Quite the wild weekend for the Montreal Alouettes

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to what happened this past weekend for the Montreal Alouettes, folks. In fact, this past week has been quite the emotional roller-coaster ride.

After the Alouettes won at home on Thanksgiving Monday, we learned that starting QB Vernon Adams suffered a fracture in his non-throwing shoulder. He now resides on the six game injured list and could quite possibly be done for the year. As such, backup Matthew Shiltz (who engineered the game-winning drive in Adams’ place!) became the starter and was tasked with going into Ottawa’s TD Place to once again defeat the same RedBlacks team that he played just a few days earlier.

Shiltz and the Alouettes did manage to accomplish that task, defeating Ottawa by a 27-16 score. This was Shiltz’s third career start and his first win as a CFL quarterback. This game featured both offensive and defense prowess from Montreal, who made it a very long day for the RedBlacks and their fans. Despite the best efforts from rookie QBs Caleb Evans and Taryn Christion, the Alouettes simply continued what they started on Canada’s Turkey Day.

Then after this win and with a lot of Alouettes Nation feeling relieved that the starting quarterback situation had the potential to be in good hands, Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia swung a trade with the Edmonton Elks that could have major ramifications going forward. The Alouettes sent defensive lineman Antonio Simmons to the Elks in exchange for former starting QB Trevor Harris. Call it an insurance policy or perhaps still not being 100% on Matthew Shiltz, but now Montreal is dealing with a very precarious situation that for their sake, I hope they’ve thought through in its entirety.

Never a dull moment in Alouettes Nation, ladies and gentlemen.

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Let’s start by breaking down this football game played in a rain-soaked nation’s capital.

We know what to expect from Vernon Adams when it comes to his gunslinger, high risk/reward style of play. So what would we see with a full 60 minutes of Matthew Shiltz? Turns out, we would see a still-young quarterback who had that veteran presence and was able to make exciting plays happen by using all of the weapons at his disposal. Shiltz played an extremely solid game, going 21 for 34 and throwing for 281 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also managed 22 yards rushing with a touchdown run, showing that he can also move the chains with his feet if need be.

Shiltz stepped into one of his passes and threw an absolute dime to Jake Wieneke, a 50 yard strike that got everyone watching out of their seats in excitement. Even with two defenders all over him, the man they call TD Jake was able to make the outstanding catch and notch his league-leading eighth touchdown reception. For Wieneke to not miss a beat with his production despite no Vernon Adams in the lineup has to be a great feeling for Alouettes Nation. This is Jake’s second full season and he will surely become a household name league-wide by season’s end, you can bank on that.

David Cote went three for three in field goals attempts and the Alouettes defense forced Ottawa to concede a pair of safeties as Montreal did nearly all their scoring in the first half of this game. The RedBlacks did score a touchdown and also managed a hat trick of field goals, but the Als defense slammed the door on them and made their day as miserable as the afternoon’s weather. The rain came down in waves and so did Montreal’s defense on the Eastern division cellar dwellers.

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Caleb Evans had a very rough outing as starting quarterback this past Saturday. While he did manage to find former Alouette Kenny Stafford for Ottawa’s lone TD, he was rattled early and often by Montreal’s deadly defense. Evans was picked off three times, twice by Rodney Randle Jr. and once by Ty Cranston in the end zone. Evans was also sacked a whopping SIX times, as Montreal’s defense wanted to send a message to the rest of the league.

Taryn Christion came into the game in relief and also got planted into the ground numerous times. When the final whistle blew, this Alouettes defense posted an incredible 10(!) QB sacks, 5 turnovers and 39 defensive tackles. Say to say that defensive coordinator Barron Miles had his guys fired up and ready to bring the noise, even though he already had a good look at his opponent a few days earlier.  

Perhaps the only weakness shown by Montreal was on special teams, as they had a hard time containing the always-exciting Devonte Dedmon, who has burned the Alouettes in the past with his blistering speed and ability to shed what the Alouettes call tackles. Dedmon looked like he was gonna break one of his returns for a touchdown every time he touched the ball as he tried to provide his offense with decent field position.

Had he not suffered an injury in the 2nd quarter that kept him out for the remainder of the game, I think Dedmon likely would have notched a TD. Once again, the Alouettes were very lackadaisical with their tackling and likely could have given up that big play to let Ottawa back in this game. Given the drenched field they had to play on, these guys were likely erring on the side of caution to avoid injury. But come playoff time, such play is going to bite this team on their rear end. We’ve seen it before and history does have a way of repeating itself.

