I can’t believe I am about to type this, but Johnny Manziel deserved a better fate that what he got this past Friday night.
Leading the Montreal Alouettes into a game they had to win versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Manziel had an uphill battle ahead of him. Some of it he brought upon himself by his passive-aggressive media scrum a week earlier about not being the team’s starter. He was given his starting job back and barring injury, it will surely stay his.
But he had to prove to the world that he was the winner that people heralded him to be. Despite their paltry 3-9 record, there still remained a chance for the Alouettes to make the Grey Cup playoffs. But they would have to help themselves by winning games, regardless of who the quarterback was.
But as the title of this piece suggests, losing is a team effort as well. And this team pulled together to lose in spectacular fashion, dropping a 31-14 decision to the Bombers, who themselves were losers of 4 straight games. Now the Alouettes sit at 3-10 and the playoffs look to be a pipe dream at best for 2018.
So how did Johnny Football do in his first start in over a month? Honestly, it wasn’t as terrible as one may have imagined (or hoped, your mileage may vary). He went 18 for 25 with 212 yards passing and threw zero TDs. Compare that to Winnipeg QB Matt Nichols, who has more CFL experience than Manziel yet also managed to go 18/25 with 200+ yards passing and throwing one touchdown.
Manziel was able to do this despite his offensive line basically standing around and letting him get mauled for the most part. Manziel was sacked FIVE times, including a pair of sacks by Craig Roh that will make him a household name and will no doubt be the career highlight he one day tells his grandkids about.
Yet Manziel still managed to keep Montreal somewhat competitive to the end. Down by a score of 20-6 in the third quarter, the Alouettes used a little bit of trickery to get some momentum on their side. Manziel and the offense managed to replicate the “Philly Special” play that helped the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl this past February. Manziel completed a pass to Eugene Lewis (who himself is no stranger to wacky plays in Winnipeg!), who then turned around and threw it BACK to Manziel! With a lot of green grass in front of him, Johnny Football was able to scamper 22 yards to move the chains.
Of course, Manziel won’t be credited for the Alouettes’ sole touchdown of the evening despite him putting together that terrific drive in order for them to score. That nod goes to demoted QB Antonio Pipkin, who scrambled in for the score. Instead, it will be the lone interception Manziel threw as the team was trying to rally back from a 10 point deficit that will remained etched in the minds of those who abhor the former Cleveland Brown’s presence on this team.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a terrible read on Manziel’s part as he threw off his back foot and Winnipeg’s Marcus Sayles telegraphed the pick perfectly to dash the hopes of Alouettes fans once and for all. The ensuing drive put together by Matt Nichols and capped by a TD plunge by Chris Streveler was the icing on the cake for the feckless Alouettes, who spent the majority of the night chasing their own tails.
There were many who were hoping this team could at least reach a 9-9 mark for the regular season. Instead, this 2018 campaign will be the fourth straight losing season that the Alouettes will turn in.
The one bright spot I will give Alouettes OC Khari Jones credit for is not abandoning the ground game for once. William Stanback came out of nowhere this season and has looked terrific in relief of Tyrell Sutton. Stanback had 12 carries for 71 yards and was able to extend drives that were left for dead. We also got to see Johnny Football move the chains as well with six carries of his own.
Far too many times this season, the Alouettes would panic and just start having their QB huck balls in the air, hoping for the best. But a good running back is crucial when you cannot connect with your receivers and a workhorse like Stanback is a great ace in the hole. As Manziel gets numerous opportunities to improve his game this season, he would be wise to continue incorporating his running backs and his own educated feet into the play-calling.
But the same issues that seemed to disappear during that two game winning streak flared up again like a nasty rash. Montreal’s defense couldn’t capitalize on opportunities and despite notching four QB sacks of their own, Nichols had little to worry about in this game. He leaned heavily on Andrew Harris and Kienan Lafrance, who were able to find the end zone for the Bombers.
The lack of consistent tackling is a major concern yet again. Montreal also had major discipline problems, as penalties allowed Winnipeg to take advantage with some scores. The drops by the Alouettes receivers were also quite troubling. Adarius Bowman looked like Sam Giguere at times out there, unable to make those crucial catches. Ernest Jackson is back to being MIA with only 3 grabs for 39 yards. Are opposing defenders really so good that they can stick to Montreal’s receivers like glue? It would seem yes.
But most glaring was just how awful this offensive line has been. This team desperately needs a centre and Kristian Matte is not it. Sean Jamieson has raw talent but putting him as a tackle is not a good fit at all. Tony Washington has been a solid add but he has taken a few too many procedure penalties for my liking, as has this entire line in general. I could go on, but my head hurts just thinking about it.
Any magic that offensive line coach Paul Dunn had during his time in the NFL has disappeared, as this unit simply doesn’t look polished or prepared for game days.
That brings me to an even more troubling matter; why do the Alouettes keep going after these has-been coaches with no CFL experience?!
It pains me to say this, but sometimes I think the initial success in hiring Marc Trestman was the worst thing to happen to the Alouettes of today. Ever since then, it has justified the hiring of so many former NFL coaches with no CFL experience by ownership in hopes that they can recapture that lightning in a bottle that they had in 2008.
As a result, we end up with charletans, retreads and never-weres like Dan Hawkins, Mike Miller, Turk Schonert and many more. Guys that come up here and think they can cash an easy cheque because to them, the CFL is just a lesser-than version of the NFL. Notice how other CFL teams never come trying to poach the coaches from Montreal like they did back in the day? And notice how these “coaches” seem to drop off the face of the earth after they leave their soiled underwear in Montreal, never to be heard from again?
If this organization is serious about winning (and the past few seasons tell me that perhaps they aren’t), then they really need to start doing a bit of poaching of their own. They hired Khari Jones and Mickey Donovan, who can be great if given the chance. But ideally there needs to be a lot more CFL experience in the coaching ranks for Montreal.
And no, not former Alouettes who haven’t put in time coaching elsewhere to learn their craft (See Calvillo, Anthony or Parker, Billy). While changing coaches on a yearly basis isn’t ideal, neither is hiring ones who don’t understand how the Canadian game works in the first place. It’s one thing to add and drop players to suit your needs but if they fail because they aren’t getting a clear message as to what they need to do to be successful, that’s on the coaching staff.
Instead of trying to land a project like Johnny Manziel and hope that he decides to make his career here in Canada, perhaps the Alouettes need to truly evaluate who is leading players like that and spend a little bit more to get said players properly developed. This is another lost season in the 514 and I wonder just what exactly has to happen for things to truly change for the better.
That’s all for now. Montreal is still mathematically in the playoff hunt, but a LOT will have to fall into place first before even considering that lofty goal. The next chance for redemption and Johnny Manziel’s first win comes this Sunday as the Alouettes host the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who have the dubious honour of being one of Montreal’s three wins in 2018.
It’s also the Military Appreciation game so be prepared for a LOUD flyover and a lot of pearl-clutching by ignorant residents. You’ll also see the Alouettes in their snazzy Signature uniforms, which pay tribute to the 425 RCAF Squadron that they are named after.
As always, here’s hoping for sunnier days ahead. On to the next one.
GO ALS GO!!!