Just over a month ago, the Montreal Alouettes were 2-3 and mired in a three-game losing streak. The excitement that surrounded the club’s 2-0 start was gone and fans were wondering if this was going to be yet another middling season.
A new coach. A new starting quarterback. New receivers. Were the first two games a mirage? It was easy to see think that was the case, especially given the wins came against back-up quarterbacks fielded by Ottawa and Hamilton.
The club has now recorded four straight victories, albeit with none coming against the league’s top three teams in Toronto, Winnipeg, and B.C. While the Als scored a convincing 41-12 win over Saskatchewan, their last victory required a dramatic comeback against the lowly Redblacks.
So who is this team? What is their identity? Do they have the personnel to match up against the CFL’s elite? Let’s take a look.
For the most part, quarterback Cody Fajardo has been steady. While he’s taken a beating — Montreal’s allowed 35 sacks in nine games — he hasn’t turned the ball over too much. He’s returning from a shoulder injury this week and, in his absence, Caleb Evans stepped in to lead the team to two victories.
On the ground, William Stanback hasn’t had a vintage season. He’s looked good in spurts, and his power and burst has shown up more so in recent weeks. But the team hasn’t gotten the consistent first down running production needed to be an elite team. How much of that is Stanback and how much of that is the offensive line? It appears to be a combination of both. Still, Montreal is in the upper half in rushing yards average per game.
The receiving corps has been outstanding for the Alouettes as general manager Danny Maciocia has assembled a clutch group of young targets. The loss of Eugene Lewis hasn’t slowed this team at all, mainly thanks to the heroics of Austin Mack, who leads the league in receiving yards and receptions of 30-plus yards, while Tyler Snead is among the league leaders in touchdown receptions. Other contributors like Canadians Kaion Julien-Grant and Hergy Mayala have also had their moments of glory this season.
On the defensive side, Montreal has been pretty good all season. The loss of injured defensive back Ciante Evans and his three interceptions has been difficult to overcome but they’ve managed to plug in other options that have done well.
While Montreal ranks last in quarterback sacks, the addition of Shawn Lemon has been outstanding. The future Hall of Famer has four sacks in four games since signing with the team, providing a menacing option that has created chaos at times for opposing offences.
Along with Lemon, Wesley Sutton and Marc-Antoine Dequoy have been the standouts this season on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe has been around the block and he’s showing that he can get the most out this defensive roster.
Placekicker David Cote has been solid, though he’s still prone to the odd head-scratching miss, while punter Joseph Zema leads the league in net average yards. Consistency has also been the descriptor for return specialist Chandler Worthy as he’s provided a stable field position weapon week in and week out, though he’s yet to break one for a touchdown.
We’ll find out soon enough if this team can compete against the top teams in the league as they look to end an 11-year Grey Cup drought. Montreal will play its next four games against Winnipeg, B.C., and Toronto, giving them plenty of chances to avenge some early-season losses.
Thursday’s game against the Blue Bombers will tell us a lot about this year’s team. Perhaps Fajardo was being rested last week specifically for this big tilt. It’s also a chance for Montreal head coach Jason Maas, who will be matching up with Mike O’Shea, to prove he should be considered among the best bench bosses in the league.
Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, it’s unlikely that Montreal is ready to be considered a contender. A 2-2 split in the next four games would be a major win for this ball club, but that’ll be hard to achieve.
Unless Shawn Lemon proves to be a difference-maker in this revenge tour, or unless William Stanback and the team’s offensive line regains its rushing form from a couple of years ago, Fajardo will be in major trouble over these next four contests.
To me, at the halfway point of their season, the Alouettes are still on track to be a nine-win team despite currently being 6-3. Fortunately for them, that record should be good enough to once again host a playoff game come November.