OTTAWA — After nearly a year and a half away from Canadian football, one of the most cherished weekends in the CFL is back.
To kick off Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, the Montreal Alouettes will be hosting the Ottawa REDBALCKS on Friday night.
Montreal and Ottawa have a long history of playing on Labour Day, the teams have meet 22 times over the holiday weekend. The first game of the series was played in 1949 which saw the then Ottawa Rough Riders narrowly edge the Alouettes 11-10.
Ottawa has won 11 of the last 18 meetings between the two teams since the return of the REDBLACKS in 2014. In the 18 games played since the series resumed 11 of them have been decided in the last three minutes of the game, while three games have been decided by a score of four points or less.
Matt Nichols and the Ottawa offence will be leaning on the emerging pass-catchers Ryan Davis and Nate Behar to continue their success against an aggressive Montreal defence. In their Week 4 matchup, Behar and Davis accounted for 18 targets on 23 passing attempts. The duo accounted for 136 receiving yards.
Behar transitioned to the slot back position against the BC Lions and impressed in his new role, reeling in a team high 13.2 yards per reception. While it was a new role for him on the Ottawa offence, it is an area of the field he knows well. Behar thrived in the slot as a member of the Carleton Ravens, hauling in 2,577 yards and 21 touchdowns.
However, the REDBLACKS have struggled to move the ball through the air this season and throwing won’t get any easier as their Week 5 opponent is one of the best defensive units in the league currently.
Through the first five weeks of the regular season the Als have allowed an average of 240 passing yards to opposing offences and boast the third-fewest passing yards allowed league wide.
In addition to the ball-hawking ability of their secondary, the Montreal front seven is equally as impressive. In their Week 4 matchup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Alouettes recorded a jaw-dropping six sacks, headlined by Michael Wakefield who totalled two sacks and a tackle for a loss. The Als now have 11 sacks on the season, the most of any CFL defence.
Montreal’s uncanny ability to get to the quarterback doesn’t bode well for an Ottawa offence that has allowed a league-high 13 sacks. Through the first four weeks of the season, 64 sacks have been allowed on 59 separate drives and no team has scored a touchdown on a drive where a sack ensues. In short, sacks are kryptonite for CFL offences.
If sacks are kryptonite, that makes quarterbacks Superman and the Alouettes offensive line has excelled at protecting their Superman in Vernon Adams Jr. The Montreal offensive line has surrendered just two sacks through their first three games.
The blocking ability of the Montreal offensive unit have allowed the Als to become one of the most explosive offences in the CFL.
The big play ability of the Montreal offence is something they will look to capitalize on in their matchup against the REDBLACKS, who have allowed 955 passing yards with opponents averaging 318.3 passing yards per game against Ottawa.
As an offence, Montreal’s 13.7 average depth per passing attempt is the longest in the CFL. The Als have also attempted a league-leading 25 passes of 20 yards or more, completing six for a gain of 30 or more.
Wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Eugene Lewis have been the focal point of an electric Montreal passing attack. The pair have combined for 48 targets on Adams Jr.’s 97 passing attempts, while totalling for a combined 356 of their signal caller’s 643 passing yards.
However, Montreal will need to be careful throwing downfield against the Ottawa secondary. Montreal has completed just seven of their deep ball passes, averaging a completion percentage of 28.
The REDBLACKS boast an aggressive set of defensive backs that excel at breaking on the ball and making teams pay for mistakes in the passing game. In their opening weekend matchup, Ottawa’s Abdul Kanneh caught two interceptions, one of which he returned 102 yards for a game stealing touchdown. That being said, the secondary will have to find success without him as he will miss his second game in a row with an injury.
National DB Justin Howell gets his second start this week at half back as does Brad Muhammad at corner.
The longstanding rivalry of Montreal and Ottawa will open Labour Day Weekend in the CFL with what is sure to be a showcase of hard hitting defence and explosive offensive play.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night and can be watched on TSN, RDS and ESPN+ or followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.