The first bye week is over. Time to get back to work.
The Montreal Alouettes break their football fast by heading West to face the Calgary Stampeders. Since 2010, the Alouettes have tasted defeat every time they have set foot inside McMahon Stadium. And despite the rest of a bye week, there’s very little that would suggest that the Alouettes have even a fighting chance of changing that fact.
There may have been a very slight chance of changing that had it be determined that Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell would not be playing as a result of the injury suffer against Ottawa in their previous match. But after a week of practice that kept everyone guessing to his status, Mitchell will indeed be behind centre Saturday night.
Cynical as it may sound, Calgary would likely be heavily favoured to win this game even if Bo Levi wasn’t starting. The big reason for that is the absolutely stifling defense of the Stampeders. For defensive coordinator (and future CFL head coach) Devone Claybrooks, this 4-0 start in 2018 has been nothing short of spectacular.
The Stamps D has simply dominated and show no signs of slowing down, having limited one of the CFL’s better quarterbacks in Trevor Harris last week to a mere 93 passing yards. This top rated defense has only allowed 198 passing yards while notching 13 QB sacks and a turnover ratio of +9. Simply put, this Calgary defense is playing chess while the rest of the Canadian Football League is playing checkers. Or tiddly-winks.
With this defense and those numbers, Montreal would have had their work cut out for them regardless of who was the starting quarterback for Calgary. But with Mitchell in even at 80% health, the odds of the Alouettes breaking that dubious losing streak of theirs is currently set to “highly improbable”.
But Montreal will certainly try. Back under centre for the Alouettes is Drew Willy, who missed the last game with a neck/shoulder injury. He will be backed up by Matthew Shiltz, who is making his 2018 regular season debut after spending the last four weeks scratched due to injury.
In an odd twist, last’s week starter Jeff Mathews was spotted wearing a walking cast and the initial diagnosis is him being out for 4-6 weeks with a foot injury. The team did not disclose that info during the bye week, but rather it was discovered by everyone during the Alouettes’ annual fan day event last Saturday.
Considering how average Willy has looked this season, one may wonder why the Alouettes don’t just take a chance and insert either Shiltz or even Vernon Adams as the starter. There’s not much film on either of these young quarterbacks whereas Willy’s reluctance to open things up offensively on a consistent basis is something that Calgary has surely prepared for.
If the Alouettes want ANY chance of even being a bit competitive in this game, they cannot play scared at all. If Willy fails to establish any sort of rhythm with his receivers, the Als cannot continue to drag their feet in other areas. They need to try and catch the Stamps off-guard and a mobile QB that can think fast on his feet poses a much better chance of doing so.
This Alouettes O-line will have to step up as well. This beleaguered unit is getting some much-needed help as 2018 supplemental draft pick Tyler Johnstone will make his Alouettes debut. He will be tasked with protecting the blindside of his quarterback. A heady assignment, but this young National comes in with a great pedigree from the University of Oregon and is expected to contribute right away.
If this line can give Willy (or whoever is taking snaps) some sort of time to make plays happen, that’ll help tremendously. Creating some running lanes for Tyrell Sutton would also be a great start, as Sutton has been woefully underused in recent weeks. Montreal’s offense has been extremely basic and predictable thus far in 2018; bringing that to Calgary will ensure a repeat performance of last year’s 59-11 debacle at McMahon.
Here’s hoping that Alouettes OC Khari Jones was allowed to pack a few more exciting plays in his suitcase for this business trip.
There’s really not much more to add to this. Could the Alouettes shock the CFL world again in 2018? Nobody gave them a chance in hell of beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their barn a couple of weeks ago. The Als did come away with a W there, but you cannot begin to compare the Stampeders to the Riders in terms of stability and on-field performance.
But Montreal has to make a stand here. They don’t have to win, but they cannot keep fading away and offering up so-so efforts. The East is starting to tighten up already and playoff-wise, things may already be figured out by Labour Day. An improbable victory by Montreal would certainly go a long way in getting the winning ways back on track.
If you happen to be in Calgary for the game, don’t forget that Purolator will be collecting food and money for their annual Tackle Hunger campaign. The Stampeders will also be celebrating the career of former Alouette Nik Lewis, who signed a one-day contract so that he could officially retire with the team he started his Hall of Fame career with.
That’s all for now. I wish there was one thing I could point out that would ensure an Alouettes victory in Cowtown. But in all reality, this has the makings of a blowout. My sincere hope is that the Alouettes find a way to at least keep this game from being a complete whitewash.
We’ll see just which team takes the field Saturday night. Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.