How the Alouettes offensive line dominated vs. Roughriders
The Montreal Alouettes came under fire earlier this season because of the amount of times quarterback Cody Fajardo had been sacked. During their most recent bye week, head coach Jason Maas and general manager Danny Maciocia made a point of addressing the team’s play in the trenches. Since then, things have gotten much better, especially for the offensive line.
Their first game after their bye week was at home against Calgary. The Als were without starting right tackle Landon Rice, but his replacement, Jamar McGloster, played extremely well. The entire unit was solid. Not only did they allow just one sack, but they were also able to run the ball effectively, as William Stanback finished with 86 yards on 15 carries.
The following week, in Hamilton, the offensive line helped Stanback run for more than 100 yards (106) for the first time in 2023. They allowed only two sacks.
But last Friday’s performance against the Saskatchewan Roughriders was their best one yet. The Als allowed just one sack and they managed to rush for 186 yards without Fajardo and Stanback.
“I feel like we really came together,” center Justin Lawrence said. “I feel like it was a build up of events. I feel like we, as an offensive line, have been hitting our stride each week. We’re getting better. I feel like this game was a big performance for us. With Cody not being able to play last week, we knew we had to step up and kind of take over in the running game. We had to help give the offence a little extra boost. We were motivated.”
The way the 41-12 decision played out was an offensive lineman’s dream. The Als threw just 13 passes, and they ran the ball 33 times with Caleb Evans, Walter Fletcher and Jeshrun Antwi. On Tuesday, the CFL announced that the Als offensive line was named the league’s top unit of the week.
“What else can you ask for? For an offensive line, you just put your head down and just run through somebody over and over and over again. I love that kind of stuff,” starting left tackle Nick Callender said of running the ball as often as the Als did on Friday night.
I can keep writing about the way the offensive line played, but I prefer to show you. Let’s analyze some of the best clips in both the passing game and the running game from the win over the Roughriders.
Let’s start with the screen pass to Fletcher that went for 68 yards:
As you can see from the above clip, the two guards (#68 P.O. Lestage and #51 Kristian Matte) and the centre (#64 Lawrence) do a great job of getting up the field to set up blocks for the Als running back. All three guys got a piece of a Roughriders defensive player, which creates more running room for Fletcher. That ended up being one of the more explosive plays of the game for the offence.
Let’s look at a play where the offensive tackles stood out. Fletcher lines up behind Evans before the snap. He receives the handoff to the quarterback’s left side, and he runs for a 20-yard gain. How did that happen?
Look at Rice (#55), who starts the play at his normal spot at right tackle (furthest offensive lineman to the right). As soon as the ball is snapped, he immediately heads to the left side of the offensive line to block Roughriders defensive back Jeremy Clark (#37). Callender (#62), who is at left tackle, does a great job of sealing the edge and blocking defensive end Pete Robertson (#45). The Rice and Callender blocks created a huge running lane that Fletcher identified, and it led to another huge gain for the Alouettes.
Finally, let’s break down the Evans touchdown pass to Austin Mack. On this play, we’ll give credit to all five offensive linemen.
The Riders send four players to rush the Als quarterback. Robertson (#45) lines up like he’s going to rush the passer, but he drops back to cover Fletcher. Defensive lineman Micah Johnson (#4) twists inside, but the Als offensive line was able to pick that up thanks to improved communication. By my count, it took 3.5 seconds for Evans to find Mack from the moment he received the snap from Lawrence. That’s a long time in pro football. If you watch the play unfold, he could’ve held on to the ball even longer if he needed to.
“We have controlled the ball a little more on offence,” offensive line coach Luc Brodeur-Jourdain said of his group’s performance over the last three games. “We’ve been able to get momentum on our side and we’ve been able to perform at a high level in the fourth quarter of games. That’s because we’ve been able to wear down the opposing defence. We’ve seen some nice runs late in the fourth quarter. Last week, we got the ball with roughly 5:40 remaining in the game, and we were able to run down the clock to about one minute. That’s a sign of a good offensive line and I’m really proud of them.”