The only thing tougher than winning one game is winning two games. So winning three games would be tougher still. But the Montreal Alouettes are up to the task.
The hope is that the momentum that has been building over the past couple of weeks didn’t cool down with the bye week that just passed. With a pair of consecutive wins and three straight losses by Toronto, the Alouettes now find themselves in 3rd place in the CFL’s Eastern division.
While they still have a long road ahead of them, there’s reason for some cautious optimism thanks to the play of rookie quarterback Antonio Pipkin, who has made the most of his opportunity and will be given the chance to continue on, this time facing the BC Lions at home this Friday night.
This will be Pipkin’s 4th start at QB for the Alouettes and many people, including myself, wondered if there was going to be a controversy regarding the starting quarterback scenario. Despite being the best pivot the Alouettes have had all season long, there still remains that heralded quarterback that Montreal paid a pretty penny for. Would the Alouettes coaching staff stay with Pipkin or would they return the starting job to the much ballyhooed jersey seller Johnny Manziel?
It turns out that the decision to stay with Pipkin was made a lot easier than originally anticipated. Manziel missed most of this week’s practice sessions with a reported stomach flu, thus allowing Pipkin to take the lion’s share of the reps. Manziel was still able to record his weekly podcast however, thus making people skeptical of the severity of Manziel’s illness. Then during the team’s walkthrough on Thursday, Manziel showed up and voiced his disappointment to the media of having been relegated to backup quarterback after being brought to Montreal as the supposed saviour.
Naturally, this comments didn’t sit well with several folks and Manziel certainly doesn’t come across like the team player that many said he was since coming up North. Manziel has not shied away from the fact that he is using the CFL to get back to playing in the NFL. You certainly cannot prove that you can still play at a high level when you are on the sidelines holding a clipboard, so I can appreciate Johnny’s frustration.
But airing out your grievances with the media will certainly not win you brownie points with fans. Nor with your fellow players, especially when a warrior like John Bowman played with a partially torn bicep just a couple of weeks earlier. Not to mention that defensive coordinator Rich Stubler, a man 45 years older than Johnny Football, has been at practice all this week despite suffering five broken ribs in a bike accident during the bye.
This isn’t an attack on Manziel’s toughness or work ethic; you’re not helping your team if you are too busy throwing up to complete a pass. But the optics on Manziel aren’t the best and he chose the wrong forum and method to plead his case. The best thing that Manziel can do at this moment is be a great teammate for his fellow Alouettes.
And drink plenty of liquids. The stomach flu is no joke. 🙂
Montreal will be hosting a BC Lions team that is in the same boat as them; fighting for their playoff lives. This will be Wally Buono‘s last visit to Montreal as a member of the Lions organization and his farewell tour hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.
Once again, Travis Lulay has risen from the ashes to lead this Lions team like a ginger phoenix. And the Lions have responded far better to him than with Jonathon Jennings at the helm. Lulay is 4-4 all time against the Alouettes and he is tasked with trying to get BC’s first road win of 2018.
He will be doing that without one of his best weapons in the lineup. Manny Arceneaux suffered a torn ACL and will not be playing this game. Stepping into his place is the newly-signed Devier Posey, who was the 2017 Grey Cup MVP. for the Argos. Fresh off of NFL training camps, Posey will be looking to recapture that championship form against an Alouettes secondary that is starting to find its identity again.
Posey and Bryan Burnham will be looking to test that secondary many times on Friday evening. But the ground game could be where the Lions will really make hay. Jeremiah Johnson remains a very dangerous threat on the ground and Chris Rainey will have a major chip on his shoulder after being benched last week versus Ottawa.
Rainey is more of a threat in the return game and will look to torch Montreal there, but don’t be surprised to see him and Johnson trade reps in the backfield. The former Alouette always plays hard against his old team and I don’t think this match will be any different.
It was this time last year that the Alouettes knocked Travis Lulay out of the game and the rest of the 2017 season and I am certain that will be on the veteran’s mind as well. The killer Montreal defense that kept Ottawa from scoring a touchdown two weeks will have to show up big-time on Friday.
On offense, Pipkin has to keep moving the chains with his arm and his feet. Remarkably, he has not thrown for any touchdowns during this two game winning streak. While he has completed some deep passes for major yards, Pipkin will have to find a way to connect with his receivers while they are in the end zone. Rushing in for goal line TDs is nice and all, but this offense needs to kick it into a higher gear as the second part of the season gets underway.
Pipkin will have two more weapons at his disposal, as William Stanback and Chris Harper will be returning from injury. Both are exciting young playmakers and will be looking to test out their wheels against this BC defense. The Lions have a great pair of pass-rushers in Shawn Lemon and Odell Willis, who will be only too happy to throw the opposing quarterback on his rear end.
Safe to say that this Alouettes O-Line could potentially be in for a tough night. But if they can keep BC’s defenders at bay and help Pipkin stay upright, I can see a lot of good things happening for Montreal as they play their last Friday night home game of 2018.
Perhaps most important of all, Montreal’s fans will have to bring the noise like they did against the Argos a few weeks ago. While a few folks will be crestfallen that Johnny Manziel won’t be playing and thus will stay away, the real football fans will have to step up and bring the noise. As the saying goes, “MORE COWBELL!”.
There is an in-stadium promotion for this game that is designed to attract the younger crowd, but I choose not to dignify it with attention. If you’re coming to the game, you’ll figure it out pretty quick.
That’s all for now. Be sure to download the latest edition of the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast to hear a great interview with Alouettes rookie RB Ryder Stone. As always, you can find the Flightdeck on iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher and Spotify.
If you’re in town for the game, don’t forget to swing by the Les Gars Qui Vivent tailgate on the east side of the stadium, with BBQs blazing and drinks a-flowing. Just look for the silver trailer and the blue tent. And make sure that you follow along on Twitter for last-minute thoughts and analysis.
Friday night will be the latest test in whether this Alouettes team has truly turned the corner on this season. This team may not win it all, but it isn’t going down without a fight. Get ready for an entertaining match-up between two teams that have a lot on the line.
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.