Alouettes find another way to lose to CFL powerhouse (& five thoughts on falling to Toronto)

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

I could have used the same title as two weeks ago when the Alouettes dropped a game in the dying minutes against the B.C. Lions.

So close, yet so far is once again an apt representation of the Als’ 2023 season. In a game where the offence took a half to get going but couldn’t finish, Montreal handed Toronto the win and the division.

Here are my thoughts about the Als’ fourth straight loss.

Making a critical play

A team must learn to win against the best in the league, and the Als haven’t yet. They have yet to beat a single team with a record above .500, going a combined 0-7 against Toronto, Winnipeg and B.C. despite being in it until the end in most of those contests.

To win a game like Friday night’s, one of the three units  — offence, defence, or special teams — needs to make THE big play that will kill the game or at least push it to overtime. None could do that, even though they all had a shot at it.

The offence had two missed opportunities. The first one occurred with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game. Montreal was deep in their own zone but couldn’t generate a single first down, quickly giving the ball back to the visitors.

The second occasion was with 1:24 remaining. After moving the ball a bit, Fajardo was pressed and threw an interception that opened the door for Toronto to win the game with a field goal—more on that play to follow.

Defensively, with the lead 20-13 deep in the game, the Argos faced a third-and-five and they decided to go for it. I have to give them credit; it took “big guts” to take the risk in that position. Montreal needed to make them pay for that, but instead, Dionte Ruffin got a penalty for pass interference.

The rest was almost a smooth ride for Toronto. Chad Kelly and his offence took the ball from their one-yard line all the way to the Als’ red zone. At least it ended up being a good stop at the end, but the drive gave back the momentum to Toronto.

The special teams had one of their best performances of the season but also had the chance to send the game to overtime after an incredible connection between Fajardo and Philpot. However, the field goal was blocked by Dewayne Hendrix, which ended the game. The blocks weren’t made efficiently, which allowed the Toronto player to raise his hand and block the ball.

The two sides of the offence (& of Montreal)

You only needed to observe the Montreal crowd to determine how well Jason Maas’ offence was moving the ball. The first boos of the season were heard at the end of the first half, as the offence could only generate three points.

The problems started with the offensive line, which couldn’t hold off a Toronto defensive line that registered five sacks in the game. Cody Fajardo was uncomfortable in the pocket, so much so that he was starting to see ghosts and throwing too quickly.

The receivers couldn’t find suitable holes in Toronto’s zone defence, which didn’t help the quarterback either. However, when he had the chance to make some throws, he missed too often. 

The scenario was flipped in the second half as Fajardo found a way to connect with his receivers. Passing-wise, that was one of the best halves of the season. The passes were sharp, and he seemed on the same page as its receivers. The offence generated 17 points against a good defence.

The result: some Als fans started chanting the famous “Ole, Ole, Ole” chant, typical to Montreal Canadiens games.

The critical play

Let’s talk about the play that gave Jamal Peters one of the easiest interceptions of his career. I don’t understand why a long-developing pass was called when the Als moved the ball all half-long with quick hitters. That has been the secret to beating the Argos’ coverage all season. Instead, Adarius Pickett got to Fajardo and forced a sloppy throw that turned off the Montreal crowd.

Some positives

In this game, the Alouettes showed some fight and sent a message to the Argos that they could at least compete — unlike last week. The offence proved they could move the ball against Toronto’s defence, and the defensive backs did a good job limiting their opponent’s best receivers. 

Moreover, Chandler Worthy had his best overall game of the season, as he was dangerous every time he touched the ball. He will need to confirm it against teams other than the Argos, but it seems he’s got his legs back.

Darnell Sankey was brought in to solidify the linebacker position and made an excellent first impression. The trio of Tyrice Beverette, Avery Williams, and Sankey seems beastly and will be hard for teams to run through. A.J. Ouelette had some good looks but was limited, and a lot of credit goes to Williams and Sankey. On the game’s last drive for Toronto, the latter stopped the Argos’ running back short of the first down, which gave the Als a chance to tie the game after the field goal. 

What’s next and the keys to possible playoff success

The Als, now 6-7, need to take a look back as the Tiger-Cats are establishing some rhythm. They only face teams with losing records until the end of the season and need to establish momentum before a possible playoff push.

To have playoff success, they will need the ground game, which was supposed to be the foundation of the offence. It has been nonexistent since the beginning of the season and needs to find some rhythm.

I was trying to figure out why Cody Fajardo doesn’t look comfortable, and it popped up to me Friday night. He is not Trevor Harris or Bo Levi Mitchell; he won’t be comfortable throwing 40 passes every game, especially from the pocket. He needs the play actions, but for now, he can’t get them because the run game doesn’t work. The rare times he can exploit those schemes, he throws dimes on the run.

If Jason Maas and his team can figure out a way to run efficiently, it would remove a lot of pressure from Fajardo’s shoulders. With the receiving corps’ talent, it would be even better for them if they could receive less attention.

The Als will return to action on Saturday, September 23 against the Calgary Stampeders (4-9).

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.