The Montreal Alouettes 2016 season could have ended very differently had they won one more game. Finishing with a record of 7-11, the Alouettes tied the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in points, but missed out on their second straight playoff appearance due to the Ticats winning the season series. Regardless of the final standings, it was a disappointing season for the Alouettes.
Yet, with every fall comes an opportunity to get back up. Montreal has a bright future ahead of them, and nowhere to go but up. Here are some takeaways from the Alouettes 2016 season.
Takeaways from Alouettes 2016 Season
Jim Popp Is Not a Head Coach
General manager Jim Popp stayed on the sidelines far too long this year. After firing Tom Higgins after win last season, Popp took over and went 3-7 the rest of the way. He then proceeded to name himself as head coach for 2016, and would carry the team to a 3-9 record. He stepped down in the Al’s second bye week, Week 14, handing the interim head coach title to Jacques Chapdelaine.
Chapdelaine has come in and shown the true potential of the Montreal Alouettes. He removed any players not fitting in with the team, such as Kenny Stafford and Duron Carter, and implemented his own system. It has worked wonderfully, as the team has gone 4-2 since Chapdelaine’s rise. There is now clear signs of hope for the once-almighty franchise.
The contrast between Chapdelaine and Popp on the sidelines is incredible. Under Chapdelaine, the players put it all out on the line, and the coaching staff worked harmoniously. While Popp was steering the ship into an iceberg, players were fighting on the sidelines, and his coordinators needed special titles to reaffirm their status. It was a situation on the verge of imploding.
This sharp incline in the team’s play goes to show Popp does not belong on the sidelines. The Alouettes did not win back-to-back games with him all season, but managed to string three straight together under Chapdelaine. They even ended the Calgary Stampeders 14-game win streak.
The stellar season end under Chapdelaine does not mean he becomes the full-time head coach next year. But when owner Bob Wetenhall looks for a new head coach, Popp’s name is surely out of the mix.
Defence Once Again Strong
It has never been an issue of defence for the Alouettes. The team remained one of the most feared and effective defences in the CFL this year. The unit allowed 371 total points, averaging to 20.6 points per game. That total is good enough for second-best in the league behind the Stamps.
The stellar pass defence, led by rookies Jonathon Mincy and Ethan Davis, as well as veteran Jovon Johnson, allowed the fewest passing touchdowns with 18. No other team allowed fewer than 20 passing TDs.
Despite seeing nearly 60 plays against them every game, the Alouette’s defence held their opponents to an average of 6.2 yards per play, good for second best in the league. The Alouettes also had 44 takeaways, third most in the league.
Three notable veteran Alouettes led the defence in 2016. Bear Woods, Winston Venable and John Bowman were forces to be reckoned with, and were the backbone of the defence. Woods, coming off a season-ending injury last season, recorded 126 tackles, finishing second in the league. He also had two interceptions, three forced fumbles, five sacks and four tackles for losses.
Venable wasn’t far behind Woods in the tackles category, finishing with 88. He also had seven sacks, finishing third on the team in that category. Bowman had the most sacks with 10, and the ageless wonder also recorded three forced fumbles.
Without those three players, the defence could not have done what they did this year. Unfortunately for them, the offence finished last in time of possession, and the defence was left out to dry for most of the season.
The Alouettes are certainly hoping Bowman, Woods and Venable all return next season.
Two Quarterbacks of the Future, No Starter
Vernon Adams Jr. and Rakeem Cato are both very good quarterbacks. One of them will have to be the team’s quarterback of the future next season. The only problem is that it’s hard to conclude who will fill that role.
Going into the year, Popp knew he needed to find a quarterback for the future – he has needed to find one since Anthony Calvillo last played a down in 2013. But Popp decided to go with the veteran Kevin Glenn for nine starts, before choosing to start Cato for the first time in Week 13. That whole time, Adams, for whom they traded a first-round pick, saw little playing time and threw only nine times.
In retrospect, it was a mistake to start Glenn for so long. Cato came in and showed he improved from last year, throwing for four touchdowns in his first start under Chapdelaine. He finished the season with six starts, going 122/181 passing for 1,403 yards, 8 TDs and only two interceptions. His TD-INT ratio is the biggest improvement over his 9 TDs – 9 INTs a year ago.
When Adams finally got his chance to shine in three starts, he showed everyone why the Alouettes gave up a first-round pick for him. The Alouettes won all three games, although Adams left the game against Calgary in the third quarter. He finished the season with 42/75 passes completed for 575 yards, four touchdowns and a single interception.
Adams displayed a rare skill set for the Alouettes, and might have gained a head start towards the starting job next year with his play. Adams has quick feet, a strong arm, and shows a lot more maturity than Cato. Cato, more often than not, makes the wrong play, and the wrong decision, like running the ball out instead of throwing it out. Adams has massaged those errors out of his game in very little time, and seems a lot more confident in the pocket than Cato.
With such a small sample size, the Alouettes organization cannot make any conclusions just yet. The team will have to let their two young quarterbacks battle it out in pre-season and practice next year. But for once, it’s looking bright behind the offensive line in Montreal.
New Core of Receivers
This year the Alouettes were supposed to have the best receiver group in the league. When Stafford and Carter joined S.J. Green in the off-season, the Alouettes looked to have a strong offence.
They never panned out, and besides Green, whose season was cut short with an ACL injury, they no longer play for the Alouettes.
Near the end of the season, the team looked towards CFL veterans Nik Lewis, Samuel Giguère and Tiquan Underwood as well as potential star B.J. Cunningham to carry their offence. Giguère shone under Chapdelaine, scoring five total TDs, and Cunningham caught two of his four total scores from Cato or Adams.
The franchise will now have a solid group in place to compliment their dual-threat run game led by Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley. It should be interesting to see who stays from that core heading into next season.