CFL Week 3 Preview: Blue Bombers have to right the ship against the Lions

2XC4HPP OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 13: Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) prepares to throw a pass during Canadian Football League action between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks on June 13, 2024, at TD Place at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• WR Tyson Philpot is a difference-maker for Montreal: He is a top-three player in both receptions (15) and yards (190) while also leading the league with nine missed tackles forced.

• Can Winnipeg’s offense get back on track this week? Quarterback Zach Collaros has not looked like himself at all and currently ranks at the very bottom among quarterbacks in PFF overall grade.

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Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes


OTTAWA REDBLACKS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES

The Redblacks came into the season desperately hoping to improve on their league-worst 4-14 record from a year ago. They kicked off 2024 with a big win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after a great defensive performance, thanks largely to edge rusher Lorenzo Mauldin IV and his league-leading nine total pressures.

This week promises to be a tougher task, as Ottawa heads to Montreal to take on the defending Grey Cup champions. Montreal has looked as good as ever in its opening two victories, bolstered by the top defense in the CFL. Interior defender Mustafa Johnson (83.9 overall grade) is one of the league's highest-graded defenders, and they’re getting strong play from cornerbacks Nafees Lyon and Kabion Ento. Both currently grade out as top-five cornerbacks in the league.

Ottawa will have to find a weakness in Montreal that no other team has been able to exploit over their past 10 games if they want to come away with a win.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR TYSON PHILPOT, MONTREAL VS. CB DEANDRE LAMONT, OTTAWA

Not many receivers have been better than Philpot to open the 2024 campaign. He is a top-three receiver in both receptions (15) and yards (190) while also leading the league with nine missed tackles forced. No other receiver has forced more than four.

He’ll be looking for a big game against Lamont, who didn’t allow a catch in Week 2 but struggled on limited snaps a year ago. Lamont allowed five touchdowns and 17 first downs on 20 receptions last season and finished with just a 56.5 coverage grade. He also missed five missed tackles on those receptions. If he can’t tackle Philpot, it’s going to be another big game for the Canadian wide receiver.  

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB RYQUELL ARMSTEAD, OTTAWA

Quarterback Dru Brown struggled in his debut as Ottawa’s starter, but it didn’t matter much thanks to the strong running of Armstead. The rookie running back led the league with an 80.3 rushing grade and forced a ridiculous eight missed tackles on just 16 carries. Armstead earned every single yard the hard way, averaging 4.4 yards after contact per attempt.

Against a top defense like Montreal, the Redblacks will need to get their run game going if they want to make things easier for their new quarterback. If Armstead can’t have another big game, Ottawa is going to have a hard time winning.


BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS VS. WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

After a hard-fought Week 1 loss, the Lions got back on track last week with a big win over the Calgary Stampeders. Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was the best player on the field, earning the top grade of the week and making six big-time throws without a single turnover-worthy play. Adams was an early favorite for the Most Outstanding Player, and games like that showed why.

Across the field is the biggest disappointment so far this season. The Blue Bombers are 0-2 and have appeared lifeless at times. Quarterback Zach Collaros has not looked like himself and currently ranks at the very bottom among quarterbacks with a 56.5 overall grade. A bounce-back game for him is an absolute must if the Bombers want to win this game.  

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RG PATRICK NEUFELD, WINNIPEG VS. DI CHRISTIAN COVINGTON, BRITISH COLUMBIA

It hasn’t been quite the start Lions fans had hoped for Covington through his first two CFL games. The long-time NFL veteran has recorded just one sack and two additional hurries so far while winning 4.7% of his pass-rush snaps.

This matchup might be just what he needs, though.

Neufeld’s 44.7 pass-blocking grade is the lowest among right guards this season, and he has allowed seven total pressures and two additional pass-blocking losses. The Blue Bombers' strength in the past has been their offensive line, but the unit has wavered thus far. If Covington can find pressure from the interior, it might be enough to send Winnipeg to their third straight loss.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR JUSTIN MCINNIS, BRITISH COLUMBIA

With All-Star wide receiver Keon Hatcher out for at least the first half of the season, the Lions needed someone to step up across from Alexander Hollins. McInnis has done exactly that. The receiver leads the league with 194 receiving yards on just 11 receptions. He’s leading the league with an average depth of target of 18.7 yards and is tied for the lead with six explosive receptions.

