Hamilton currently sits atop the East at 4-3. Next Saturday, the Tiger-Cats will play Montreal at home, while Toronto will be headed towards a much-needed bye in week 9.
EAST DIVISION STANDINGS
WEEK 8 PREVIEW: MONTREAL ALOUETTES @ TORONTO ARGONAUTS
BetRegal, the CFL’s sponsored sportsbook, has the Argonauts as 2.5 point favorites over the Alouettes. The over/under for the game is 48.5. The game will air tonight at 7:30 pm ET on TSN and ESPN+.
Montreal has won four of their last five meetings head to head with Toronto. The last time the two teams squared off was in October of 2019. The game saw Vernon Adams and the Als hang on to beat McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Argos in the final seconds 27-24. Montreal hopes to repeat the same result this evening. But a lot has changed in the two years since that game took place.
Two years ago, the Alouettes were a 10-win playoff team that emerged as a darkhorse after winning only five games the season prior. The Argonauts are hoping to do the same thing that Montreal did in 2019. But the Als could be the team standing in the Boatmen’s path towards the playoffs.
It’s a pivotal game as the season reaches the midway point. The winner of this game will keep their hopes alive for an Eastern crown. In contrast, the loser will be questioning whether or not they are in danger of falling out of the mix.
Montreal Alouettes @ Toronto Argonauts Depth Charts/Injury Reports
Montreal is relatively healthy for this game. This week, the most significant addition to their team is the return of head coach Khari Jones after he missed Week 7 due to COVID. It should provide the team a boost on offense and spiritually.
However, the one player who the Als would have loved to have in this contest is KR/WR Mario Alford. The dynamic playmaker will be missing this game due to injury. Former NFL and XFL WR Rashad Ross will be stepping in to fill Alford’s big shoes in the return game and as a deep threat at WR.
The Boatmen are a battered bunch heading into tonight’s home game. The big news coming out on Thursday was that starting QB Nick Arbuckle would be missing this game due to a hamstring injury. McLeod Bethel-Thompson will be back starting his third game for Toronto this season on the pivot.
Shane Richards, who started the last two games in place of the injured Philip Blake in the interior, is also out. Dylan Giffen will step in at left guard.
The Argos are experiencing quite a shakeup on their defense as well heading into this game. Chris Jones is officially on board with the Boatmen and will be coordinating the team’s defense.
Defensive Linemen Drake Nevis and Cordarro Law, who practiced all week, are being held back until after the team’s bye week. The defensive front for Toronto remains largely the same, except for backup Eli Mencer missing the action.
However, the two areas that will see the most changes are the linebacker spot and the secondary because of injuries. Three linebackers are moving onto the active roster to help fill depth at linebacker in Noah Robinson, Reshard Cliett, and Alex Chevrier. Henoc Muamba, who would’ve loved to play against his former team, is out with a hamstring injury. Cameron Judge is also inactive due to a foot sprain. Dexter McCoil and Vontae Diggs will step up and start in their places.
Because of injuries, Toronto is reshuffling the deck in their defensive backfield. HB Jeff Richards is out this week. Treston Decoud moves over to halfback to take Richards’s place. Arjen Colqhoun will step in at cornerback. The team is also dressing global practice roster DB Tigie Sankoh to provide depth.
With the number of injuries the Boatmen have. The bye week can’t come soon enough.
The Argos Offense Versus The Alouettes Defense
Toronto’s offense through six games greatly reflects the team’s overall record of 3-3. The Argos are 7th in the CFL in scoring at 17.3 points per game. They are 4th in the league at passing at 282 yards per game. And 5th in the league in rush yards per game at 92.5. The team has shown flashes of being elite, but a lack of consistency has bogged them down.
Montreal’s defensive strength this year has been their pass rush. The Als are second in the league with 15 sacks. Only Saskatchewan has more sacks than they do (20), and the Riders have played one more game than Montreal has.
Despite the sack totals, The Alouettes’ pass defense is in the middle of the pack in the CFL. They are 5th in the league, allowing 268 yards passing per game.
Montreal’s run defense is near the bottom of the pack in every category. It’s been their Achilles heel all season long. Losing Henoc Muamba from their lineup is one of the reasons for it. The Als give up the second-highest yards per run in the league at 5.2. And they are 7th in rush defense, allowing 102 yards per game on the ground.
