Thursday night's CFL clash between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes (7:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN2) doesn't exactly set up as a barn-burner. Both the Eskimos and Alouettes are 1-3 heading into this game, and they've scored 72 and 90 points respectively, the league's lowest and third-lowest totals. The offensive futility goes beyond that, though, as these teams are last or close to last in the CFL in most offensive categories. Still, someone has to prevail, and Thursday night could be a building block used to get either team back on track going forward. The question is who it will be a building block for.
On the Alouettes' side, there's plenty of offensive potential. A team with three-time league MOP, five-time league all-star and 10-time divisional all-star Anthony Calvillo (who's still capable of great things) at quarterback, Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green, Brandon London, Arland Bruce and others catching passes and Brandon Whitaker running the ball behind an offensive line full of talented players should be a recipe for success. It hasn't worked out that way thus far, though. Through four weeks, Montreal's average of 22.5 points per game is third-worst in the league. Remember, the Alouettes scored 38 points in their season-opening win over Winnipeg, too: since that, they've put up 11, 14 and 27 points, an average of just 17.3 per game (which would be the worst in the league).
Montreal's problems go beyond just the raw point totals. The Als are last in the league in offensive yards per game (247.5, 45.8 behind second-worst Edmonton), and they're the worst in the CFL as per yards gained per rush (4.3) and yards gained per pass (6.5). They're second-worst in the league in rushing yards per game (67.0), passing yards per game (208.3) and passing completion percentage (58.9 per cent). None of that's a recipe for offensive success. Of course, some struggles were to be expected, considering that Montreal has a new head coach in Dan Hawkins and a new offensive coordinator in Mike Miller, neither of whom had any CFL experience before this year. There were promising signs at the start of last week, too, as they rung up 24 straight points on the Stampeders. After that, though, it was the usual offensive failure for the Alouettes, who gave up 38 and let Calgary complete the biggest post-first-quarter comeback in CFL history. Will Hawkins and Miller be able to get their offence to work consistently this week, or will it be more of the same struggles we've seen thus far?
Fortunately for Montreal, they're not the only team here with offensive struggles. The Eskimos are last in the CFL in points for (72, or 18 per game), passing yards per game (201.3) and completion percentage (57.3 per cent), and they're near the bottom of most other categories. Their ground game has largely been okay, though: led by Hugh Charles, Edmonton's averaging 5.9 yards per rush and 112.0 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the league in both categories. What they need to do is improve the passing game, and that's not all about quarterback Mike Reilly: yes, he's struggled, but his line hasn't given him much blocking thus far, and few Eskimos' receivers have been able to get open consistently. There's offensive potential in Edmonton, too, but as in Montreal, we haven't seen it translate into many tangible results yet. Will that change for either team Thursday, or will this turn into merely a low-powered offensive slapfight? The answers are coming up on TSN and ESPN2...