Argos fans loathe the Montreal Alouettes. And the feeling is more than mutual. The two teams have always been rivals, given the proximity of the cities and the fact that Toronto and Montreal have always had some form of a rivalry. And since Les Alouettes re-entered the league in 1996, the two clubs have met in the postseason nine times, with eight of those games coming in the East Final. Unfortunately the Als have had the upper hand in the playoffs, but we got them three times – and each of those three Argos playoff wins over the Als led to the Grey Cup returning to Toronto! We’re hoping for a repeat of that pattern in 2012.
Of course, there is a measure of respect for the opponent in this rivalry (mostly because the Alouettes aren’t from Hamilton). The Als have not missed the playoffs since the franchise was reborn, playing in eight Grey Cup games and winning the big prize three times. And for all the Argo killing Anthony Calvillo has done, and there’s been way too much of that, even the most die-hard Argos fan like me will always have a grudging respect for his career. And we’ve gotten the best of the Alouettes many times, so it’s not entirely a one-sided rivalry. There’s also the familiarity between the two clubs, amplified this year by our poaching of Alouettes offensive co-ordinator Scott Milanovich to take over as our head coach.
Even with that intense hatred of our opponent, we’re (sadly) quite used to seeing the Alouettes play some excellent football. So it’s quite surprising to see our boys in blue march in to Molson Stadium on Friday to find a 2-2 Alouettes team that is really struggling to find their footing in the 2012 season, and they sure don’t look like the Als my Grandpa and uncle know and love (hey, even family members aren’t perfect). Two weeks ago they barely came away with a 33-32 win against Calgary, coming from 12 points back in the final three minutes after being shut out by Calgary in the third quarter. And last week, Montreal wasted 374 passing yards from Calvillo and allowed Hamilton to strut backwards and take a convincing 39-24 victory.
So, what’s the problem in La Belle Province? It might be easy to say it’s the offence after they lost Milanovich to the Argos; after all, Scott was a major factor in their success over the last few years. But that really doesn’t appear to be the case: so far the Alouettes have averaged 27 points a game, and Calvillo, turning 40 in August, is once again leading the CFL in passing yards and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. With Adrian McPherson contributing a 2-yard pass of his own, the Als lead the CFL with 1,318 passing yards as a team, 56 yards ahead of the Argos.
The big problems for the Alouettes are on defence, which is allowing some tremendous play from Calvillo to be wasted. Montreal has allowed a league-high 108 first downs this season. To put that in perspective, Hamilton has allowed just 93 first downs this year, and they rank a distant second in this category. Their secondary has allowed 1,277 passing yards by their opponents, which only ranks second in the CFL this year thanks to the hapless Blue Bombers. They have also forced a two-and-out only 12 times this year. Add in that the Alouettes have given up at least 30 points in each game and you can get a pretty clear sense of what ails them.
While there are still many of notable names left on the Alouettes defence, recent player turnover in the pre-season sure hasn’t helped their cause. Diamond Ferri, a key member of the Alouettes defensive lineup since 2007 who could play both linebacker and safety, was cut loose during training camp. Etienne Boulay was also let go the same day, but we’re not going to complain about that here in Argo land. It seems the Alouettes new defensive co-ordinator Jeff Reinebold is favouring bigger players, most notably on the defensive line, who can rush the quarterback as well as drop back for pass protection when needed.
Personally, I wouldn’t have messed with a winning formula. I get that Reinebold might have a different philosophy, but these Alouettes won the Grey Cup in 2009 and 2010 and have been at the top of the CFL for the last 16 seasons. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? After watching the Alouettes let offences run all over them to start this season, that’s a question that coach Marc Trestman and the rest of the Alouettes staff need to answer.
And if they were worried about their D after allowing 39 points to Hamilton on Saturday, I’ll bet the Als are sweating bullets right now as they wait for the Argonauts. The Argos are bringing in an offence that looks to finally be clicking on all cylinders after a huge comeback win against Winnipeg. Ricky Ray was finally looking comfortable in double blue, and with all the weapons in his arsenal he has every reason to be happy. Going into Montreal against their struggling defence should provide an even greater boost for our potent attack.
Argos fans should really hope for a shootout this Friday. If the last four games have been any indication, the Alouettes can get their points and still fall short in the win column. I’d expect the Als to have some trouble controlling the game defensively, opening the door for Ricky to do his thing and send the Alouettes into an even deeper spiral towards the basement. And hopefully a great win on Friday is a sign that our favourite recent pattern, the Argonauts beating up on those hated Montreal Alouettes on the road to another Grey Cup title, is going to happen yet again in 2012.