MONTREAL - Coach Marc Trestman is calling on the Montreal Alouettes to clean up their act on the football field.
The two-time defending Grey Cup champions, who at times have looked to be resting on their laurels, have lost five of their last eight games after a 25-23 setback to the Blue Bombers at home on Sunday.
The bleeding might only get worse with road games coming up Friday night in Edmonton and the following week in Winnipeg.
The fourth year head coach said his charges need to cut down on mistakes on offence, give up fewer big plays, create more turnovers, avoid penalties and get better pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
He said other teams save their best for the Alouettes because they are the reigning champions. His team has to match them.
"I knew there was going to be adversity, it was going to be different and it was going to be more difficult than ever," Trestman said Wednesday. "What we can do as a team is to embrace that."
It starts with turnovers.
At plus-3 on giveaways and takeaways, Montreal ranks fourth in the league, but they are 14 behind league-leading Winnipeg and are last in the CFL with only four interceptions.
"We're plus-3 and we've always been in the teens and the 20s, so we haven't found the football enough," he said. "We've done a reasonably good job of protecting it, but that's just one thing.
"We have to play consistently well. We have to play clean and disciplined. If we don't do that and we don't get takeaways, we're going to have issues."
As for the pass rush, which is fourth with 22 sacks, he said: "We don't have to sack the quarterback, but we have to make him earn it and we've got to keep him in the pocket. We've got to find ways of getting to the quarterback to create opportunities for takeovers."
On offence, he said there have been lapses and a failure to finish drives. Indiscipline has cost them games.
"But the No. 1 thing is we have to handle the edge other teams have," he added. "We know this is a very exciting time for our team.
"No one's had to do this (defend back to back titles) for a very long time, in any league anywhere. It doesn't effect us because this is a different team, but it effects how teams are playing us. It's a league that has improved dramatically, that has an edge every time they walk onto the field with us."
Trestman's mantra is that the team cannot repeat as champion because it doesn't have exactly the same personnel as the previous season. It's his way of keeping his players from coasting on past accomplishments, which may be part of the problem this year.
"I love this team and I understand what they're going through," he added in closing an emphatic response to a media question. "Some of it was expected, others not.
"I think this is one of those moments where we've got to get our collective sense of urgency. And what an opportunity. We're going against a team that's best in the west now and has one of the best quarterbacks (Ricky Ray) ever to play the game. And we'll find out where we are."
The Alouettes beat an injury pleagued Eskimos team at home on Aug. 11 but it should be tougher in Edmonton. The Esks are coming off a 38-23 thumping of the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton.
It hasn't helped that the five-man Montreal defensive backfield that they figured would be much improved this season has been pounded with injuries.
They lost Jerald Brown in the first game. Both he and all-star Mark Estelle are gone for the season, while safety Etienne Boulay is out with concussion symptoms.
Off-season signing Dwight Anderson also missed the last game, so that Billy Parker was the only member of the original backfield playing.
Anderson is to return Friday. De'Audra Dix, a starter last season who was cut in camp and then called back, and newcomers Seth Williams and safety Jeff Hecht complete the backfield.
Parker said they don't use personnel changes as an excuse for the occasional big play surrendered or the lack of picks.
"All the guys we have now were in camp with us," said Parker. "All of the checks, the communication, has all been the same. It seems like a lot of movement, but it really isn't.
"We still believe the interceptions are going to come. As we come together as a complete defence, it will start to click for us. We're not turning a blind eye to things. We're continuing to try to get better."
Middle linebacker Shea Emry and backup safety Tad Crawford (both with concussions) remain sidelined and receiver Kerry Watkins will sit out with a hamstring injury. Defensive lineman Moton Hopkins is out with an ankle and knee sprain, so Jermain McElveen will return to the lineup.
Trestman said slotback S.J. Green, who left Sunday in the first quarter with a knee injury, will be ready to play. Receiver and kick returner Tim Maypray may also be back.