Defence dominates and Fajardo manages: six thoughts on the Alouettes’ win over Calgary

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Entering Week 16, the Montreal Alouettes hoped their game against Calgary could be a turning point in this 2023 season. We will know in the following weeks if it was, but the Als made a step in the right direction with a vintage 28-11 victory. 

Here are my thoughts on snapping the four-game losing skid.

Noel Thorpe’s defence at its best

“Bend but don’t break” has been Noel Thorpe’s style of defence since he arrived in the league. On Saturday afternoon, his unit accomplished that mission almost perfectly.

Overall, the defence intercepted the ball twice, caused a fumble, and took Jake Maier to the ground four times for sacks. Shawn Lemon added two to his CFL total, bringing him to one away from the 100-sack milestone.

Timing is everything, as they say, and that’s how the game slipped from Calgary’s grip. The two interceptions are a perfect example.

Both happened in the Als’ red zone. The first one came on the game’s first drive after Reggie Stubblefield, who seemed to be offside, forced a quick pass from Maier. The quarterback never saw Shawn Lemon, who jumped up to make the catch.

The second one was the turning point of the game. After a Fajardo interception, the Stampeders were driving deep in Montreal territory and Dave Dickenson decided to go for it on a third-and-three at the Als’ four-yard line. Marc-Antoine Dequoy, whom Maier seemed to have never seen, jumped Tre Odoms-Dukes’ route. From there, the Alouettes took over at their 30-yard line and ended their following drive with a touchdown.

The three defensive stars

I’ve already mentioned them briefly, but Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Shawn Lemon had massive games for the Alouettes.

In addition to his two sacks, Lemon disturbed Maier all afternoon. He forced him to get rid of the ball quickly and it paid off at the end of the game when the Als were trying to secure the win. The former Stampeder needed that kind of performance after going quiet in the last four games. 

Dequoy had himself a game with an interception, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup late. His speed and quickness helped him make those plays, and he has been rock solid for the Als’ defence all year. He hasn’t missed a game yet.

The third star goes to Lwal Uguak, who easily played the best game of his young career. The seventh overall pick in the 2023 CFL Draft made a couple of big plays last week against Toronto but on Saturday, he made his case for a spot in the starting lineup for the rest of the season. The TCU product finished the game with a knockdown, three tackles and a sack, in addition to being a consistent presence in the backfield.

Finally winning the line of scrimmage

It has been an issue throughout the four losses; both the offensive and defensive line couldn’t dominate. That wasn’t the case Saturday, as the Als won the physical battle up front.

After letting Ka’Deem Carey run through the defence in the first half, Thorpe’s squad made the necessary adjustments to reverse the script. In addition to that, the defensive line got to Maier constantly.

Offensively, the linemen, who were criticized after last week’s game, answered the bell by creating holes for William Stanback. They got him past the line of scrimmage untouched and the running back used the lanes to contribute to the win.

Moreover, they didn’t allow a sack, which helped Fajardo slowly get his rhythm.

Offensive game-changers

Speaking of Stanback, he created some good memories at McMahon Stadium after being carted off that very turf last year in the season-opener. In addition to a touchdown at the end of the game, he ran the ball for 81 yards and added four catches for 19 yards.

The statistics speak for themselves; Stanback had a great game and we saw the 2019 version of him at times. The Alouettes hope he can continue that trend because the run game helped Cody Fajardo manage the game.

Tyson Philpot initially had a rough comeback in the lineup and wasn’t involved in many plays for the first few games after getting healthy. However, against Calgary, he confirmed he’s back to 100 percent. The former Calgary Dino made big and essential catches for the Alouettes, including a 51-yarder that put the team in scoring position. He’s feeling it right now, and we can see the explosiveness he showed last year.

Kaion Julien-Grant, like Philpot, has had an initially rough comeback. He only caught one ball on a play that was brought back for a holding penalty. The Alouettes receiving corps will be scary when he gets his form back.

Cody Fajardo manages

It wasn’t Cody Fajardo’s best game of the year, and given the support he received from the ground game, he could have built a dominant performance.

He didn’t, as he missed a lot of throws to open receivers. That stopped some Alouettes drives that could have ended up in more points. He also threw an interception that was nearly costly for the team

However, in the critical moments, Fajardo delivered. After the Dequoy interception, he kept the ensuing drive alive with his legs. After a couple of plays, he connected with Philpot, and the sequence ended with seven points.

Fajardo was also good after the fumble forced by Dequoy. The Stampeders did everything they could to stop the run, but the quarterback took it upon himself to extend the series. He delivered an important drive to seal the game. Putting the final nail in the coffin has been an issue for this team over the last few years; not so in this contest.

Als fans hope this kind of performance will be a new habit for the team, as every game over the season’s final stretch will be important for playoff seeding.

What’s next?

The Alouettes (7-7) will be on the road once again, as they will visit the Ottawa Redblacks (4-10) on Saturday, September 30.

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.