They say games are won and lost in the trenches…on the line. Yesterday’s loss to the Edmonton Eskimos was no different. Or WAS it?
After all, the pattern was VERY familiar: The opposition only rushes four, but SOMEHOW manages to get in out quarterback’s face all game. I’m sure it’s dawning on Jacques Chapdelaine that his offensive line is as weak as he’s EVER seen. After all, ONE brief glance going the other way, and one can see it’s NOT normal that your O-line loses EVERY down and your quarterback can’t even make his FIRST read before being flushed out of the pocket.
Meanwhile…our 3-4 defence is AGAIN extremely porous to the run. Our WEAK offence is frequently blamed for the imbalanced time of possession stats: our defence is on the field WAY too much. But as the LAST place defence against the run, we’re shooting OURSELVES in the foot. NOTHING skews time of possession stats like an effective run game…or in this case, an ineffective run defence.
So while our offensive line fails to protect our quarterback, and we stumble from one two-and-out to the next and our defence keeps us close through the 1st half…as the opposition establishes their running game, the INEVITABLE consequences of losing the time of possession battle set in some time in the 3rd quarter.
By then our quarterback, unable to push the ball down the field for the ENTIRE 1st half, will try to force something in there…resulting in a turnover. Anything that starts the ball rolling the OTHER way, really.
Somewhence in the 3rd our defence starts to fade and “they” put up HUGE numbers on the scoreboard. Once they’ve established a comfortable lead, they back off on the pressure and our quarterback can start to breath and put up some numbers. But by then it’s WAY too late, and their running game is crushing the life out of a by now exhausted defence. And that’s IT. FINITO.
Now I could react reflexively and blame Jim Popp. After all…it was Jim Popp’s decision to saddle this team with an inexperienced, and as we NOW realize, TRULY malignant group of offensive linemen. Despite almost an entire season of poor play, NOBODY has been brought in to improve or upgrade the O-line.
On the other side of the ball, John Bowman and company basically counted steamboats as Mike Reilly tore them apart. And when they weren’t waving wistfully as Air Reilly launched another flight, they were left scratching their arses as the Eskimos tore up 172 yards on the ground…145 yards for tailback John White alone. All of which wouldn’t have been AS devastating if, when we actually brought some pressure, we managed to get to Reilly. But the Alouettes and their pressure 3-4 defence pulled a big GOOSE EGG for thanksgiving. NO sacks.
On the offensive side of the ball, I have to say that Chappers made a HUGE miscalculation. Cato achieved what he did last game IN PART because of the indecision an effective run game caused in the minds of the Arblows defence. Chapdelaine abandoned the run too early. Rutley was effective in limited reps. But the running game would have been MUCH more effective if Chapdelaine had used Cato as a weapon, just as he did against the Argos the week before.
Last week it was CLEAR that the read option and play actions were keeping the Argos defence guessing. However, this week Cato did NOT keep the ball on ONE designed running play. And just as a “playaction” is useless unless you have a credible running game, a read option ISN’T any kind of option at all, unless you occasionally let your quarterback carry the ball.
On a team with a WEAK offensive line, THIS is the key to keeping defences off your quarterback, and eventually giving him time in the pocket to make some plays. Chapdelaine ignored the ESSENTIAL message from his first win, and the Alouettes offence and Rakeem Cato paid the price.
The answer to our defensive woes may not be so simple. Strange to say, but when Jim Popp released Vaughn Martin on August 17th, he essentially cut the HEART out of this defence. The simple fact is, THIS defensive squad is anorexic. It is suffering from a serious lack of BEEF.
Normally the Noel Thorpe defence is adaptive…inserting and exchanging players as the defence adjusts to, and dictates the situation on the field. Generally speaking, the 3-4 defence is effective in passing situations, allowing the DC to use the extra linebacker as a hybrid, rushing the passer, dropping into coverage or tackling a runner. The vulnerability of the 3-4 defence is often against a team with a STRONG running game. One less defensive linemen means LARGER gaps for the running back, and the MISMATCH between a 350lb offensive lineman and a 188lb linebacker in (say) Chip Cox, over the course of an ENTIRE game, can get a bit overwhelming.
But that’s NOT on Chip Cox and it’s NOT on Noel Thorpe. A 3-4 defence is meant to be SUPPLEMENTED with a 4-3 in appropriate situations. RUNNING situations. Therein lies the “chess match”. So it appears in this case the Alouettes are playing chess…but with some of the pieces missing (take THAT Duron Carter).
Watching this defence’s uncharacteristic WEAKNESS in short yardage situations…well it’s a simple matter of physics. Momentum =Mass x Velocity. Without sufficient MASS, how can they NOT run out of energy…hence velocity…hence momentum? Without sufficient mass, this defensive line WILL inevitably remain vulnerable to the run. And as long as they are, the Alouettes will lose HARD to teams with legitimate running games.
But there’s a twist to this story of the lines. The CFL and TSN mandated that coaches and quarterbacks wear a “wire” during one game this year. Understandably as professional athletes, ANYTHING that could give your opponent a window into your secret world of playcalling and strategy is going to cause concerns. But for the Alouettes, this situation bordered on catastrophic.
Rakeem Cato is JUST coming off altercations with teammates. Rifts that (apparently) centered on teammates/cousins Carter and Stafford bullying Cato about the way he talks. Hopefully I don’t have to remind ANYONE how inappropriate it is to hassle ANYONE for their accent or dialect…EVEN if the guy comes from your own country. So it’s conceivable that Cato is nervous about the way he talks. Add the fact that he’s essentially a rookie quarterback, that his Head Coach is also a rookie, in his 2nd EVER game at the position, and the league FAILED to inform the Alouettes the Eskimos were opting out altogether…and you have a pretty uneven playing field:
“My understanding, and I took part in a conference call with people from the league, it seemed like it was fairly close to being a mandate for us,” said Alouettes head coach Jacques Chapdelaine, who agreed to the intrusion of the microphones on him and quarterback Rakeem Cato despite it being just his second game as a CFL head coach. “I understand the contractual obligation we have with TSN as an official broadcaster for our league. If I’d known people had that freedom of choice – let’s call it that – maybe we would have done the same thing.“Or maybe it would have been good to say they decided not to do this. Do you want to change your mind? That wasn’t communicated to us also.
”After all, fair is fair.
“You could say from a playing field, maybe it wasn’t entirely level on both sides,” Chapdelaine said.
The Eskimos explained that after all they’d been through to get to this point in the season, they thought the mics would be a disadvantage. Sounds fair, until you realize that once they declined that “disadvantage”, they were IMMEDIATELY given an advantage over the Alouettes. We’ve been through a fair bit this season ourselves. And that’s NOT counting the fact that with an experienced veteran quarterback in Reilly, AND a comparatively established Head Coach, they would ALREADY have had the advantage, HAD they participated.
So there you have it.
GM Jim Popp continues to deny this team the ESSENTIAL elements it needs to be successful…and this league continues to buttfuck the Alouettes into second class citizenship.
Well…no time to whine about things. We play Calgary in 5 days.
UPDATE: One final thing: THIS had to be the WORST tackling game I’ve seen from this team in YEARS. Despite everything else, if we’d finished EVERY tackle we conceivably could have won this game. Well…been close. OK. HAD A SHOT. I’m always a bit lost on that side of the ball…so I can’t really speak to what forces an ENTIRE defensive unit to miss ALL their tackles. But there HAS to be an answer. Noel Thorpe better find it FAST. It’s Jerome Messam in 5 days!