WINNIPEG – The Montreal Alouettes may be on a five-game losing skid, but quarterback Drew Willy isn’t viewing Friday’s game as a slam dunk for the Blue Bombers.
Winnipeg (5-3) has had troubles of its own lately, losing two straight heading into the home game against Montreal (1-6). And as much as the Alouettes are struggling, some of their losses have been in close games against good teams.
“We saw even last week, they played Saskatchewan very tough, to the wire there,” Willy said Thursday of Montreal’s 16-11 loss to the Roughriders.
“They’re not far off from winning games so we need to take them very seriously and that’s what we have been doing.”
The Alouettes stayed in Regina and arrived in Winnipeg Thursday afternoon.
“We very much intend to hopefully pick up where we left off,” Montreal head coach Tom Higgins said of the loss to the Riders.
“We thought that was one of our better outings of the football season.”
Toronto leads the CFL East Division with a 3-5 record, followed by Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal in a log jam at 1-6.
Higgins pointed to those pitiful standings — Montreal has never been 1-6 since rejoining the league in 1996 — as a saving grace.
“We’d like to get on a roll,” he said. “We’re very lucky that we’re in the East because no matter how it looks, we’re still sitting in second, as ugly as it might be.
“You get two wins, then all of a sudden you’re feeling pretty good about yourself.”
The Alouettes have averaged 21.3 points per game at home this season and only 8.0 on the road.
Calgary and Edmonton top the West Division with 6-1 records, while Saskatchewan is 5-2 and Winnipeg and B.C. are tied at 5-3.
In their first game against each other in Montreal, Winnipeg rallied for a 34-33 come-from-behind win, one of three late-game victories the Bombers have pulled out this season.
But Winnipeg’s last two losses exposed some weaknesses in a team that surprisingly jumped out to a 5-1 start.
Toronto threw four touchdown passes and racked up 174 rushing yards in a 38-21 home victory on Aug. 12 that included plenty of missed tackles by Bomber defenders.
Winnipeg’s last home game on Aug. 7 was a 23-17 loss to Saskatchewan, featuring six Bomber turnovers the Roughriders used to score 20 points in front of the first sellout crowd of the season.
“We had this long week to focus on technique, basically getting the things we’ve done wrong over the last few games back to the right way,” Winnipeg defensive tackle Bryant Turner said.
In all three of Winnipeg’s losses this season, they failed to stop the opposition’s ground game.
While Toronto rushed for 174 yards, Saskatchewan racked up 186 yards and Edmonton tallied 192 in its 26-3 victory against Winnipeg on July 17.
Montreal running back Brandon Whitaker isn’t a big, bruising back, but he’s been eating up the yards and sits third in the CFL in rushing yards with 406 yards on 87 carries. Winnipeg’s Nic Grigsby is first after rushing 97 times for 416 yards.
“(Whitaker is) a good back and I think they’re going to use him, especially with a new quarterback in there,” Bombers middle linebacker Ian Wild said.
Former Bomber pivot Alex Brink is making his second straight start for the Als in place of injured Troy Smith.
Brink, who played for Winnipeg from 2010-12 and went 3-4, is excited to go up against the Bombers, but noted there aren’t many familiar faces left.
“Outside of a handful of players, there’s not a lot of folks left in this organization that I’ve dealt with,” Brink said.
“So there’s no animosity or anything like that. It’s not a revenge game or anything. I’m excited to go out and play and we desperately need a W and so that’s really all that matters to me.”
Brink completed 19-of-31 passes for 187 yards with an interception against Saskatchewan, and was sacked three times by CFL leader John Chick.
Higgins said backup quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton and Tanner Marsh will get some playing time as the Alouettes continue to search for a long-term answer at that position.
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said his team won’t take Brink lightly.
“With a young quarterback who’s maybe not been handed the job, he’s going to try and make plays, not only with his arm, but with his feet,” O’Shea said.
“So you have to look at the fact that he’s probably going to try to pull the ball and run if he has to.”
O’Shea expects running will be in Montreal’s game package.
“If you look at what our defence has given up in the last couple games, then obviously part of their game plan will be to run the ball on us,” he said. “That’s not rocket science.”
Bomber cornerback Chris Randle said the defence won’t back down on attacking the Als.
“We need to attack in certain angles, more cohesive as a unit,” Randle said.
“That’s what we worked on all week long. We want to have it where everyone’s flying to the ball – organized chaos is what we call it.”
Winnipeg’s defensive front seven will be without two key players. Defensive end Jason Vega is out with turf toe and will be replaced by Kashawn Fraser. Linebacker Ejiro Kuale is sidelined with a back problem and Abe Kromah will take his spot.
Notes: Bomber receiver Nick Moore is back on the roster after missing three games with a foot injury. Romby Bryant comes off to make room … Montreal’s Mike Edem is expected to make his first start of the season at safety., taking injured linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette’s spot. Larry Taylor is back on the roster for Bo Bowling.