CFL Week 15 Preview: Tre Ford will look to bounce back for Elks

2RPJ1NB Edmonton Elks quarterback Tre Ford, second from left, runs from Calgary Stampeders during first-half Canadian Football League game action in Calgary, Alberta, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

• Toronto CB Jamal Peters getting back to 2022 all-star levels: In his past four games, Peters has allowed a mere 0.31 yards per coverage snap. His 83.8 coverage grade this season ranks sixth among defenders.

• Tre Ford playing up and down as of late: Ford posted a 91.0 passing grade, an 88.9% adjusted completion rate and five big-time throws to just one turnover-worthy play in his first two games. But in the two games since against Calgary, his passing grade dropped to 46.9, among other declines.

• Lions’ WR Keon Hatcher vying for best receiver title: Hatcher’s 26 explosive receptions ranks second in the league. His yards per route run average of 2.33 ranks third. Most impressively, his 13 contested catches leads the league.

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

WR:CB Matchup Chart


TORONTO ARGONAUTS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES

We start off Week 15 with a big rematch. The Argonauts beat the Alouettes handily last week and virtually locked up first place in the East Division, holding a 4.5-game lead with seven weeks remaining (a win this week would officially clinch the division). For Montreal, they need a win to stay above .500 and hold onto second place in the division.

The Alouettes' running backs rushed for just 16 yards on nine attempts in that game, so they’ll be hoping to improve that number and control the clock a bit more. If they can keep the ball away from Toronto’s offense, led by Most Outstanding Player candidates Chad Kelly (90.8 season grade) and A.J. Ouellette (90.6), they have hope. They’ll also need a big week from quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played solid in last week’s game but really didn’t look to push the ball downfield. His average depth of target was just 6.3 yards.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RG PETER NICASTRO, TORONTO VS. DI MUSTAFA JOHNSON, MONTREAL

This is the biggest individual matchup, but this is really a Montreal pass-rush unit versus Toronto pass-blocking unit battle. Last week, the Alouettes won a measly 12.5% of their pass-rush snaps. That was the lowest rate of any team by a significant margin. Johnson, who had the CFL's second-highest pass-rush grade going into the game, finished with a goose egg. He didn't win any of his 27 pass rushes. It was the first time he had been shut out all season, and that simply won’t cut it against this Argonauts offense.

Nicastro has yet to allow a sack this season and has been beaten just 21 times. He’s one of the best pass-blocking guards in the league. Johnson will need to dig deep and find a way to get past him and apply some pressure on Kelly if the Alouettes are to have any hope of winning this game. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: CB JAMAL PETERS, TORONTO

Peters was the highest-graded defensive player in the CFL last season (91.2). That effort earned him an NFL opportunity that he pursued before returning to Toronto at the beginning of the 2023 campaign. Peters started slow but has since returned to the level he was at last season. In his past four games, he allowed a mere 0.31 yards per coverage snap. His 83.8 coverage grade this season ranks sixth among defenders.

Montreal star outside wide receiver Austin Mack was ejected early last week, so we never got to see these two go up against one another. This week should be different, and Peters will have his work cut out for him. With the way Peters has been playing lately, it’s not going to be easy for Mack to get open and get involved in the Montreal passing game. 


EDMONTON ELKS VS. SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

The Elks kept their slim playoff hopes alive last week with a comeback win over the struggling Calgary Stampeders. Edmonton got a huge game from running back Kevin Brown, who averaged an impressive 5.7 yards after contact per attempt and forced six missed tackles. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan is coming off its worst loss in more than seven years, a 51-6 collapse against Winnipeg.

Nothing seemed to work last week for the Roughriders. Quarterback Jake Dolegala earned a league-low 47.3 passing grade. They had just one defender (interior defender Miles Brown) grade above 70.0. Saskatchewan is holding onto the last playoff spot in the West Division by a couple of games, and a win here would help cement that lead. Edmonton has to be ready for a fired-up Roughriders team that will be looking to prove they are not as bad as they looked last week.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR EUGENE LEWIS, EDMONTON VS. CB NICK MARSHALL, SASKATCHEWAN

Lewis missed a large chunk of the season due to an injury, but there’s no doubt he’s fully recovered now. Over the past three weeks, no wide receiver has graded higher than Lewis (82.5). Of his 14 receptions in that span, 11 went for first downs. He’s made four contested catches (out of four targets) and has seven explosive receptions.

Lewis will see a lot of Marshall, who was fantastic early this season but has been in a bit of a slump lately. Marshall has allowed 15 catches for 357 yards and five touchdowns over his past three games. But in the eight games before that, he surrendered just 10 catches for 134 yards and one touchdown while picking off three passes and breaking up four others. Marshall is very capable of having a shutdown game, and if he can do it against Lewis this week, that just might be all the Riders need to come away with a win.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB TRE FORD, EDMONTON

The first two Tre Ford starts for Edmonton were electric. His rushing ability was as incredible, as expected, but it was his throwing that surprised people. He posted a 91.0 passing grade, an 88.9% adjusted completion rate and five big-time throws to just one turnover-worthy play in those first two games. But in the two games against Calgary, his passing grade dropped to 46.9, his adjusted completion rate fell to 67.4% and he had just one big-time throw and four turnover-worthy plays.

