Struggling Alouettes look for a spark against Blue Bombers

The Sports Network with CP files
8/22/2014 9:36:58 AM
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WINNIPEG - The motto for Montreal these days is 'Strength in Numbers.' The only problem is the Alouettes are losing parts and losing games as a result.

Tonight, the Als see how well they can hold up as they hit the road to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.

You can watch the pre-game show live on TSN and TSN GO.  You can then listen in on live game coverage on TSN Radio 690. 

Montreal knew 2014 would be a trying season, what with the retirement of quarterback Anthony Calvillo, but few thought the team would hit the skids so violently.

The Als were hoping to get some positive returns from Troy Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner while at Ohio State, but he has not panned out. In fact, he is now on the six-game injured list, which makes Alex Brink the quarterback of record.

Last week, the Als suffered their fifth straight loss and the sixth setback in seven tries on the season, bowing at Saskatchewan in a 16-11 final.

Brink was serviceable as he converted 19-of-31 passes for 187 yards, was intercepted once and sacked three times. The signal caller also ran for a team-best 32 yards on three carries, which might not be the best idea these days given the state of quarterback play in Montreal.

The lone highlight for the Alouettes came in the fourth quarter when Duron Carter secured a missed field goal and returned it 123 yards to the end zone, accounting for the only major of the game for Montreal and drawing the team into a tie with the Roughriders for the time being.

The active roster for the Alouettes now includes quarterbacks Tanner Marsh and Jonathan Crompton, along with Brink. Not surprisingly, the Montreal passing attack ranks dead last in the CFL still, showing an awful efficiency rating of 59.0, stemming from a mere 47.9 percent completion rate and four touchdowns against six interceptions in seven games.

As for Brink, who previously played three seasons with the Blue Bombers, he is a career 56.1 percent passer and has more picks (15) than touchdowns (13) at the moment.

The Alouettes may be on a five-game losing skid, but quarterback Drew Willy isn't viewing Friday's game as a slam dunk for the Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg (5-3) has had troubles of its own lately, losing two straight heading into the home game against Montreal (1-6). And as much as the Alouettes are struggling, some of their losses have been in close games against good teams.

"We saw even last week, they played Saskatchewan very tough, to the wire there," Willy said Thursday of Montreal's 16-11 loss to the Roughriders.

"They're not far off from winning games so we need to take them very seriously and that's what we have been doing."

In their first game against each other in Montreal, Winnipeg rallied for a 34-33 come-from-behind win, one of three late-game victories the Bombers have pulled out this season.

But Winnipeg's last two losses exposed some weaknesses in a team that surprisingly jumped out to a 5-1 start.

Toronto threw four touchdown passes and racked up 174 rushing yards in a 38-21 home victory on Aug. 12 that included plenty of missed tackles by Bomber defenders.

Winnipeg's last home game on Aug. 7 was a 23-17 loss to Saskatchewan, featuring six Bomber turnovers the Roughriders used to score 20 points in front of the first sellout crowd of the season.

"We had this long week to focus on technique, basically getting the things we've done wrong over the last few games back to the right way," Winnipeg defensive tackle Bryant Turner said.

In all three of Winnipeg's losses this season, they failed to stop the opposition's ground game.

While Toronto rushed for 174 yards, Saskatchewan racked up 186 yards and Edmonton tallied 192 in its 26-3 victory against Winnipeg on July 17.

Montreal running back Brandon Whitaker isn't a big, bruising back, but he's been eating up the yards and sits third in the CFL in rushing yards with 406 yards on 87 carries. Winnipeg's Nic Grigsby is first after rushing 97 times for 416 yards.

"(Whitaker is) a good back and I think they're going to use him, especially with a new quarterback in there," Bombers middle linebacker Ian Wild said.

Former Bomber pivot Alex Brink is making his second straight start for the Als in place of injured Troy Smith. Brink played for Winnipeg from 2010-12 and went 3-4.

Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea said his team won't take Brink lightly.

"With a young quarterback who's maybe not been handed the job, he's going to try and make plays, not only with his arm, but with his feet," O'Shea said.

"So you have to look at the fact that he's probably going to try to pull the ball and run if he has to."

O'Shea expects running will be in Montreal's game package.

"If you look at what our defence has given up in the last couple games, then obviously part of their game plan will be to run the ball on us," he said. "That's not rocket science."

The Alouettes have averaged 21.3 points per game at home this season and only 8.0 on the road.

Bomber cornerback Chris Randle said the defence won't back down on attacking the Als.

"We need to attack in certain angles, more cohesive as a unit," Randle said.

"That's what we worked on all week long. We want to have it where everyone's flying to the ball - organized chaos is what we call it."

Winnipeg's defensive front seven will be without two key players. Defensive end Jason Vega is out with turf toe and will be replaced by Kashawn Fraser. Linebacker Ejiro Kuale is sidelined with a back problem and Abe Kromah will take his spot.

Notes: Bomber receiver Nick Moore is back on the roster after missing three games with a foot injury. Romby Bryant comes off to make room à Montreal's Mike Edem is expected to make his first start of the season at safety in place of injured Marc-Olivier Brouillette.

Brandon Whitaker (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)

What A Rush!

Tale Of Two Running Backs

Stats through Week 8

Nic Grigsby - Winnipeg

Att: 97

Rushing Yards: 416

Avg: 4.3

Long: 37

TD: 5

Brandon Whitaker - Montreal

Att: 87

Rushing Yards: 406

Avg: 4.7

Long: 32

TD: 1

Montreal's 2014 Struggles

Notable moves made by Alouettes after Anthony Calvillo's retirement

January 21: Anthony Calvillo retires from the CFL.

February 24: Tim Higgins hired as head coach.

April 17: Alouettes sign former NFLer Chad Johnson, has just four receptions for 78 yards this season.

June 9: Rick Worman fired as offensive co-ordinator.

July 30: Don Matthews and Turk Schonert hired as coaching consultants.

August 4: Add former NFL and CFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to their offensive coaching staff. Garcia didn't deny the speculation that he wants to play again.

August 11: Garcia is officially named quarterbacks coach, Ryan Dinwiddle named offensive coordinator, Erik Campbell relieved of duties as receivers coach and replaced by Schonert.

August 11: Quarterback Alex Brink is named the Week 8 starter over Troy Smith after a 1-5 start.

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