Defence to the rescue once again: seven thoughts on the Montreal Alouettes’ win over Hamilton

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

If you didn’t watch the game, don’t let the scoreboard fool you.

The Alouettes shouldn’t have won this game, not even close. But Hamilton’s poor level of play, combined with another stellar performance from the defence, gave Montreal a chance to win it.

Here are seven thoughts about Saturday’s 27-14 victory over the Tiger-Cats.

The Gifts

It might as well have been Christmas in August for the Tiger-Cats as they received too many gifts from the Alouettes. Here is how Montreal’s first four drives ended: interception, missed field goal, interception, two-and-out.

From all this, Hamilton only scored seven points and kept the Alouettes in it. Later in the first half, David Cote missed another field goal, and like it wasn’t enough, Cody Fajardo fumbled the ball to start the second half after a good tackle by Simoni Lawrence.

Believe it or not, it was still only 14-3 for the Tabbies at the end of the third quarter.

Two things explain this score. The first is Hamilton’s inability to finish drives and the second is that Montreal’s defence made the proper adjustments to shut the door.

In the first half, only Hamilton could stop themselves on offence; James Butler was everywhere and carrying the offence on his back. However, Taylor Powell threw two interceptions, and the team couldn’t find the end zone more than once.

The second reason deserves a section on its own.

How Long Can They Do That?

For those who have been watching the Alouettes since the beginning of the season, this will feel like deja vu. The defence kept Montreal in the game until the offence finally woke up late.

The statistics speak for themselves: three sacks, one fumble recovered, and two interceptions. What’s more encouraging if you are an Alouettes fan is that the defence could do it without three more starters out due to long-term injuries. 

Moreover, the adjustments made at halftime were on point, as James Butler was barely a factor after the break. Without him as a powerhouse, Hamilton’s offence only generated 3 points.

How long will Noel Thorpe’s defence hold down the fort? We will see, but for now, no matter who is playing their level stays consistent week after week.

The Two Standouts

The defensive unit as a whole played a great game, but two players stood out.

Due to Najee Murray’s injury, J.R. Reed started at strong-side linebacker. He had an interception and three good tackles, proving he has the skill set to fill that role. That should reassure Thorpe for upcoming games.

Shawn Lemon proved once again that he still has juice with a fantastic performance in his second game with the Als. He caused a fumble, had two sacks, and intercepted a football in the fourth quarter — though he humorously started running toward his own end zone after stopping to avoid an offensive player.

Those plays are a bonus to his constant presence in the opponent’s backfield. Lemon has changed the face of the defence since his arrival.

Some Finishing Touch ‘s’il vous plait’

What’s also becoming a deja vu is the offence’s struggles to finish the drives. When Caleb Evans scored a touchdown on a QB sneak, more than 130 minutes of football had passed since the last offensive TD; that’s too much.

Regis Cibasu added another one at the end of the game, which should boost Montreal’s confidence ahead of the next contest.

At the beginning of the game, the Als could have seriously hurt the Tabbies but instead offered them the ball with the first two interceptions thrown. Later, even though they moved the ball well enough, they had to settle for six field goal attempts, connecting on only four.

The positive aspect of this struggle is that Montreal can move the ball upfield in many ways. Austin Mack, Tyler Snead, Quartney Davis and Regis Cibasu made big plays of 30+ yards through the air, but the Alouettes could also move the ball methodically with William Stanback. 

However, Cody Fajardo doesn’t seem to be able to connect with his receivers in the red zone or close to it. The passes lack precision or strength, and it’s not new. It’s a worrying trend since a better team would have sealed this game before halftime. 

Mental mistakes don’t help either, primarily offside and procedure penalties which make it even more challenging to score touchdowns. Offensive lineman Jamar McGloster even took a 15-yard penalty after the play was over when the Alouettes were finally getting close to the end zone. Those kinds of infractions need to be avoided at all costs.

Stanback is officially back!

Speaking of Stanback, he collected his first 100+ yard rushing game of the season and has been getting better and better since his breakout performance against the Argos.

A part of the credit goes to the offensive line who have finally created lanes, but Stanback is more physical than he was in the first few games. That is good news for the whole offensive unit. 

Fajardo’s left shoulder

Going into next week’s matchup against the Riders, one worrying thing is the health of the quarterback Cody Fajardo. He seemed to have discomfort in his left shoulder, starting after he was tackled during a run in the first half.

Fajardo finished the game and considering the Als are playing his former team next week, I don’t expect he’ll miss the contest.

What’s next?

Speaking of the next opponents, the Alouettes will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday night in Montreal. No matter what happens tomorrow, they will enter this game in second place in the East Division.

Despite how ugly it was, this win gave the Als the tiebreaker over the Ticats, something that could be useful at the end of the season. There is only one game left in the regular season between those two teams. It will take place in Montreal on October 28.

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.