This past Saturday, the smoke that permeated the city of Edmonton cleared in more ways than one. When the final whistle blew Saturday night after the game, two things became clear as day:
1) The Eskimos’ Mike Reilly is an elite quarterback that proves every game day that his Most Outstanding Player award from last season is no fluke.
2) The Montreal Alouettes’ defense is the most poorly coached unit in the Canadian Football League, bar none.
With this past Saturday’s 40-24 loss, the Alouettes remain the whipping boys of the CFL with seemingly no end in sight to the malaise. What’s lost in that fact is that Alouettes Nation finally got to see a bit of what I expected to see when training camp commenced; the emergence of Antonio Pipkin as a viable option as quarterback. That is truly unfortunate.
Pipkin saw very limited action in 2017, backing up Matthew Shiltz during that infamous 33-0 loss to Hamilton to end the 2017 season. I said earlier this year in the ALSternative season preview that I would expect to see both Shiltz and Pipkin develop as future signal-callers for the Alouettes.
Instead, we got Drew Willy and his inability to get rid of a football to start the season. We also got Jeff Mathews failing to garner any offense, Vernon Adams‘ return being overshadowed by the backup QB du jour and Johnny Manziel being thrown to the wolves while wearing meatloaf underwear. That’s what being an Alouettes fan has gotten you in 2018.
Suffice to say that the bar of expectations for Pipkin was set very low; Just don’t get killed out there. Thankfully for those who actually want Montreal to succeed, Pipkin did survive and actually looked pretty decent in the process.
Going 14/25 and throwing for 217 yards with a 1 TD pass and 1 INT, Pipkin more than passed the test. Pipkin also rushed for a TD as well, so he was not the one lacking in offense. What struck me more than anything else was his poise; the moment was not too big for the former Tiffin University wunderkind. If anything, he looked more like a veteran under centre compared to Willy had in previous starts this year for Montreal. And Willy has several years of experience and a Grey Cup ring on the young Pipkin.
It’s just unfortunate for Antonio that he was battling two undeniable forces of nature this past Saturday night. And no, neither one was the acrid smoke that had been wafting in from British Columbia all week long.
One was his Edmonton counterpart Mike Reilly, who had what was an ordinary day at the office for him. Of course, when you are the reigning Most Outstanding Player of the CFL, numbers like 33/42 with 424 yards passing and 4 touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing) really are just status quo. Just like he did in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, Mike Reilly put the Alouettes over his knee and spanked them furiously.
Which meant that the other undeniable force of nature was the Alouettes’ defense, which looked lost, sluggish and ready to keel over from being out there too long. Incidentally, this defense bears a striking resemblance to its architect, Rich Stubler.
Aside from Henoc Muamba and Chris Ackie, no one on this Montreal defense can honestly say they belonged on that field this past Saturday. Between the secondary getting stretched by Reilly, spending FAR too long on the field, even MORE missed tackles and a general meh effort from a certain #11, this defense once again hung a promising quarterback out to dry. Interesting to note that it was also against Edmonton as Vernon Adams provided a spark weeks ago but was snuffed out by the firestorm that is Mike Reilly.
This past Saturday also saw just how crucial that relationship between a quarterback and his receivers really is. Among the criticisms that this Alouettes team faces on a daily basis is that regardless of who the quarterback is, he has no one to throw the ball to.
I simply don’t subscribe to that theory. I don’t. I look at B.J. Cunningham and see a talent that is grossly underutilized in Montreal. I see a freakish athlete like Eugene Lewis not getting the chance to really stand out. I see outstanding young Canadian talent like George Johnson and Steven Adekolu just spinning their wheels while other young Canuck receivers shine in this league.
Lord help me, I even look at an Eastern MOP nominee AND Grey Cup winner like Ernest Jackson and cannot fathom how the mere act of putting on an Alouettes uniform has turned him into a carbon copy of Sam Giguere; unable to catch a cold, let alone a goddamn football.
But maybe, just MAYBE, has anyone considered that having five different starting quarterbacks in a half-season makes it just a TAD difficult to develop that chemistry? Yes, there have been injuries to these quarterbacks and that will always throw a wrench into the works. Yes, there are some very catchable balls being thrown to these aforementioned gents and they also aren’t holding up their end of things. There’s no shortage of blame to go around here.
This is truly a chicken and egg scenario playing before us all. Quarterback needs to throw better, receivers need to catch, Period. But what it all boils down to is chemistry. With any luck, whomever is the quarterback this week for Montreal will be one who will do better to win the trust of his receivers.
Montreal scored the most points they have all season this past Saturday. Perhaps that magic formula has finally been found? For Alouettes fans tired of these constant losing streaks, let’s hope so.
The Alouettes will be back home for their last August game (and last home game wearing those lacklustre monochrome delta logo helmets) this Friday, hosting the suddenly vibrant Toronto Argonauts.
It’ll be another grim reminder for fans yearning for the days of yore as former Alouettes coaches Marc Trestman and Anthony Calvillo will be back patrolling the sidelines of Percival Molson Stadium, this time in Double Blue. They will also face a quarterback in McLeod Bethel-Thompson that has emerged and thrived in the unlikeliest of scenarios.
We’ll preview this match up later this week here on The ALSternative and also on the Alouettes FlightDeck podcast. Tune in later this week to hear what Tim Capper and I think of this potential turning point for the 2018 Montreal Alouettes.
As always, thanks for reading. On to the next one, yet again.
GO ALS GO!!!