Sunday, 30 June 2013

Jack Bedell: Week 1 Montreal Alouettes impressions

Watching the new-look Montreal Alouettes launch their 2013 CFL campaign, I was struck by a singular, over-riding thought: it’s business as usual for the Als.

In the decade I’ve covered the team, the Als have undergone three coaching regime changes from Don Matthews to Jim Popp, Popp to Marc Trestman, and Trestman to Dan Hawkins. Sideline demeanor and decorum have changed, coordinators have come and gone, and modes of attack and defence have fluctuated, but one aspect of the team has remained constant—the level of talent and depth on the team roster sheet.

Thursday night, we certainly witnessed flashes of the talent GM Popp has collected for the 2013 edition of the Alouettes. All three phases of the Als’ game had their moments.

Newcomer Tyron Carrier produced the Als’ first punt return TD in three seasons on teams. All three of the Als’ new free agent starters on D collected picks. And Anthony Calvillo was up to his old tricks connecting on deep strikes to S. J. Green.

Unfortunately, business as usual for the Alouettes over the past few seasons has also included some massive ebbs and flows in terms of porous kick and pass coverage, as well as in the squad’s inability to finish offensive drives with majors. Those old flaws were on display in Winnipeg, too.

When it wasn’t creating turnovers, the Als’ defensive secondary was allowing Bombers’ receivers far too much space, giving up costly plays to Jade Etienne, Terrence Edwards, and Clarence Denmark. Without consistent pressure from the Als’ front four, Buck Pierce was able to gash Montreal by extending plays and throwing to holes in the Als’ zone coverage.

On offence, the Als allowed way too much pressure to seep through the offensive line to get on top of Anthony Calvillo. Calvillo faced constant pressure both in his face and from the edge, making it extremely difficult for the Als’ offence to sustain drives. Some of the Alouettes’ passing-game struggles were no doubt exacerbated by good coverage by the Bombers’ secondary, some from the newness of the Als’ playbook.

And once again, special teams had real trouble keeping the field tilted Montreal’s way. New coordinator Ray Rychleski set his intent to keep return units inside their own 30-yard line this past off-season. Unfortunately, that goal was met too few times Thursday night. Even discounting the great individual effort that netted Demond Washington an 80-yard punt return major, it wasn’t a great night covering kicks for the Als.

All that said, Thursday night was not a glass-half-empty night for the Montreal Alouettes. The team went into Winnipeg on an emotionally-charged night, with the Bombers opening their new stadium in front of a rabid capacity crowd, and won a division game on the road. Those victories are hard to come by, for sure. And whenever you can collect a road win like that while committing more than your share of errors, you’ve got to be pleased.

Certainly, the Alouettes have plenty to work on as they head into their home opener this Thursday night against the same Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That work comes much easier on the heels of a victory, however.

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