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How Montreal Can Beat Winnipeg in the Grey Cup: Eight Keys to Victory

Heading into the season the Montreal Alouettes were by many not considered contenders to win the East Division. had the Alouettes ranked at the bottom of the power rankings heading into the season. Now the Alouettes are in the Grey Cup following their 38-17 victory over the Toronto Argonauts.

Despite the Alouettes’ 11-7 regular season record and 2 recent playoff victories in which their defense was exceptional, the Alouettes are still considered heavy underdogs for the Grey Cup. Here are 8 key areas that will be of high importance for Montreal to defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Grey Cup.

If you enjoy this article you will likely also enjoy my reflections on the Division finals:
CFL Western Final Film Takeaways
CFL Eastern Final Film Takeaways
Other Articles:
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
@JonathanClink on Twitter

Improve: Pass Blocking

This is one of the most key areas needing improvement for the Alouettes in the Grey Cup. Pass protection has at times been an area of concern for Montreal at many points through the season. The problem for Montreal has often been exasperated when they have also struggled to run the football or go away from the run game. Throughout the course of the year, Montreal’s offense has been at its best when they have been able to run the ball.

Montreal is coming off a big win against Toronto but this was a major problem in the Eastern Final. The Alouettes allowed 7 sacks which were all had by defensive linemen last week. It does not get easier now against Winnipeg. Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson at defensive end have been a big reason why Winnipeg has gone to the Grey Cup now 4 years in a row. Depending on how well Montreal’s tackles Nick Callender and Jamar McGloster are able to deter the outside pressure will be a big factor in the outcome of this game.

The Alouettes will need strong blocking from its running back and their talented fullbacks James Tuck and David Dallaire as well.

Montreal could fortify its pass protection by running some 3 man backfield formations such as the splitback or even the rarely seen in the CFL I-formation. A common concern fans have with formations like this is it eliminates a passing target but there’s nothing stopping Montreal from having having one of those backs run out for a check-down option or take off on a wheel route.

In week 21 Montreal had receiver Regis Cibasu move to the backfield presnap to provide additional protection as Hamilton blitzed, Fajardo connected with Tyson Philpot for a touchdown.

In the Western Semi-Final on Calgary’s first drive, the Stampeders used receiver Marken Michel in presnap movement to disguise that he was going to be used in run blocking. He was able to provide a key block next to the left tackle that aided in a 6-yard run from Ka’Deem Carey. There are a lot of ways in which Montreal can get creative in finding ways to provide Fajardo with protection.

Improve: Play Smashmouth Football

This is going to be key. Montreal’s offense has at times become overly predictable when it struggled in the run and moved away from the run game. Last week in the Western Final BC laid out a blueprint of what to do and what not to do to beat the Blue Bombers. The biggest thing to not do against the Blue Bombers is to stop running the football. BC did not hand the ball to their running back at all in the final 34 minutes of the game. Winnipeg was all gas and no breaks in the pass rush department when they learned they need not concern themselves in stopping the run due to their opponents not even trying to run the football. Winnipeg had 9 sacks last week against BC tying a CFL playoff record and was the most in 31 years. 2 of the sacks came in the first 26 minutes of the game. 7 of those sacks came in the final 34 minutes of the game during which BC was not running the football. It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand the importance of the run game. BC was able to run the ball effectively against Winnipeg on the rare 7 times that they tried to do so. BC’s running back, Taquan Mizzell finished with 37 yards on 5 carries (7.4 average) in the Western Final and only had 2 carries under 4 yards. Having a run game against Winnipeg is a possibility. 

Montreal is coming off a tough game on the ground in which their starting back was held to 15 yards on 9 carries. Jeshrun Antwi had a late 4th quarter touchdown run for 12 yards which was the nail in the coffin for Montreal’s victory. That was Montreal’s first and only carry by a running back for more than 4 yards in the Eastern Final. 

