With just a single win on the season, the Montreal Alouettes will challenge the defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders in a clash of East and West Division squads at Mosaic Stadium.
Interestingly enough, the Alouettes hold a better positioning in their division than the Roughriders, although the records would not indicate it. The West's absolute dominance over the East, has all five teams in the group with a record above .500, with the Roughriders sitting in third place at 4-2. Meanwhile, over in the East Division, which is led by 3-4 Toronto, Montreal is tied for second place with Hamilton and Ottawa.
The Alouettes dropped their fourth straight game this past Friday, falling 33-23 to Edmonton, despite a mad rush in the second half. Montreal trailed 30-8 at halftime, but outscored the Eskimos 15-3 in the final two quarters, including a 12-point eruption in the fourth quarter. It was not enough for the squad, which is last in the CFL in total offense (274.7 ypg).
The Troy Smith experiment continued last Friday for Montreal, with the former Ohio State standout completing 20-of-45 pass attempts for 231 yards and a touchdown to match an interception. This season, the second of Smith's CFL career, has gone poorly as he has completed only 47.7 percent of his pass attempts for 989 yards, while throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions (four). Smith's troubles leave Montreal as the worst passing team in the entire league (177.7 ypg).
That has called for a change, as Montreal has made some changes in regards to the offense. Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia has moved from consultant to quarterbacks coach, while former Boise State quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie is the new offensive coordinator. On the field, Smith will be replaced by Alex Brink under center for Saturday's game.
Running the ball has come a bit easier for the Alouettes. Spearheaded by Brandon Whitaker, who is second in the CFL in rushing yards (378), Montreal ranks fourth in the CFL in yards on the ground (97 pg). Whitaker racked up 79 yards on 15 carries against Edmonton. The six-year veteran also brought in three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Duron Carter also had a standout game against Edmonton. A former Buckeye himself, Carter hauled in 10 passes for 112 yards, both game-highs, as he more than doubled his production from the first five games of the year. Kenny Stafford (16 receptions, 202 yards, TD) has been the primary target most weeks, although Carter now leads the team in receptions with 17.
Defensively speaking, the Alouettes are not the worst team in the league, but they certainly don't put up enough of a barrier to opposing offenses. The team is seventh in the CFL in total defense (369.3 ypg), primarily due to their inability to stop the run. They are the only team in the CFL to be letting up more than 110 rushing yards per game.
John Bowman has done his part, especially on the pass rush, totaling five sacks to go with 16 tackles. Bowman has had at least 11 sacks in four of the last five seasons and looks well on his way to adding to that total. Chip Cox (29), Kyries Hebert (25), Geoff Tisdale (25) and Marc-Olivier Brouillette all have more than 20 tackles on the campaign.
The second half was also kind to Saskatchewan in its last contest, Facing Winnipeg last Thursday, the Roughriders scored 20 of their 23 points after halftime en route to a 23-17 triumph. The key score of the game came when Terrell Maze intercepted Winnipeg's Drew Willy and returned the ball 28 yards for a touchdown with just over two minutes left in regulation.
The big defensive play made up for a rather sorry offensive game for the Roughriders, who were only able to squeeze out 301 yards of total offense. Of course, Saskatchewan is not a team built on offensive brilliance, grabbing four wins in six games despite ranking sixth in the league in total offense (339.3 ypg).
Darian Durant has not been asked to do too much this season. He is guilty of five interceptions and is completing less than 60 percent of his pass attempts (.595), but he has six touchdown passes and 1,186 passing yards. He only had 115 yards passing against Winnipeg, but he completed a solid 13-of-21 of his attempts.
Durant hasn't needed to make exceptional plays with his arm due to the Roughriders' dedication to the running game. Led by the three-headed backfield of Anthony Allen (241 yards, TD), Will Ford (226 yards, five TDs) and Jerome Messam (140 yards), Saskatchewan is ranked at the very top of the CFL in rushing yards (135.7 ypg). It is one of only three teams that is averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground. Messam had his best game of the season against Winnipeg, tallying 126 yards on 19 carries.
If running the ball is the offense's strength, then stopping it is the defense's for the Roughriders. They are the third best team in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed (94.2 ypg). However, their passing defense has been much more suspect, as they let up 273.5 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the CFL. Creating mistakes helped them overcome the 303 yards they allowed to Winnipeg, as Maze's pick was one of three the team had in the victory.
Mark LeGree had two of those interceptions and is now the CFL leader in the category with three on the campaign. As a team the Roughriders have forced 14 turnovers this season.
Getting pressure on the quarterback has certainly helped in that regard. Led by CFL-leader John Chick, who has nine sacks this season, the Roughriders have an astounding 26 quarterback takedowns. Tearrius George (five), Ricky Foley (four) and Derek Walker (three) are all dangerous on the pass rush as well.
Although Montreal is currently the lower team in terms of record, it has been the dominant squad between these two teams all-time, with a record of 38-29-1 against the Roughriders. The Alouettes have also won four of the last five meetings, including a season sweep in 2012.