Two weeks ago, things were going extremely poorly for the Montreal Alouettes. Despite a head-coaching change, they fell 25-16 at home to the struggling B.C. Lions and dropped to 4-6, taking them out of the playoff picture for the moment. Following a bye week, a staff shakeup, and a quarterback change, though, things are looking up in Montreal; the Alouettes thumped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-14 Sunday and moved back into a playoff spot. One win alone doesn't mean everything's fixed, and there do still seem to be further improvements needed in Montreal, but this victory's a very promising sign for Alouettes' fans.
Perhaps the biggest change since Montreal's last loss and this week's win came on the coaching staff, where offensive coordinator Turk Schoenert was fired after that loss to B.C. and Anthony Calvillo and Ryan Dinwiddie were named co-offensive coordinators, with Calvillo given play-calling responsibilites during games. That's a big role for Calvillo in his first season as a full-time coach, especially considering that he only recently became Montreal's quarterback coach and was still adjusting to that role (he started the year as the Alouettes' receivers coach), but he does have a remarkable playing career to draw upon; Calvillo, who retired after the 2013 season, is still professional football's all-time passing leader with 79,816 passing yards. He also has a long history with Montreal general manager Jim Popp, who took on the team's head-coaching job as well after Tom Higgins was fired Aug. 21. As Calvillo told Don Landry for a CFL.ca piece, the offensive changes have been more evolutionary than revolutionary given the time constraints, but he and Dinwiddie have made tweaks to the Alouettes' offensive scheme:
“It feels good to have that extra time,” Calvillo says of the bye, which has given the coaches time to hit the Als' offence with a three-point tune up; Identify its strengths, simplify it, and then begin to add to it. A total demolition and reinstallation? Not possible, says Calvillo.
“The key is to make sure we’re staying within our foundation of what we’ve established because you can’t just start from scratch," he says, then repeats the point. "You just cannot do that. You try to expand on the things that you think we were doing well.”
“It’s been a process but we definitely did not just throw everything out the window.”
That offensive system was still a work in progress Sunday, as Montreal only picked up 181 passing yards and 69 net rushing yards, but there were plenty of bright spots. Some of those came from another change, the return of quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Crompton was the Alouettes' starter to begin the year, but got hurt in Week 1 and hadn't played since. With him out and Rakeem Cato absent to visit a family member in critical condition, the Alouettes turned to Tanner Marsh in their last game, and that didn't go well at all; Marsh completed just 53 per cent of his passes, threw for just 103 yards and tossed five interceptions. Crompton's performance Sunday wasn't great (14 of 27 for 181 yards, a 51.9 per cent completion rate, with two touchdowns and two interceptions), but it wasn't bad for someone coming back after a long break, and it was certainly better than what we saw from the Alouettes in their last outing. How much of that's about Crompton and how much is about the coaching staff changes is debatable, but both seem to be trending in the right direction.
It was really defence and special teams that won the day for Montreal Sunday, though. Stefan Logan was superb in the return game, taking a punt back 78 yards for a touchdown and recording a 95-yard kick return that set up another touchdown. He finished with 138 yards on three kick returns and 135 on five punt returns. Boris Bede nailed all four of his field goal attempts and all three of his extra point conversions, and the Als' cover teams contained Winnipeg returners Troy Stoudemire and Demond Washington, who combined for just 36 yards on two kick returns and 52 on six punt returns. The defence was also great, sacking Bombers' QB Matt Nichols three times, picking him off once and holding him to 189 passing yards.
Montreal's offence still could use substantial improvement, and we'll see if Calvillo, Dinwiddie, Crompton and perhaps Cato can provide that going forward, but the Alouettes are now back into playoff position. If the season ended today, their 5-6 record would give them a crossover berth to the West, as third-place Western teams Winnipeg and B.C. only have four wins each. A spot in the East isn't completely out of reach at this point, either; Montreal's not too far behind 6-5 Toronto, 7-4 Ottawa and even 8-4 Hamilton. There's still a long way for the Alouettes to go, and a win over the struggling Bombers isn't complete proof that their changes are working, but for the moment at least, they do seem to be trending up.