10 things I thought: Alouettes season ends with crushing home loss to Esks

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Montreal Alouettes’ season is over.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for a roster of players that exceeded expectations throughout the season. The Als fought to the very end, but they ended up dropping a 37-29 decision to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Eastern Semi-Final.

I got to stand between the two benches for my sideline gig on TSN 690 radio, so I have a unique perspective on what happened throughout the afternoon.

How did the Als lose? Why did the season end this way? And what’s to come this off-season?

Here’s the 10 things I thought during and after the game.

1 – Obviously, Trevor Harris had a field day with the Als defence. Many fans on Twitter were pointing out how defensive coordinator Bob Slowik needed to blitz more, but I don’t really think that was the issue.

Heading into this game, we knew that the Als weren’t going to sniff Harris. He gets rid of the ball too quickly. So what do you do? Slowik rushed three and four defenders regularly during the afternoon, but their decision to go with a defence that was primarily lined up in zone was a problem. The defensive backs had to be in a position to be more aggressive up on the line of scrimmage. If you get beat over the top, too bad. You can’t allow Harris to chip away at your defence five to 15 yards at a time.

2 – I like Slowik, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be back next season. Do the Als have enough quality pass rushers? No way. But your defence can’t let the opposing quarterback throw three incompletions the whole game.

Slowik made strides this year, no doubt about it. He got better and got exposed and got better again. It wasn’t all negative this year, but the reality is that he was a Mike Sherman hire. If Khari Jones re-signs in Montreal, he’ll surely have the freedom to bring in his own staff. Maybe he’ll decide to keep Slowik if he stays, but that just doesn’t seem likely right now.

3 – The coaching staff was presented with an intriguing decision on special teams leading up to this week. Would they bring back Mario Alford, who missed the last few games with an injury or would they keep going with Shakeir Ryan. They went with Alford and the decision paid off in the first half. What a great find by the Als. They haven’t had a game-breaking returner in years.

4 – Getting a kick-return touchdown is fantastic. Unfortunately, when Edmonton controls the ball for long stretches and you get a punt-return touchdown, it means that your offence doesn’t see the field much.

The Alouettes ran a play for a touchdown right at the start of the second quarter. They didn’t run another offensive play until there was 2:31 remaining in the quarter. Credit to the Als for scoring on that late drive, but the offence dried up in the second half. The Esks had the ball for over 36 minutes in this game. That’s way too much.

5 – When Woody Baron came up with the interception in the fourth quarter and Adams followed it up with a rushing touchdown, I thought they were coming all the way back. I had seen that movie so often throughout the season that I was confident it was going to happen again.

The Als came back against Winnipeg at home, in Calgary and they won several close games. You couldn’t help but feel like they were going to win that game when they cut the deficit to five points.

6- The reason they didn’t win the game on the ensuing drive is because Adams threw a back-breaking interception to Josh Johnson that put the game to rest. The Als had another chance to win late, but there wasn’t much time left.

Here’s what Adams had to say about that interception (his second of the game):

“That was a bad read by me,” Adams said after the game. “I was supposed to read the half-back and I kind of skipped over my read at that moment. I didn’t see the half-back sitting there where I normally hit Jake (Wieneke). Bad read.”

Despite the loss, it was a great year for the quarterback who started the season fourth on the depth chart. Adams proved a lot people wrong, including myself. It’s encouraging to see that the Als have a quarterback they can seemingly build around going forward.

7 – Down the stretch, it almost seemed like the Als knew they were locked into second place in the East and they prevented Adams from using his legs to make plays. He did run quite well in Sunday’s game and finished the East Semi-Final with 57 yards on six carries and a touchdown on the ground. He’s way more dangerous when he runs the ball.

I know that teams want quarterbacks to develop into pocket passers and they want to protect their franchise players from taking additional hits, but they should adapt the offence to their quarterback’s skill-set.

I’d like to see Adams run the ball more often next year because he’s really good at it. He also has to make sure that he’s willing to slide and run out of bounds to avoid additional contact though.

8 – How about the performance receiver Dante Absher put together in his first career playoff game? Absher led the team in receptions (five) and receiving yards (60). The 25-year-old was cut after training camp and made his way back onto the practice roster during the season. He got an opportunity to play when DeVier Posey and Chris Matthews went down to injury.

I spoke to one Alouette on offence who told me he reminded him of former B.C. Lion and Winnipeg Blue Bomber Nick Moore. If Absher can be that kind of player, the Als will definitely take that.

I like seeing cut players come back and make an impact for the team in crucial moments. Absher should have a realistic shot of making the team out of camp in 2020.

9 – By now, you’ve probably heard that Khari Jones is set to become a free agent. He’s been unwilling to talk openly about his plans for next season, but his starting quarterback clearly wants him back.

Jones has all the negotiating leverage right now. He knows that if the team allows him to get away, fans and season ticket holders will be upset. President Patrick Boivin has to make sure he gets this done as soon as possible. The relationship between he and his players seems really genuine.

10 – I’ve been in locker rooms after teams have been eliminated from the playoffs and I’ve never seen such an emotional group of players. Players were hugging and crying. All along I’ve gotten the sense that this team was tight-knit, but everything I saw on Sunday afternoon confirmed it. These guys were crushed, not only because they got eliminated from the playoffs, but because they couldn’t continue playing together.

Check out this emotional exchange between veteran centre Kristian Matte and Adams.

Als players will meet the media on Monday at 11 a.m. ET. I’ll have plenty of quotes and reaction from that media session on my Twitter account @JoeyAlfieri.

Joey Alfieri is a reporter and host for TSN690 radio in Montreal and a writer at Rotoworld Hockey and Pro Hockey Talk.