June 10, 2024

MMQB: The champs are here


If you perhaps thought the Montreal Alouettes’ Grey Cup victory last season was nothing more than a flash in the pan, Cinderella run…you may need to re-evaluate.

The Alouettes kicked off the 2024 regular season with an absolute statement 27-12 win on the road against a Winnipeg Blue Bombers team eager to avenge last year’s heartbreaking Grey Cup loss. And the defending champs looked every bit ready to play the part.

Montreal’s calling card last season was its defence as they were racking up eight straight wins to close out their Grey Cup run. That group set the tone early and often in Thursday’s season opener in what turned out to be a masterclass performance. What wasn’t there to like?

The Als finished the night with two sacks on the stat sheet, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Montreal had Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg offence out of sorts all night as defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe’s pressure packages were varied and effective.

» Als win 110th Grey Cup rematch over Bombers
» Bane scores three times in Riders’ comeback win over Elks
» Stamps spoil Mitchell’s homecoming, down Ticats
» Argos close out Week 1 with back-and-forth win over Lions
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Collaros consistently had hands and bodies in his face, which forced some hurried throws including a second quarter pass intercepted by Marc-Antoine Dequoy in the end zone. In the end, the two-time Most Outstanding Player was held to just 209 yards passing and no touchdowns in the loss.

The Alouettes were also just as successful stopping the run. While game script limited Brady Oliveira to just 11 carries, it was a struggle for last year’s rushing leader to get established in the first half. Oliveira averaged less than four yards per carry and finished with 38 yards, including a long of just seven.

Montreal’s most important defensive pieces came to play. The likes of Dequoy, Darnell Sankey, Tyrice Beverette, Derek Wiggan and Mustafa Johnson among others, all had standout moments. The Alouettes held Winnipeg without a touchdown until the final minutes of regulation.

And the offence more than held up its end of the bargain. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw a pair of touchdowns to Tyson Philpot, including a picture-perfect flea flicker hookup for 76 yards to seal the win in the fourth quarter. Philpot, now in his third CFL season, served notice with 141 yards in his most prolific game to date.

Even with the off-season departures of Austin Mack and William Stanback, this Montreal offence has playmakers. The receiving group of Philpot, Kaion Julien-Grant, Tyler Snead and Cole Spieker give Fajardo some nice options to compliment a defensive unit that looks as formidable as any.

Don’t forget about us

Speaking of which, apparently the Toronto Argonauts didn’t get the memo about their defence taking a step back in 2024. Yes, the Argos said goodbye to key defensive players like Adarius Pickett, Dewayne Hendrix, Jamal Peters and Brandon Barlow during the winter and lost defensive coordinator Corey Mace to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Toronto’s defence looked just fine in Sunday’s back-and-forth 35-27 win over the BC Lions to close out week 1. Nowhere was that more evident than at the point of attack.

The Argonauts racked up six sacks from five different players and went to town in the trenches with Jake Ceresna leading the way. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with Edmonton in January, Ceresna was a beast in his Double Blue debut and finished the night with a sack, four tackles, three for loss and a fumble recovery.

With Cersena joining Jared Brinkman and fellow newcomer Jordan Williams, Toronto’s interior looks like it’s going to be a handful. And that’s only going to help Folarin Orimolade (our MMQB preseason pick to lead the league in sacks). Now in his second year with the Argos, the explosive defensive end had a sack and three tackles for loss against BC.

Promising signs


Toronto’s Cameron Dukes looked just fine as he kicked off his starting tenure by throwing for 254 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday night. I liked how the sophomore pivot spread the ball around throughout as seven receivers ended up with two or more catches in the win over the Lions.

And Dukes was one of a few quarterbacks with question marks following them that got off to a good start in week 1.

Jake Maier looked as dynamic as we’ve seen him as Calgary opened its season with a 32-24 win over Hamilton on Friday Night Football. Right from the get-go, Maier looked more explosive than he did in 2023 and showed a willingness to push the ball downfield.

Last year saw Maier lead the league in attempts and completions but he averaged just 7.3 yards per attempt. That number jumped to 9.7 on Friday, which is right in the ballpark for this league’s top quarterbacks. While the Stamps would have liked to end a few more drives in the end zone (Rene Paredes nailed six field goals), there were still plenty of promising signs in the pass game.

It took a little bit for Trevor Harris to hit his stride on Saturday afternoon, but if I’m a Riders fan I’m happy with what I saw. After missing 13 games in 2023, Harris returned to regular season action for Saskatchewan in a 29-21 comeback win over the Edmonton Elks. Harris threw for 305 yards and fired three touchdown passes to blossoming superstar Shawn Bane Jr.

Finally, it was nice to see McLeod Bethel-Thompson back in CFL action after a year away. Even in a losing effort, I thought Bethel-Thompson looked largely comfortable in his Edmonton debut. He threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns and, in a very encouraging sign, had all three of Eugene Lewis, Dillon Mitchell and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. heavily involved in the action.

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