MONTREAL — Bye weeks haven’t been very kind to the Montreal Alouettes this season.
The team has a 0-2 record coming out of bye weeks. Most recently, the Als suffered a crushing 38-24 home defeat to the bottom-dwelling Ottawa Redblacks on Sept. 2.
General manager and interim coach Danny Maciocia addressed the troubling pattern on the first day of training this week ahead of Friday's visit from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“Clearly after two bye weeks, we're 0-2, now the question is how do you approach it?” Maciocia said. “It's more … just mentally being dialed in. We've been talking about being dialed in, and for the most part, when they got back on Monday with our Day 1 practice, I noticed that they understand what's at stake here for Friday night.”
This clash with the Tiger-Cats (4-9) could potentially be a decider for second place in the CFL's East Division. Montreal (5-7) has a game in hand on Hamilton and could open a four-point gap with a win. On the other side of the league, a West Division crossover looms with the Saskatchewan Roughriders holding a 6-8 record.
The Ticats may possess an abysmal 0-6 road record but they arrive in Montreal carrying momentum from an impressive 48-31 win over the CFL-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 15. Quarterback Dane Evans went 25 for 32 with 327 passing yards and threw a career-high five touchdowns which earned him the CFL top performer of the week honour.
Maciocia, who typically wants his defence to get after the quarterback, slightly modified his mantra ahead of Friday night’s game.
“(Evans) has been pretty crazy but I don't know if we're going to be able to get to the quarterback. We’ve got to get him to hold the football,” Maciocia said. “Because the ball comes on relatively quickly. But if we can get him to hold it, just because of what we're doing in the back end as far as coverages are concerned, that's where we're going to increase our opportunities to get to (him).”
Evans, meanwhile, has lot of respect for the job that Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe has done in Montreal.
“The biggest thing they bring is energy, whatever they’re doing they’re bringing 110 per cent,” Evans said. “Their defensive line, I think, is often slept on but they have as good a D-line as Winnipeg does. Honestly, I think they have one of the best D-lines in the league.
“They have really good linebackers that move all over the field, which is kind of untraditional for the CFL. They kind of play their guys all over and they’ll drop one back into coverage and their secondary is solid as well.”
Evans will need to prepare for yet another Montreal defensive asset as Maciocia confirmed that linebacker Jamal Davis will play on Friday night. The 27-year-old signed a two-year deal with the Alouettes on Sept. 16 after being released at the end of the Los Angeles Chargers camp.
Davis played the back half of the 2021 CFL season with the Alouettes where he picked up 17 defensive tackles, four sacks and one touchdown in nine games. After his stint in the NFL, Davis is focused on playing north of the border for the time being.
“I’m in Montreal, I’m an Alouette. I’m all-in here (on a) two-year deal,” Davis said. “I’m ready to be a staple for this defence, for this team.”
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (5-7) VS. HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (4-9)
LESTAGE STARTS: Offensive lineman Pierre-Olivier Lestage will make his first career start with Alouettes. The Saint-Eustache, Que. native appeared in five games since signing for the Alouettes in late July.
DEQUOY TO MISS GAME: Safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy will be missing Friday’s game for personal reasons. Maciocia said he suggested Dequoy take the week off following the death of his mother last week.
TICATS WITHOUT WYNN: Defensive lineman Dylan Wynn has been ruled out of Friday's game with a knee injury. The 29-year-old had three defensive tackles in last week's win over Winnipeg.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2022.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press