The last time the Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers met, it was considered by many to be the most exciting football game of the 2017 season. If you’re an Alouettes fan, you may not see it quite the same way.
Up by 12 points with a 1:40 left to go in the fourth quarter, all the Alouettes had to do to earn a hard-fought victory was corral the Bombers and run the clock out. Instead, the once-powerful defense decided to start the ensuing bye week early and allowed Winnipeg back into the game.
It took some special teams magic, a bad penalty, some very weaky QB tackling and allowing a touchdown with no time left on the clock for the Alouettes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Montreal skulked away from Investors Group Field with another loss and a missed opportunity to show they do belong in the conversation.
But this league is all about redemption and the Alouettes will certainly try to erase that memory Thursday night as they defend the nest at Percival Molson Stadium against these very same Blue Bombers. Since that fateful night in Winnipeg, both teams seem to be going in different directions, as the Bombers are still winning games and looking extremely well-coached.
Whereas Montreal has looked really disorganized and uninspired from that bye week break. Even when the Alouettes handily beat the Argos at home, nobody was particularly fearful of this team and if last Saturday’s thumping at the hands of those same Argos was any indication, wins will be very hard to come by as this season progresses.
Darian Durant needs to be the leader that he was when he last faced the Bombers. Despite losing, he played a phenomenal game in a very hostile environment. Durant has shown that he can still play some outstanding football and when this offense is clicking, good things tend to happen.
It’s easier said than done, but Durant cannot turn the football over at all to this Winnipeg team. He is currently tied with the most INTs this season and it has to stop if Montreal wants to have a hope of winning this game. This Bombers defense got in the head of Edmonton QB Mike Reilly last week and was able to hand him his first loss of 2017. In their minds, Durant is easy pickings and a shell of his former self.
But if goes down, I would rather see Doubles go down guns a-blazing. Let him make the jaw-dropping plays to Ernest Jackson and B.J. Cunningham. Let Durant hand off to Brandon Rutley and Oumar Toure to plow through for yards. And by all means, let Durant find Nik Lewis to give the fans something they can really get excited about; CFL history being made.
Thick Nik only needs 8 more receptions to tie Geroy Simon for the all-time record in the CFL. The next two games are at home, so Alouettes Nation has a very good chance of seeing this record being broken live in their own barn. It seems highly unlikely that Lewis will get all nine catches he needs tomorrow, but you just never know in this crazy league. Not to mention that Nik doesn’t drop too many passes either, so Darian could do worse that throw at the big fella tomorrow night.
No matter what, the Alouettes needs to find ways to score and stop with the bland football that we’ve seen far too often. All of the team’s offensive woes were supposed to stop when Jacques Chapdelaine took over the play-calling duties. Fans at the start of this season were sold this fabulous tale about how when he and Durant were together in Saskatchewan, that they were on the same page and were ready to dominate.
It’s time for that story to become reality. This Alouettes team squandered the chance to stay in first place in the East and now their spot in second place is shaky at best, with Ottawa coming in next week for the first of two visits to Montreal.
This Alouettes defense has taken a lot of lumps, both on the field and in the court of public opinion. Once feared, this Noel Thorpe-led defensive unit no longer has the same hold over opposing teams like it used to. This defense have looked both masterful and plodding all at once this season. Facing the CFL’s best offense on Thursday isn’t going to do them any favours.
Without question, the biggest key to this defense will be how well they can defend against running back Andrew Harris, who has simply been dominant all season long. Not only a threat with his legs on the ground, Harris has also gotten many receptions this season. He is currently on pace to reach over 1000 yards rushing AND receiving, a feat that has never been accomplished in the Canadian Football League.
Someway, somehow, this defense will need to keep this exciting National in check. Having an Andrew Harris at his disposal has really opened up things for Bombers QB Matt Nichols, who’s been playing some really inspired football himself. Despite his penchant for theatrics as displayed against the Alouettes a few weeks ago, Nichols has proven to be a real threat behind centre.
When he’s not putting the ball in the hands of Harris, Nichols will be looking for Darvin Adams to go deep and torch the defenders. Adams has caught fire in recent weeks and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. This means that the defensive duo of Jonathon Mincy and Greg Henderson will have their work cut out for them, as they will attempt to shut down this talented receiver.
A lot of the Alouette defensive players got badly exposed by Ricky Ray and the Argonauts this past Saturday. I expect to see the younger players work twice as hard to shut down this potent Winnipeg offense. And I expect the veterans to either step up or get left behind. Last week was a real eye-opener for this squad; I can’t help but feel some of these vets may be benched or even shown the door if they can’t perform to the high standard that they have set for themselves in the past few years.
The biggest key for Montreal will be to not squander their red zone opportunities. Even when they have won games, this team has this almost magical ability to leave points on the field. There was no more glaring example of this than the last game versus the Bombers, when a wacky series of events led to Montreal being on the goal line and then unable to punch it in for six.
Blame whomever you want for that, but it has to stop. Very few people are giving this team a hope in hell of winning this game. And when they can’t even get a positive yard at a crucial moments, who could blame the detractors? The Alouettes have come into these games before when no one believed in them and they shocked the world. They will need to bring that particular mindset to the little stadium on the mountain Thursday night.
Despite the East being a dog’s breakfast of a division, the Alouettes are still very much in this race. They are a 3-5 team and have proven to play like a 3-5 team. The mindset clearly has to change and even a hard-fought loss Thursday will be a victory of sorts. Simply out, the Alouettes need to start living up to their own hype.
Maybe a home game against a truly challenging opponent is just what this Alouettes team needs at this juncture. Being 3-1 at home is a tremendous boost. Even if Montreal were to only win their remaining home games, an 8-10 record will surely be enough in this lousy division to merit a post-season berth.
The Alouettes will eventually need to solve their road woes, but one thing at a time. At this moment, Montreal can ill afford to worry about any games that haven’t been played yet, home or away. One step at a time.
Thursday is the dreaded “Whiteout” game that only the diehard Alouette fans actually bother to care about. The Alouettes are 0-6 in these games and now they’ve further cheapened the ideal behind it by making it a cancer awareness tool.
I’ve already said my piece on how I feel about these games so if you’re going and want to wear white, knock yourselves out. I promise it won’t make a lick of difference.
As always, follow along on Twitter for last-minute thoughts and in-game analysis. And if you haven’t checked out the latest edition of the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, be sure to find it on iTunes, Google Play Music and on Podbean.
Enjoy the game tomorrow, regardless of where you watch it.
GO ALS GO!!!