McInnis has become a huge deep threat for the Lions' offense, allowing them to find success without their top wideout. Another big game for McInnis in the deep space could be all it takes for B.C. to find another win. 


EDMONTON ELKS VS. TORONTO ARGONAUTS

Despite starting the season with two straight losses, the Elks should be encouraged by their level of play. Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson has looked good (85.4 passing grade), and the return of safety Loucheiz Purifoy made a big difference for their defense last week.

The problem is that Edmonton has to play against an Argonauts team that looked so impressive in their Week 1 win over B.C. The Elks will have to deal with a Ka’Deem Carey-led offense (72.1 rushing grade, six missed tackles forced in Week 1) and a defense that recorded pressure on 50% of the Lions' passing attempts in that game.

The Argonauts look like early favorites yet again and will look to punctuate that with a win over the Elks.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR KURLEIGH GITTENS JR., EDMONTON VS. HB MASON PIERCE, TORONTO

Gittens was traded to Edmonton this offseason, a familiar face for the newly signed Bethel-Thompson, and he’s picked up right where the two left off in 2022. Gittens’ 16 receptions are tied for the most in the league, and he is averaging 1.91 yards per route run.

He’ll see a lot of his old teammate Pierce as the boundary halfback looks to bounce back after a tough Week 1 performance. He allowed four catches (all first downs) for 71 yards and finished with just a 40.2 coverage grade. That’s in stark contrast to his 2023 rookie season in which his coverage grade was an incredible 91.7.

Pierce will look to return to form this week, and if he can take away Bethel-Thompson’s security blanket in Gittens, the Argos could coast to victory. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: DI JAKE CERESNA, TORONTO

The other player in that Gittens trade immediately paid massive dividends for the Argonauts. Toronto moved Ceresna off the edge to the inside of the defensive line, and it made no difference. He is dominant no matter where he lines up.

In Week 1, he finished with three sacks and four hurries, good for a league-leading 88.7 pass-rush grade. Ceresna has taken a big step forward in the past two seasons, and if the trend continues, he could be the CFL's top pass-rusher in the CFL this season.


HAMILTON TIGER-CATS VS. SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

For a team that finished 2023 on a seven-game losing streak, being alone at the top of the West Division has to feel good. Saskatchewan has pulled off two straight fourth-quarter comebacks and is flying high.

But the Roughriders' opponent this week is the very same team they came from behind against last week. The Tiger-Cats know they let last week’s game slip away, and they’ll be looking to get revenge this Sunday. Both quarterbacks in this game are off to nearly identical hot starts. The Riders’ Trevor Harris has made four big-time throws and has an 85.7 passing grade thus far, while Hamilton’s Bo Levi Mitchell has also made four big-time throws and has an 85.5 passing grade. This is shaping up to be another fun quarterback battle.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RB JAMES BUTLER, HAMILTON VS. RB A.J. OUELLETTE, SASKATCHEWAN

This isn’t a direct matchup, per se, but the battle of these star running backs may shape the result of this game. Last week was a stalemate, with neither able to produce much. Butler had 12 carries for 27 yards, zero missed tackles forced and a 52.5 rushing grade, while Ouellette was only marginally better with 11 carries for 32 yards, two missed tackles forced and a 66.9 rushing grade.

Ouellette has yet to really get going in Saskatchewan after an unbelievable 2023 season in which his 91.7 overall grade ranked second among running backs. Butler had a fantastic Week 1 on top of a great 2023 season and will look to get back to that. One of these two is bound to break out this week. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: DI ANTHONY LANIER II, SASKATCHEWAN

A year ago, Lanier was one of the top pass-rushers in the CFL. He recorded seven sacks and 54 total pressures. He posted a 17.7% pass-rush win rate and a 9.3 pass-rushing productivity score, both of which ranked second among edge rushers (trailing only Mathieu Betts).

Through two games this season, though, he has just three total pressures, a 5.4% win rate and a 2.7 pass-rushing productivity score. Lanier needs to get back near those 2023 pressure levels for Saskatchewan’s defense to be effective across the board. Otherwise, it’ll be far too easy for Hamilton’s Mitchell to pick them apart through the air.  

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