Alouettes, Argonauts feed off systematic success | Football | CBC Sports

CFLAlouettes, Argonauts feed off systematic success

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2012 | 07:18 PM

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Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, left, and coach Marc Trestman celebrate in the dressing room after the Alouettes won the 97th Grey Cup in Calgary in 2009. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, left, and coach Marc Trestman celebrate in the dressing room after the Alouettes won the 97th Grey Cup in Calgary in 2009. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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Admired by many in North America as an offensive mastermind, Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman has implemented an intricate offensive system that has enabled the Als to lead the league in total offence, passing yards and points year after year.
It was only four years ago that Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp was successful in convincing Marc Trestman to come to the Canadian Football League.

Admired by many in North America as an offensive mastermind, Trestman has implemented an intricate offensive system that has enabled the Als to lead the league in total offence, passing yards and points year after year.

Trestman's system has continued to frustrate defences and has been instrumental in the Als' success over the past four years, resulting in three Grey Cup appearances and two championships.

Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich was mentored by Trestman over the past four years and is attempting to introduce the same system and success to the Argos this season.

As the Argos work to implement the system we have a very interesting opportunity to evaluate its effectiveness, as Milanovich attempts to duplicate it with a new team and new set of players.  

We also have the unique chance to gauge how far along the Argos have progressed in their ability to execute the system as we compare them to Montreal.

This week we witnessed the system dismantle one of the best defences in the CFL, as Anthony Calvillo systematically completed pass after pass leading the Als to a convincing 38-25 victory over the Eskimos.

Executing to perfection, the Als' offence was able to get the Eskimos' aggressive defence back on its heels and within a blink of an eye, Montreal was up 28-0.

Although the final score looks flattering to Edmonton, this game was never close. The only mistake that Montreal made in the game was taking its foot off the Eskimos' throat too soon.

Montreal came into this week's contest missing two key players, Brandon Whitaker and Jamal Richardson.

Many questioned whether the Alouettes had the talent to challenge the Eskimo defence. Sprinkle on a little Victor Anderson and a little more Brandon London into the system and presto... continued offensive dominance.  

As much as I am impressed by the effectiveness of the system, it requires players with the right set of skills to make it work.

I have been around coaches who will insist that everyone is replaceable because it is not the player but rather the system that brings success.

Both Montreal and Toronto have general managers who fully appreciate this point. Jim Popp and Jim Barker understand football well enough that they look for specific skills that are needed to make their systems work.

How does the system work?

The offence is a very detailed framework that requires all players to make adjustments according to what the defence gives to them.

When asked to describe the system, Argos guard Tony Washington said, "There are more rules in this offence than any other offence I've been in."

The challenge is that every player needs to see the same thing, and every player needs to make the right adjustment in order for the system to work.

The system requires a quarterback who can not only make the appropriate adjustments, but has consistent accuracy with his throws and tremendous patience to make throws that the defence gives and if the play breaks down, has the will to simply throw the ball away rather than hold onto the it and risk taking a sack.

The system requires a strong offensive line that can give the quarterback three seconds in the pocket. It requires big target receivers that can handle physical defensive play, make adjustments on the fly, break their routes off at the appropriate depth, consistently catch the football and get yards after the catch. It requires a running back that is willing to help out in pass protection, catches the ball well and makes people miss in space.  

Players who play in the system need to be athletes who take pride in film study in order to prepare themselves. It requires players that are comfortable thinking on the football field and players who can quickly read what the defence is trying to do in order to make appropriate adjustments on the fly.

In an attempt to uncover what type of defence a team is playing, both receivers and running backs will do a lot of pre-snap movement. Once they get into their assignments, they are then required to read what coverage their defender is playing and then adjust the path and/or the depth of their route on the fly.

Many questioned the Argos' decision to release Cory Boyd this past week. He is a tremendous talent with the ball in his hands, but he is not a player who fits well into the system.

I am sure that Milanovich was hoping that with time, Boyd would fit into the system but unfortunately he never did. For the Argos to continue to progress offensively, they needed to get him out of the way.

After the game this week, I don't believe anyone can argue that Chad Kackert is not the better choice. This week he touched the ball 19 times for 135 yards against Calgary. The running back will be a key storyline as we move into the second half of the season and a big part of the Argos' success this year.

People need to understand that the primary job of the running back in the system is to make sure that the linebackers stay honest in the depth of their drops. The deeper you allow the linebackers to get, the more difficult it is to complete passes because the receivers don't have enough time to clear the linebackers before the pass rush gets to the quarterback.

How to defend the system

If the offence is designed to take what the defence gives to them, then the best defence is the one that drops back in zone coverage and forces the quarterback and receivers to consistently put together 10-12 play drives to score points.

The system is all predicated on the offensive player understanding the defensive coverage and completing the pass inside of three seconds. If this is true then the best defence is one that is disguised well, forces the quarterback to throw short underneath routes and disrupts the timing of the routes with aggressive hands on play in order to buy some additional time for the pass rush to get to the quarterback.

By taking away the deeper routes, a defence will force the quarterback to throw to his check down short outlet pass. If a defence can tackle the short pass well, the odds play into their favour and the offence has a difficulty moving the chains.

Not surprisingly the Als have the most productive passing attack in the CFL. What is a little more surprising to me is that the Argos sit third in the league in passing productivity.

The system is tough to beat. I am very interested to see how Toronto progresses over the second half of the season offensively because if it does, watch out.

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