The Montreal Alouettes enter the playoffs coming off of a 5 game-win streak to host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Eastern Semi-Final. These two teams met each other last week to close out the season which Montreal won 22-20 although Hamilton was resting some key players such as WR Time White, RB James Butler, and DT Casey Sayles.
Montreal and Hamilton met three times this season with Montreal winning all 3 of those meetings and outscoring 87 to 46 over that period.
“We’re not a complacent team. We have a mindset of working hard. No matter what weather we’re in or what game it is. Something coach Maas appreciates. So we’re never worried about being complacent. That’s not who we are. That’s not the type of dudes that we have in the organization.” Reggie Stubblefield, linebacker for the Alouettes, stated in responding to a question on how Montreal is not getting complacent after their recent success.
Over the last 2 seasons, the home team has all 4 Division Semi-Finals that have taken place over that time. The last time a visiting team won in a Division Semi-Finals was in 2019 when Winnipeg beat Calgary in the West Semi-Final in Calgary. That same year Edmonton who had the crossover defeated Montreal on the road to win the East Semi Final. There was no season played in 2020 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
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Date/Location: Saturday, November 4 /Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, Montreal, QC
Kickoff Time: 3 PM ET, 12 PM PT
Channel: TSN (Canada), CFL+ (USA, International)
Spread: Montreal -3.5 (-105), Hamilton +3.5 (-115)
Moneyline: Montreal -170, Hamilton +145
Over/Under: 48.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
Montreal Alouettes (11-7): The Montreal Alouettes have had a successful season winning 11 of their 18 games. They have gone 11-0 against all teams not named the BC Lions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, or the Toronto Argonauts however have gone 0-7 against those teams.
Montreal saw strong defensive play, especially against the pass. The Alouettes had the shortest average yards allowed per pass at 7.6. They also allowed the 2nd lowest total passing yards at 4,304 trailing only Winnipeg who allowed 4,129 passing yards. Montreal also had the 2nd fewest passing touchdowns allowed at 17.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10): The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Season was one with a lot of adversity at the quarterback position with their blockbuster free agency acquisition Bo Levi Mitchell getting injured in week 2. He returned in week 8 and was injured in the final minute of the game when Hamilton elected for a QB sneak from their recently injured quarterback from their own 2-yard line rather than handing it off to a running back prior to kneeling out the clock. Bo Levi Mitchell returned again in week 18 and was slowly worked back into the lineup splitting time with Taylor Powell and Matthew Shiltz.
Hamilton will be playing Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz at quarterback in the Eastern Semi-Final although it may seem uncertain who will get the most playing time given how Hamilton has been having quarterbacks share their last few games.
Hamilton also had another major free agent acquisition in their runningback James Butler this past offseason. Butler rushed for 1,116 yards and 7 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus Hamilton’s key area was their rushing.
Alouettes Keys to the Game
Running the Football Leads to Better Pass Protection
An early observation I noticed with the Alouettes’ pass protection was the quality of pass protection would decline significantly when Montreal would abandon the run and this was a large factor in Montreal’s sack woes early in the season. Montreal has allowed the 2nd most sacks in the league at 61 but it has improved significantly compared to the 5.2 sacks per game rate allowed through the first 5 games.
When Montreal is running the football the offensive linemen are attacking the line. When Montreal is only passing the ball the offensive line has at times been playing on their heels.
One example of Montreal providing strong pass protection came on Fajardo’s touchdown pass last week in which WR Regis Cibasu moved into the backfield to provide added blocking in addition to William Stanback giving Fajardo time to throw the touchdown pass despite Hamilton blitzing on that particular play.
Quick Progressions From Fajardo
Early this season at times Fajardo would lock on to certain receivers and have the majority of his targets go to 2 receivers. As he has become more comfortable as an Allouette and gained familiarity with his new receiving group this has improved and he has been distributing the football with quicker progressions. There has also been more of an even spread of the targets among the receivers. It is going to be key for Montreal’s passing game for Fajardo to go through his progressions quickly and find the open receiver.
Last week Fajardo only played 1 quarter
Strong Run Defense
With how exceptionally well the pass coverage has been for Montreal it would seem that if Montreal can have a strong day of run-stopping they will really put Hamilton’s offense in a jam if they can deny run support. Montreal did well stopping the run against a good running team recently when they played Ottawa in weeks 17 and 18.
Montreal has a good cast of talented linebackers to help stop the run such as Avery Williams, Darnell Sankey, Tyrice Beverette, and Reggie Stubblefield.
Continuous Strong Play Defending Against the Pass
The Alouettes’ greatest quality has probably been their defense against the pass. It has been vital for their success up to this point and in order for their success to continue it will need to remain at a high level.
Tiger-Cats Keys to The Game
An Exceptional Game From the Offensive Line
Montreal’s defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson is the 2nd highest-graded defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus in pass rushing. He has 7 sacks on the season and 64 total pressures generated. Montreal also brings two challenging defensive ends in Shawn Lemon and Lwal Uguak. The Alouettes also effectively mix in blitz packages with their linebackers and defensive backs. Pro Football Focus highlighted left guard Brandon Revenberg against Montreal’s defensive tackle as the matchup to watch in this contest.
A Massive Game From James Butler and Company
Last year in the West Semi-Finals Butler was leaned on heavily when he played for the BC Lions rushing 20 times for 95 yards. With how good Montreal has been in defending the pass, Hamilton’s offense is likely going to need strong run support. Last week Sean Thomas Erlington rushed 12 times for 80 yards and a touchdown against Montreal. This week Butler is back in the lineup after resting for week 21 and Thomas Erlington is listed as the 2nd string running back.
