Alouettes fight hard but come up short in loss to Eskimos

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Edmonton Eskimos were favoured by “double digits” over the Montreal Alouettes. No doubt it was due to the numerous questions swirling around this team, both on and off the field. Surely many degenerate gamblers threw down some money on Edmonton, expecting them to blow away this team supposedly in complete disarray.

Edmonton did win last night over Montreal, by a score of 32-25. Which last I checked, was a seven point differential. Seven. Not in the double digits.

In case you folks were wondering, THAT is how casinos can afford to keep the lights on.

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The Alouettes certainly came to Edmonton focused on proving people wrong. With interim Khari Jones at the helm and Antonio Pipkin cemented as the game one starter, the Alouettes probably liked the idea of everyone sleeping on them yet again. Both teams were finding their footing in the first quarter and Montreal actually did all the scoring, as they conceded a safety and Pipkin found receiver extraordinaire Devier Posey for the first touchdown of 2019.

Then noted Alouettes killer Trevor Harris woke up and went to work.

Harris found former Alouette WR Kenny Stafford for a pair of touchdowns to get out in front of Montreal and didn’t really look back. Completing 78% of his passes and notching nearly 500 yards in the air, Harris had no problems figuring out this new Alouettes defense. Harris also had help on the ground with C.J. Gable, who the Alouettes defenders simply couldn’t stop. Gable also beat Montreal in the air with a beautiful TD catch late in the third quarter.

Pipkin did make some nice throws for Montreal, but he also made some poor decisions and faced a lot of pressure from Edmonton’s front seven. The young Alouettes O-Line didn’t do much to protect their young QB nor give him much of a chance to make things happen. I think the pressure to come out guns a-blazing got to Pipkin and he tried to force plays into happening that simply weren’t going to.

With a sputtering offense and a defense that struggled to create any real pressure on the Eskimos, it was starting to look like those who bet on those double digits odds were going to be right all along.

Then Edmonton defender Josh Johnson inadvertently changed the game for Montreal.

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As he tackled the Montreal pivot in the third quarter, Johnson rolled up underneath Pipkin’s ankle, leaving Antonio in visible discomfort. This meant that the next man up was to be summoned for the Alouettes. That would be one Vernon Adams Jr, who once led this team to victories during some of their dark days.

Relegated to fourth on the QB depth chart when 2019 training camp started, Adams was motivated like no other to prove how foolish the team was for doubting his abilities. Adams took over this Alouettes offense down by 17, with one quarter to go and nothing left to lose.

All of a sudden, a light switch went off and Montreal’s offense started to click. Running back William Stanback was able to break open for a couple of nice runs and Vernon was able to connect with B.J. Cunningham and Eugene Lewis, who were practically ghosts in the first half. Adams marched the Alouettes downfield and set up Stanback’s first rushing TD of 2019.

Montreal got the ball back on a quick two and out and Adams got Cunningham on the score sheet with a 17 yard touchdown pass. All of a sudden, the crowd at Commonwealth Stadium got real quiet as the Alouettes found their scoring groove with Adams at the helm.

After shanking a 34 yard field goal attempt earlier in the evening, Montreal kicker Boris Bede tied this game up by draining a 52 yard field goal with plenty of leg behind it. All of a sudden, the Alouettes were the current poster boys of the CFL’s “No Lead Is Safe” creed. This became an even contest with Montreal scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

It seemed like the talk of the Alouettes being a dumpster fire was silenced, if only for a moment or two.

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Those Montreal scoring plays were enough to snap Trevor Harris out of his auto-pilot mode. He engineered a masterful drive and once again exposed just how porous this Alouettes defense was by marching the Eskimos down the field quickly to score another touchdown. With 1:07 left on the clock, Vernon Adams and the Alouettes still had plenty of time to answer back.

In fact, 1:07 is practically a lifetime in the CFL to make something magical happen. Starting deep in their own end due to an illegal block penalty, Adams heaved a pass towards Devier Posey, hoping for the 2017 Grey Cup MVP to make another dazzling play despite being deep in double coverage. But alas, it was not meant to be.

Edmonton’s Anthony Orange (Posey’s teammate from last season in BC) snagged the ball instead and that secured the Eskimos’ first win of 2019. I understand why he felt like he had to try and catch the Eskimos napping again, but that was an ill-advised Hail Mary throw from Vernon. Especially when he was able to complete so many good throws over the middle earlier in the game to eat up the field.

That’s a correctable mistake and one that Vernon will learn from. Make no mistake about it, the Alouettes responded well with Adams under centre and he did a great job in keeping a cool head, letting his play speak for itself. He may not have gotten the W, but Vernon Adams showed why a calm veteran presence can make such a huge difference.

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But let’s be real, the Alouettes defense was the reason why this game was lost. Harris, Stafford and Gable were able to carve this group up and read them like a pamphlet. There are some playmakers on this Montreal defense, that’s for certain. They caused turnovers and mostly kept Harris and company honest throughout the game.

But shoddy tackling and blitzing at the worst possible times made this defense look, well, like it was coached by someone who hasn’t been in a football locker room in six years. This Alouettes defense has the potential to be a Ferrari but when you put regular fuel into a supercar like that, you’re simply not going to get the optimal performance out of it that you should.

That’s essentially what this defensive coaching staff is; regular fuel in a Ferrari engine. Bringing in all these free agents on defense and giving them inexperienced coaching is simply inexcusable.

For his sake, defensive coordinator Bob Slowik better figure it out and fast. He gets a free pass this time around and he would be wise not to waste it.

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The Alouettes now go into a bye week. I said numerous times that this first game has to be treated like a third pre-season game (that unfortunately, counts in the standings) and as such, needs to be taken for what it’s worth. A lot will depend on how severe Pipkin’s injury is as to whether or not he’ll get the chance to redeem himself versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in two weeks’ time.

Based on how the team responded to him under centre, there is a very strong case to go with Vernon Adams for the foreseeable future. And frankly, that’s not a bad thing. Let’s not forget that Antonio Pipkin is still very young and still has a lot to learn in this league. This isn’t going to be a scenario like how he was benched last season in favour of Johnny Manziel‘s numerous failed attempts to be a CFL quarterback.

I think Antonio can benefit greatly from watching a pro like Adams at work and how he commands respect on the field. Both Adams and Pipkin are eager to learn and break down film on a daily basis. With current QB coach Khari Jones occupied with being in charge of the entire team, these two young QBs can motivate and learn from each other. They say iron sharpens iron and I think watching Vernon at work will only strengthen Pipkin as a whole, bettering him in the process.

The potential is there for both of these quarterbacks to be great. But it may have been a bit too much too soon for young Pipkin. This time last year, Antonio was sitting at home, watching the Alouettes struggle with the wrong quarterback at the helm. The Montreal Alouettes can’t afford to make yet another mistake by rushing in a QB that isn’t completely prepared to handle the throne.

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The Alouettes will now regroup, refocus and prepare for the remaining 17 games to be played. They didn’t get the win last night, but they certainly proved that they won’t be the group of doormats that many expect them to be. They hung tough with a good football team and with some better decisions here and there, we’d be talking about a different game story altogether.

There really is a lot to like here with this Alouettes team. Here’s hoping the early bye week helps sort things out and this team comes back to work convinced that they can be world-beaters yet again.

As always, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!

 

 

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