August 4, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: What to do in Montreal?

Week 6 of the Canadian Football League season gave us a couple of impressive performances, which lead to lopsided victories.  It also gave us two really exciting finishes.  One of those finishes came completely out of the blue on Friday night. 

Thursday’s dramatic ending wasn’t quite as shocking, but it was a perfect way to kick off what turned out to be another noteworthy week.

At a loss

Here at the Monday Morning Quarterback, we pride ourselves on taking stances and presenting opinions, whether they’re popular or not.  When it comes to the Montreal Alouettes and their quarterback issue, we truly are at a loss.

Related: Week 6 Action

Calgary vs. BC
» View Game Stats
» Images: BC at CGY
» Video: Raymond’s Takes INT to the House
» Video: Yell’s Grabs Six on INT Return
» Lions roar back to down Stamps

Saskatchewan vs. Ottawa
» View Game Stats
» Images: BC at CGY
» Video: Jackson’s 111-yard Missed FG TD
» Video: Collins’ Onside Punt TD
» Riders handle REDBLACKS with ease

Toronto vs. Montreal
» View Game Stats
» Images: TOR at MTL
» Video: Slaton Gets Argos on the Board
» Slaton shows up at perfect time for Argos
» Preview: Argonauts at Alouettes

Winnipeg vs. Hamilton
» View Game Stats
» Images: Winnipeg at Hamilton
» Video: Gable’s 48-yard TD Catch
» Video: McDuffie’s 66-yard Punt Return TD
» Video: Winnipeg’s Winning Drive
» Willy shines again in Bombers win

Since Montreal’s frustrating 31-5 setback at home to Toronto on Friday night, I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with an opinion as to what they should do.  Troy Smith was fundamentally ineffective moving the football against the Argos, and his understudy Alex Brink didn’t do the job that much better.
So what on earth can you do if you’re Head Coach Tom Higgins or GM Jim Popp? Both are trying to figure it out, but they’re doing it with different scopes.  Higgins is running the team on a day-to-day basis as a coach.  Popp is looking at the big picture, trying to find a viable quarterback for the future.  The latter of those jobs is daunting, to say the least.
For Higgins, you’re focused on just one thing: Who start on Friday night vs. Edmonton? I think I can come up with an opinion on that, at the very least.  If it were me, I’d give the ball to Tanner Marsh.
Yes, I know it was Brink who saw the relief reps against Toronto.  I also know his problems were in large part to the fact he was thrown into the fire without a ton of practice reps. It would be unfair to judge him solely on that performance, which I’m not.  

But I know what Brink is at this point.  He’s a 29-year-old journeyman quarterback who has a place on any CFL roster, but not as a number one guy.
Marsh is the one who intrigues me.  The second year product has a lot going for him.  He’s five years younger thank Brink, and because of that, naturally has a higher ceiling.  He’s also already started, and won, in this league before, so it’s not like we’ll be talking about a deer in the headlights.  

More than anything else, though, Marsh has potential.  We saw some of that potential last year, and right now, what have you got to lose? I’m not saying give up on Smith altogether for this season, but sitting him for this week after his last few performances would only make sense.  

If that is indeed what Higgins decides to do, I think Marsh is the right choice to replace him.

As for Popp’s bigger picture task, I’m not sure if there is a solution right now, and that’s why I’m at a loss.  Maybe Marsh does work out long term, and that would be an easy fix right there.  Or maybe Smith does figure it out in this league at some point this season, which would be an ideal situation as well.

But you can’t bank on either of those things happening, so right now, Popp has to be looking at other options.  And, no, I don’t think one of the brightest minds this league has ever seen is reading this column and saying “by George! The MMQB is right!” either, because I’m sure he already is hard at work doing just what we’ve discussed.

The question in Montreal right now is simple: What is the long-term future at quarterback? Unfortunately for Als fans, no one knows the answer to that question right now, not even their outstanding GM.

Best of both worlds

It’s not always easy to play really good football and really exciting football at the same time.  Sometimes a team plays in a lot of boring games because they’re just so much better than their opposition.  

