Ferguson: Defence could be the key to Als taking next step
CFL.ca will be previewing the 2022 season, taking an in-depth look at each of the nine teams as they get set to hit the field.
The 2021 Montreal Alouettes were a fascinating study in aggression. I’ve written here on CFL.ca and talked on TSN about the downfield exploits of Vernon Adams Jr., supported by head coach Khari Jones.
While the approach isn’t revolutionary, it is decidedly more entertaining and enjoyable than offensive systems being run in many places throughout the CFL. In a market that embraces a night club atmosphere on the sidelines, Jones and Adams Jr. are a match made in heaven as they continue to expand their offensive scheme in 2022.
From an offence that was second in points scored per game (24.7) and first in net offence per game (371.8), returns league-leading rusher William Stanback, triggerman Adams Jr. and his top two receivers Geno Lewis and Jake Wieneke. That quartet of offensive talent alone should be more than enough to push the Alouettes — when healthy — to a playoff berth.
The challenge for Montreal in 2022 will be creating defensive cohesion and maintaining the health of their quarterback after linemen Tony Washington and David Foucault moved to Edmonton in the off-season.
The secondary is especially troubling for those on the outside looking in after defensive backs Tyquan Glass, Money Hunter and Ty Cranston all left alongside linebacker Patrick Levels and standout defensive lineman Woody Baron and David Menard. Simply put, the Alouettes got raided for talent in a way that no other team was attacked this winter.
The ability to pull all the new names together on defence, in a year with rules adjustments to favour offensive production, with the pressure of a first overall pick at linebacker in Syracuse’s Tyrell Richards creates a plethora of hurdles for Montreal to clear before their offence outscoring other teams can be celebrated stress-free for Alouettes fans.
Thankfully for Montreal supporters, Barron Miles is still on staff as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, meaning what continuity that still exists from 2021 will not completely disappear as it could have with an overhaul in coaching staff on top of all previous factors listed.
Which brings me to the idea of Khari Jones under pressure to win. As mentioned earlier, I believe Khari is an excellent match of leader, style, city and organizational culture. The idea of his seat being hot when he’s a still rising, talented and stabilizing force as the face of the organization is lunacy to me.
Did the Alouettes take too many penalties? Yes, but a head coach’s influence over that comes down to yelling at people and hoping it somehow changes the outcome. Making professional athletes run wind sprints as punishment or removing the best players possible from the field because they cost the team some yardage in a game flagged by minuscule judgement calls just doesn’t make sense. Blaming the coach for penalties is about as accurate a criticism as cursing the clouds for shade; it’s going to happen.
As for the idea Khari’s Montreal teams can’t close the deal, Edmonton’s crossover win in 2019 at Percival Molson was the result of Vernon Adams Jr.throwing two poor interceptions while losing his trademark field sense in the worst possible moments, while 2021’s road loss to Hamilton in a blizzard was largely due to a superior Ticats defence shutting down William Stanback in tough footing and making the Alouettes one dimensional in difficult passing conditions.
I understand this is a results based business, but three strikes and you’re out works in baseball, not on having vision for what’s possible with a coach that I believe has a firm grip on the organization’s vision for the future.
The Montreal Alouettes are unquestionably in a more difficult division this season than last. Ottawa is no pushover, Toronto has re-loaded and Hamilton remains a contender. In order to keep pace in the race for the Eastern Division crown, there needs to be defensive cohesion, quickly. Thankfully they have a full training camp at their disposal to identify and eliminate the kinks in that crucial unit coming together.
Without it, Montreal risks going from a dangerous Grey Cup threat, to a supremely talented offence who just aren’t getting the support they need to contend for the CFL’s ultimate prize in Regina this November.