Woeful Alouettes defence needs to step up against Argos

General manager Kavis Reed rebuilt the Montreal Alouettes defence in the off-season, but so far it has been a disaster.

The Alouettes (1-8) take the worst defensive record in the league into an East Division rivalry game against the resurgent Toronto Argonauts (3-5) on Friday night.

The Als are last in the league with 306 points allowed (34 per game), last in yards-against with 458.3, last in first downs allowed with 244, last in touchdowns conceded with 31 and last in sacks allowed with 30.

Adding six respected veterans last winter hasn’t produced a cohesive unit and they’ve been even worse than last year’s 3-15 club, whose defence crumbled after the mid-season firing of defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe. New DC Rich Stubler’s defence is looking for answers.

“I won’t lie to you, it’s definitely challenging, but it’s a challenge we’re embracing,” linebacker Henoc Muamba, one of the high-profile acquisitions, said this week. “It’s a challenge that every team that has a new defence and a new defensive co-ordinator has to face.

“We’re facing it now and hopefully we can come out the other side of this thing and we get on a roll and get hot at the right time. In this league we know it’s possible. It’s been done before. So we’re keeping our hopes up.”

It hasn’t helped that two of their signings, defensive backs Mitchell White and Joe Burnett, are on the six-game injured list, or that Canadian defensive end Jamaal Westerman was included in the five-player deal that brought quarterback Johnny Manziel from Hamilton.

Missed tackles and poor coverage have been problems in most games, while bad penalties played a part in a 44-24 loss in Edmonton last week, helping to spoil Antonio Pipkin’s debut as a CFL quarterback.

“Just play disciplined football and come back to the fundamentals and basics,” was Muamba’s remedy. “There’s been a lot of miscommunication.

“If we tighten those things, the difference between winning and losing in this league is very small because of the high level of competition between the teams. Us making a couple of mistakes can get the momentum going the wrong way and then teams score points. If we play disciplined we can play with the best of them.”

Pipkin is to get a second start, even though Manziel felt well enough to join his teammates on the field for a walk-through on Thursday after missing a game while under concussion protocol.

Pipkin is up against McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who has led the Argos to back-to-back comeback victories in his first two CFL starts. In his debut against Ottawa, the Argos overcame a 24-point deficit in the second half to win 42-41. Last week, they were down 17-7 but won 24-23 over British Columbia.

“I like the way their quarterback has adapted to their system,” Alouettes coach Mike Sherman said of Bethel-Thompson. “I think coach (Marc) Trestman’s done a good job of getting him into that system, getting him ready to go after losing a great quarterback (Ricky Ray).”

Manziel had a weak CFL debut with four passes picked off in the first half but looked much better in his second outing before he took a heavy hit to the head while trying to score a third-quarter touchdown. Pipkin stepped in and helped the Alouettes set a season high points total with 24.

But now the offensive line, which looked to be stabilized after game-to-game personnel changes early in the season, lost a starting guard in Landon Rice, another player acquired in the Manziel trade. Sherman said Rice was released for “contractual/financial” reasons and will be replaced by Philippe Gagnon.

The Alouettes defence will have veteran John Bowman back after missing two games and pass-rusher Willie Mays, no relation to the baseball great, is to replace the injured Ventrel McMillan.


Friday, Percival Molson Stadium

SAY HEY: Asked what to expect from Mays, Sherman said “three triples and a home run.”

CONNECTIONS: Mays and Pipkin both attended Tiffin University.

SECOND WORST: While the Alouettes rank last in many stats, Toronto is second worst in points allowed (243) and points scored (Als 144, Argos 161). Montreal is last in average time of possession at 25:25 with the Argos second last at 28:10. Same for turnovers. The Als have given up 27, the Argos 26.

NO SUTTON: Alouettes running back Tyrell Sutton is on the one-game list wit a quadriceps injury, so William Stanbeck will start.

– CP

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