CFL Week 10 Preview: Winless Elks face a challenge in containing WR Kenny Lawler

2R4EP76 Edmonton, Canada. 27th May, 2023. May 27, 2023, EDMONTON, AB, CANADA: Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenny Lawler (89) breaks free from a tackle on Edmonton Elks' Dwayne Thompson II (37) during first half CFL preseason action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday May 27, 2023. (Credit Image: © Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy Live News

• Can Edmonton contain WR Kenny Lawler?: Lawler has been unstoppable in his two games back, averaging a league-high 5.51 yards per route run. His 88.3 receiving grade leads the CFL over that span.

• Calgary goes as QB Jake Maier goes: In the three Stampeders’ wins, Maier has an 80.8% adjusted completion rate on a 7.6-yard average depth of target with a 4-to-1 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio and an 81.7 passing grade. In their five losses, those numbers move to 66.5%, 9.4, 6-to-12 and 51.7.

• Argos RB A.J. Ouellette is the most complete back in the CFL: His 88.0 rushing grade ranks first in the CFL, as does his 70.7 receiving grade. His 63.9 pass-blocking grade ranks third, and his 73.5 run-blocking grade places first.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes


With the clock ticking down to another exciting weekend of Canadian football, here is PFF's CFL Week 10 preview, highlighting the must-watch matchups and players set to shine on the field.


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WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS VS. EDMONTON ELKS

The Elks haven’t won a single game this season, and on paper there’s little reason to think that will change this week. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are one of the best teams in the CFL and have already beaten Edmonton. But the game still has to be played. Edmonton will need to rely on its defense to slow down the vaunted Bombers offense, starring running back Brady Oliveira (78.9 overall grade, No. 3-ranked RB), WR duo Kenny Lawler (86.9, No. 1 WR) and Dalton Schoen (76.6, No. 2 WR), and top QB Zach Collaros (91.6, No. 1 QB). Edmonton will also be starting young Canadian quarterback Tre Ford in an attempt to spark an offense that has shown very little thus far this season. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR KENNY LAWLER, WINNIPEG VS. CB KAI GRAY, EDMONTON

As a rookie, Gray has been given the difficult job of starting at cornerback for a struggling defense. While he hasn’t been bottom-of-the-league poor, he hasn’t exactly turned heads, either. Quarterbacks targeting Gray have a passer rating of 130.6, which is the seventh highest in the league. This week will be his toughest matchup yet, as he goes against perhaps the best wide receiver n the CFL right now.

Lawler has been unstoppable in his two games back, averaging a league-high 5.51 yards per route run. His 88.3 receiving grade leads the CFL over that span. Lawler has been virtually unguardable, and his overall stats all rank inside the top 30 already, after just two games. If he continues to play as well as he has been, it’s going to be a long game for the rookie Gray.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB TRE FORD, EDMONTON

This one is a no-brainer. After eight weeks of a struggling Taylor Cornelius and a mixed-bag Jarret Doege, the Elks are finally giving Ford a chance. Ford started two games in 2022 and didn’t exactly show out passing the football. He finished with just a 65.6% adjusted completion rate in those games and threw just two big-time throws compared to four turnover-worthy plays, for a 55.3 passing grade. But Ford’s scrambling ability was apparent as he rushed for six first downs and a 73.8 rushing grade. He’s been buried on the depth chart this season, and the way he plays on Thursday night will show whether that was for a good reason. 


SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES

Both of these teams are coming off big wins last week and, at this point in the season, have to be happy that they are sitting with four wins each. The Roughriders' secondary has been strong this season, led by cornerback Nick Marshall (83.4 coverage grade, second among cornerbacks) and aided by good play from halfback Amari Henderson (75.4, 12th).

They’ll need to have big games if they want to slow down a Montreal passing attack led by wide receiver duo Kaion Julien-Grant and Austin Mack, both of whom rank in the top eight for receiving grade. On the other side of the ball, the Roughriders will need another big performance from now-starting quarterback Mason Fine. His 82.5 passing grade over the past two weeks puts him above any CFL quarterback not named Collaros. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LT NICK CALLENDER, MONTREAL VS. EDGE ANTHONY LANIER II, SASKATCHEWAN

Not many pass rushers have performed as well as Lanier this season. He has five sacks on the year and his 29 total pressures rank near the top of the league. His 22.3% pass-rush win rate is incredible (second best is 16.7%). He’ll line up across from Callender often in this game and may have an advantage there.

Callender has had a great season, but he hasn’t been a lockdown pass protector. He’s allowed 15 total pressures, along with five other pass-blocking losses. His pass-blocking efficiency score of 96.3 ranks sixth among left tackles. Lanier showed last week that he is capable of wrecking a game, as he finished with three sacks. If he does that again, it could be the edge Saskatchewan needs.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB CODY FAJARDO, MONTREAL

This is a big one for Fajardo. After spending four years in Saskatchewan, he was unceremoniously benched last season when they were still technically in the playoff hunt. He now gets to go back to Saskatchewan with a chance to prove how wrong they were.

