‘We’ve got to look at everything’: Montreal Alouettes on pace to allow 99 sacks in 2023

Photo courtesy: David Friederich/B.C. Lions

The Montreal Alouettes struggled to protect franchise quarterback Cody Fajardo again this past week as they allowed seven sacks in a 35-19 loss to the B.C. Lions.

“Everything will be on the table this week because obviously that’s been one failure for us for sure for the first four weeks of the season. We just haven’t been good enough (at protecting the quarterback) and that’s on us, we’ve gotta figure that out and we will,” head coach Jason Maas told the media.

“There’s definitely some things we could do differently whether we play with more tight ends, whether we play with more (offensive) linemen, design things that are quicker-hitting, things that the defence is giving up underneath. There’s definitely a ton of designs that you can do and we’ve got to look at everything.”

The Alouettes have allowed 22 sacks through four games this season, which is six more than any other team in the league. It’s a relatively small sample size, though it’s an undeniably poor start for a team that has repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting Fajardo.

Montreal is currently on pace to allow 99 sacks this season, which is four shy of the all-time CFL record of 103 set by the Toronto Argonauts in 1986. The club allowed 47 sacks last year and kept their personnel along the offensive line mostly the same during the off-season with four starters returning.

“You don’t want your quarterback hit ever,” said Maas. “One hit can ruin a quarterback, one hit can knock him out for the season, so it’s not that these 22 sacks are about the piling up of the number, it’s the hits and it’s the hurries and we’ve got to prevent those and do our best at it.”

Montreal’s running game has been relatively dormant so far this season as William Stanback has carried the ball 39 times for 171 yards, an average of only 4.4 yards per carry. Maas indicated that the club called “quite a few” run-pass options against B.C., though most ended up being passes.

Stanback carried the ball six times for only 17 yards against the Lions, which Fajardo indicated was due to B.C.’s defensive scheme.

“I feel like it was hard to [Stanback] involved with the way [B.C.’s] defence was doing a lot of edge pressure,” said Fajardo. “They do a lot of pressure on the edge to stop the run, so it opened up some quick throws, so we had a lot of run-game called but they can turn into passes at any moment and it was just kind of what the defence was dictating.”

The average number of sacks allowed by the CFL’s nine teams last season was 41.7 with the Calgary Stampeders allowing the fewest at 17 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, for whom Fajardo was the quarterback and Maas was the offensive coordinator, giving up the most with 77.

The Alouettes (2-2) are scheduled to host the Toronto Argonauts (3-0) on Friday, July 14 with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. EDT. This will mark the first of three meetings of the season between the two teams.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.