After the game, there was a lot of relief and joy in knowing that even with their leader on the sidelines, this team still finds a way to win. Matthew Shiltz proved that he can carry the load when called upon and has what it takes to win in this league. This defense showed again that they can put a hurt on people and make their own exciting plays happen. While this wasn’t a dominant win like we saw in this barn a few weeks ago, this game silenced a lot of critics and doubters. Montreal worked their plan and took a commanding lead in their season series against Ottawa. 

They now sit alone in second place in the East and can actually take over first place with a dominant win over the Toronto Argonauts this coming Friday. With three straight wins despite some adversity, the Montreal Alouettes are finally trending in a good direction at the best possible time. 

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With all that said, the next logical thing to do if you are this team is to make a trade that has the potential to derail all of that.

By acquiring Trevor Harris, the Alouettes are taking out a very expensive insurance policy on their QB situation. With Adams out for at least six games (if not more) and with a backup quarterback who has yet to play a down in this league in Shea Patterson, Danny Maciocia saw fit to gamble with the dynamic that is currently in place. Trevor Harris has not played like the same quarterback that carved up the Alouettes in the 2019 Eastern Semi-Final. He’s been front and center for a lot of the woes the Edmonton Elks have gone through this season. 

In fact, Harris was beaten quite handily by these same Alouettes earlier this season. He was a healthy scratch this past Friday as Edmonton opted to go with CFL newbie Taylor Cornelius and journeyman Dakota Prukop behind centre. It remains to be seen how much of the malaise in Edmonton is on Harris and how much is on all of the extracurricular nonsense that has become the 2021 Elks. But to say that Harris is damaged goods would be an understatement.

There’s also reports of Harris not being vaccinated against Covid-19 and thus would be unable to join the team on road games once new Canadian travel standards come into effect. The Alouettes only have one road game left in 2021 so this may not be a major concern for Maciocia and the coaching staff. But imagine if both Shiltz and Patterson are injured at some point and Harris would be unable to participate in said road game? That’s quite the gamble to take, as far as I am concerned.

I also wonder what this does to the confidence level of Matthew Shiltz, who helped Montreal win their last two games. Surely he must be wondering if what he did this week alone wasn’t good enough for his bosses? I truly don’t think that Shiltz is going to lose his current starting position anytime soon, but should he falter he will now have this albatross over his head. After biding his time for the chance to prove he can play in this league, will Shiltz now have to start looking over his shoulder yet again?

This trade also doesn’t go down without the incredible play of defensive end Jamal Davis II, who has stepped into the place of Antonio Simmons on the defensive line and has made the most of his opportunity. Despite some lowered production this season, I still think Simmons is an absolute threat and that he was too high a price to pay in order to acquire Trevor Harris’ services. Especially when this season is finished and you’ll now have to make a decision when it comes to keeping Harris and his high price tag.

If the move to acquire Harris is strictly a rental, it was still a pretty high price to pay. I won’t discount the importance of having a quarterback with CFL experience, but I am concerned with the risk that comes with this move. I think this Alouettes team can win with Matt Shiltz and this move was strictly for insurance purposes, not to upset what has become a cohesive locker room. I truly hope I am proven wrong when I say that Harris is a perennial backup that somehow managed to convince teams that he was worth being paid starter money.

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That’s all for now.  As stated earlier, the Alouettes will be back home this Friday to host the Toronto Argonauts and first place in the East will be on the line. The Alouettes nearly beat the Argos a few weeks ago but instead beat themselves with a lack of discipline, questionable play from the secondary and errant decision-making from the quarterback. Hopefully Montreal will remember how they let that win slip away and will be better prepared for this suddenly dangerous Argos squad.

Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself share our thoughts on this incredible week that was for the Birds of Prey. You can find the podcast here and on your favourite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and even on Youtube! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.

They used to say that the CFL season doesn’t truly get under way until Labour Day. This year, Thanksgiving has become the new holiday in which fans realize that each game means so much more now. Despite some setbacks, your Alouettes are still very much in the thick of it, folks. Get ready for the competition to truly heat up as October gets cooler and cooler.

We’re on to the next one. As always, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!