Thursday's clash between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes started slowly, but it ended with a bang. The Alouettes eventually hung on for a 32-27 home victory, but did so by the skin of their teeth, with Edmonton making two questionable playcalls near the goal line on their final drive and Montreal's defence coming up big both times. In the end, there were positive signs for both teams to take away from this one, but there also were indications of why this looked like a battle of less-than-competent offences and why they each entered this clash 1-3. Still, this was a relatively good game for both sides, and one that should give their fans some hope going forwards.
For Montreal, there was a lot that went right Thursday. The under-siege tandem of head coach Dan Hawkins and offensive coordinator Mike Miller turned in a reasonably-solid showing, with the Alouettes putting up 32 points (well above their average of 22.5) and receiving reasonably solid performances from both their running and passing games (which each entered this game last in the league on a per-play basis, averaging 4.3 and 6.5 yards per play respectively). Quarterback Anthony Calvillo completed 19 of his 29 passes (65.5 per cent) for 202 yards and a touchdown, and while those numbers aren't near his typical ones, they're better than much of what he's done lately. The much-maligned offensive line did a decent job, too, conceding just two sacks (half of their average of four sacks per game) and paving the way for running back Brandon Whitaker to rush 24 times for 162 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown. This wasn't a dazzling offensive performance from the Alouettes, but it was far better than what they've shown lately.
The Eskimos also could find positive signs in this one. Yes, their first half was a general disaster, as they trailed 20-6 at the break and made three quarterback changes to get there (Mike Reilly was replaced by Jonathan Crompton, who was replaced by Kerry Joseph, who was replaced by Reilly again), and yes, their ground game was awful (Hugh Charles and John White combined for 45 yards on 11 carries, 4.1 yards per carry) but they started to find their footing in the second half. Cary Koch's 81-yard punt return for a touchdown was crucial to getting them back in the game, but Reilly also performed reasonably well when given the chance, completing 16 of 28 passes (57.1 per cent) for 262 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and leading a late, potentially game-winning drive that came up just short thanks to Edmonton's curious decision to call two deep RB draws with little time remaining. This was more than just a loss for the Eskimos, though: it showed that they do sometimes have a passing offence under the right circumstances, and that's a good thing to know going forward.
There are still lots of questions about each of these teams, though. Neither coaching staff made particularly great decisions late in the contest, and while Edmonton struggled all night to establish the run, Montreal's passing game was far from perfect. There were various special-teams mishaps, odd coaching calls, defensive coverage breakdowns and so forth that indicated why these teams are in the CFL cellar. However, both provided their fans with some hope Thursday. While there's lots for both the Alouettes and Eskimos to still work on, there were significant positives for them in this game. That's more that can be said about many of their 2013 games thus far.