Fajardo has been having a good-not-great season. His 74.6 grade ranks seventh among quarterbacks (out of 13 qualified quarterbacks). But his trademark accuracy is still there, as his 76.0% adjusted completion rate ranks second. The Roughriders have a fantastic pass defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to just a 66.5% completion percentage. This game will likely come down to just how well Fajardo can do against this defense.


CALGARY STAMPEDERS VS. BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS

Before last week, this game was headed in a different direction. The Lions had a chance to take a two-game lead in the West, while Calgary was staring a 2-6 record in the face. Instead, the Lions got blown out by Winnipeg and the Stampeders managed to end Toronto’s unbeaten start to the season.

The vaunted BC pass rush will look to bounce back after recording zero sacks and just nine total pressures last week (five of which were unblocked). Meanwhile, Calgary leaned on running back Dedrick Mills to beat Toronto, as his 137 yards, five explosive runs and six missed tackles forced led the league. The big question for Calgary is now that all-star running back Ka’Deem Carey seems set to come back, what do they do with Mills, whose 87.9 rushing grade is just barely behind league leader A.J. Ouellette’s 88.0 mark.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: QB JAKE MAIER, CALGARY VS. BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS SECONDARY

This matchup is Maier against the entire Lions secondary because his play is really what it all comes down to for Calgary. In the three Stampeders’ wins, Maier has an adjusted completion rate of 80.8% on a 7.6-yard average depth of target with a 4-to-1 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio and an 81.7 passing grade. In the team's five losses, those numbers drop to 66.5%, 9.4 yards, a 6-to-12 ratio and a 51.7 passing grade. When Maier plays well, they win. And when he doesn’t, they don’t.

He now has to go up against arguably the best secondary in the CFL. Even after last week’s blowout, the Lions' defense still has a 90.0 team coverage grade, third in the CFL. They also still boast the top cornerback in the league in Garry Peters (85.0 coverage grade), along with cornerback Jalen Edwards-Cooper (76.4) and linebacker Boseko Lokombo (78.6). They’ll make life very difficult for Maier, and if he can’t step up, a loss seems almost certain. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: EDGE MATHIEU BETTS, BRITISH COLUMBIA

After a historic start to the season, Betts was completely neutralized last week against Winnipeg. In his previous seven games, Betts never recorded fewer than six pass-rush wins in a game and had only one game without a sack. Not only did he not record a sack again last week, but he didn’t win a single pass-rush rep. It was the first game where that happened to him since Week 3 of 2022.

Betts will be looking for a big bounce-back game this week against a team that he recorded seven total pressures against in Week 1. The Stampeders have adjusted their offensive line since then, and it seems to be working. But Betts is second in the league with 39 total pressures for a reason. He’s always a threat, and he can wreck a team’s best-laid plans. 


OTTAWA REDBLACKS VS. TORONTO ARGONAUTS

While Toronto lost last week, they have to be breathing a sigh of relief as star quarterback Chad Kelly (85.6 overall grade, second among quarterbacks) avoided a serious injury when he was knocked out of the game early. Kelly has been a full participant in practice this week and seems likely to start Sunday night.

The Redblacks will be looking to bounce back from two straight tough losses, including last week’s near-comeback. They’ll need a big game from quarterback Dustin Crum, who looked solid last week despite the loss. His 84.7 passing grade was his highest of the season, though his rushing production tumbled. If Toronto can succeed in taking away that part of his game, making him a one-dimensional quarterback, it could be the key to winning this game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT ZACK PELEHOS, OTTAWA VS. EDGE FOLARIN ORIMOLADE, TORONTO

Lost in all the talk of the top pass rushers, such as Mathieu Betts, Willie Jefferson and Mike Rose, has been the ever-consistent play of Orimolade. The edge rusher sits with an 80.3 pass-rush grade, which ranks fifth at his position. His 37 total pressures rank third in the league. He has a chance to add to those totals this week against Pelehos.

A solid run blocker, Pelehos has struggled when it comes to protecting the quarterback this season. His 38.8 pass-blocking grade ranks second to last among right tackles this season. He’s lost 43 pass rush snaps, the second most among all linemen. If he can’t figure out a way to slow down Orimolade, it could be a long night of helping his quarterback off the turf. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB A.J. OUELLETTE, TORONTO

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Ouellette is the most complete running back in the CFL. His 88.0 rushing grade ranks first in the CFL, as does his 70.7 receiving grade. His 63.9 pass-blocking grade ranks third, and his 73.5 run-blocking grade places first. Nobody is asked to do as much as Ouellette is for Toronto, and he delivers constantly.

As a pure rusher, nobody has been able to fully contain him this year. His 0.36 missed tackles forced per attempt rate is the highest in the league, as is his 3.7 yards after contact per rush. While Chad Kelly has been the star of this offense, Ouellette is undoubtedly the driving force that keeps it running so smoothly. 

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