Why are the Montreal Alouettes 5-0 and on top of the East Division?
There isn't a simple, easy one-line answer for that question - but Montreal's remarkable special teams play is one of the major reasons why they're the class of the CFL so far this year.
- Sensational rookie Chip Cox blocked a punt against Hamilton on July 6, which led to a touchdown and turned the tide in that game.
- Clint Kent recovered two special teams fumbles against Winnipeg on July 15, both leading to touchdowns. The first recovery was a real heartbreaker for the Bombers, as he lined up onside for a punt late in the second quarter.
- Cox blocked another punt against Hamilton last week.
- Eric Lapointe also took a direct snap on a fake punt attempt last week and rumbled 35 yards to set up a key touchdown in the second quarter. Montreal won by three points.
There isn't a 'Beware of the Don' sign hanging anywhere in the Edmonton Eskimo locker-room this week as the club prepares to battle Montreal tomorrow night at Commonwealth Stadium, but the team is definitely aware of coach Don Matthews' stunning track record this year.
"He's the master," said Esks' special teams coach Malvin Hunter of Matthews.
"He taught me a few (tricks) when he was here as my head coach."
And the former student has been grilling his players on the Eskimo special teams units all week, in meetings and on the field.
"We're going to have our hands full and we are going to have to play our best game thus far," said A.J. Gass, who is part of the punt-coverage team.
In fact, stopping Cox from charging off the edge of the line of scrimmage for his third block of the year is Gass's main responsibility.
But the veteran is very confident.
"The last thing I fear is a guy burning off the edge trying to block a punt on me," said Gass.
"The worst case scenario is he has to go right through me and if he does that, he will never get (to punter Sean Fleming).
"We're clued in on Cox.
"I anticipate that if they are going to try to block a punt, they will try to use somebody else."
And that is another thing the Esks are trying to prepare for: New, previously unviewed trick special teams plays.
"They're definitely going to come out with some things we haven't seen and we have to be prepared to see anything," said Will Loftus, who played for Matthews in Montreal earlier this decade.
"To (Matthews), special teams is the biggest part of the game.
"Any time you can block a punt or have a big swing in field position - through a punt return - it is a huge emotional lift for the team and it is a devastating blow when something goes wrong for the opposite team."