And there are plenty of examples in years past of exciting football teams that don’t always end up on the right side of the score.  Through six weeks of 2014, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have done a pretty good job at both.
Let’s take Thursday’s 27-26 win in Hamilton as an individual case study.  It sure was exciting, there’s no doubt about that.  The game was thoroughly enjoyable, the second half was edge of your seat stuff, and that final drive engineered by Drew Willy was nothing short of incredible.
Seeing Willy elude pressure, convert on third downs, get yards by himself, and finally find Nic Grigsby in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown was great theatre.  And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen Winnipeg play an exciting game.  

Their prior wins over Ottawa and Montreal were pretty darn fun to watch as well.  They’re starting to make a name for themselves.
But this is a Bombers team that is also 5-1.  Looking at a small sample size on Thursday night shows you that record is deserved.  Winnipeg really did control the majority of that game but couldn’t turn their edge in possession time into more points in the first half.  

Even though it took late game heroics, the Bombers deserved their fifth win of the season.

This is a pretty good football team that has won in dramatic fashion, but has also done it in convincing fashion too.  They truly have given their fans the best of both worlds.  Winnipeg is exciting to watch, which is always important.

But they’re also seeing that excitement turn into one of the best records of the season.  If you’re a Bombers fan, that grin on your face is perfectly understandable.

Interesting parallels

There were two running back performances this week that caught my eye more than others.  These two backs have different back stories and different pro football paths, yet both also battled through a lot prior to their week six performances.  

As such, it was really cool to see the games put together by Toronto’s Steve Slaton and Calgary’s Martell Mallett over the weekend.
Let’s start with the latter, who started his first CFL game since the 2009 playoffs and made his opportunity count.  In Calgary’s 25-24 setback to BC, Mallett finished with 175 yards of total offence, including 116 on the ground.  

He was dangerous from start to finish and it made you forget for a few seconds how tough a go he’s had the last four seasons.

If you weren’t aware of how tough it’s been, it’s quite the story of perseverance.  After being named rookie of the year with the Lions in 2009, Mallett tried to make his mark in the NFL.  But injury after injury made it impossible for him to stick with the Eagles (twice), the Browns, and the Giants.  

In his return to the CFL, he tore his Achilles tendon a week into training camp with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; he hasn’t played a down since.  Throw in a horrible family tragedy a few months later, and you can understand why he went 1,713 days between meaningful carries.
Then there’s Slaton, the former third round pick of the Houston Texans.  In just his second CFL game, Slaton finished with a pair of touchdowns and 100 yards of total offence.  He was a big part of Toronto’s second win of the season, and with so many offensive injuries, helped take the pressure off of quarterback Ricky Ray.

For Slaton, his road to Toronto was also a tough one.  Remember, this is a guy who ran for more than 1,200 yards in his rookie season with the Texans before things started to go south.  

Slaton struggled with ball security in his sophomore season, fumbling seven times and spending far more time on the bench than he had in quite some time.  His 2009 campaign ended with a shoulder injury, and his NFL career never got back up off the mat.

After some time off football, Slaton is making a comeback with the Boatmen, and his performance against Montreal was certainly promising. To this point, it’s just one game, but with no clear cut number one guy, a game like that can do big things.
Both Mallett and Slaton have had their fair share of adversity to overcome since 2009.  Now both of them have found homes in the CFL.  Nothing is for sure with either player, but right now, they’ve both made the most out of their opportunities.

Quick hits

Yes, the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost some important pieces from their 2013 Grey Cup team.  But this team is still a factor in the West Division, and as they start to figure things out, they’ll be even more of a factor going forward.  Their last two impressive victories speak to that.  
The Riders hammered Ottawa 38-14 on Saturday night and they welcomed Chris Getzlaf back to the fold along the way.  They’re moving the ball, they’re getting after quarterbacks, and they’ve won big the last two weeks.
I know they ended up losing to the Riders, but it sure is fun watching the REDBLACKS play at home.  TD Field looks outstanding on television, and not just because it’s full and loud.  The whole area looks really cool, and when everything that is planned is completed, I think we’re going to be talking about a premier football watching spot in North America.
Finally, with another great performance against Calgary, Andrew Harris is making a pretty solid case as the front runner for Most Oustanding Player through the first third of the season.  

With 143 yards of total offence and a touchdown, the BC running back was a key contributor to a big win over Calgary, and he’s been consistently dangerous all season long.  The Lions need him right now, and he’s answering the bell.