Tim White to Play the Game of His Life (Again)
For the 2nd season in a row, Tim White has eclipsed 1,250 receiving yards. He finished first in the CFL in that category with 1,269 yards despite sitting out the final game of the season. Hamilton played Montreal in the Eastern Semi-Final last season as well and in that game, White had 8 catches for 142 yards. Hamilton will need exceptional route running from White as well as other key receivers such as Terry Godwin II and Kiondre Smith.
Dissuade Montreal From Running the Football
There have been multiple games in which Montreal had trouble getting the run game going earlier in the season and proceeded to abandon the run. When this happened the offense has often lost continuity in the passing game and the pass protection has had an increase in its struggles with the offensive line being pushed onto their heels.
Alouettes to Watch
QB Cody Fajardo
Fajardo had the highest completion percentage among starting quarterbacks this season completing 71.6% of his 443 passes for 3,847 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed 57 times for 341 yards (6 yards on average) and 3 touchdowns.
It is Fajardo’s first playoff game since the West Final in 2021 which Saskatchewan lost 21-17 to Winnipeg. In that game, Fajardo had 265 yards and a touchdown.
RB William Stanback
Stanback has rushed 147 times for 800 yards (5.4 average) and 2 touchdowns this season.
WR Austin Mack
Mack finished 5th in the league in receiving yards with 78 catches for 1,154 yards and 4 touchdowns. 423 of his yards were after the catch.
WR Tyler Snead
Snead finished with the 9th most YAC in the league with 376 despite limited usage earlier in the season. Snead finished with 56 catches for 788 yards and 5 touchdowns.
LT Nick Callender
Callender was named to this season’s East Division All-Star Team.
DT Mustafa Johnson
CFL East Division All-Star. He had the 2nd highest PFF Pass Rush grade this season among defensive linemen and contributed 43 tackles and 7 sacks over the season.
DE Shawn Lemon
Since joining the Alouettes Lemon has 9 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 26 tackles over 13 games.
LB Reggie Stubblefield
Stubblefield was nominated for Rookie of the Year from Montreal. Over 13 games he had 37 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions. Stubblefield also played part of the season at halfback and had the third-highest PFF Pass Coverage Grade among defensive backs.
LB Tyrice Beverette
Beverette was a Divisional All-Star this season. Beverette had 89 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 passes defended, and a forced fumble.
HB Wesley Sutton
Sutton was a Divisional All-Star this season. Sutton had 52 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended, an interception, and a touchdown this season.
S Marc-Antoine Dequoy
Divisional All-Star this season. Dequoy had the second-highest PFF Pass Coverage Grade this season among defensive backs. He had 57 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 touchdowns.
Tiger-Cats to Watch
QB Bo Levi Mitchell
The future CFL Hall of Famer is listed as a 2nd string quarterback for this game but if Hamilton’s recent trend of playing multiple quarterbacks continues we will see him in this game. Mitchell has appeared in 6 games and has completed 59.1% of his 132 passes for 1,031 yards with 6 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
QB Matthew Shiltz
Shiltz has appeared in 7 games completing 67.1% of his 161 passes for 1,556 yards with 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
LG Brandon Revenberg
Revenberg was named to the Divisional All-Star team and is regarded as one of the CFL’s best offensive linemen in the CFL by Pro Football Focus.
WR Tim White
White has caught 75 passes for a league-leading 1,269 yards and also has 8 touchdowns. He has 6 games over 100 yards receiving.
WR Terry Godwin II
Godin is 2nd in receiving yards for the Tiger-Cats having caught 68 passes for 864 yards and 6 touchdowns.
WR Kondre Smith
Smith is third on the team in receiving with 56 catches for 701 yards.
RB James Butler
Butler finished the season third in rushing yards with 235 rushes for 1,116 yards (4.7 average) and 7 touchdowns. He also had 61 receptions for 527 yards and a receiving touchdown.
DE Jamal Davis II
Jamal Davis II was released by Montreal earlier in the season and stated on social media that he asked to be released. Last week he appeared energized to play his old team. He had a tackle, a QB hurry as well as a QB hit, and assisted with 3 run stops last week.
DT Casey Sayles
Sayles is the only Hamilton defensive player to be named to the Divisional All-Star team this season. His pressure rate is exceptional for his positions and he had the 5th highest PFF Pass Rush Grade this season. Sayles had 50 tackles, 7 sacks, and 3 passes defended this season.
LB Jameer Thurman
Thurman led the Tiger-Cats in tackles this season with 97. He also had 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 passes defended this season.
S Stavros Katsantonis
Katsantonis is exceptional at his position and was frequently name mentioned in the all-star voting. He finished the season with 55 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 interceptions, 5 passes defended, and a touchdown.
CB Richard Leonard
Leonard was the 5th highest-graded defensive back this season in PFF’s pass cover grade. He had 48 tackles, 4 interceptions, 9 passes defended, and 3 interceptions this season.
In late September I predicted Montreal to win this game by a score of 23-17. The circumstances have since changed. While Matthew Shiltz has had a better overall season than Bo Levi Mitchell I believe BLM has a higher ceiling. In my opinion, Hamilton would need to play Mitchell and have him play similarly to what we saw from him in years past in order to defeat Montreal’s great pass defense.
I predict Montreal to win 27-17.
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