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CFL Eastern Final Film Takeaways: Montreal 38, Toronto 17: Observations, Expanded Unofficial Defensive Stats

The Eastern Final, similarly to the West was a game that was won in large part due to strong defensive play. Cody Fajardo was the only quarterback from either game to throw a touchdown pass without throwing more interceptions than touchdowns over the weekend. The most impactful aspect of the game was Montreal’s pass defense. It is also important to note the quality of play at which Toronto’s defense played particularly at the line doing a great job negating the run as well as rushing the passer.

Other Articles:
CFL Western Final Film Takeaways
BC Lions’ Tibo Debaillie Interview Ahead of West Division Finals
Reflecting on the CFL West Semi-Finals
Alouettes’ Jeshrun Antwi Interview Ahead of East Finals
East Semi-Finals Reflections
Alouettes’ Reggie Stubblefield Interview Ahead of East Semi-Finals
BC Lions’ Tibo Debaillie Ahead of CFL West Semi-Finals
Predicting the Rest of the CFL Season
CFL 2nd Period All-Star Team (Weeks 8-14)
CFL Midseason All-Star Team, Awards
First Period CFL and Divisional All-Stars
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Effective Linebacker Blitzing From Montreal On Pick 6

Montreal’s defensive coordinator, Noel Thorpe, has done a great job mixing in linebacker blitz all season and it had a positive effect again in this match for the Alouettes. Toronto had a good drive going on their first possession before Marc-Antoine Dequoy’s 101-yard pick 6. On the pick 6, Tyrice Beverette blitzed from the right side and possibly blocked Chad Kelly’s view of Dequoy who was able to jump the route on an out route.

Great Pass Defense Continues From Montreal

Montreal has had great success defending against the pass all season allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt at 7.6 yards and the 2nd fewest total yards and passing touchdowns. This has continued into the playoffs as Montreal held Chad Kelly to only 6.8 yards per attempt after leading the league in this metric with 10.5 yards per attempt through the regular season. This was brought on by highly disciplined coverage preventing receivers from getting open. Montreal did allow a 54-yard touchdown on a play in which there was a misunderstanding of who was covering Davaris Daniels leading to him getting open in the 4th quarter.

There were five different Montreal pliers knocked down at least 1 pass throughout the game for by my count 7 passes defended by their defense.

Cody Fajardo Was Fearless

Cody Fajardo completed 18 of his 25 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown with 1 interception. On paper, it was not a big passing day. Fajardo deserves a lot of credit for maintaining his composure and playing a fearless game in which he took a lot of hits yet had multiple plays in which he stepped into his throw despite a defensive player poised to deliver a big hit just after he threw.

The interception came in the 2nd quarter throwing near the sideline to a receiver well covered which was not a great read. The touchdown was thrown to Tyler Snead for an 8-yard score with a blitz coming. He did a good job checking it down to Stanback before taking a heavy hit from Brandon Barlow in the third quarter. He picked up 8 yards on the ground before taking a heavy hit. He stepped into a throw taking a deep shot for Austin Mack before taking a heavy hit on that play.

Fajardo played well considering the pressure from Toronto’s pass rush and put his team ahead of his own physical protection.

Chad Kelly and the Passing Offense

CFL fans will likely be completely shocked by this final stat line. Statistically, this was the worst game of his CFL career. Toronto had three different receivers record a defensive tackle following an interception. 

Kelly looked very sharp on his first 2 throws hitting Brissett for 16 yards and then Damonte Coxie for 29 yards. Toronto was off to a great start on the first drive which saw Toronto in just 2 run plays and 2 pass plays put themselves at Montreal’s 7-yard line.

The landscape of the game changed with Dequoy’s pick 6 which was thrown with pressure coming from Tyrice Beverette. From that point, Montreal had all the momentum defensively and held it for most of the game. Toronto would go 2 and out on their next 2 drives and then turn it over on downs the following drive due to a run stop from Reggie Stubblefield on 2nd down and Tyrice Beverette on third down.

It was not the only interception thrown when pressured, in the third quarter he was chased out of the pocket by Mustafa Johnson before throwing a desperate pass which was intercepted by Darnell Sankey. It may have had some effect on the third-quarter pick 6 in which Kabion Ento jumped the route, Lwal Uguak was reaching his hand very close to him as well although Toronto’s lineman was still holding him back.

