Switch puts Als over top

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:35 AM ET

If the Montreal Alouettes win the Grey Cup tonight, don't be surprised if head coach Don Matthews takes the podium and screams: "Gotcha!"

The Alouettes were supposed to be watching today's CFL championship game on TV, because their defence was supposedly toast.

The legendary Don fiddled with his defence all season, just as he did before the team's 2003 Grey Cup loss to the Eskimos.

Als defensive tackle Ed Philion commented before their game in Winnipeg in late July that the Als were in the process of changing their defensive philosophy.

Obviously they were still working on it, because the woeful Bombers went out and romped to a 51-46 victory.

Montreal got away from its pressure defence and changed personnel in the process. Out were undersized defensive ends like Marc Megna, and in were mountain men like 6-foot-5, 295-pound Mark Word.

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Blitzing was a bad word in the Belle Province. It was all about a conventional pass rush and containment.

"That's the kind of thing you do in the off-season, not when the season is already in full swing," Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd wrote last week before the Als' East Division final against the Toronto Argonauts. "It felt very much like panic at the time. It looks like panic now."

Maybe that was Matthews' master plan all along. Maybe he was just toying with everyone.

Because Mark Word was nowhere to be found last Sunday when the Als put so much pressure on Argos quarterback Damon Allen that it looked like his head might explode.

In their first real must-win test of the season, the Alouettes trounced the defending champs 33-17.

"Damon Allen was confused the whole game," linebacker Timothy Strickland told the Montreal Gazette.

Once again, Matthews looks like the evil genius.

You gotta give him credit. He wins when he has to.

And let's face it: had quarterback Anthony Calvillo not been hurt in last year's East final against the Argos, the Alouettes would be playing in their fourth straight Grey Cup today.

The defensive tinkering led to a very average 10-8 regular-season record, but the Als' offence was once again magnificent. It led the league in points scored, first downs, offensive yards, passing yards, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and pass completion percentage.

Despite losing Jeremaine Copeland and Thyron Anderson (for part of this season), Calvillo still found a way to get 1,000 yards for four of his receivers for the second straight season; Kerry Watkins, Terry Vaughn, Ben Cahoon and Dave Stala were all grand.

And let's not forget about the running game, which was basically non-existent in Montreal for years.

Robert Edwards, a former first-round NFL draft pick who suffered what was thought to be a career-ending knee injury six years ago, burst onto the scene with 147 rushing yards in a win over Saskatchewan on Aug. 8. Despite the late start, he went on to record 1,199 yards on just 187 carries.

Edwards, however, is doubtful to play today because of a rib injury, which means non-import Eric Lapointe will have to carry the load.

GM Jim Popp also made a couple of deft moves, acquiring two starters -- offensive lineman Dave Mudge and cornerback Ricky Bell -- from the Bombers. Trading receiver Kwame Cavil to the Eskimos didn't hurt them one bit, either.

The future of Matthews, meanwhile, might be up in the air after tonight's game. His act usually wears thin after about four or five years, and that expiration date has arrived.

He even hinted earlier this week that he will retire if the Als win tonight.

That's Don Matthews for you, always messing with our minds.


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