CFL Week 14 Preview: Alouettes' rookie WR Austin Mack could be in line for a huge game vs. Argonauts

2RF0X3A MONTREAL, QC - JULY 30: Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Austin Mack (81) runs the ball after a catch during the Calgary Stampeders versus the Montreal Alouettes game on July 30, 2023, at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Good luck tackling Hamilton RB James Butler: He ranks third in carries and 13th in receptions among all positions. Butler has forced a league-high 57 missed tackles on his touches, and his 82.6 overall grade places him third among CFL running backs.

• Montreal WR Austin Mack is having a Rookie of the Year-type season: He’s gained 354 yards after the catch (ranks second), has forced 11 missed tackles (fifth) and is averaging 2.48 yards per route run, the second-highest mark in the league.

• Which Zach Collaros will Winnipeg get? When Collaros is on, he’s the best quarterback in the CFL. He has one of the highest big-time throw rates (7.9%) and one of the lowest turnover-worthy throw rates (3.0%) in the league.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes


With the clock ticking down to another exciting weekend of Canadian football, here is PFF's CFL Week 14 preview, highlighting the must-watch matchups and players set to shine on the field.


HAMILTON TIGER-CATS VS. OTTAWA REDBLACKS

This is a massive game for both of these East Division bottom-dwellers. Hamilton is currently holding on to that final playoff spot despite being down to their third-string quarterback. Ottawa has lost five straight games before going on a bye in Week 13 but is still just a game behind Hamilton.

Dustin Crum (87.1 overall grade) has been playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but it hasn’t translated to wins. It might be time for him to start taking chances, as his 3.3% big-time throw rate is one of the lowest in the CFL. Across from him, Hamilton quarterback Taylor Powell (66.9) just needs to figure out how to keep things going from last week’s game (four big-time throws) while cutting out the bad plays (four turnover-worthy plays). If he can do that, the Tiger-Cats have a good chance in this one. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RB JAMES BUTLER, HAMILTON VS. LB JOVAN SANTOS-KNOX, OTTAWA

No team has relied more on their running back this season than Hamilton has on Butler. He has the third-most carries in the league and ranks 13th in receptions among all positions. Butler has forced a league-high 57 missed tackles on his touches, and his 82.6 overall grade places him third among CFL running backs.

Ottawa will rely on its middle linebacker to stop him. Santos-Knox has been one of the best run-stopping linebackers this season, earning an 82.0 run-defense grade. He has eight solo stops in his five games since returning from injury and has also been solid covering backs on passing routes. He’ll see a lot of Butler in this game. The winner of this matchup just might tilt the game in their team’s favor. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: CB RICHARD LEONARD, HAMILTON

At 5-foot-8 and less than 170 pounds, Leonard is built more like your typical defensive halfback — which is where he’s played most of his career. But in Week 8, Hamilton moved Leonard to outside cornerback after some injuries and secondary issues. What a move it was. Since then, no outside cornerback sports a higher coverage grade than Leonard’s 84.0. He has two interceptions, a pass breakup, four defensive stops and just three first downs allowed. Leonard was good as a halfback, but he’s been even better on the outside. Watch for him to make some big plays in this game.  


MONTREAL ALOUETTES VS. TORONTO ARGONAUTS

If Montreal is to have any hope of claiming the East Division, this game is a must-win. With a win, they would pull within 2.5 games of Toronto and first place. A loss would put them 4.5 games out with only six games remaining.

Montreal needs to find a way to stop the Argos' two-headed offensive attack of quarterback Chad Kelly and running back A.J. Ouellette. That’s easier said than done, as Kelly is the highest-graded player in the CFL (90.6 overall) and Ouellette ranks second (89.4). How do you stop the two best players in the league? Montreal will need big games from safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy (83.8 coverage grade this season, second among safeties) and interior defender Mustafa Johnson (87.0 pass-rush grade, ranks second in the CFL). If those two can make big plays to slow this Toronto offense down, Montreal just might stand a chance.  

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LT NICK CALLENDER, MONTREAL VS. EDGE FOLARIN ORIMOLADE, TORONTO

Orimolade was one of our preseason all-stars going into the season, and he has lived up to that hype. He leads the league with an 87.8 pass-rush grade. His 52 total pressures trail only BC’s Mathieu Betts, while his 18.1% pass-rush win rate ranks second only to Saskatchewan’s Anthony Lanier II.