At times the pass protection was very good such as a play in the 2nd quarter when it took quite a long time for a receiver to get open before Cameron Philips did a good job finding some space and pausing there over the middle for a 24-yard gain. Unfortunately for Kelly and the Argonauts’ faithful, despite not taking a sack and not giving up a high amount of QB hurries, when the pressure came it was often very impactful.

Chad Kelly did use his legs effectively at times rushing for 58 yards on 7 carries and did a good job recognizing when there was a good opportunity to run. 

Toronto’s Rushing Game Largely Limited by Als

A.J. Ouellette had 14 carries for 71 yards averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He had a great start tearing off a 19-yard gain to the right on his first carry. He opened Toronto’s 4th possession up with a 10-yard carry down the middle. Ouellette had a good-looking run in the 4th quarter as well picking up 12 yards on a play that did not look like there was much room to work with.

Despite the healthy yards per carry and the 3 explosive runs, Montreal’s defense did well in keeping Ouellette limited on many of his runs. On 8 of his 14 carries he was limited to 3 yards or less for a total of 13 yards over that span.

Toronto’s Run-Stopping Showed Up

The Argonauts had a fantastic day in this department and overall had a good game on the defensive side of the ball. William Stanback was limited to 15 yards on 9 carries averaging just 1.7 yards per carry. For 57 minutes of the game, Toronto did not allow a Montreal running back to rush for more than 4 yards until Jeshrun Antwi’s 12-yard touchdown rush which came late in the 4th quarter.

Adarius Pickett had 3 run stops. Jordan Williams, Jared Brinkman, and Robbie Smith all had 2 run stops. Montreal was unable to win the battle at the line on offense and Toronto was able to completely eliminate Montreal’s rushing offense for the vast majority of the match.

Argonauts’ Pass Rush Put on a Clinic

In pass protection as a unit Montreal had a terrible day against Toronto’s pass rush. Just from the linebacking group, Adarius Pickett had 5 QB hurries, Jordan Williams hurried twice, and Jonathan Jones had a QB hurry.

The defensive lineman combined for 7 sacks with Shanw Oakman leading the way with 3 sacks and 5 total pressures. Folarin Orimolade and Brandon Barlow both had 2 sacks. Brandon Barlow had 5 total pressures, Folarin Orimolade 3, and Dwayne Hendrix had a QB hurry.

Toronto’s defensive play at the line was elite in its dominance over the Alouettes and was at a level that rarely results in a loss.

Joseph Zema Had a Great Game, Special Team Notes

Montreal’s punter, Joseph Zema had an excellent day of punting often placing the ball in positions difficult to return from. He averaged 43.9 yards per punt on 7 punts. Zema was often punting from a field position in which he was dropping the ball close to Toronto’s end zone and was accurate in his placements.

Montreal also had a lot of success in their kick returns as James Letcher Jr. had 3 returns averaging 43.3 yards per return and had a 105-yard touchdown return. Montreal’s coaches have made an emphasis throughout the season on their special teams play and it continues to be apparent in their level of play on the field as the players appear to have total buy-in.

Boris Bede did a good job making his only field goal for Toronto from a distance at 45 yards.

Montreal’s Defensive Play

Defensive Line

Avery Ellis had 2 tackles and a QB hurry. He had a tackle on a screen-play for a 3-yard loss.

Mustafa Johnson had 2 tackles, a QB hurry, and a run stop. He chased Kelly out of the pocket and an interception was thrown as he pressured him.

Shawn Lemon had a QB hurry and a run stop. He had a stop on 3rd and short in the 2nd quarter forcing a turnover on downs. In the 2nd quarter, he had a strip sack. Lemon has shown high football IQ and good awareness throughout the season such as on a play in which Kelly began to scramble and Lemon recognized that and quickly repositioned himself in the middle to eliminate the option for Kelly to rush. Lemon did sustain an injury with 11 minutes left in the game.

Almondo Sewell had 1 QB hurry.

Linebackers

Reggie Stubblefield continues to make a big impact during these playoffs and had quite a few plays that stood out. He stopped Ouellete in the red zone keeping him to 1 yard on and down. In the 2nd quarter, he had a tackle preventing a first down on a short pass forcing Toronto to settle for a field goal. In the third quarter, he had an interception getting Montreal the ball at Toronto’s 26-yard line. Stubblefield had a tackle for a loss on a short pass play in the 4th quarter. His pass breakups came late in the third quarter and in the final minute of the game.

