CFL Week 4 Preview: Blue Bombers have to right the ship against the Lions

2KEPE9Y November 13, 2022, WINNIPEG, MB, CANADA: BC Lions' Alexander Hollins (13) celebrates his touchdown during the second half of CFL western final action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (Credit Image: © John Woods/The Canadian Press via ZUMA Press)

• Can anyone stop BC WR Alexander Hollins? He leads the CFL with 11 explosive receptions and is averaging a league-best 3.62 yards per route run.

• Good luck getting pressure up the middle against the Alouettes: Montreal’s interior offensive line of LG Pier-Olivier Lestage, C Justin Lawrence and RG Phillippe Gagnon all have pass-blocking grades that rank in the top ive among all offensive linemen in the CFL.

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Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Edmonton Elks vs. British Columbia Lions

The Elks may be winless to start the season, but they’ve played likable football so far — namely their passing game. Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson ranks third in the CFL with a 91.5 passing grade and is tied for second with nine big-time throws. The Elks have issues on the defensive side, but they are closer to a middle-of-the-pack team than their record would suggest. The problem is that they have to play the Lions this week. BC is one of the best teams in the league, led by early Most Outstanding Player favorite Vernon Adams Jr. The QB ranks second in the league with a 93.0 passing grade and has a ridiculous 12 big-time throws to just one turnover-worthy play. Both these teams play high-level offense, so don’t be surprised if this game ends with both teams scoring 30-plus points.

Matchup To Watch: WR Alexander Hollins, British Columbia vs. CB Kai Gray, Edmonton

Hollins has been unstoppable to start this season, catching 16 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown over his first two games before exploding for 215 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches last week. He leads the CFL with 11 explosive receptions and averages a league-best 3.62 yards per route run. He’ll see a lot of Elks’ boundary corner Gray this week, who’s had a solid start to his sophomore season. Gray has seen 11 targets in coverage and allowed just five receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. He’s picked off a pass, broke up another and is allowing just 0.72 yards per coverage snap. If he can slow down Hollins, Edmonton has a chance in this game.

Player To Watch: RB Kevin Brown, Edmonton

The Elks have one of the best passing offenses in the league so far this year, but their run game has struggled mightily. They rank dead last in the CFL by averaging just 48.7 rushing yards per game. They need to get Brown going to give themselves a more balanced attack. To his credit, Brown has been fine this season. His 74.2 rushing grade ranks fifth among RBs, and his eight missed tackles forced is tied for second-most. The Lions will surely look to limit the Elks passing game, which should allow plenty of opportunity for Brown. Look for him to take that and have a big game.

Montreal Alouettes vs. Toronto Argonauts

Barring anything unexpected, this game should be the highlight of the weekend. The two unbeaten teams in the East Division, who may be the two best teams in the league altogether, face off in Toronto. Montreal has the best defense in the league, allowing just 17.7 points per game, almost a full touchdown less than second-best. Led by players like DI Mustafa Johnson (83.0 overall grade) and LB Tyrice Beverette (78.8) there is no weak link there. On the other side, the Argonauts have the strongest defensive line in the league. Interior defenders Jared Brinkman (91.1) and Jake Ceresna (86.6) are the two highest-graded defenders in the CFL while EDGE Folarin Orimolade (83.6) is fourth. This game will test both teams’ offenses in ways they haven’t been tested yet this season.

Matchup To Watch: Alouettes Interior OL vs. Toronto Interior Pass Rush

This is going to be a group matchup because there’s not just a one-on-one battle. As stated above, Jared Brinkman and Jake Ceresna are the two highest-graded defenders in the league. They’ve combined for six sacks and 17 total pressures in two games, and both have pass rush win rates above 15.0%. However, Montreal’s interior offensive line of LG Pier-Olivier Lestage, C Justin Lawrence and RG Phillippe Gagnon all have pass-blocking grades that rank in the top five among all offensive linemen in the CFL. They’ve allowed just five total pressures (zero sacks) in a combined 342 pass-blocking snaps. This matchup is truly the best in the league vs. the best in the league and in all likelihood will be the deciding factor in this game.