Orimolade will line up across from Callender a bunch in this game. The last time he did so, he managed just one quarterback hurry. Callender is one of the best offensive linemen in the CFL this year, with his 76.6 overall grade ranking second. This is a matchup of two titans, and depending on who comes out on top, it could decide the game. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR AUSTIN MACK, MONTREAL

Much like Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen did a year ago, a rookie wide receiver is taking the league by storm in 2023. This season, it’s Mack, who is currently the highest-graded outside receiver (and fourth-highest-graded when including slots). He leads the league in both receptions and yards and is on pace for a 1,500-plus-yard season.

Mack has gained 354 yards after the catch (ranks second), has forced 11 missed tackles (fifth) and is averaging 2.48 yards per route run, the second-highest figure in the league. Mack isn’t just challenging Ottawa quarterback Dustin Crum for the Rookie of the Year; he’s neck and neck with him. Keep an eye on Mack popping off with a huge game Saturday afternoon. 


SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS VS. WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Winnipeg had a chance to clinch a playoff spot last week with a win over Saskatchewan. Instead, they lost in overtime. They’ll have an immediate chance for revenge in the Banjo Bowl this weekend. The Bombers got big performances last week from wide receiver Nic Demski (85.7 overall) and running back Brady Oliveira (82.6), while Saskatchewan quarterback Jake Dolegala had his best game of the year with a 72.1 overall grade.

The Riders have quietly moved into third in the West. Another win this week would really lock them into a playoff driver's seat. Can Dolegala do it again, or will Winnipeg bounce back at home in the rematch?

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT LOGAN FERLAND, SASKATCHEWAN VS. EDGE WILLE JEFFERSON, WINNIPEG

Ferland kicked out to right tackle last week after an injury to Colin Kelly, pitting him against Jefferson. The guard didn’t just hold his own; he excelled. In 15 matchups against Jefferson, Ferland didn't lose a single rep. With Kelly out for an extended period of time, Ferland seems likely to stick at right tackle. Can he do it again?

Jefferson has 49 total pressures this season, the third most in the CFL. Ferland’s 47.8 pass-blocking grade ranks near the bottom of the league. But again, he went 15-for-15 against Jefferson last week. If Ferland can replicate his Week 13 showing, it’ll make things a whole lot easier for the Roughriders' offense.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB ZACH COLLAROS, WINNIPEG

When Collaros is on, he’s the best quarterback in the CFL. He has one of the highest big-time throw rates (7.9%) and one of the lowest turnover-worthy throw rates (3.0%) in the league. His problem this year has been stretches where he’s been just plain bad. Over the past two games, he earned a 59.3 overall grade and made six turnover-worthy plays.

The bright side for Winnipeg is that Collaros has been through this already in 2023. Despite starting the season strong, Collaros recorded a 65.8 overall grade in Weeks 3 and 4. In the four games that followed (before he was injured in Week 10), his overall grade rose to 91.7. The Bombers are hoping that this game will be the start of a new strong stretch from their quarterback.  


CALGARY STAMPEDERS VS. EDMONTON ELKS

We’ve got another immediate rematch here after Calgary temporarily halted the Elks’ hype train last week. Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier had a good game (72.2 overall grade), and their defense proved to be up to the task of slowing down Elks quarterback Tre Ford. After an incredible start, Ford fell back to earth a bit last week. His running game was still as good as ever, as he made some truly incredible plays with his legs. But he finished with the lowest passing grade of the week (43.4).

A CFL quarterback needs to be able to pass the football to win, and if Calgary has figured out a way to stop Ford from doing that consistently, the rematch might play out in a similar fashion to their Labor Day matchup.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR REGGIE BEGELTON, CALGARY VS. SAM MARK MCLAURIN, EDMONTON 

Calgary’s Begelton is a bona fide after-the-catch threat. He ranks third in yards after the catch, fifth in first downs gained and third with 14 missed tackles forced. Last week, he caught eight passes for 84 yards. However, only 19 of those yards came after the catch, only one of those receptions was a first down and he didn’t force a missed tackle. That was largely because of McLaurin. He made multiple defensive stops on plays designed for Begelton to make defenders miss after the catch. He covered him tightly on downfield throws. McLaurin has had an up-and-down season, but he clearly has the tools to stop Begelton. If he can do it again, perhaps this time it’ll be the edge Edmonton needs. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: EDGE JULIAN HOWSARE, CALGARY

Howsare has been flying under the radar this season, mostly because his sack numbers don’t match the damage he’s been doing as a pass rusher. He has just four sacks on the year, but his 48 total pressures rank fourth in the league. His 84.8 pass-rush grade is the third-best figure in the league, and his 15.5% pass-rush win rate ranks fourth. Just because he isn’t getting sacks doesn’t mean he’s not affecting opposing quarterbacks. Howsare tallied four hurries and two other pass-rush wins in Week 13. He could make it a long night for Tre Ford and Edmonton this week.

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