This Saturday night, the Montreal Alouettes have a chance to do something they haven’t done since 2014: Clinch a berth in the Grey Cup playoffs. It won’t be easy, as the suddenly streaking BC Lions stand in the way and the Alouettes will have to play this game without their undisputed leader.
With this week’s suspension of Vernon Adams Jr. for his aggressive attack of Winnipeg Adam Bighill, the task of winning Montreal’s eighth game of the season falls on the shoulders of third year quarterback Matthew Shiltz, who has been listed as backup to Adams for the past several weeks.
Other than place-holding for Boris Bede’s field goal attempts, Shiltz has seen limited action in 2019. He did come into the game versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders when original starting QB Antonio Pipkin (who replaced a previously concussed Adams) was playing some less than stellar football. Shiltz came in and settled the Alouettes down on offense. He was actually preparing to take an offensive series in the third quarter when the skies opened up and lightning flashed overhead at Percival Molson Stadium.
This forced both teams into the dressing room, effectively for the rest of the evening as the league decided to halt this rain-soaked game. As the Riders were leading by seven points, they were awarded the victory. Thus denying Shiltz the opportunity to not only get more playing time behind centre, but also the chance to bring the Alouettes back to possibly win the game.
Shiltz will now have that opportunity Saturday night to prove that he does belong as a quarterback in this league. Anyone who is shocked that Pipkin isn’t starting this game hasn’t been paying attention. After being initially named the starting quarterback for the 2019 CFL season, Pipkin has failed on multiple occasions to prove his worth.
Looking ill-prepared at every opportunity, Pipkin has overestimated his value to the Montreal Alouettes. Yes, he did win a pair of games last season but ever since it was announced that there was a competition in this year’s training camp for the starting QB position, Pipkin appeared to have taken that news personally and it had shown in his three opportunities to lead this club. So now Pipkin will instead be backing up Shiltz against a BC Lions team that is suddenly feeling like themselves again.
Despite their less than stellar record, this Lions team is currently on a two game winning streak and they always play the Alouettes tough at BC Place. However, it should be noted that their streak was a result of back-to-back games against a very poor Ottawa RedBlacks team that continues to implode on a weekly basis.
As a result, the Alouettes cannot afford to take BC lightly. The Lions still have Mike Reilly under centre, the only quarterback in the league to start all of his team’s games in 2019. Even though Reilly has been sacked a whopping 46 times, he is still producing some terrific individual numbers. He’s thrown for over 3300 passing yards and notched 14 touchdowns thus far this season. However, he’s also been picked off 14 times. His three wins have come from teams that are a combined 5-20 this season.
Reilly has already faced the Alouettes this year and played inspired football, racking up 230 yards in a very hostile environment. His O-Line also stepped up under new coach Kelly Bates and they will have to do likewise on Saturday to give Reilly a chance to get their fourth win of the season. What will help Reilly is the emergence of his receiving corps.
Bryan Burnham has been playing inspired football this season, having cracked the 1000 yard mark for the fourth time in his career. Last week Duron Carter became the first CFL player since 2003 to both throw for and catch a touchdown in the same game. Could Carter finally be finding his stride with Mike Reilly? Or will he get shut down as he often does when playing his former team in Montreal? Shaq Johnson has always been a productive member of the Lions and this season has been no different. Last week he hauled three passes for a remarkable 160 yards against the RedBlacks.
Safe to say there is plenty of opportunities for the Lions to light up this Alouettes defense, if allowed.
Shutting down this offense will be a true test for this Alouettes secondary, especially with Ciante Evans now out of the lineup with a broken hand. It will be up to Jarnor Jones and Dominique Termansen to pick up the slack for the talented CFL All-Star. Jones has been biding his time on special teams and Termansen is also contributing there in hopes to getting back into the secondary.
Even with facing a vastly improved O-Line, Montreal’s pass rush has to find a way to get pressure on Mike Reilly. Sack master John Bowman was able to plant Reilly on the turf earlier this year and given his penchant to shine when it really matters, I fully expect Bowman and upstart DL Antonio Simmons to get to BC’s gunslinger at least once.
Hopefully Lions fans will not try to pull the stunt that visiting Winnipeg fans did by blowing whistles while the Alouettes are on defense. We saw some less than noteworthy play last Saturday and a lot had to do with these particular shenanigans. I expect former BC Lion Bo Lokombo to continue his hard-hitting pace as he carves out that safety spot even further in his name.
When it’s all said and done, I expect Montreal’s defense to get the job done. But if they think that all they have to do to help the Alouettes punch their ticket into the playoffs is merely show up, they will be sorely mistaken. Regardless of the record, no one can afford to take any team likely during this time of year in the Canadian Football League.
What will be crucial in order for Matt Shiltz to get his first victory is to not only take care of the ball, but spread it evenly throughout this offense. We saw last Saturday just how varied this attack can be, with DeVier Posey and Chris Matthews making outstanding plays when the time came. Then Jake Wieneke and Quan Bray also came out of nowhere for some clutch gameplay. Shiltz operates under the same manner as Vernon Adams so hopefully these guys will work in sync.
The ground game was non-existent for the Alouettes and that is a bad habit that needs to stop. William Stanback and former Lion Jeremiah Johnson are both workhorse tailbacks .They can help give Shiltz relief by gaining yards and also blocking against a tough BC D-Line that includes the likes of Shawn Lemon and Odell Willis, who love to sack themselves some QBs.
Let’s see if Shiltz can open things up right from the start and keep BC guessing, compared to Adams who starts out slow then turns it on in the second half.
That’s all for now. If Montreal can win a rare game out in BC while both Ottawa and Toronto lose, the Montreal Alouettes will shock the world yet again by breaking their five year exile from the promised land of the Grey Cup playoffs. It’s wild to think about it considering where this team was just a few short months ago. But this is the CFL and things can change in a moment’s notice.
This won’t be an easy task for the young Shiltz. But from his work ethic to his calm demeanour, there’s a lot to feel confident about. I think he’s ready to shine, much like other back-up and third strings QBs have had to do this season. I know I can’t wait to see what he does at BC Place.
Enjoy the game Saturday, regardless of where you watch it.