In the Grey Cup, it might be a good idea for Montreal to start with a screen pass or 2 outside to potentially manipulate Winnipeg’s defense to play wide. If successful it could increase Montreal’s chances of having increased success in running the ball through the interior of the line. If possible Montreal will want to scheme their runs to run through whatever side of the field Jackson Jeffcoat is not on as he stands out as a tremendous run-stopper in the eye test. Additionally, Jeffcoat was recognized by Pro Football Focus with the highest run defense grade among exterior defensive linemen. Montreal has great runningbacks such as William Stanback who was a CFL All-Star in 2021, and Jeshrun Antwi and Walter Fletcher who have also been impressive over the last couple of seasons.

Implement: Extremely Quick Progressions, Passing Plays to Get Rid of the Ball Quickly

Early in the season, Fajardo did not seem to be going through his progressions quickly at times locking onto his favorite targets for too long. Over the season this has improved as he’s settled in during his first year as an Allouette and grown more comfortable with his receivers. He has got to get rid of the football quickly to whoever is open and they better get open fast this Sunday.

Last week Montreal had Austin Mack, Tyler Snead, Tyson Philpot, Jake Harty, and Cole Spieker as their starting receivers. All 5 of them have shown themselves to be talented and reliable this season. They also have Greg Ellingson and Kaion Julien-Grant practicing fully after missing games recently due to injury. Montreal has an underrated and very talented receiving room that Fajardo can trust to do a reliable job catching the ball and maximizing the play. 

The Magic Ingredient: The Right Amount of Hero Ball From Fajardo

People forgot with all the negativity surrounding Cody Fajardo during his down year last season surrounded by injury just how good of a football game he is truly capable of playing. Fajardo was the 2019 CFL All-Star at quarterback which was a season in which he was tremendously dangerous at gashing defenses with his legs in addition to having the most passing yards. 

He showed flashes of this again in the Eastern Semi-Final against Hamilton during which he rushed 4 times for 62 yards. This was his first game he had over 60 yards rushing since 2021. Cody Fajardo is at his best when he is mobile, elusive in the pocket, and scanning the field quickly as a passer.

Montreal needs their quarterback out of Nevada to activate what I refer to as his “Big Fajita Mode”. When Big Fajita Mode is activated, Fajardo’s combined abilities to evade pressure, make big pickups on the ground, and pass effectively are often too much on the plate for opposing defenses. Fajardo did a great job eluding pressure in the 2019 Western Final when he played Winnipeg. In that game, the Blue Bombers were absolutely pouring on the pass rush yet Fajardo was often able to escape and pick up some positive yardage. That is the type of play they will need to win this Grey Cup. But it will also be important for him to find the balance and not try to do too much.

Maintain: Effective Pass Rush

Montreal needs to put pressure on Collaros and try to force him to make mistakes while also limiting his strong ability to roll out of the pocket and extend plays, which is not easy to do. Montreal had 4 interceptions last week against Chad Kelly and on 2 of those there was some pressure on Kelly. Montreal has done a great job mixing in different linebacker blitzes throughout the season such as last week on Marc-Antoine Dequoy’s 101-yard touchdown return on an interception during which Tyrice Beverrette was blitzing Chad Kelly. Montreal also has a solid defensive end tandem with Shawn Lemon who had 2 sacks in the Eastern Semi-Final against Hamilton taking down both Matthew Shiltz and Bo Levi Mitchell. Lwal Uguak has emerged as a talented rookie after being a first-round pick in the CFL Draft. Uguak racked up 4 sacks in Montreal’s final 5 regular season games and was effective last week with 2 QB hurries. Mustafa Johnson at defensive tackle has been named an All-Star this season and generates pressure at a rate rarely seen from interior defensive linemen.

Maintain: Effective Run Stopping

Montreal did a good job last week in the run-stopping department against the Toronto Argonauts. A.J. Ouellette is known to be a hard runner to stop and finished the game with 14 carries for 71 yards averaging 5.1 yards per carry. It’s not a bad average by any means but a lot of the yards were on 3 longer rushes. On 8 of the 12 rushes by Ouellette, he was held to 3 yards or less and gained only 13 yards over that span.

