The Montreal Alouettes made Friday's 22-14 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders close at the end thanks to a brilliantly-executed play on special teams, but in the end, they were doomed by the same fatal flaw that's shown up in every game they've played this season: their offensive line's inability to make an impact up front. That was most noticeable in pass blocking. The Alouettes entered Friday's game with 11 sacks conceded in two contests, by far the worst in the CFL (Winnipeg was second with eight), and while they improved slightly in that respect against Calgary, the Stampeders still brought down 40-year-old quarterback Anthony Calvillo twice for big losses (including one on the final play of the game, icing the victory). More importantly, Calvillo was under pressure most of the night and wasn't able to display his customary efficiency.
Calvillo's stats on the night weren't terrible, but they weren't great either. He completed 22 of 36 passes (61.1 per cent) for 205 yards and a touchdown with an interception, which isn't going to blow anyone away, but certainly isn't atrocious. However, he and the rest of the Montreal offence were unable to find a consistent rhythm. Their one touchdown came from a great early bomb that Calvillo perfectly placed over the shoulder of Brandon London in the end zone, but beyond that, the Alouettes weren't often able to move the chains. A lot of that was thanks to the Calgary defenders' frequent ability to get in Calvillo's face.
That's not all on the line, of course, as the more vertically-oriented offence of new head coach Dan Hawkins and new offensive coordinator Mike Miller (which Calvillo said earlier this year he has embraced) by necessity involves deeper routes that take more time to develop. Still, in general, the line wasn't providing Calvillo anywhere near the protection he needs to be able to throw those deep routes. It's not really a personnel issue, as most of the Montreal linemen have been solid performers for years (although the mid-game loss of veteran guard Scott Flory did hurt further), but for whatever reason, this line isn't anywhere near the force they've typically been in pass blocking—and that's hurt the Montreal offence substantially.
It's not like the ground game is clicking along smoothly either. The Alouettes fell behind early and trailed for most of the game, so they weren't able to run as much as they would have liked, but they weren't terribly effective when they did run. Tailback Brandon Whitaker, who certainly has plenty of talent (he led the CFL in rushing yards in 2011 and shone last year before being injured midseason), collected just 42 rushing yards on eight carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That's not terrible, but it's not up there with the way the Montreal line has been able to impose their will in the ground game in the past. They'll have to figure that out if they're going to get this offence in gear.
For all that, the Alouettes still made this close. That was mostly thanks to a superb late play from Ed Gainey, who broke through the Calgary line to block Rob Maver's punt, scooped up the loose ball and took it 38 yards for a touchdown that put Montreal within five. The defence then largely did their part, as they did all night, holding the Stampeders to just a field goal (one of five Calgary kicker Rene Paredes nailed on the night without a miss) on two separate late drives and keeping the game within a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but the Alouettes couldn't get anything going offensively. The game ended with a sack of Calvillo, and that was thoroughly appropriate. This Montreal team has the offensive firepower to hang with anyone, but if they can't protect their quarterback better than they have so far, it's going to be a long season for the Alouettes.