Missing the Cut: What’s Next for These CFL Squads?

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CFL
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 08: Look on Montreal Alouettes Quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) at warm-up before the Calgary Stampeders versus the Montreal Alouettes game on October 8, 2018, at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While all eyes are rightfully on the six CFL teams that will be making the playoffs. Three teams are left picking up the pieces on disappointing 2018 campaigns. Some of which had much higher expectations (Toronto, Edmonton), than others (Montreal). As the regular season winds down, we take a look at what went wrong for these three squads and why there’s hope for 2019.

Montreal Alouettes

After tightly contested losses to Saskatchewan, Calgary and Toronto. Johnny Manziel and the Montreal Alouettes finally grabbed their first win since Week 12. Could a convincing 40-10 win over the similarly struggling Toronto Argonauts be a glimmer of hope going into 2019? A lot would have to change for the Alouettes to get themselves back into the playoff conversation.

What Went Wrong?

It was brutally apparent that this team would not be a contender as early as Week 2 when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers walked out of Molson Stadium with a 56-10 victory. The Alouettes weren’t afraid to spend money in the offseason going after high-profile free agents such as Chris Williams, Jamaal Westerman, Tommie Campbell and Mitchell White. However, this team was devoid of talent at crucial positions on the field such as the offensive line.

The offensive line was a work in progress throughout the entire season allowing 63 sacks through 17 games. That’s 22 more than the next closest team (Ottawa). In 17 games, Montreal started 12 different offensive line combinations. Furthermore, they never started a similar combination of players on the offensive line more than three times. If you’re trying to figure out why the Als rank dead last in rushing touchdowns, total points and possession time, the trenches would be a good place to start. The Alouettes will need to address the offensive line this offseason through free agency, they are currently young at this position group, a veteran presence could stabilize this unit.

What to Look Forward to in 2019

After throwing so many resources to acquire Johnny Manziel, one would think that it would be wise to give him the keys in 2019. The Alouettes appear to have other plans, inking Antonio Pipkin, Vernon Adams Jr. and Jeff Matthews to short-term extensions. Pipkin and Adams have shown flashes while Matthews made a name for himself as the short-yardage quarterback in Hamilton, compiling nine touchdowns in two seasons. There’s a lot of potential in this group of young quarterbacks, if the Alouettes can determine a starter by the end of pre-season and give them the keys to the offence, it could spark this group.

While it remains to be seen if Head Coach Mike Sherman and his staff will return in 2019, the Alouettes have talented players on this team. Henoc Muamba anchors the defence along with playmakers such as B.J. Cunningham and Ernest Jackson on offence.

Montreal will also dawn a new set of threads in 2019 as per this teaser released a few weeks ago:

Toronto Argonauts

This article could be very different right now if Ricky Ray didn’t suffer a season and potentially career-ending injury early in the season. The defending Grey Cup champions are left scratching their heads after a devastating season that saw high hopes for a repeat. Coming into the season there was lots to be excited about, Ricky Ray’s last hurrah, Marc Trestman still at the helm and talk of James Wilder Jr. putting up 1000 rushing and 1000 receiving yards in a full season. However, that talk ended early with shaky quarterback play down the stretch and a lack of identity on defence.

What Went Wrong?

Just about everything. But let’s start with defence. The Argos ranked last in three key categories going into the final week of the regular season. Points against (536), sacks (22) and interceptions (12). Only two starters remain on defence as of Week 21 from their Grey Cup lineup a year prior. Defensive linemen Cleyon Laing and Dylan Wynn. With so much turnover it’s no wonder the Argos struggled to get stops throughout the entire season.

On offence, James Wilder Jr. got off to a slow start but still amassed a respectable stat line of 691 rushing yards and 539 receiving yards in just 13 games. The bigger story, however, was the inconsistent play at quarterback after future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray went down. James Franklin, who was touted as the next great young quarterback didn’t appear ready throwing for eight touchdowns versus nine interceptions. His counterpart Mcleod Bethel-Thompson put up a similar stats going for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Both completed 65% of their passes and displayed potential, such as Bethel-Thompson’s comeback victory over the Redblacks in Week 8.

What to Look Forward to in 2019

Assuming Ricky Ray hangs it up, the Argos can look forward to a quarterback competition in 2019. However, what hasn’t been discussed is the potential free agent quarterbacks on the market. Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell and Trevor Harris are all currently on the last year of their deals. It has been a while since the CFL has seen major movement from star pivots, don’t rule out Toronto looking to make a splash if any of these quarterbacks hit the market. If not, it’s safe to assume they’re comfortable with what they have in Franklin and Bethel Thompson. Similarly to Montreal, there is talent scattered throughout this team, Duron Carter was very underutilized in double blue if he returns, look for him to be a focal point of the offence. If Wilder can stay healthy, that’s two game-breakers on offence.

Defensively, there is a little more work to be done. But the acquisition of Jeff Knox Jr. is a good start. Cleyon Laing is still an effective pass-rusher as well, he put up his second-highest sack total (six) of his career in 2018. While there are rumours swirling on the futures of Jim Popp and Marc Trestmen, if they do end up returning, they are the right men in charge of righting the ship.

Edmonton Eskimos

Perhaps the most disappointed fan base out of these three franchises would be the Edmonton Eskimos. Despite there being just nine teams in the CFL, it takes some time for each city to be given the chance to host the Grey Cup (unless your Vancouver or Toronto). When this happens, expectations reach another level. For the first time since 2010, Edmonton was named the host city for the Grey Cup. After a tightly contested 32-28 loss in the 2017 West Final, the Eskimos appeared ready to make a run for it all in 2018. However, to their disappointment, the Eskimos were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 20.

What Went Wrong?

At one point it looked as if the Eskimos were ready to contend for first in the West. A 48-42 victory in the Labour Day rematch over Calgary had the Eskimos thinking playoffs. At 7-5 it was hard to blame anyone for believing that, however, the wheels came off shortly after. Edmonton has since lost four of their last five and now coaching changes are being rumoured before the season has concluded. Mike Reilly certainly wasn’t the problem putting up 5,000+ yards passing, 29 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 99.1. The receiving end of many of those yards and touchdowns was standout Duke Williams, amassing 10 touchdowns and 1,534 yards.

Discipline was the major culprit for the Eskimos this season. Which is why many fingers are pointing to head coach Jason Maas on the hot seat. Turnovers were also an issue, the Eskimos were third-last in the league with 49 of their own. As Jeff Burns noted in his article, the Eskimos have struggled to find an identity all season long. That directly correlates with the coaching staff and current regime in place. There could be a change on the horizon, but it’s not all doom and gloom for the Esks.

What to Look Forward to in 2019

While Mike Reilly is scheduled to be a free agent after 2018, it’s a safe bet that Edmonton will do everything in its power to keep their star pivot. Beyond that, Duke Williams, Derel Walker and Almondo Sewell are all franchise cornerstones to continue building around. A new coaching staff may be the breath of fresh air the Eskimos have needed since trudging along with Maas the last three seasons. Either way, an interesting off-season is in store for Edmonton.

The Last Word

The CFL is as unpredictable as any other professional league out there. Look anywhere from the defending Grey Cup champion, Argos missing the playoffs to the Lulay led Lions heading back to the post-season after being left for dead mid-season. Anything can happen in this league. While some of these teams need more help than others, there is something to look forward to for Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto going into 2019. But for now, the attention turns to the remaining six teams in what is sure to be an exciting race for the 106th Grey Cup.

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