Ben’s Breakdown: how the Montreal Alouettes picked off Chad Kelly four times

Photo: Reuben Polansky/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Chad Kelly threw 12 interceptions over the course of the regular season, and then suddenly threw four in the Eastern Final, two of which were returned for touchdowns. What did the Montreal Alouettes’ defence do to force so many picks?

It’s probably not what you’re thinking. They didn’t run anything new or exotic in the secondary or blitz very often. They ran base coverages extremely well, did a great job limiting first-down yardage, and took away everything deep on second down by dropping eight or nine into coverage. Their early pick-six seemed to make Chad Kelly press, and the Alouettes took full advantage of his aggressiveness.

Interception No. 1

Four minutes into the first quarter on first-and-goal from Montreal’s seven-yard-line, Kelly threw a pass into the flats for Tommy Nield, but it was picked off by Marc-Antoine Dequoy and returned for a touchdown.

This was a run-pass option (RPO) and, based strictly on the coverage, Kelly made the right read in pulling the ball. Kelly read cover zero, which would mean man coverage across the board, with safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy on Tommy Nield. The late motion from Nield across the formation all but guaranteed he’d have a step on Dequoy for an easy catch.

So, what went wrong?

Kelly didn’t account for where the blitz was coming from. The Montreal defence sent one more rusher than the Argos had blockers and, out of this alignment, Kelly should have known weak-side linebacker Tyrice Beverette would be unblocked off the edge to his right.

Beverette rerouted Nield, causing him to lose the step he had on Dequoy, and he also forced Kelly to change his arm angle. Beverette’s blitz meant Kelly had no shot at completing this pass. On film, it’s clear Kelly should have handed the ball to A.J. Ouellette, but this was a tough read with so many moving parts. More realistically, Kelly should have thrown the ball away when Nield was forced to change his path.

Interception No. 2

On second-and-long with just over three minutes into the second half, Kelly threw a pass to Dejon Brissett over the middle and was picked off by Reggie Stubblefield.

There were four receivers to Kelly’s right. From inside out, Cam Phillips had a bender route, David Ungerer III had a five-yard hook, DaVaris Daniels had a seam, and Brissett had a deep dig.

Defensively, this was a three-deep coverage, but with Montreal sending a four-man rush, there were five underneath defenders. Reggie Stubblefield had middle-field hook responsibility and against this coverage, Ungerer’s hook route was designed to keep him from dropping. Meanwhile, the vertical routes ran off the deep coverage, allowing Brissett to cross into open space. Everything happened as it should except that Kelly stared down Brissett and Stubblefield read his eyes, dropped back, and made the interception.

Interception No. 3

On second-and-long with just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, Chad Kelly scrambled to his left and threw a pass across his body to Cam Phillips, but it was intercepted by Darnell Sankey.

The routes and coverage here are largely irrelevant because this was a broken play. Montreal appeared to be sending a three-man rush but just before the snap, Stubblefield came flying down into the box, which disrupted Toronto’s protection.

Instead of double-teaming Mustafa Johnson with centre Darius Ciraco, left guard Ryan Hunter was forced to help Isiah Cage with Shawn Lemon and an apparent rush from Stubblefield, though he ended up following A.J. Ouellette out of the backfield.

Expecting help to his left, Ciraco immediately lost Johnson when he attacked that gap, which forced Kelly to scramble left. On the run, with Johnson breathing down his neck, the 29-year-old passer should have tucked the ball and turned up-field.

The throw floated because Johnson crashed into Kelly as he released the football, and Sankey stepped in front of Phillips to pick it off. Trailing 17-3, Kelly was desperate to make a play, which caused him to force a ball he never should have thrown.

Interception No. 4

With under six minutes remaining in the third quarter on second-and-13, Chad Kelly threw a pass to Cam Phillips but it was intercepted by Kabion Ento, who returned it for another Alouettes touchdown.

DaVaris Daniels and Damonte Coxie were to Kelly’s left running a Mills concept with Daniels on the dig from the slot and Coxie running a post. On Kelly’s right from inside out, Cam Phillips had a speed out, Dejon Brissett had a seam, and David Ungerer III had a dig.

With nine in coverage, Kelly first tried to move the safety to the right to open up Coxie but moved up in the pocket to throw it to Daniels. However, by that time, Ungerer’s dig route from the other side had converged with Daniels and brought additional coverage, so Kelly had to pull it back. Feeling pressure, he flicked it off his back foot out to Phillips, who had turned up to the sticks. Phillips was open, but it was too long of a throw for Kelly not to have put some mustard on it and Ento cut in front and took it to the house.

It was probably alarming for Argos fans to see the face of their franchise taken apart by the Alouettes, but truthfully, I don’t think there’s cause for long-term concern. Montreal’s defence is excellent, and while Kelly played a terrible game, it would be far more alarming if he were getting fooled by coverages, unable to make accurate passes, or found the lights too bright. He simply tried to do it all himself when he didn’t need to, a mistake I doubt he’ll make again.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.