Player To Watch: QB Cameron Dukes, Toronto

With the amount of talent that the Argonauts have on offense (and defense) the prevailing thought was that all QB Cameron Dukes needed to do was be average until Chad Kelly returns. Through his first two games, that’s what he’s done. His 70.9 overall grade ranks well below the top echelon of quarterbacks, but it’s far above bad. Dukes ranks second in the league with an 82.3% adjusted completion percentage but has only thrown beyond the sticks on 34.0% of his throws, the second-lowest mark in the CFL. He has made just two big-time throws but also just two turnover-worthy plays. Dukes isn’t losing games, but he’s not the reason they are winning either. Against Montreal’s defense, he’s going to have to step up in a big way. It’s going to be hard for the Argonauts to win if Dukes isn’t the reason for it.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs. Calgary Stampeders

If you told anyone before the season that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would start 0-3, they would’ve laughed at you. But here we are, the Bombers look like their time as the league’s benchmark team may be over. They’ll need to figure out a way to stop Calgary QB Jake Maier, who leads the league with an 86.4% adjusted completion rate, has not had a turnover-worthy play yet and leads all QBs with a 93.2 passing grade. Getting pressure on Maier is the best way to slow him down, but the Bombers are currently last in the CFL in pass rush win rate as a team (30.9%). They’ll need to find a way to improve that if they want to get this season back on track.

Matchup To Watch: RT Eric Lofton, Winnipeg vs. EDGE Julian Howsare, Calgary 

Howsare is picking up this season right where he left off last year, as one of the league's top pass-rushers. He has 10 total pressures in two games, and his 19.0% pass rush win rate ranks second among edge rushers. The only thing he hasn’t done yet is record a sack. That may change this week across from Lofton. The right tackle has allowed a league-high 10 total pressures and has a 94.8 pass-blocking efficiency score, one of the lowest among offensive linemen in the league. If he can’t slow down Howsare, it will be a long night for this Winnipeg offense.

Player To Watch: QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg

Through his first two games, the Collaros we saw on the field was not the same Collaros we’re so used to seeing. He recorded a 57.2 passing grade and a 64.4% adjusted completion rate, both of which ranked second-last in the league (behind only his old backup Dru Brown). He also led the league with four turnover-worthy plays. Week 3 was much better, as he only missed a handful of passes, didn’t have a turnover-worthy play and finished with an 83.9 passing grade. The hope is that those first two games were an aberration, a result of Collaros not playing at all in the preseason. If he can get back to his usual self as one of the top quarterbacks in the CFL, then Winnipeg will be just fine this season.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Ottawa Redblacks

Finally, to close out Week 4, we have a Hamilton team desperate for their first win of the season facing off against an Ottawa team looking to bounce back from a blowout loss to Montreal in Week 3. Hamilton’s gotten solid play out of QB Bo Levi Mitchell (75.4 passing grade) but needs more from their star RB James Butler, who’s had 18 carries for 40 yards and just a 56.5 rushing grade over the past two games. Ottawa needs more from an offensive player, but for them, it’s their new quarterback Dru Brown. The prized free agent is currently at the bottom of the league in both accuracy (64.7% adjusted completion percentage) and passing grade (55.7).

Matchup To Watch: RG Dariusz Bladek, Ottawa vs. DI Casey Sayles, Hamilton 

Ottawa brought Bladek in this offseason to help shore up their offensive line, and so far, the results have been positive. Bladek has been the highest-graded right guard in the league this season. He’s allowed just two pressures and has a 98.7 pass-blocking efficiency score. His run-blocking grade ranks third among guards. However, he hasn’t faced Casey Sayles yet. The interior lineman ranks first in the CFL among all defensive players with an 86.1 overall grade. His pass-rush grade is the highest in the league (83.2) and his run-defense grade (81.1) is top five. Sayles is playing like the Most Outstanding Defensive Player, but this is why Ottawa signed Bladek.

Player To Watch: KR Devonte Dedmon, Ottawa

It’s rare to have a kick returner as a player to watch, but Dedmon has been that electric through his two games for Ottawa. Dedmon is a threat to score every time he returns a kick. He leads the league by a large margin with a 32.4 yards per return average and had a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown last week. He’s also averaging over 11.0 yards per punt return. Dedmon has forced 12 missed tackles on his 19 returns this season and has the highest return grade of any player at 85.0. If this is a close game, a Dedmon return could be the make-or-break moment.


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