MONTREAL – The Alouettes could be pushed past their breaking point if Montreal ends up on the wrong side of another lopsided loss.
Montreal lost to the BC on July 19 and the Toronto Argonauts last week by a combined score of 72-10 – their lowest two-game point tally in almost three decades – and will have a hard time against the high-scoring Edmonton Eskimos on Friday.
“There’s always a breaking point,” said head coach Tom Higgins, whose Alouettes have lost three games in a row and have not scored a touchdown in their last two. “Right now, – and I’m not threatening anybody – we haven’t gotten to the breaking point, but it could be Friday. And I don’t want it to be Friday. I would like for it to be smooth sailing, but there are still things that have to be tweaked here and there.”
Higgins said it wasn’t time to sit quarterback Troy Smith, who’s started all five games this season for Montreal (1-4), but the Alouettes coach wants his QB to start coming out of the gate firing.
That hasn’t happened much this season. Montreal has trailed at the half four times this year, has scored a league-low six touchdowns, and Smith has the worst pass rating amongst starting quarterbacks.
Against the Lions, the 30-year-old Smith threw a measly 45 passing yards in three quarters of play before he was taken out in the fourth.
B.C. took an early lead and never looked back, pounding Montreal 41-5. Against Toronto, the Als conceded four consecutive touchdowns en route to a 31-5 loss.
But Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, who has yet to beat Montreal in two career starts, doesn’t think he’ll pick apart the Als’ defence when Edmonton (4-1) rolls into town on Friday.
“I don’t look at how many points they’ve given up; I look at their personnel,” said Reilly, who will make his 26th career start on Friday. “They’re a very good defence. They have a lot of good athletes out there. We really have to be on our A game to go in and play against these guys.
“The way their season has gone so far, you know they’re that much hungrier for a win. They’re a dangerous football team to play against. It’s going to be a hard-fought football game.”
The numbers, however, tilt heavily in Reilly’s favour. The Eskimos are unbeaten on the road so far this season (2-0), and they’re playing some of their best defence in years.
Chris Jones’s men have given up the fewest yards in the Canadian Football League, have given up the fewest first downs, and have the league’s best pass defence.
Edmonton has only allowed 84 points in five games this season – what the Alouettes have given up in their last nine quarters.
“Don’t think for a moment it’s a rollover game, that Edmonton will just come in here and take two points from us,” said Higgins. “I’d be very disappointed if the team had that kind of mindset. They don’t.”
Off the field, Montreal has been doing what it can to shake things up. On Monday, the Alouettes added former NFL and CFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to their coaching staff. A week earlier, the Als brought on their former coach and CFL Hall of Famer Don Matthews as a consultant.
But the additions behind the bench won’t intimidate Reilly and the Eskimos’ offence.
Edmonton is second in the league with nine passing TDs, and second with 35 rushing first downs. Wide receiver Adarius Bowman leads the league with 359 receiving yards.
“Everybody on our offence can play,” said Reilly. “We’re not building around a single guy, a superstar. We go and execute based on what the defence is doing. Other guys in our offence have stepped up. We go into every game expecting to win, and knowing that we should win.”
The Eskimos also make a point of holding onto the ball for long drives, ensuring their opponents’ defence stays on the field. The team keeps possession of the ball, on average, for a league-best 32 minutes per game. Montreal, on the other hand, is dead last in that category.
“They’re going to pin their ears back,” said Higgins, conjuring the image of an attack dog, ready to pounce. “Edmonton’s coming in and they’re licking their chops. They’re thinking: ‘Good, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to shut them out, and we’re going to score 50 points.’ And it’s our job to not let us be shutout, and not let them score 50 points.”
Over the last two games, Montreal has converted just 22 of 59 pass plays, and has not visited the red zone in its last 37 possessions.
“You have to show up on game day with an understanding of what you’re going to execute: be nasty, be tenacious, be a dog,” said Smith. “Understand that we’re in a slump. We don’t want to be here, so something has to change. Become a different player, so to speak, mentally, and hopefully you get a different outcome.”