Alouettes emphasize need to improve execution amid red zone woes

MONTREAL — After Alouettes head coach Jason Maas singled out his own play calling for Montreal’s red zone woes, the emphasis on Tuesday was on execution.

Maas, who said “it starts with me” on Saturday, believes there’s a combination of play calls he wants back and calls he liked where the execution wasn’t there after doing a deep dive of Montreal's 34-25 loss to the B.C. Lions.

"We all know the things that are not making us productive down there. We've looked at it, we've analyzed it, and ultimately we're going to change some things up down there,” he said at Olympic Park as the Alouettes began practice for the week. “But still, no matter what you call down there, we need to execute.

“Our guys know the plays, they know how to execute them, and we've physically got to do our jobs and execute those plays. When we start doing that we'll be a better football team."

Montreal (6-5) is third-last in the CFL with 19 offensive touchdowns, ahead of only Ottawa and Hamilton. Only seven of those are off passes from starting quarterback Cody Fajardo.

Fajardo had success moving down the field on Saturday, totalling 308 passing yards to go with 36 on the ground.

And though the Alouettes got in the end zone twice, once off a Fajardo pass, they also failed to convert with the ball inside B.C.’s 25-yard line on four different occasions. On the fourth, Fajardo threw an end-zone interception with 5:35 remaining while the Lions clung to a 27-25 lead.

“Before this year, I never threw a red zone interception in my career. Now I’ve thrown two,” said Fajardo. “Obviously there's something mentally that is breaking down for me and I have to figure that out and go back to what I've done in the past and be able just to go through my reads, find completions and finish in the score zone.”

Fajardo said “a handful of things” are at the root of their red zone problems, but emphasized their need to simplify the plays and not overthink things when they’re knocking on the door for a touchdown.

"When you get in the red zone, the windows get a little bit tighter, you got to quicken up your footwork a little bit, the routes have to be a little bit more precise because you just don't have the same amount of room,” he said. “When we get there in the game, it's ‘don't overthink it, go out there and play football.’”

Montreal offensive coordinator Anthony Calvillo, who threw 398 touchdowns over his 16-year career as the Alouettes QB, also put an emphasis on execution over play calling, which Maas is in charge of.

"The red zone's been one of our Achilles heels,” said Calvillo. “All the coaches felt when we built our red zone game plan that we feel very good about these plays. When we analyze it, we were making quite a few mistakes down there.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to execution, making the right decision from our quarterback, and then carrying all that down to the rest of the guys in the offence."

The Alouettes beat expectations with a 6-3 record at the midway mark despite having their off-season derailed by ownership uncertainty. At 6-5, Montreal remains well in control of second place in the East, but has yet to deliver a positive result against the league’s top teams.

Montreal’s wins are against Ottawa (twice), Hamilton (twice), Saskatchewan and Calgary, all of whom were .500 or lower at the time of play. Only one of those wins comes against a team (Calgary) that had its starting quarterback playing.

The losses come to B.C. (twice), Winnipeg (twice) and Toronto, who have the top three records in the CFL. The Alouettes’ next two games are against the Argos, in Toronto on Saturday and in Montreal on Sept. 15.

"We know we can play with anybody, now the biggest thing is just proving that we can beat anybody, right?” said Fajardo.

Earlier Tuesday, the Alouettes signed five players to their practice roster, including American defensive lineman Damontre Moore.

Moore, 30, was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants in 2013 before playing 66 games in the league and registered a total of 97 tackles, 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Last season, he won a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts, playing one game with the team before sustaining an injury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press