Jason Maas won’t ‘sit back and worry’ for Cody Fajardo despite Alouettes’ sack issues

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Montreal Alouettes’ head coach Jason Maas appears to be tired of explaining his team’s failure to protect quarterback Cody Fajardo.

“I know how many times he’s been sacked,” the fiery bench boss spat as part of an impassioned address to the media on Wednesday, snapping at a reporter asking about his level of concern regarding the long-term health of his quarterback.

“Every quarterback that gets hit a number of times, you’re worried every time they drop back if they’re going to (get back up). It’s professional football. They have to stand in there and take hits, that’s the bottom line. Do we need to do a better job protecting? Yes, and that’s what we’ve talked about. But ultimately, you can’t sit back there and worry and worry and worry about the guy. You’ve got to protect him the best you can and you’ve got to go through the things that we’re going through right now with them.”

Fajardo has been sacked 15 times through three games this season — second worst in the CFL and the most of any club on a per-game basis. Those issues were glossed over when the team fired out to a 2-0 start, but the seven sacks surrendered in a 17-3 loss to the Blue Bombers have put protection at the forefront of fans’ minds.

Maas stressed that poor communication between players, as well as their coaches, was a major factor in the performance up front. However, he insisted that the gaudy sack numbers weren’t an adequate representation of the offensive line’s play as a whole.

“I give credit to the defences we’re playing, they’ve frickin’ got some really good players as well. The o-line can be perfect for a number of plays and one guy gets beat or a scheme happens and one guy can make a play and it turns into a negative play on the offence,” Maas insisted.

“It’s about attention to detail, some communication, and then physically, we’ve got to do our jobs as well. That’s quarterbacks, running backs, o-line, and then again, the coaches are in that too because the communication has to be better and that starts with us.”

Protection issues have plagued Maas dating back to last season, when he served as offensive coordinator with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Riders surrendered a record 77 sacks in 2022, derailing a promising start to the season when Fajardo was forced to play through a nagging knee injury. Eventually, both coach and quarterback lost their jobs as a result, landing in Montreal.

They now appear to be facing similar issues in a different city, leading some to suggest a common thread. Analytics firm Pro Football Focus listed four Alouettes’ offensive linemen — Nick Callender, Philippe Gagnon, Kristian Matte, and Landon Rice — among their top 10 highest-graded pass blockers of the week, leaving just centre Justin Lawrence off the list. With none of those players surrendering more than two pressures, the onus for many sacks fell on the scheme, running backs, or Fajardo himself.

Though he was quick to spread the blame, Maas made his own expectations clear with regard to offensive line play.

“We don’t want to get our quarterback hit ever. Five sacks, one hit, four hits; they’re all hits. We don’t want him to get hit ever so if he gets hit one time, it’s not good enough,” Maas stated angrily. “You can have one hit and get knocked on your shoulder and be out of the game. Being hit ever is not good. That’s the way we look at it, but what can we do about it? We’re doing the things that we need to do about it and then the proof will be in the pudding when we play.”

Nevertheless, the coach continued to insist the loss to the Bombers contained far more good plays than bad. It was his team’s failure to capitalize in the red zone, including a back-breaking interception by Fajardo, that was a much greater concern than sacks.

“Out of the 49 plays we had, there are 38 that were pretty damn good. The 11 aren’t good enough and the 11 can keep you from winning ballgames,” Maas emphasized. “In that game, no matter how many negative plays there were, the worst ones were the ones that were turnovers in score zone periods. When you’re losing a game 17-3 and you have two scoring opportunities and you have two turnovers, that game gets really tight really quick if you score anything.”

Still, no amount of deflection will satisfy fans’ concerns up front, especially with a lack of ground-game success to distract them. Star running back William Stanback has just 33 carries for 153 yards through three games and the Alouettes have the third-worst rushing average in the league at 80.3 yards per game.

Just like when it comes to protection, Maas was quick to spread the blame.

“It takes six — five o-linemen and the running back — and everybody else to do their jobs on every single run play. That’s the bottom line. When we carry the ball, it’s not always on one guy. It’s on our group of guys, it’s on the coaches with schemes, and all that stuff,” he stressed.

“We’ve just got to keep working at it. Keep giving carries to our backs and our backs will start producing more yards, that’s what we believe.  I’m not looking at it in any other way than we just need to put more work in.”

That is true both on the ground and through the air, with improvements needed before the Alouettes (2-1) visit the B.C. Lions (3-1) on Sunday, July 9. With temperatures peaking above 30 degrees Celsius daily, Maas insisted his team would be grinding through the heat this week without additional water breaks to get ready for a chance at redemption in Vancouver.

“They hydrate enough, we have people out here with water. They’ve gotta go through this. They’ve gotta go through hell to see it. They’ve gotta pay the price, in my opinion, to win and I think they all know that. We’ve got to be out here in the heat, efforting and giving everything we got.”

Despite that emphasis, an irritated Maas remains cautious not to place too much stock in the calls for quick fixes. They remain a one-loss team capable of beating any team in the league.

“You’ve got to concentrate on all of it, but also not lose sight of the fact that when people are saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got to fix it,’ that, yeah, we would like to fix every play and we coach and correct everything,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we still have to have confidence that we can still do our jobs and that’s what we do.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.