July 30, 2023

Steinberg: Plenty on the line in Als-Stamps matchup

Daniel Crump/

When Calgary and Montreal kickoff Sunday night to wrap up Week 8, both teams will be very much in need of a win.

As the Alouettes sat through their second bye last week, they saw Ottawa pass them in the East Division standings with a thrilling overtime win on the road. And the team the REDBLACKS beat, the Stampeders, find themselves with ground to make up in the West.

Sunday’s Week 8 finale shapes up to have plenty on the line.

» Stamps add DB Brad Muhammad and DL Alex Tchangam
» Lemon-Aid: Als sign defensive lineman Shawn Lemon
» Calgary travels East for Week 8 finale in Montreal
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Three’s a crowd

After starting the year with a pair of solid wins over Ottawa and Hamilton, the Als have hit the skids since. They enter Sunday’s game at Molson Stadium riding a three-game skid and below .500 for the first time this season.

It’s important to note those three losses have come against the CFL’s unquestioned elite trio of Winnipeg, BC, and Toronto. Most recently, Montreal went shot-for-shot against the unbeaten Argonauts in a back-and-forth affair before finally dropping a 35-27 decision. Positively, the Alouettes have shown some nice flashes during this three-game losing streak.

Most notably, quarterback Cody Fajardo has continued to look comfortable with his new team. He’s now thrown for 261 yards or more in all five of his outings and has done a nice job limiting mistakes. Fajardo has thrown three interceptions against five touchdowns and has displayed sound decision making far more often than not.

And while Montreal’s offence hasn’t necessarily been consistently explosive, Fajardo has looked good when taking shots down the field. His chemistry with, and confidence in, receivers Austin Mack and Kaion Julien-Grant has been impressive and both players have busted off multiple big plays. Mack and Grant now sit second and fourth overall, respectively, in receiving yards.

Just as encouraging has been the recent emergence of a third receiving threat. Tyler Snead, an under-the-radar January signing, has hit the ground running in his first two CFL starts. Jumping into the X position in the slot, Snead has posted 109 receiving yards and three touchdowns in just two outings. All three of those majors came during in Week 6 vs. Toronto. It looks like the Als have found something in the diminutive East Carolina product.

There’s still one thing Montreal needs to improve on as they prepare to host the Stamps on Sunday: the play of the offensive line. The Alouettes have allowed a league-worst 26 sacks in five games (more than five per game) while star tailback William Stanback has yet to truly get going. Stanback is currently at 223 rushing yards in five starts, an average of just under 45 per game.

Looking for traction


The Stampeders have looked great in different phases of the game during their 2-4 start. But, to this point, it’s been a struggle for all those components to come together at the same time. If and when that happens, Calgary has the makings of a formidable group.

Case in point would be the team’s last two losses. The Stamps put together a strong defensive effort in Week 5 and kept Winnipeg’s vaunted offence largely in check for more than half the game. But with Calgary unable to move the ball effectively, the Bombers eventually took over en route to a 24-11 win.

The opposite was true in last week’s loss to Ottawa. Last Sunday saw the Stamps rack up 467 net yards of offence, including 450 through the air, only to lose 43-41 in overtime thanks to a pair of Nate Behar end zone catches. This time around, Calgary couldn’t get a stop when they needed to keep or seize momentum, which carried right through to the very end.

Positively, the Stampeders are showing lots of life on offence. Quarterback Jake Maier has thrown for 765 yards and six touchdowns in his last two starts and has responded well to his own self-criticism following the Winnipeg loss.

Maier is using a wide array of receivers, with Reggie Begelton, Luther Hakunavanhu, Clark Barnes, and Tre Odoms-Dukes making impacts over the last two games. And maybe most positive is what we saw from Marken Michel in his third start since rejoining Calgary earlier this month. Michel went for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Ottawa loss and looked like the guy who burst onto the scene in red and white back in 2017.

And as much as the Stamps haven’t put all phases of their game together consistently this year, this defence has shown they’re up to the task on multiple occasions. Calgary ranks third overall entering Week 8 with 21 team sacks, with James Vaughters and Mike Rose leading the way with five each. Unfortunately, Vaughters is on the shelf for the time being with an arm injury.

And let’s not forget the year Micah Awe is having. In his first season with the Stamps, Awe leads the CFL with 50 defensive tackles and 57 total defensive plays; he’s also added a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble in six games. With Awe and Cameron Judge paired together at linebacker, Calgary remains formidable in the second layer of their defence.

The Stampeders have looked good at different times on offence and defence, while kicker Rene Paredes continues to be as reliable as they come. I’m curious to see what this group looks like when everything comes together.

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