The key for Toronto’s offense in this game is keeping the pocket clean for McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Veteran standout Almondo Sewell can wreck games by himself rushing up the middle, and the Argos have some inexperience on their interior with Dylan Giffen and rookie Peter Nicastro.
Bethel-Thompson has had success in the past against Montreal, throwing for over 340 yards and two majors the last time he faced them. But for McLeod to succeed. He will need time to throw. MBT doesn’t have the same mobility to run the Argos’ RPO zone read as effectively as Nick Arbuckle can, but he does have the arm strength to challenge Montreal’s secondary.
The Argos need to capitalize on scoring opportunities when they get into the red zone. Sustaining drives and scoring points, two key ingredients that have alluded the Argonauts through six games.
The Argos Defense Versus The Alouettes Offense
The #1 rushing team in the CFL belongs to Montreal. The Alouettes are averaging 149 yards rushing per game. They also lead the league in yards per run. (6.0). It’s not surprising because they have two of the most dynamic runners in the league in William Stanback and quarterback Vernon Adams.
A week ago, before playing Saskatchewan. The Argos rush defense was tops in the CFL. But they delivered their worst performance of the season in SSK, allowing 182 yards to William Powell and the Riders rushing attack. Injuries to Judge and Muamba played a part in that. But it was an alarming performance by the Argos highlighted by poor discipline and shoddy tackling. Chris Jones needs to steady the Boatmen’s ship in that regard.
Montreal will try to run all over Toronto if they can stay patient, the same way SSK did a week ago. The Argos injuries have opened the door to that possibility occurring tonight.
The problem with Montreal’s offense is that they have struggled to sustain drives and produce majors in the red zone. The team has only two rushing touchdowns on the year. And is ranked 6th in the league in passing, despite having a solid receiving corps.
The Als are too big-play reliant. Opposing defenses try to limit Montreal’s explosive play capabilities by testing their patience to move the ball down the length of the field.
Toronto is 3rd in the league against the pass, allowing 246 yards per game. But they are tied with Ottawa for allowing the most touchdown passes through six games (10). The Boatmen can’t afford to have any mental lapses in the back end of their secondary, or “Big Play VA” will make them pay.
Vernon Adams can also make the Argos pay on the ground. Toronto’s defense has had issues in recent weeks against scrambling quarterbacks. A week ago, Cody Fajardo rushed for 58 yards against them. In Week 6, Dane Evans rushed for three big first downs late in the game. No disrespect intended towards Fajardo or Evans, but they are not in the same class as Adams when it comes to escaping the pocket and making plays with their legs.
For the Argos to win this game, they need to keep VA from escaping the pocket and extending plays. The Argos pass rush has to get home and get Adams down on the ground.
The Argos-Alouettes Special Teams Matchup
Toronto catches a break with one of the league’s very best returners, Mario Alford missing this game. Montreal with Alford led the league in punt return average (13.4). Montreal’s special teams unit are well-coached by coordinator Mickey Donovan.
The one area where Toronto is severely outmatched in the East is on their special teams. The Boatmen have several holes in their boat in their coverage units. And teams like Hamilton, Montreal, and Ottawa have excellent return games. The Argos special teams need to play as well as they did last week to win this game.
Toronto might be turning the corner with Chandler Worthy back on the roster. The 4.2 speedster provided a spark last week and could be a factor tonight.
Boris Bede has had a great season, on kickoffs, punting the ball, and hitting long-field goals. Bede will probably love the opportunity to make a big kick against his former team this week.
Montreal kicker David Cote has been very active this season. Probably more active than the Als would like, attempting 17 field goals. He’s connected on 13 of them.
All signs were pointing to an Argos victory early in the week. On paper, this looked like a bounce-back game for Toronto. Playing at home, coming off of a tough loss on the road, combined with the arrival of Chris Jones on their defensive staff.
But Toronto is not at their best right now. The team is limping into the halfway point of their season. The arrival of Jones helps, but he’s not running his defense yet. It will take him time to get acclimated, and he doesn’t have all his horses right now.
The Argos offense and defense have taken a step backward in recent weeks. Losing Nick Arbuckle doesn’t help, and facing Vernon Adams could be problematic for a new defense still trying to find its way without some key players.
Winning this game would make life so much easier for Toronto, heading into their final seven regular-season games. It would be a huge boost to get to 4-3 and 2-1 within the division before becoming whole after the break in the season. But Adams and the Als will spoil the Boatmen’s homecoming and find a way to squeak past the Argos tonight.