MONTREAL - If you listen carefully to all that’s being said and believe every line that’s being written, the sky is falling and the Montreal Alouettes are in the midst of a free fall.
From afar, the pigskin picture in Montreal, where the team once served as the CFL’s measuring stick, is ominous, black clouds gathering following each deficient effort on defence.
Unless Anthony Calvillo miraculously discovers a new shoulder, this valiant quarterback is going to somehow have to find a way to persevere through the discomfort in his non-throwing arm and summon some kind of energy on offence to compensate for a defence that’s as bad as any in three-down football.
Talk to Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich and the one-time Als assistant refuses to buy into any of it, even as the evidence mounts, even as the epitaph begins to take shape.
In football, a wounded foe is the most dangerous and clearly the Als have their backs up against the proverbial wall so early in the season.
In their peak, the Als were running away with the East by Week 5 in the season, cutting a swath and basically playing out the string before fall kicks in and the push for the Grey Cup commences.
Not this year and in retrospect the genesis of Montreal’s decline, for a lack of a better word, began last year when the gap between these haves in the East dwindled.
When Hamilton lit up the Als in the East semifinal, it proved a wake-up call in Montreal, where changes, mainly on defence, were initiated.
Jeff Reinebold may or may not be in over his head, but he hasn’t been associated in the CFL for a decade and changes on either side of the ball do require time.
Heading into Friday night’s meeting with the visiting Argos, Montreal’s defence has yielded an average of 35 points in four games and got lucky in a home win over Calgary when Kevin Glenn made like Glen Campbell.
“I know those players,’’ said Milanovich. “I know their coaches and they are not to be under-estimated. I promise you.”
It’s what you’d expect to hear from Milanovich or any other coach preparing for a game, let alone a game with an emotional connection.
No game is as important as the next, but in the case of the Argos, exceptions are made in a year of big expectations.
Friday night looms as one of those must wins for the Argos, who haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in the land of smoke meat.
Players need to rally around their coach and provide Milanovich with validation, something he’ll achieve if a win over the Als is achieved.
In their season opener, the Argos could not give Ricky Ray his due by laying an egg in Edmonton on a night when the visitors self-destructed and did little of anything to support their star quarterback.
On Friday night, the Argos need to beat the Als to further diminish Montreal’s stature and, in turn, give Toronto credibility.
The talent on the field should be obvious for all to see, the necessary tweaks in personnel and schemes being made as part of the process, but there comes a time when mental toughness and resolve must surface and Friday looms as that day.
Matchup-wise, the Argos have size in the secondary to go up against Montreal’s big and physical receivers.
It’s no secret that the key to Calvillo, a rhythm quarterback, is to disrupt his timing and there’s enough talent on Toronto’s line of scrimmage to force A.C. to hang on to the football longer.
The way Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, another one-time Als assistant, likes to disguise looks and bring pressure packages, you know the Argos are going to throw everything at Montreal’s offence.
But it’s on defence where the Als are most susceptible, coming off a performance where Ticats quarterback Henry Burris had a rating of 156.3, two shy of perfection.
“It’s a new scheme,’’ Milanovich said of the Als. “Just like us, they have the ability to be a great defence. It’s just a matter of how things sort out.
“There are portions of games where they’ve dominated, similar to our offence.”
The only difference is there’s no Ricky Ray quarterbacking a defence.