Heading into Friday night's Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes clash, one of the key questions was which team's new faces would step up more. There's no question about the answer there, and that's a good thing for Montreal. Despite the absence of key figures like 2011 CFL rushing leader Brandon Whitaker and 2011 league receiving leader Jamel Richardson, the Alouettes came away with a dominant 38-25 victory Friday, handed the Eskimos their first home loss of the season, moved into first place in the East Division and proved that they have plenty of capable replacements. If a depleted Montreal offence can look this good against an Edmonton team that had allowed just a league-low 99 points to date (16.5 points per game), the rest of the league had better watch out.
Of course, some of the fault here was on the Eskimos. They didn't look anywhere near the defensive unit that had been so impressive in the early going this season, and they were downright terrible early on, allowing the Alouettes to put up a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter. Edmonton made this somewhat close in the late stages, but this could have been far worse than a 13-point loss, and it should be one that causes their offence in particular to really do some soul-searching. The Montreal defence played well, particularly in putting pressure on quarterback Steven Jyles (who finished with 15 completions on 28 attempts, 53.6 per cent, for just 173 yards with one touchdown and one interception), and they sacked Jyles five times while also keeping the ground game in check. However, the Eskimos have to be better in all aspects of the offensive game. They couldn't block, they couldn't throw and they couldn't run effectively for most of the game Friday night. If that doesn't improve, it's going to be a long year in Edmonton.
The Alouettes deserve plenty of credit of their own, though, and a huge amount of that has to go to the offensive line. The line largely kept quarterback Anthony Calvillo upright in the face of a fearsome pass rush, a key factor in his 22 completions on 32 attempts (68.8 per cent) for 327 yards and four touchdowns (although he did throw two interceptions), and they did an even better job of run-blocking, paving the way for Victor Anderson to rush 18 times for 102 yards (5.67 yards per carry). It was the first CFL start for Anderson, a former Louisville Cardinals star who's gone through incredible struggles to make it to this point, and he looked amazing in this one. Some of that's thanks to his own ability, but the big men up front did a tremendous job of paving the way for him, and that proved crucial in Montreal's victory Friday.
It wasn't just Anderson and the linemen who stepped up, though. The receiving game was full of remarkable performances from guys who often get less publicity when Richardson's in the lineup. S.J. Green recorded 10 catches for 136 yards and one touchdown, while Brandon London had four receptions for 91 yards, Brian Bratton reeled in two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, Anderson made three grabs for 32 yards and a touchdown and rookie fullback Patrick Lavoie continued his impressive season with three catches for 26 yards and a touchdown. Lesser-heralded names on defence also turned in a great showing, with Wopamo Osaisai leading the team with six tackles and Alan-Michael Cash recording a team-high two sacks. The Alouettes may not have had some of their biggest names Friday, but you wouldn't have known it from the dominant effort they put out, which says a lot about the depth of this team.