Tyrice Beverette pressured Kelly on the 101-yard pick 6 play and made 10 tackles, 3 of which were run stops. He stopped Kelly at the line on a 3rd and short in the red zone getting Montreal the ball. He also kept Ouellette just short of the sticks on a run play in the 2nd quarter.

Darnell Sankey batted a pass down at the line in the first quarter forcing Toronto to punt. He assisted with a run stop on 3rd and short. In the 2nd quarter, he recovered a fumble and had an interception on a play in which Mustafa Johnson was pressuring Kelly. Sankey stopped Kelly 2 yards into a scramble in the red zone during the 4th quarter.

Avery Williams had 2 tackles and a good special teams tackle on a kickoff.

Defensive Backs

Marc-Antoine Dequoy jumped the route and took it 101 yards for a pick 6 early in the game. He also had a strong 4th quarter making a stop against the pass, breaking up a pass on a third down forcing a turnover on downs, and broke up another pass in the end zone in the final minute.

Dionte Ruffin had 2 tackles, 1 of which was a heavy hit against a short pass in the 4th quarter.

Ciante Evans made a run stop in the 4th quarter keeping Ouellette out of the end zone but was injured on the play.

Wesley Sutton had a tackle. On Davaris Daniels’ 54-yard touchdown, he appeared to think another defensive back was going to follow with him on his go route and did not go with him resulting in him getting open.

Kabion Ento jumped a route and took it for a 22-yard touchdown. Ento scored on a similar play earlier in the season.

Toronto’s Defensive Play

Defensive Line

Toronto’s defensive line had a lot of players making an impact.

Shawn Oakman had 3 sacks and 2 QB hurries in addition to his 4 tackles.

Jared Brinkman had 3 tackles and 2 run stops.

Folarin Orimolade had 3 tackles, 2 sacks, a QB hurry, and assisted with a run stop.

Brandon Barlow had 3 tackles, 2 sacks, a QB hurry, 2 QB hits, and a run stop.

Robbie Smith had a 3-yard tackle for a loss on Stanback in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he pursued Fajardo and tackled him close to the line of scrimmage when he was scrambling. He assisted with a sack on a 1st and goal. He finished the game with 2 QB hurries, 2 run stops, and assisted with 2 run stops.

Linebackers

Wynton McManis had 5 tackles and assisted with 2 run stops. He also had a stop in the 2nd down keeping Stanback short of the sticks forcing Montreal to settle for a field goal. In the 3rd quarter, he knocked down a pass at the line in the red zone resulting in Montreal taking a field goal.

Adarius Pickett had 4 tackles, 5 QB hurries, 3 run stops, and assisted another run stop.

Jordan Williams had 4 tackles, 2 QB hurries, 2 run stops, and assisted with a run stop.

Defensive Backs

Royce Metchie led this in tackles with 5 and also had a good pass breakup in the first quarter.

Qwantez Stiggers had 3 tackles.

Jamal Peters provided good coverage on an incompletion in the 2nd quarter on a deep shot. Tarvarus McFadden had a QB hurry and an interception in the 2nd quarter. McFadden was providing good coverage on the play and was not a great read. 

Mason Pierce had 2 QB hurries. He also provided good coverage on an incompletion in the third quarter on a 2nd down roughly 25 yards downfield. He broke up a deep shot to Austin Mack in the 4th quarter.

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Jonathan Clink Reporter
Jonathan Clink joined CFL News Hub in early April of 2023. His primary responsibilities are covering the BC Lions and Montreal Alouettes. He self awarded himself the CFL Rookie Journalist of the Year in 2023 following the 2023 CFL season. He also proclaims himself to be a "really cool guy". He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and lived a large portion of his childhood in Northwest Ontario. He currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and misses being being able to have 4 months of skating every winter. Clink has written over 240 articles for CFL News Hub. He was the publication's boots on the ground at the 2023 Grey Cup in Hamilton. Clink has always had an obsession for sport and has a background in other sports as well having played hockey all his life and soccer, basketball, and lacrosse in high school. As a young child he used to log his hockey statistics after every game which is either an indication that he was destined for the role or perhaps and indication that he is rather strange.
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