There is befuddlement, and frustration, even if the emergency reserve of optimism remains untapped for the moment.
Understandable, really, when you consider that in the opening half-dozen games of the 2013 CFL season, the Montreal Alouettes’ perennial strength – offence, and specifically the passing game – has suddenly become a weakness.
Consistency is hard to achieve in pro sports, and no team is immune from sputtering to a stop at an inopportune time (see the 2012 B.C. Lions).
As the Als (2-4) face the not-so-tantalizing prospect of a road game against the 6-1 Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday – it’s a decent bet the Riders will be feeling vengeful after losing in Calgary last week – they sit dead last in the CFL in touchdowns scored, total offence, passing yardage, and first downs.
They’ve punted more, fumbled more and been intercepted more times than any other team in the league.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, 41 next week, suddenly looks like a guy with 19 CFL seasons on the odometer – his completion rate of 59 per cent is his worst since 1998.
But Calvillo’s only one guy, and while distributing the ball is his responsibility, it’s up to others to catch and run with it.
It doesn’t help that two of his top options – Jamel Richardson and Brandon Whitaker – have been injured or diminished this year (Whitaker is a possibility for Saturday, injured shoulder willing).
The offensive line is also down two regulars, and there’s general confusion concerning the offence overseen by former head coach Dan Hawkins, the broken pieces of which have been left for general manager Jim Popp to clean up.
It’s not ideal, but the players will tell you there’s only one thing to do.
“Repetition,” Calvillo said, “is really the only solution.”
Offensive assistants Doug Berry and Mike Miller introduced a bevy of new plays when the reins were handed to them, but have since throttled back, Calvillo said.
Even still, there’s a lot to absorb.
“Last year, there weren’t any dotted lines, if the pattern was 10 yards, it was 10 yards. This year, there are options, depending on the defence. But now that we’re getting more reps, we’re getting better at it,” the quarterback said.
There’s a temptation to think Hawkins violated the most sacred principle of all successful organizations – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but that’s not entirely fair.
Last season, under head coach Marc Trestman, the Als slipped to a middle-of-the-pack offence in statistical terms.
Calvillo had his highest interception total in three years, his completion percentage and total yards fell from the previous year (he still topped 5,000 yards) and his passer rating has declined steadily since 2010.
Some of that doubtless has to do with things such as injuries and luck. But it could also be the rest of the CFL has noticed, for example, how Toronto Argonauts defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones has deftly flummoxed the Als with ever-shifting looks.
Whatever the reason, Montreal’s carefully choreographed offence, which prides itself on doing exactly the right thing at the precise moment, isn’t hearing the music at the moment.
“You look at the tape and you see a succession of individual errors on almost every play … but we’re fixing them, we truly feel we’re headed in the right direction,’ centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain said.
Lest that sound like bravado, it’s important to keep the Als’ 2-4 start in perspective.
Even had they lost the games they won – both were close, after all – they’ve had worse stretches, such as a seven-game losing skid in 2006.
The only losing season since the team was reborn in 1996, was in 2007, with Popp at the helm, when they limped to a 2-6 finish.
Even then, they qualified for the postseason. It’s not outside the realm of possibility they could do so again; the Als still have more wins than the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the league’s basket-case franchise.
It’s thin consolation, but under the circumstances, the Als will take it.