So close, yet so far: seven thoughts on the Montreal Alouettes’ loss to B.C.

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

The Montreal Alouettes showed that they can battle against a top-tier team, but once again, they came short up at the end, losing 34-25 to the B.C. Lions. One or two plays could have changed the game’s outcome, but the Als have yet to learn to win against the best of the CFL. Here are my thoughts about the game

Battling but losing against the best

After 12 weeks, we can say with certainty that there are three top-tier teams in the league, and then there are the rest. The Alouettes’ record against Toronto, B.C., and Winnipeg? 0-5. To be included in the “best teams” discussion, you must show you can win against them, not only battling until the end like Montreal did against the Lions on Saturday, and against the Argos earlier this season.

If there is something positive to take away from this game, there is enough talent in the locker room to win those games. The Als didn’t play a bad game against B.C. For some parts, they were the best team on the field, and they even had the lead in the fourth quarter. However, they couldn’t put the final touch once again when facing a top opponent.

I have two plays in mind that can perfectly illustrate the situation the Als are facing against those teams.

In the first quarter, Austin Mack had an opportunity to score the first touchdown for his team after a beautiful move against Garry Peters. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hang on and missed the catch by a couple of centimetres. Seven points instead of three would have changed the game.

The second play was in the second quarter, where Kabion Ento got close to making an interception, but instead, the ball went into the hands of Alexander Hollins, who scored his second touchdown of the night. Had Ento squeezed the interception, seven points would have been taken off the scoreboard for B.C.

No success in the red zone & questionable play-calling

To beat the best in the league, you must succeed in the red zone. The Als were unable to score a single touchdown in that position this week, settling instead for field goals. This is starting to feel like déjà vu for Cody Fajardo’s offence and he’s not the only one responsible for the lack of touchdowns.

During his postgame press conference, Jason Maas took responsibility for some questionable play-calling close to the end zone. He’s not wrong and here is why.

We can now say it: the Alouettes have an excellent receiving corps. Mack (143 yards on seven catches), Tyler Snead (69 yards on seven catches), and Cole Spieker (51 yards on five catches) were reliable when they needed to be. Why not give them a chance to make a play one-on-one in the end zone more often?

I didn’t understand the play call on second-and-goal from the 10-yard-line in the second quarter, on which Fajardo took off for what appeared to be a designed run. Trust your receivers and throw the ball. Fajardo finished the game completing 22-of-35 pass attempts for 308 yards.

The receivers moved the chains all game, except for a big run from William Stanback that made the Percival-Molson Stadium erupt.

Ineffective offensive and defensive lines

Montreal’s offensive and defensive lines have played well at times this season but they failed to deliver a good performance in this contest.

Vernon Adams Jr. had a fantastic game in his return to Montreal, however, he also had far too much time to complete his throws. The pressure rarely got to the quarterback, and when it did, the drives ended quickly for B.C. The recipe was there, but the ingredients were not well-mixed by Noel Thorpe’s defence.

The defensive backs also had their fair share of misses, as some passes could have been picked off, and there appeared to be some communication issues. Numerous tackles were also missed, which created a lot of yards after catch and a few extra first downs.

Five sacks were allowed on the offensive side of the ball, and while that’s not entirely on the offensive line, Fajardo saw too much pressure for a second consecutive game.

Two costly turnovers

Cody Fajardo, as mentioned previously, played a good game overall. However, he also threw two costly interceptions.

The first one completely deflated the energy in the stadium after Jeshrun Antwi rumbled for 43 yards on a fake punt, giving Montreal a first down at B.C.’s 22-yard-line. The Als’ quarterback didn’t influence safety Quincy Mauger enough and the latter made an outstanding catch in the end zone to force the takeaway.

The second one came in the game’s last moments, where B.C.’s nine-point lead seemed insurmountable. A field goal would have made it a one-score game but T.J. Lee intercepted an over-thrown ball from Fajardo, essentially ending the game.

The last stab

B.C. led by two points late in the fourth quarter and the Alouettes’ defence twice forced a second-and-long before taking penalties that resulted in a first down. The first one was unnecessary roughness by Tyrice Beverette, a penalty that was totally avoidable had he maintained his composure at a critical point of the game.

The second one came later in the drive when Almondo Sewell sacked Vernon Adams Jr. after breaking through B.C.’s offensive line. However, after a challenge from the Lions, the command centre determined that there was roughing the passer on the play.

I rarely criticize the officiating in the CFL, but this call seemed soft. If Kony Ealy didn’t get a roughing the passer penalty for his hit on Zach Collaros in Edmonton a few weeks ago, Sewell should have kept his sack. Yes, there was some contact with the head, but what else can he do in that position? He didn’t use excessive force, he was only looking for a sack.

The bright side

It was great to see the Als twice delve into their bag of tricks as Tyler Snead completed a pass to Austin Mack and Jeshrun Antwi escaped on a fake punt. Both plays were wonderfully executed, especially the special teams play.

Another brilliant play came when William Stanback finally broke out for a big run. He followed his blocks, which led him to a one-on-one with Mauger. The latter froze, and the running back ran to the house. That play might help Stanback the rest of the way this season as he badly needed a run like that.

Ironically, the Alouettes didn’t use him a lot from there.

What’s next?

The Alouettes (6-5) will face the Toronto Argonauts (8-1) in back-to-back games with the first contest being scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1:00 p.m. EDT.

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.