown by the Angry Bird himself. There’s also a little bit of foresight in Ky’s commentary as Nichols is a very good quarterback, but he does have a tendency to throw interceptions at key points of the game. Usually late in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter is also where Nichols tends to stagnate, as he has yet to throw a touchdown in the last 15 minutes of play this season. Montreal, on the other hand, has done a lot of fourth quarter scoring. Depending on which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes, this game has the makings of a potential shootout.
Both teams’ defenses will have to come up huge for their respective teams; Montreal’s will have to weather the initial storm to allow Durant to get warmed up. While Winnipeg’s D will have to hope that their offense scores early and often so they can stop the Als from playing their particular brand of catch-up football.
This game could also be won or lost on the kicker’s foot. Both Justin Medlock and Boris Bede have been clutch at times for their team. Special teams could be a deciding factor Thursday as not only do both teams have a great kicker, but their returners can be potential game-changers. I expect to see a lot out of both Stefan Logan and Ryan Lankford as both have the potential to bring one back for a TD at any given moment.
If Montreal can finally start learning from their mistakes, there’s a good chance that they can put together another solid outing in the ‘Peg, where they are 2-2 when playing at IGF. But it’s hard to determine just which of these particular teams will show up at any given moment. Both squads have incredible players and can be exciting to watch.
But they also have made a lot of errors and looked extremely vulnerable, losing games that they should have won. These teams have been both Jekyll and Hyde in 2017……You simply have no idea which one is going to show up at any given moment. Nobody seems willing to give either team a whole lot of respect, so it will have to be earned.
A win for Montreal will mean a .500 record going into their first bye with 1/3 of the season completed. A loss will mean more questions swirling around this revamped organization. We’ll see just which Alouettes team shows up against the Blue and Gold on Thursday night.
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.