CFL Week 11 Preview: Struggling Tiger-Cats look to bounce-back against winless Elks

2R7XJ30 Vancouver, Canada. 17th June, 2023. June 17, 2023, VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA: Edmonton Elks wide receiver Eugene Lewis (87) is tackled by B.C. Lions defensive back T.J. Lee (6), with help from linebacker Boseko Lokombo (20), and defensive back Jalon Edwards-Cooper (29) during the first half of a CFL football game, in Vancouver, on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Credit Image: © Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press via Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy Live News

  • Edmonton getting WR Eugene Lewis back is huge: In 2022, Lewis was the fifth-highest-graded wide receiver. He led the league both in contested catches and missed tackles forced.
  • LT Stanley Bryant vs. EDGE Julian Howsare a game-defining matchup: Last time these two teams met, Howsare and Bryant matched up 12 times. Of those 12 reps, Bryant won every single one.
  • Saskatchewan’s QB situation in flux: QB Jake Dolegala struggled last week, finishing the game with a 61.9% adjusted completion rate and two turnover-worthy plays with zero big-time throws.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

With the clock ticking down to another exciting weekend of Canadian football, here is PFF's CFL Week 11 preview, highlighting the must-watch matchups and players set to shine on the field.


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EDMONTON ELKS VS. HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Both of these teams need a win in a big way. Edmonton just wants to break up their winless start to the season. The Elks were close last week, jumping out to a 22-0 lead against Winnipeg only to see it evaporate in a 38-29 loss. Edmonton should be encouraged by the play of newly starting QB Tre Ford, who finished his first start of the season last week with a respectable 74.5 overall grade. The Tiger-Cats are coming off a bye week but are looking to bounce back from their Week 9 loss to Montreal. They’ll be turning once again to rookie QB Taylor Powell, who has struggled this year. In his two starts this season, he has just a 54.3 passing grade. Perhaps a bye week will help him settle down a bit and keep Hamilton from becoming the team that loses to the Elks first.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RB JAMES BUTLER, HAMILTON VS. LB ADAM KONAR, EDMONTON

There aren’t many runningbacks in the CFL that are as shifty as James Butler. Between all his offensive touches, he has forced 45 missed tackles. That’s the most in the CFL, making him the premier elusive back. Hamilton loves to use him in the passing game, as evidenced by his league-leading (among RBs) 33 receptions. That’s where Konar comes in. As Edmonton’s WLB, he’ll often be tasked with covering Butler out of the backfield. Konar hasn’t had the best of seasons in coverage, allowing 22 catches on 26 targets for 255 yards and 10 first downs. What’s scarier for Edmonton is that Konar’s missed tackle rate is 21%. That’s the third-highest missed tackle rate among LBs with at least 15 tackle attempts. If he can’t bring Butler down, Hamilton has shown they’ll keep going to that well and finding success.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR EUGENE LEWIS, EDMONTON

Eugene Lewis' return could be a massive boost for QB Tre Ford and this struggling Edmonton offense. Lewis gave a glimpse of what he could bring in Week 1 when he caught five passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. He struggled after that before he was injured, but so did the entire Edmonton offense. In 2022, Lewis was the fifth-highest-graded wide receiver, leading the league both in contested catches and missed tackles forced. Lewis is a receiver who you can just throw the ball near and not only will he come down with it more often than not, but he’ll also make a play after the catch. His return could be just the spark Edmonton needs to finally break into the win column.


WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS VS. CALGARY STAMPEDERS

It was quite a comeback last week for the Blue Bombers, who found themselves down 22-0 and without their star QB Zach Collaros for the rest of the game. But backup QB Dru Brown came in and brought them all the way back, putting up an 89.4 overall grade with three big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. They’ll be facing off this week against a struggling Calgary team that finds themselves already with as many losses as they had all of last season. QB Jake Maier has not taken the next step that they’d hoped he would, as his 65.3 overall grade is the fourth lowest among qualified quarterbacks. It’s unknown whether Collaros will play for Winnipeg in this game, but even if he doesn’t, Brown proved that he can handle the job. That just might be enough to send Calgary to yet another loss.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LT STANLEY BRYANT, WINNIPEG VS. EDGE JULIAN HOWSARE, CALGARY

Howsare has quietly been one of the CFL's premier pass-rushers this season. His 82.8 pass rush grade ranks fourth in the league, and his 35 total pressures are fifth-most. He’ll have his work cut out for him lining up across from Bryant, though. It hasn’t been the dominant season of the past for Bryant, as his pass-blocking grade ranks eighth among tackles, but he’s still capable of big performances. The last time these two teams met, Howsare and Bryant matched up 12 times. Of those 12 reps, Bryant won every single one of them. If he can do that again and keep Howsare from generating any kind of pressure off the edge, it’ll be a much easier time for this Winnipeg offense.

