They say that the CFL season truly begins on Labour Day Weekend. And in a normal world, that would be a fair argument. Usually by this point you have a pretty good idea which direction your team is heading in. But in this new Covid-19 world, this weekend will simply be another kilometer traveled on the road to the Grey Cup.
The Montreal Alouettes will in fact be traveling several kilometers this weekend as they head to the nation’s capital for a Friday night matchup against the Ottawa RedBlacks. This match is one of four rivalry games that will make up the CFL Labour Day Weekend. While these two teams don’t have quite the hatred for one another like the other matches will surely feature, this game can potentially be a turning point for both squads.
In fact, one can find several similarities between these two teams. Both sport a 1-2 record (their sole win coming against the Edmonton Elks), both have a very solid defense and both have a solid kicking/special teams game. But most notably, both teams are struggling offensively.
It’s fair to say that Vernon Adams and Matt Nichols have had their fair share of trials and tribulations during their respective careers up North. Both cut their teeth at noted CFL QB factory Eastern Washington University (who also produced one Bo Levi Mitchell). Both came into this league with great fanfare only to be shuttled around numerous teams. And both were expected to lead their current teams to greatness this 2021 season.
So far though, that hasn’t been the case. Nichols has been dealing with an arm injury and hasn’t come close to being considered an upper-tier talent. And after a nearly perfect game in Edmonton, Adams has struggled to find his winning form despite some flashes of brilliance.
A win Friday night will be a boost of confidence to either QB. A loss will have peoples’ doubts growing exponentially. In 2019, Adams emerged as a superstar in this league, finally realizing his potential. Nichols was a member of the Grey Cup-winning Blue Bombers and came to Ottawa eager to prove that he could still be a leader. But both these QBs are at a bit of a crossroads.
A loss by either team will not eliminate them from Grey Cup contention. But as they will play each other four times in 2021, each divisional win matters more and more. Winning this season series could be the difference maker when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.
The Alouettes are in a bit of a no-win situation with this game; if they win, people won’t be convinced that things are back on track because the RedBlacks were expected to be bad this year.
If they lose…. Then there really is a major problem with this Alouettes team. And it won’t be an easy fix.
There will be a few changes to the roster for Friday night. Dante Absher makes his 2021 season debut in place of Quan Bray. After emerging as a viable weapon for Vernon Adams in 2019, Bray has practically been invisible save for two touchdowns scored this season.
Absher has major breakout potential and played extremely well at TD Place in November 2019, scoring his first CFL touchdown versus the RedBlacks. Look for VA to target Absher early and often.
Offensive tackle Tony Washington will sit this game out and in will come Chris Schleuger, who did a respectable job in relief of Washington last season after a leg injury. This offensive line in Montreal has given their QB the time needed to do his job so far this year.
This 6’4, 305 pound beast will be doling out some punishment for sure. And if the rest of these big boys can open some holes for one William Stanback, then there will be a lot to get excited about.
Defensively, the Alouettes will be replacing Najee Murray, Antonio Simmons and Ahmad Thomas are out. Expect former Carabins David Menard and Marc-Antoine Dequoy to step in and step up to help this defense out.
Menard was not shy in throwing his muscle around versus Hamilton. His wallet is a few bucks lighter this week as a result of a high QB hit, so here’s hoping he can stay in check. Dequoy has been very solid in his limited reps and will be looking to make an immediate impact versus the RedBlacks with his blistering speed and ability to read the field.
That’s all for now. As far as the game itself goes, it’s not a must win as it’s still relatively early in the season. But I think for both teams, they’ll be taking the field at TD Place with that exact thought in mind. They surely don’t believe that their record is any indication of what they are.
They will want to prove they can win in dominant fashion. I’m looking for this to either be a hotly contested affair or a total snoozefest. Nothing in between.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t end in a 0-0 tie, given how inept both teams’ offenses have been lately. We surely deserve better than that, right football fans?
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it. Thanks for reading.