CFL Week 17 Preview: Kenny Lawler looks to lead Blue Bombers against Argonauts

2RW3XB8 Hamilton, Canada. 16th Sep, 2023. September 16, 2023, Hamilton, ON, CANADA: Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Kenny Lawler (89) makes a touchdown catch while defended by Hamilton Tiger Cats defensive back Lawrence Woods III (8) during CFL action in Hamilton, Ont., Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Credit Image: © Peter Power/The Canadian Press via Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy Live News

• Will Argonauts RT Dejon Allen allow a sack?: The Toronto right tackle has only surrendered one sack this season, and a measly nine total pressures. He’s currently riding a three-game streak where he hasn’t allowed even a single pressure.

• WR Kenny Lawler is a downfield receiving machine: He leads the CFL in deep receptions (20-plus yards in air) and touchdowns. He ranks first in average depth of target at 21.6 yards. His 2.97 yards per route run average also ranks first.

• Big season for Ottawa CB Sherrod Baltimore: The veteran corner ranks second at his position in coverage grade (81.9). He’s allowed zero touchdowns and just nine first downs while picking off five passes and breaking up two others. Quarterbacks have a rating of just 58.6 when targeting him.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes 

WR:CB Matchup Chart


TORONTO ARGONAUTS VS. WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

What was supposed to be the game of the season has been rendered moot by Toronto’s dominance this season. Instead of the epic Grey Cup rematch, we’re getting a Toronto team that will be resting many of its starters as it looks ahead to the East Division Final in November. The Bombers, meanwhile, do not have that same luxury. They are currently locked in a tie for first in the West with BC and need to keep winning to ensure they get that all-important first-round bye. Expect a heavy dose of RB Brady Oliveira (86.8 season grade, No. 2 among RBs) with some Zach Collaros magic mixed in (league-leading 34 big-time throws). Toronto will be looking to see what they have in backup QB Cameron Dukes while resting star QB Chad Kelly. The rookie struggled in his only playtime this season (Week 9 when replacing an injured Kelly), throwing three turnover-worthy passes in 17 attempts and finishing the game with a 33.1 passing grade.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT DEJON ALLEN, TORONTO VS. EDGE WILLIE JEFFERSON, WINNIPEG

After a very strong start to the season, Jefferson has cooled off a bit as a pass-rusher in recent weeks. Since Week 10, he has just 14 total pressures and a 7.3% pass rush win rate. Nonetheless, he’s still Willie Jefferson, and he’s always capable of a huge game. However, can he do it against the best pass blocker in the CFL? That’s who he’ll be up against this week when he lines up across from Allen. The Toronto right tackle has only surrendered one sack this season, and a measly nine total pressures. He’s currently riding a three-game streak where he hasn’t allowed even a single pressure. The Argos will be counting on him to continue that streak this week, especially with a very inexperienced quarterback taking the snaps. If he struggles, the Argos offense will certainly suffer.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR KENNY LAWLER, WINNIPEG

With star WR Dalton Schoen questionable for this game, the Blue Bombers will need Lawler to step up and have a big game. He’s been doing it all season, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to in this one. Lawler is the fifth-highest-graded WR this season and is arguably the best deep threat in the CFL. He leads the CFL in deep receptions (20-plus yards in air) and touchdowns. He ranks first in average depth of target at 21.6 yards. His 2.97 yards per route run average also ranks first. Simply put, there’s no receiver in the CFL who gains yards like Lawler does. Toronto will be sitting their star outside corner Jamal Peters, so there’s no reason Lawler shouldn’t make some huge deep catches and dominate this game for Winnipeg.


SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS VS. BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS

This isn’t a must-win for either team but considering where both teams are in the standings, a loss for either team could hurt them in a big way. The Lions are currently tied for first in the West Division and play the team they are tied with next week. A win here could possibly put them in the driver’s seat going into that game. BC’s defense has been fantastic all season and it will be relying heavily on their top corner duo of Garry Peters (82.0 season grade, No. 4 overall among defensive backs) and Jalon Edwards-Cooper (77.8, No. 11 overall). Across from them is a Saskatchewan team that is holding onto a two-game lead for the last playoff spot in the West. A win could all but lock up a playoff spot for them if a few other results go their way this week. They’ll need a bounceback game from QB Jake Dolegala, who struggled last week with four turnover-worthy plays and a 58.5 passing grade.

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

With a 78.3 coverage grade this season, Henderson has been one of the top defensive halfbacks in the CFL. He’s allowing a mere 0.53 yards per coverage snap and allows a QB rating of just 78.9 when he’s targeted. But Hatcher is a different beast. The fourth-highest-graded WR in the CFL this year, Hatcher is a threat even when he’s being covered tightly. He leads the league with 14 contested catches on just 21 contested targets, which is one of the best conversion rates among receivers. His 29 explosive plays rank second and his 2.17 yards per route run average is top seven. Hatcher has a chance to break 1000 yards on the season in this game and you can bet Henderson will be doing everything he can to prevent that.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB VERNON ADAMS JR., BRITISH COLUMBIA

With all the talk of Most Outstanding Player going to either Zach Collaros or Chad Kelly, Adams is quietly having a fantastic season at quarterback. His 87.3 season grade ranks fourth among quarterbacks and is right behind the top guys. He’s struggled in the past two weeks with seven turnover-worthy plays to just three big-time throws. But on the season, he ranks second with 31 big-time throws. No quarterback has a higher air yards percentage than Adams Jr.’s 69.5%. Only Collaros has a higher average depth of target than his 12.6 yards. With a couple of big games down the stretch, Adams could find himself barging into that MOP conversation.


