It was like a UFC fight that was over in 15 seconds.
After a week highlighted by smack talk and verbal hype, the Edmonton Elks trotted in to the Commonwealth octagon on Saturday, gave one weak jab and got punched right in the face. It wasn’t always pretty but the Montreal Alouettes landed their haymakers and finished with the old ground-and pound for a 30-13 win.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
“You hit him one time, he starts folding.”
That was the headline-grabbing comment made by former Edmonton defensive tackle Almondo Sewell about Elks quarterback Trevor Harris coming into the week. He was wrong, of course. Like hotel linens, Harris arrived at the game pre-folded.
As has been the knock throughout his career, Harris looks like a player in his own head. The Elks cut through Montreal like butter on the first drive, but what should have been a statement score finished as a lucky field goal after the quarterback panicked and threw his second down pass into the chest of safety Ty Cranston. It was a taste of what was to come.
There were atrocious reads on run-pass option runs that resulted in sacks. A rushed QB sneak in the red zone caused a fumbled snap and a turnover on downs. There were turnover-worthy throws left and right despite his lack of box score interceptions, with a bad pick-six called back. Several times he wasn’t on the same page as his receivers and didn’t seem in control of the offence for long stretches.
Any time the pressure was on Harris to make an important mental decision, he seemed to crumble and it didn’t take hits from Montreal to get him there. Although he did demonstrate some physical toughness, the mental side is what cost him.
“I had a lot of the offensive linemen walk up to me afterwards and say: ‘Hey, it didn’t go well, but at least Almondo knows that you can take hits and stand in there,'” Harris said after the game.
“I’m ready to just be who I am. I’m not worried about any of the comments. I’m going to stand in there regardless and just lead these guys the best that I can.”
Harris’ comments and demeanour post-game were much less dejected than a week ago and perhaps a late touchdown will help turn things around next week, but on Saturday he hurt his team for the second straight game. That has to change.
Big man, bigger lip
Speaking of Sewell, the future Wall of Honour player didn’t have the impact in the game he might have hoped to back up his big talk, but in the end it didn’t matter.
An extremely late hit on Harris by his new frenemy took a Tyquwan Glass pick-six off the board, a penalty Sewell called: “The most bulls*** call I ever had in my life.” Otherwise, Sewell was largely contained, save for a late sack where the quarterback hung onto the ball too long. Still, the big man was just one member of a rotation in the middle that succeeded in getting in the quarterback’s face.
“[Trevor Harris] folded,” Sewell said. “We should have had more picks than that. You just throw it up, you know. I owe Tyquwan Glass at least a dinner — he had that pick-six. I gotta do better than that. Yeah, [Harris] did fold.”
I’d suggest it was a mixed return, but a win to stick it to his old team was all Sewell really wanted. He got that in commanding fashion.
While Sewell wasn’t a major factor, Montreal got a solid push up the middle all night. That is the worst type of pressure you can face as a quarterback.
Edmonton’s tackles weren’t perfect, but for the most part they gave Harris the opportunity to step up in the pocket. The problem was he couldn’t because David Beard, Jacob Ruby and Matt O’Donnell were being pushed back and struggled with blitz pickups. There were few lanes for him to navigate.
“We need to be better in protection, I need to help our guys with that. We had guys open throughout the day, when you look back on the film, there’s going to be windows that were open. We just need to be better in protection,” head coach Jaime Elizondo was quick to say of the offensive struggles.
“No excuses made, but we’re playing while missing some key guys. I thought those guys [on the offensive line] fought as long as they could.”
I think the offensive line was far from the reason for the poor performance from Harris or his team, but it certainly didn’t help. There will be a lot to clean up from that group in practice.
The Lannisters send their regards
They call it the red zone, but it might as well have been the Red Wedding the way it was killing the Elks.
Edmonton’s struggles in scoring territory were talked about ad nauseam coming into this game and they certainly didn’t do anything to change the conversation. Some of those failings can be attributed to the mistakes by Harris discussed above, but there is more going on here.
The Elks offence under the new coaching staff has left a lot to be desired in terms of creativity in general, but those problems become more noticeable the closer the team gets to the goal line. Harris can throw checkdowns all day long and teams are more than happy to let him do it all the way down the field, but in the red zone those opportunities dry up.
“On third and one, we’ve got to be able to get that and give us another chance. We were down inside the five and didn’t get it in the end zone. Anytime you don’t get touchdowns, I’ve talked about it before, it’s the four-point battle and we got to fix that because we’re getting down there,” Elizondo said post-game.
“I think everybody was ready for that first drive to end in a touchdown and it’s just kind of like: ‘Here we go again, a field goal.’ So it’s got to get fixed.”
