The Montreal Alouettes seemed to be dead in the water at the start of the fourth quarter in Edmonton on Friday night, but the team kept fighting and got a spark from an unlikely source.
As good as Vernon Adams looked in relief of an injured Antonio Pipkin, I wouldn’t sit Pipkin just yet.
Of course, that’s assuming he’s cleared to play against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Week 3. Pipkin suffered an ankle injury in the second half against Edmonton and did not return. The good news is that he managed to watch his team move the ball from the sidelines.
I realize that many of you have already soured on Pipkin. I probably won’t be able to change your mind before the next game, but there are important things you need to keep in mind.
First, this has nothing to do with how I feel about Adams. As you saw on Friday night, he’s a play-maker that can throw a decent ball and he’s capable of using his legs to gain yards. Unfortunately, his decision making is spotty at times, too. He was fortunate that Posey knocked away an easy interception on the drive that led to a game-tying field goal and he threw into double coverage on the final drive of the game, which led to an Anthony Orange interception. Adams can play on my team any day but I’d use him in relief or as a short-term starter.
Pipkin is still just 23 years old. Quarterbacks of that age don’t start in the CFL. We knew he wasn’t going to light the world on fire from Week 1. They have to give him some rope and some reps if they want to see strides over the next few weeks. As tempting as it is to stick with Adams right now, I think they should go back to their young quarterback if he’s healthy enough to play.
After the game, interim head coach Khari Jones said they’ll take the bye week to evaluate their options at the quarterback position. This will be an intriguing story to follow over the next couple of weeks.
Alright, let’s get to the game itself. The Alouettes dropped a heart-breaker, 32-25, against the Eskimos on Friday night. There was some good, there was some bad. Since they scored 25 points, I’ll give you my 25 observations from the game.
1. I know fans are frustrated to see Pipkin throw the ball away at times, but that’s (sort of) a positive in my mind. Instead of forcing something that’s not there, live to see another day by throwing the ball away. He struggled with that at times last season, so it was good to see him not force things.
2. RDS football analyst Pierre Vercheval nailed it on the broadcast when he broke down the play that led to the Pipkin ankle injury. Vercheval mentioned that Pipkin either has to realize that the blitz is coming and bring in an additional blocker, or he has to make sure he gets rid of the ball quicker.
3. Pipkin has to find a way to spread the ball around a little more than he did when he played. He relied heavily on DeVier Posey and B.J. Cunningham. Those are their top two targets, but he has to find a way to get Geno Lewis more involved.
4. Speaking of Lewis, he had just one target in the first half, and it was a throw from Pipkin that sailed out of bounds. Lewis made a couple of really important catches in the fourth quarter when Adams came into the game.
5. Rookie receiver Jake Wieneke didn’t see a single target in this game. They really liked him coming out of training camp, so you’d have to think they want to get him involved. He’s not the fastest guy, but he’s got size and good hands.
6. I’m all for giving Adams credit for helping orchestrate two touchdown drives. Let’s keep in mind that Cunningham (twice) and Lewis combined to make three outstanding grabs on the drive that cut the deficit to 25-22.
7. The starting offensive line got off to a rocky start in the first half. They didn’t create many openings for running back William Stanback. In fairness, I thought they got better as the game wore on. Stanback was able to get his yards and they held up nicely on certain passing plays, including on a big connection between Adams and Lewis.
8. Another note about the offensive line. I liked that Sean Jamieson, Trey Rutherford and Tony Washington came to Pipkin’s defence right away when former Als defensive lineman Jesse Joseph brought him down by the face mask. They stuck up for their young quarterback right away.
9. I’d like to see the Alouettes stick with Stanback a little more when they’re struggling to move the chains. I put Stanback on my list of the top 50 players compiled by TSN. That’s how strongly I feel about his ability to dominate on the ground. Nine carries isn’t enough (he finished with 76 yards) and managed to rip off a 42-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
10. Field position was a big problem early on against Edmonton. The offence started inside their own 10-yard line on multiple occasions. Their only touchdown in the first half came after they recovered a fumble in Esks territory. These quarterbacks aren’t ready to take their team on 90-plus yard drives on every second possession.
11. Part of the problem with the field position battle is that the defence was just giving up too much yardage. The Eskimos didn’t stretch the field a ton, but Trevor Harris managed to get rid of the ball quickly like he usually does. New defensive coordinator Bob Slowick has to take this bye week to make major adjustments.
12. If you watched the game, you probably realized that Harris wasn’t ever really under duress. Part of that is because he gets rid of the ball so quickly, but even when he held on to the ball there was never anyone in his face. The Als have to find a pass-rush in a hurry.
13. The other big concern is their inability to stop the run. How many times did we see C.J. Gable break off big chunks of yardage right up the middle of the Als defence? Gable finished with 20 carries for 154 yards (yikes).
14. I had big expectations for defensive tackles Woody Baron and Ryan Brown. They both showed me a lot last year. I’m not sure what happened to them in Week 1. We didn’t see them come up with any tackles for loss and we already mentioned how Gable managed to run at them. I’m not sure I can blame these two in this case. I don’t think Slowik put them in a position to succeed.
15. Antonio Simmons played really well in the preseason tie against Ottawa. The Als like his burst at defensive end, but we didn’t really see any of that in Week 1. Like Pipkin, he’s only 23. I expect him to get better as the season goes on.
16. The Bo Lokombo rib injury didn’t look good. Lokombo was signed from B.C. this winter, and the Als were looking forward to having him replace Chris Ackie at that WILL linebacker spot. Jean-Gabriel Poulin replaced him when he went out in the first half, but I think the Als will have to use an American there if he’s out long term.
17. Taylor Loffler came as advertised. He’s a thumper and he always seemed to be involved whenever the Als made a tackle on defence. What an off-season signing that was by general manager Kavis Reed. It’s probably not a good sign when your safety leads you in tackles (he had 10), though.
18. It’s tough to get a full gauge on the secondary because of the lack of pass rush they had against Harris. Every time they used a zone defence they seemed to get picked apart. Again, that’s not necessarily the secondary’s fault.
19. I liked Marcus Cromartie. He’s an NFL veteran that seemed to fit in nicely with this new-look secondary. He came up with a fumble recovery in the first quarter and he’s a good tackler, too.
20. Same for Ciante Evans. He didn’t look out of place for a guy who missed all of training camp with his new team. Again, a pass rush would really help these guys out.
21. Stefan Logan seems to have a little more burst this year than he did last year. I’d like to see them go with a younger kick-returner at some point though. Give Quan Bray a shot.
22. Boris Bede’s season got off to a rough start, as he missed a 34-yard field goal in the first half. He made up for it when he pinned the Esks on the one-yard line late in the third quarter and when he made a 52-yard field goal to tie the game late. Still, the Als need their kicker to be way more consistent.
23. Shoutout to some of the special teams warriors that never really get any credit. I thought Ty Cranston had a nice night when it came to covering kicks. Cranston’s emergence is a big reason why the team was comfortable cutting Dondre Wright.
24. I’m also noticing Brandon Calver more this year than I had at any point last year. He wasn’t shy about mixing it up with some Redblacks during the pre-season and he was physical on special teams in Week 1. He took a penalty on the first return of the game, but I thought he was good the rest of the way.
25. Let’s give the Als some credit. They got rid of their head coach six days ago, they have no owner and they had two starters go down with injuries in the first week, and they never quit. They were down 25-8 early in the fourth quarter and they managed to fight back on the road to tie the game. I know they’re 0-1, but I’m going to give them credit.