MONTREAL ALOUETTES VS. OTTAWA REDBLACKS

Ottawa finally broke their seven-game winless streak last week, but it might have been too little too late. The Redblacks sit two games out of a playoff spot with four games remaining and two other teams with the same record. If they can’t win this game, their slim chances drop to near zero. Ottawa will hope for another big game from RB Devonte Williams, who has really turned it on lately. In his last four games, he’s forced a ridiculous 37 missed tackles on 69 attempts, leading the league by a large margin in that span. Across the field is the Alouettes, who are sitting fairly comfortably in a playoff spot but still have some work to do to clinch a home field East Semifinals game. They’ll need a bounce-back game from QB Cody Fajardo, who has been the CFL’s lowest-graded quarterback since returning from injury in Week 12 at 63.2 overall. If he can’t return to his previous form, this could be a big win for the Redblacks.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR AUSTIN MACK, MONTREAL VS. CB SHERROD BALTIMORE, OTTAWA

There’s been a lot of talk this season about WR Austin Mack, and rightfully so. The first-year receiver leads the league in receiving yards and is tied for second in receptions. His more advanced numbers are great too. Sixth in receiving grade (74.5), fifth in missed tackles forced (14), third in yards per route run (2.23), Mack is having a phenomenal season. But so is Baltimore. The veteran corner ranks second at his position in coverage grade (81.9). He’s allowed zero touchdowns and just nine first downs while picking off five passes and breaking up two others. Quarterbacks have a rating of just 58.6 when targeting him. The caveat with this matchup is that Mack missed practice this week and may not play. If that’s the case, Baltimore will see a lot of Tyson Philpot, who does not offer quite the same level of threat as Mack.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB DUSTIN CRUM, OTTAWA

In what is likely a shock to anyone and everyone, Dustin Crum is currently the highest-graded player in the CFL this season. While the overall passing numbers aren’t overly impressive, the underlying analysis shows that Crum almost never makes mistakes. He leads the league in both adjusted completion percentage (79.9%) and turnover-worthy play rate (2.2%). Then there’s his 83.9 rushing grade and 33 missed tackles forced, which leads the league among quarterbacks. Crum doesn’t make the big plays like other top quarterbacks in the league (3.7% big-time throw rate ranks 11th), so if there’s a negative to his style of play, it’s that. In the CFL, you need to make big plays as a quarterback to win games. While Crum’s accuracy and mistake avoidance mean that Ottawa won’t lose games because of him, they need him to start making the big plays if they want to win because of him.


CALGARY STAMPEDERS VS. HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

This is another game that, while not technically a must-win, is incredibly important if the Stampeders want to keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss here would keep them two games back of Saskatchewan for that last playoff spot in the West, and Calgary still has to play Winnipeg and BC this season. Since Week 12, QB Jake Maier is the third-highest graded passer in the CFL at 79.1. If he keeps that up, Calgary has a chance. Meanwhile, Hamilton is looking to win to bring themselves closer to a locked-in playoff spot. In that same span as Maier, QB Taylor Powell has been the second-lowest graded QB in the CFL, including a stinker last week in which he had five turnover-worthy plays and zero big-time throws. This game just might come down to which quarterback has the better game, and right now that’s leaning toward Calgary.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RG COULTER WOODMANSEY, HAMILTON VS. DI MIKE ROSE, CALGARY

Calgary’s pass rush has been a two-man show this season, with Rose and EDGE Julian Howsare accounting for over 41% of Calgary’s total pressures. Rose has been one of the best pass-rushing interior defenders in the CFL, as his 83.8 pass-rush grade being tied for the highest at the position this season. Woodmansey has been one of the top pass-protecting guards in the league this season, his 98.0 pass-blocking efficiency score ranking fourth among all guards. If there’s an edge here, it might go to Rose for his inside move. Six of his sacks have come with an inside move while Woodmansey has lost 18.2% of the inside moves he’s faced, his highest loss rate among pass rush moves.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR REGGIE BEGELTON, CALGARY

Any way you slice it, Begelton has been one of the best receivers in the CFL this season. His 79.2 season grade ranks second among receivers. He has the second-most first downs gained (45) and the third-most missed tackles forced (18). He also has some of the best hands in football, with a drop rate of just 3.4% despite seeing a league-high 112 targets. Begelton catches the ball at all levels of the field. He could see a screen pass one play and then a deep bomb the very next. That makes him so difficult to defend and if Maier can just get the ball near him, he’s likely to catch it and turn it into a big gain.

Subscriptions

Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
OR
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit