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Montreal Alouettes Mid-Season Reflections: Strong Defensive Play Despite Injures and Week 11 Takeaways

What we learned about the Montreal Alouettes over their first 9 games as well as reflecting on their recent 25-24 victory over Ottawa. The Montreal Alouettes are 6-3 halfway through the season. They are on a 4 game win streak since their bye week and have weathered 2 games without their starting quarterback, Cody Fajardo.

Other Articles:

Mike Mitchell’s Week 12 Power Rankings

Canadians in the NFL Tracker Preseason Week 1

Week 11 QB Weekly, Week 11 RB Weekly Week 11 WR Weekly

Week 10 Stars of the Week (1st and 2nd Team)

CFL First Period All-Star Team (Weeks 1-7)

@JonathanClink on Twitter

Previous Alouettes Takeaways:

Week 10, Week 9, Week 8, Week 6, Week 5, Week 4, Week 3

Week 11 Takeaways

Another Great Game Defending the Pass

Dustin Crum completed 14 of his 19 passes for Ottawa (74%) for 130 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Montreal’s defensive backs did not give him much to throw at downfield in what was another impressive performance against the pass allowing only 6.8 yards per pass attempt. The linebackers also did an excellent job closing in on receivers catching short passes.

The defensive backs played another great game as a unit not letting receivers get open downfield. Crum had 292 passing yards in the previous week against Toronto.

Caleb Evans Played an Amazing Game (Outside of 5 Plays)

This was CFL start number 15 for Caleb Evans who is in his third year in the CFL. Overall I thought Evans had a fantastic game but sometimes he made some decisions he shouldn’t be making. Such as early in the game there were a couple of plays in which he rolled out of the pocket to try to find a receiver and when unable to do so he took a sack. In this situation, a sack can easily be avoided by chucking the ball out of bounds. The first interception was a bad read and there was another throw into tight double coverage late in the game that was nearly intercepted.

Evans made a lot of good plays such as his first which was over the middle to Austin Mack with good timing. He also used his legs effectively such as a play in the first quarter in which he spun off a tackle when pressured and rolled to his right to find James Tuck for a 9-yard first down. On another play, he found Hergy Mayala when rolling left for a 51-yard play. Evans scored a rushing touchdown as well with 14 seconds left to lead Montreal to victory.

He completed 24 of his 36 passes (67%) for 333 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also rushed 7 times for 49 yards.

Ottawa’s Defense Did a Good Job Stopping the Run

Ottawa’s defense held William Stanback to 31 yards on 10 carries. Compared to Caleb Evans’ 36 passing plays and 8 run plays which were often scrambles on passing plays Montreal had a very low percentage of run plays. Ottawa is a good run-stopping team but not supplying more run support to a quarterback without a lot of experience does not his job easier.

Biggest Defensive Performances

Reggie Stubblefield HB

Stubblefield had a great game in which he showed good tackling in addition to coverage with a couple of plays in which he made good quick tackles on short passes. He had good coverage on Ottawa’s 2nd to last play on a deep throw and then an interception on their final play.

Tyrice Beverette – LB

Beverette pressured the quarterback 3 times, had a sack, had some tackles against short passes, broke up a pass that would have resulted in a first down for Ottawa, and helped with a good run stop later in the game. He did miss a tackle on Pigrome in the backfield in short yardage before Pigrome ran for a touchdown but other than that 1 play it was a fantastic game for Beverette.

Tyrell Richards – LB

Richards had a big second half. He forced a fumble early in the third quarter and had 2 run stops in the 4th quarter.

Shawn Lemon – DE

Lemon had a knockdown in the first quarter, a great run tackle in the third, a sack in the 4th quarter, and pressured the quarterback on Ottawa’s second-last offensive play.

Mustafa Johnson -DT

Johnson had a sack in the first quarter, a good run stop in the 2nd quarter, and put pressure on the quarterback twice in the third quarter hitting him once.

Mid Season Reflections

Montreal has allowed 179 points in 9 games averaging 19.8 allowed per game which is the 2nd lowest in the CFL. 

High-Quality Defensive Play Despite Injuries to Linebackers and Defensive Backs

Montreal has had great defensive play this season despite suffering key injuries. Multiple key defensive players have been injured. Both of the starting cornerbacks in week 1 Nafees Lyon and Dionte Ruffin are currently on the 6-game injured list. Ciante Evans who was a starting halfback, and Avery Williams a starter at middle linebacker are also both on the 6-game injured list. Najee Murray started 5 games at cover linebacker and 1 game at halfback before suffering a season-ending injury.

All 5 of these players were playing very good football prior to their injuries and were huge losses. The coaching staff has done a good job weathering these injuries and putting together good defensive packages that have continued to see a lot of success on the defensive side of the ball. 

Players like Frederic Chagnon and Tyrell Richards have made great contributions as middle linebackers filling in for Avery Williams. J.R. Reed has stepped up and played pretty well at the cover linebacker where Najee Murray was very dominant prior to his injury.

Kordell Rodgers and Kabion Ento have been a really good cornerback duo recently despite both starting the season on the practice roster. Reggie Stubblefield has been great since being brought back to start at halfback.

Marc-Antoine Dequoy has started every game at safety has been excellent this season covering a lot of ground and the Montreal Carabins product has likely been the best safety in the CFL so far this season. Wesley Sutton has started at halfback every game and has both been very good for Montreal. 

Tyrice Beverette has been available every game and has started 8 of the 9 games at weak-side linebacker. Beverette currently leads the team in tackles with 44 and also has 2 sacks and 3 knockdowns.