The red zone is the time to let playmakers like Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson loose — the Elks haven’t done that. Their lone score came in garbage time with the Alouettes going half-speed with a pair of backups in the secondary, that’s not good enough.
The backflip Oreo dunker Shai Ross into the end zone for the #Elks
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 15, 2021
While we’re on the topic of star receivers, Ellingson was a complete non-factor against the Alouettes. He was targeted five times, but only caught a single pass for one yard.
Part of that is scheme and part of it was strong defence from the Alouettes, but Ellingson has to be the chain-mover in this offence. He hasn’t been through two weeks and that scares me.
It wasn’t just the Elks’ quarterback who was making poor mental decisions against Montreal.
Elizondo burned his only challenge early in the game on a William Stanback fumble that was clearly recovered by the Alouettes. It was a hopeless review at a time when the Elks didn’t need to be throwing blind darts and had this game been competitive, it might have cost them.
Another ultimately irrelevant decision left me scratching my head late in the game as well. After Shai Ross scored the team’s first touchdown late in the fourth, Elizondo kicked the single before going for an unsuccessful onside kick. Trying for an improbable win is fine — crazier things have happened in CFL games — but the decision to kick the PAT made it a three-score game with a 17-point margin, when a two-point attempt would have made that a 16-point, two-score game.
If you aren’t going to go for a win with the convert, why bother with an onside kick? It seems absolutely nonsensical.
Like every rookie head coach, Elizondo will have a lot to learn about game-management. Hopefully this one provides some teachable moments.
Not so special
People will focus on the questionable non-call at the point of attack — where Adarius Pickett absolutely destroyed Afolabi Laguda from what might be described as a back adjacent angle — but Mario Alford’s return was hardly teach tape special teams elsewhere.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 15, 2021
I’m not sure I liked Laguda’s angle of attack to begin with and Alford needed only one move to get a wide open sideline. The contain was atrocious and normally solid teamers like Tanner Green gave away the outside before getting caught up in the wash with lackadaisical pursuit.
The issue appeared again on two other Alford returns, with plenty of yardage available down the sideline. It was hardly Edmonton’s biggest problem on the afternoon, but too many plays like that can kill a season as quickly as an inept offence.
You can’t buy experience
Edmonton’s defensive line predictably looked like world beaters a week ago against Ottawa, but they came down to earth hard against a veteran Montreal offensive line.
You might struggle to name the Alouettes’ starting five, but they’ve all been around and have an average age of 31. They’ve seen all the twists and games that made Edmonton was so successful with in Week 1 and they dealt with them without breaking a sweat.
Talent-wise, they should have been outmatched, but Tony Washington, Kristian Matte, Sean Jamieson, Philippe Gagnon and Landon Rice consistently put their quarterback in a position to make plays. On the ground, Stanback had nothing but lanes to work with.
Mike Moore and Jake Ceresna looked so much slower for Edmonton this week, while Kwaku Boateng and Mathieu Betts disappeared off the edge. With some younger players in Darius Williams and Eric Blake in the secondary, the lack of pressure when needed was a death blow.
Jake Wieneke @Jake_Wieneke fly like a bird ????
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 14, 2021
While I wasn’t thrilled by the overall performance from the offensive line, I thought Global player Steven Nielsen had a solid first outing at right tackle.
The Danish big man drew into the starting lineup late when D’Antne Demery was ruled out with a knee injury and he stood his ground against some talented opponents. There was a few pressures here and there, but my concerns in the scouting process over his foot speed — I felt he was a CFL guard — were mitigated considerably by some nice positioning that allowed him to run edge defenders past his quarterback. In the run game, he flashed physicality and made some really nice second level blocks.
“It’s always tough to go into your first CFL game, especially going up against a Nick Usher and [Antonio] Simmons,” Elizondo said of the rookie. “Those guys gave us some problems tonight, as well as the interior, but Steven’s going to grow into a good football player. He’s got the first game under his belt and he’ll get better.”
Having watched the battle closely, Nielsen impressed me and was among Edmonton’s stronger offensive performers — not that there was much competition. While the Global program is in its infancy and by no means safe going forward, he’s the type of player you can expect to see more of: an all-conference college standout and former NFL undrafted signee who can step in and contribute.
Under no circumstances
A kneel down is rarely an impactful play, but it meant an awful lot to some people in this one.
The betting line for total points between Edmonton and Montreal was 45.5 at Bodog Canada, so when Khari Jones told Vernon Adams Jr. to go into victory formation twice rather than kick one last field goal in a 30-13 game, it was an important financial difference for some people.
Montreal made the right call but I’m sure they’ll hear plenty about both the cheers and tears they caused online. Right now in the CFL, make sure you bet the under.