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB BRADY OLIVEIRA, WINNIPEG

With Collaros' status up in the air, even if he plays in this game, you can expect a lot of Oliveira to lessen the passing load. Oliveira is one of the best running backs in the league, as evidenced by his 87.8 rushing grade. One of Oliveira’s best traits is his absolute refusal to not gain yards. He’s totaled 126 carries this year and has only been brought down for a loss or no gain eight times. That’s the best stuff rate percentage in the league. His ability to always put the Bombers offense in favorable positions is essential, and Calgary needs to figure out a way to slow him down if it wants to compete in this game.


MONTREAL ALOUETTES VS. OTTAWA REDBLACKS

It’s been an interesting season for the Redblacks. On one hand, after a terrible start and an awful injury to would-be starting QB Jeremiah Masoli, they should be happy they seemingly have a young star in rookie QB Dustin Crum. But at the same time, they are 3-6 and in last place in the East. They’ll have a tough time gaining ground this week against a strong Alouettes team. They’ve won three straight and dominated last week despite missing starting QB Cody Fajardo and RB William Stanback. Both may be back this week, but even if they aren’t, Montreal has proven that it can win without them. The Alouettes may have one of the strongest offensive line in football, and that could be enough to push them over the top this week.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT LANDON RICE, MONTREAL VS. EDGE LORENZO MAULDIN IV, OTTAWA 

It hasn’t quite been the season everyone expected from Mauldin. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year currently sits 18th among 31 qualified edge rushers in pass-rush grade. He’s struggling to finish, as only four of his 39 total pressures have resulted in sacks. He’ll have his work cut out for him this week, as he’ll frequently line up across the best offensive lineman in the CFL this season. Rice has been an absolute force this season, leading the league with an 83.5 overall grade and allowing just one sack and six total pressures. The last time the two met, Rice won all 11 matchups against Mauldin. If there is ever a time for Mauldin to turn the clock back to last year’s performance, it’s this game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR AUSTIN MACK, MONTREAL

If not for the other star rookie in this game, Mack would likely be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. His season has been that good so far. Mack’s 657 receiving yards lead the league, and he’s done that in one less game than the other two receivers with more than 600 receiving yards. His 2.40 yards per route run ranks second among receivers with 100 snaps. Mack is proving himself to already be one of the top outside receivers in the CFL. In his debut against the Redblacks, he caught four passes for 120 yards. There’s no reason to think he can’t do something similar again, especially if Fajardo is back at QB.


BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS VS. SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

The Lions got back to their winning ways last week with a dominant win over the Calgary Stampeders. QB Vernon Adams Jr. returned and picked up right where he left off. Adams Jr.’s 79.6 overall grade ranks fourth among quarterbacks, and his 16 big-time throws rank second. He’ll look to find similar success against a Roughriders team coming off a blowout loss in which they also lost their backup-turned-starting QB Mason Fine. QB Jake Dolegala struggled last week, finishing the game with a 61.9% adjusted completion rate and two turnover-worthy plays with zero big-time throws. They’ll need him to step up if they want any chance of beating BC in this game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR KEON HATCHER, BRITISH COLUMBIA VS. HB AMARI HENDERSON, SASKATCHEWAN

When looking at the stats and seeing Hatcher sitting fourth in receiving yards, second in explosive receptions and first in contested catches, it’s easy to forget that he’s only played in six games. Hatcher’s 81.5 receiving grade and his 2.58 yards per route run average both rank first among WRs with at least 100 snaps. It’ll be up to Henderson to try to slow him down. With an 81.5 coverage grade, Henderson leads all defensive halfbacks this season. He’s allowing a mere 0.55 yards per coverage snap, one of the best marks in the league. This is a matchup between two of the top players at their positions, and whoever comes out on top just might dictate how this game goes.

PLAYER TO WATCH: EDGE MATHIEU BETTS, BRITISH COLUMBIA

At one point, Betts was on pace to finish with over 30 sacks on the season, but he’s gone sack-less in his last three games. The sack record may not be a lock anymore, but Betts is still having a phenomenal season rushing the passer. His 82.1 pass-rush grade ranks third among edge players, and his 44 total pressures lead the league. Betts has a 17.8% pass rush win rate, second only to Saskatchewan’s Anthony Lanier II. While Betts isn’t much of a run defender, his pass-rush skills more than makeup for it.

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