Defensive Line Leaders

Since adding Shawn Lemon the pass rush has been a lot stronger for Montreal. Lemon has 4 sacks in 4 games as well as 10 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and 2 knockdowns. On the other side, Jamal Davis has started every game at defensive end and has 17 tackles and 3 sacks. Davis generated 5 pressures on the quarterback in week 10 and hit the QB twice.

Mustafa Johnson at defensive tackles has 4 sacks and 16 tackles in 7 games and a knockdown and has started every game. Johnson has been very good at pressuring the quarterback especially lately. Almondo Sewell has been the other starting defensive tackle and has 7 tackles and a sack.

Cody Fajardo’s Play

I think that Cody Fajardo’s play so far this season has been very good. The only game in which I thought he did not play particularly well in the week 8 win against Calgary in which he was often inaccurate.

The downside of Fajardo’s passing game this season has been that he has often been overtargetting the same 2 receivers which makes defending against the pass more predictable. Montreal has a wide range of talented receivers who are capable of making good plays but at times Fajarod would lock on to his target and not go through his progressions. In his first 3 games, he was only really targeting Kaion Julien-Grant and Austin Mack such as the loss to Winnipeg in which only 5 of the 22 passes to receivers were to receivers who were not Mack or Julien-Grant. Both are very good receivers but at times it’s made the offense more predictable and a couple of times it seemed to make the offense less efficient in the red zone such as the game against Toronto.

Fajardo has done a much better job spreading the ball around more evenly in 3 of his last 4 games played in week 9. In his last game, he was 19 of 25 for 318 (76%) yards and a touchdown. He did have 2 first-quarter interceptions but in my opinion, it was his best game of the season. Fajardo will return against the Bombers on Thursday after missing the last 2 games with a left shoulder injury.

Fajardo is 5th in the league in passing yards and has completed 136 of his 202 passes (67.3%) for 1,877 yards with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He has been an efficient passer so far this season and has been a fantastic free agent signing for Montreal after losing Trevor Harris in free agency. I do believe the best of Cody Fajardo’s season is yet to come as he has begun to look more comfortable playing for the Alouettes and getting accustomed to throwing to his new receiving group.

A Positive Offseason at the Quarterback Position

Trevor Harris is 37 years old whereas Fajardo is 31 years old. After Montreal lost Trevor Harris and Eugene Lewis in free agency a lot of pundits were very low on Montreal despite them finishing 2nd in the East the previous year. Moving from Trevor Harris to Cody Fajardo was seen as a massive downgrade by many as Fajardo was coming off a down year in which he was playing almost the entire season through injury. People quickly forget that Fajardo was quite formidable the previous season and was also the CFL all-star at the quarterback position in 2019.

The Run Game, To Commit, or Not to Commit (The Correlation With Sacks Allowed)

One theme this season especially early on was a lack of commitment to the run game. This often correlated to a lot of sacks being given up. In the week 6 loss to Toronto Montreal gave William Stanback 10 carries in the first quarter and then only 12 total for the entire game. They allowed 4 sacks that game with the first one coming late in the 2nd quarter after abandoning the run.

In week 7’s win against Calgary, they ran the ball more evenly giving Stanback the ball 15 times throughout the game and allowing only 1 sack in the following week they committed to the run again and allowed 2 sacks. 

Montreal allowed 26 sacks in the first 5 games during which they were often abandoning the run and or not committing to it. This problem seems to dissipate when Montreal commits to the run.

A Talented Deep Receiving Room

Another aspect of the Alouettes that was underrated prior to the season was the receiving room. Montreal brought in a ton of talented rookie receivers to assess in camp this past offseason and had the 1st or 2nd most rookie receivers in their camp. After losing Eugene Lewis they made a strong effort to restock the armory in this group.

Austin Mack

Austin Mack leads the CFL in receiving yards with 773 in 9 games and also has 3 touchdowns. He has been a YAC machine maximizing his touches and also contributing by throwing blocks downfield. The Ohio State product has had a phenomenal rookie season. Mack spent 3 years in the NFL system after college primarily in practice squads developing his game further and has 91 NFL receiving yards with a 50-yard play among his 7 NFL receptions. With how well he has played so far this season it seems likely that he will be suiting up in an NFL jersey next year.

Kaion Julien-Grant

Grant has emerged as a star in his 4th season in the CFL. He is currently on the 6-game injured list due to a hand injury. In his 6 games played, he has 30 catches for 469 yards has done an excellent job getting downfield, and has been running hard when he has the ball often being difficult to tackle. After week 6 he was third in receiving yards in the CFL.

Tyler Snead

Snead is another CFL rookie who has emerged more recently as a big-time player. In the week 6 loss to Toronto he scored 3 touchdowns. More recently he was voted by the fans as Montreal’s player of the game in week 11’s win over Ottawa as he had 7 catches on 7 targets for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has tremendous speed and often picks up a lot of YAC such as last week in which 48 of his 98 yards were YAC.

Tyson Philpot

Tyson Philpot is going to start to be a problem for teams. He missed a lot of the first part of the season due to injury but has been in the lineup the last 4 games and showed tremendous progress in his rookie season last year.

Quartney Davis

Quartney Davis is another CFL rookie who has made some good catches in his games played going up over defenders winning 50/50 balls similar to what he did at Texas A&M.

Hergy Mayala

Hergy Mayala had a big play recently with a 51-yard catch last week after a quieter start to the season. He had 409 yards last season and 33 catches but so far has only had 7 catches as he has not been targetted as much yet this season.

Greg Ellingson

Montreal signed Greg Ellingson in free agency who had a great season with Winnipeg last season despite sustaining injuries. Ellingson is yet to play this season and is still on the 6-game-injured list.

Keshunn Abram had a good preseason but was injured in the 2nd game. Cole Spieker is another talented receiver often on the practice roster this season who showed a lot of talent last season.

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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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