Ford was the same quarterback when it came to scrambling and running the football (78.6 rushing grade in the first two games, 83.9 in the most recent two), but Calgary figured out a way to limit his passing production. He doesn’t necessarily need to get all the way back to an elite level, but he does need to improve his passing if Edmonton is to make a run at the playoffs.


WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS VS. HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Despite the Tiger-Cats dealing with an abundance of injuries this season, they find themselves in a playoff spot currently. A win last week over the Ottawa Redblacks pulled them to within one game of second place in the East. Quarterback Taylor Powell played his best game of the season, finishing with an 82.1 passing grade. He pushed the ball downfield with an average depth of target of 13.7 yards and three big-time throws while keeping the bad plays in check (just one turnover-worthy play). That has to be encouraging for Hamilton, which has struggled with quarterback play all year.

But can Powell do it against the juggernaut Winnipeg Blue Bombers? The Bombers' win last week was so dominant that it’s almost not even worth talking about. Almost everything worked. The defense shut down the run, created pressure on the quarterback and locked up the receivers. If they can play at that level again, there’s no beating them.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR KENNY LAWLER, WINNIPEG VS. CB RICHARD LEONARD, HAMILTON

With a 77.7 receiving grade, Lawler ranks fourth among all CFL receivers this season. He leads the league in average depth of target (21.9 yards) and yards per route run (3.32). Lawler is the best outside receiver in the CFL right now and is an absolute nightmare to defend. But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Leonard.

Currently the highest-graded defender in the entire league, with an 86.6 grade, Leonard has been a force since moving to outside cornerback full time in Week 8. In the six games since, he’s allowed just 12 catches for 198 yards, no touchdowns and just five first downs. He also has two interceptions and two pass breakups in that span. This will be Leonard’s toughest matchup to date as a cornerback.

PLAYER TO WATCH: EDGE JACKSON JEFFCOAT, WINNIPEG

While Big Willie Jefferson gets a lot of attention when it comes to the Winnipeg defensive line, Jeffcoat has been one of the best players in the CFL this year. His 86.3 overall grade ranks third among all defenders, and he has earned a negative grade on just 3.9% of his run-defense snaps. He’s no slouch when it comes to rushing the passer, either. While he doesn’t have the raw pressure numbers of some other defenders (his 34 total pressures rank 18th), his 12.5% pass-rush win rate ranks eighth among edge rushers. Jeffcoat is a do-it-all edge defender.


OTTAWA REDBLACKS VS. BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS

It’s been a tough season for the Redblacks. Despite the early success of rookie quarterback Dustin Crum, they haven’t been able to translate it into wins. Ottawa has lost six straight games and sits firmly at the bottom of the East. While Crum is grading well (81.6 passing grade ranks fourth in the CFL), he is doing it by playing it safe. His 2.7% turnover-worthy play rate is the best in the league, sure, but his 3.4% big-time throw rate is the worst.

This safety-first style of play isn’t going to lead to wins, especially against the Lions. Their quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr., is the polar opposite. His 28 big-time throws ranks second in the CFL, as does his average depth of target of 12.7 yards. He pushes the ball downfield constantly and is the biggest reason BC is sitting at 8-4 on the season. A win this week would clinch a playoff spot for the Lions, so watch for them to come out firing.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT DONTAE BULL, OTTAWA VS. EDGE MATHIEU BETTS, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Bull allowed just one hit and was beaten only one other time on 35 pass-rush snaps in Week 14. That was a huge step forward for the right tackle, as his previous two games (his first as a starter) saw him beaten on almost 22% of his pass-blocking snaps, one of the worst marks in the league. The Redblacks will need to hope that last week’s improvement was not just a one-off because he has one of the toughest assignments a tackle can get this week.

Betts likely isn’t going to break the sack record that he was once on pace for, but he’s still having a monster season. His 58 total pressures leads the league, and his 17.9% pass-rush win rate ranks second. He’s capable of single-handedly ending drives and wrecking games. If Bull can’t slow him down, it’ll be a long night for Crum and the Ottawa offense.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR KEON HATCHER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

The top-graded wide receiver in the league (78.5), Hatcher is having a season to remember. Despite missing the first three games of the season, he ranks sixth in both receptions and yards gained. His 26 explosive receptions ranks second in the league. His 2.33 yards per route run average ranks third. Most impressively, his 13 contested catches leads the league.

When he’s on the field, he’s targeted more frequently than any player in the CFL not named Kenny Lawler. Hatcher’s play on the field makes Vernon Adams Jr.’s job just that much easier. Look for another big game from this outstanding slot receiver as he makes a push to finish the year as the league's top wide receiver.

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