Linebackers Reggie Stubblefield, Tyrice Beverette, and Darnell Sankey combined for 6 run stops last week. Those run stops greatly broke the continuity of the Argo’s offense and put a lot of pressure on Chad Kelly, who similarly to Zach Collaros, rarely plays without run support.

Going up against Brady Oliveira is another tall task for the Alouettes in the run-stopping department. In the Western Final, Oliveira exploded out of the gate and the Lions’ defense was not ready for it. Oliveira rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown on his first 11 carries averaging 8.7 yards per carry. But then BC’s run-stopping woke up and really looked like a completely different team against the run. After that point, Oliveira rushed 10 more times for just 13 yards being held to 1.3 yards per carry over those rushes. This kind of run-stopping is how you deny Winnipeg their bread and butter. BC showed that it was possible to stop Brady, but not until it was too late. Montreal needs to be extremely disciplined against the run from the first snap.

Maintain: Lockdown Pass Coverage

Montreal has been fantastic in defending against the pass. Montreal has allowed the fewest yards per pass attempt over the season at 7.6 yards and the 2nd fewest total yards and touchdowns. The pass defense has only gotten better through the first 2 playoff games. Last week safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy and cornerback Kabion Ento both had a pick 6. There was only 1 lapse in coverage last week by Montreal which resulted in a 54-yard touchdown to Davaris Daniels when there was a misunderstanding of who was going to go with him. This cannot be allowed to happen in the Grey Cup.

Winnipeg has had success at times exploiting miscommunications on simple crossing routes. In week 12 when Montreal played Winnipeg there was a play in which a cornerback switched off of Kenny Lawler on his go route leading to Lawler getting open deep downfield. In that same game, there was also a play in which another cornerback did not switch off of Kenny Lawler to cover Dalton Schoen crossing Lawler’s route on a corner route resulting in Schoen scoring a 22-yard touchdown.

This happened as well in Winnipeg’s week 9 victory over the BC Lions. On Winnipeg’s first offensive play, Dalton Schoen ran an out route from the interior and Lawler ran a go route from the sideline crossing their routes. Lawler had a 34-yard gain on that play as his man switched off to cover Schoen.

Montreal has shown the ability to cover the pass well. It is going to be of the utmost importance for their secondary to know their assignment every play and to communicate effectively and quickly to ensure the crossing routes do not lead to a bust in coverage.

Maintain: Commitment to Special Teams

Watching Montreal it has been apparent that their players have a commitment to playing well on special teams throughout the season. Tyrell Richards finished 2nd in Pro Football Focus’s Special Teams Grades and Tyrice Beverette had the third highest grade. In a recent conversation with Montreal’s runningback, Jeshrun Antwi, he explained what special teams mean to the team and how Special Teams Coordinator Byron Archambault and Head Coach Jason Maas prepare them.

“Both Byron and Coach Maas, they emphasize playing special teams and what it means to play on special teams.” Jeshrun Antwi explained.

“I think it really starts with him and the schemes that he comes up with. And like, Stubblefield said, you watch the tape. I watch special teams like I’m studying the opponent’s defense so when we’re playing, whichever team we’re playing I’m watching special teams. I’m putting the same time in as I am watching the defense, and I think that’s the case for every guy that plays it.”

Montreal has had some big plays from their special teams this playoffs such as James Letcher Jr. returning a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown.

Montreal has also seen strong play from their cover team. Joseph Zema has been exceptional in the punting game averaging 46.4 yards per punt over 12 punts over the playoffs. Zema has been very accurate in placing the ball in difficult positions to return from.

Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field can be a wind tunnel at times. In 2021 it was an extremely windy game when the Grey Cup was last played in Hamilton. David Côté has made 5 of his 7 field goal attempts over his 2 games played in Hamilton this season. Both of those misses came from the 40-49 yard range in week 9. Montreal will need a high level of play from their kicker when called upon. On Winnipeg’s side, Sergio Castillo for the Bombers went 5 for 5 in the 2021 Grey Cup despite the incredible wind.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @CFLNewsHub or @JonathanClink.

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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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