CFL Week 8 Preview: Redblacks' Dustin Crum may be a star

2RD10MN July 15, 2023: Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Dustin Crum (18) runs to escape the defensive rush during the CFL game between Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks held at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, Canada. Daniel Lea/CSM (Credit Image: © Daniel Lea/Cal Sport Media) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

  • Redblacks QB Dustin Crum is on the cusp of becoming a star: The quarterback has led his Redblacks to two straight overtime wins and will look to continue that this week. Crum’s 85.8 overall grade ranks third among quarterbacks this season. He’s showing a great mix of passing and running, as both his grades there rank in the top three of quarterbacks.
  • Toronto Argonauts are the class of the CFL: They play great ball-controlling offense and lock teams down on defense, which is why they are still unbeaten this far into the season.
  • Elks could make history: It’s been about as bad a start as can be for the Edmonton Elks this year. Winless all season, they’ll get to go home with a chance to officially set the North American professional sports record for most consecutive home losses (they are currently tied at 20 straight losses).
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

With the clock ticking down to another exciting weekend of Canadian football, here is PFF's CFL Week 8 preview, highlighting the must-watch matchups and players set to shine on the field.


HAMILTON TIGER-CATS VS. OTTAWA REDBLACKS

The Ottawa Redblacks may have a star on their hands in QB Dustin “Don’t Call Me Viktor” Crum. The quarterback has led his Redblacks to two straight overtime wins and will look to continue that this week. Crum’s 85.8 overall grade ranks third among quarterbacks this season. He’s showing a great mix of passing and running, as both his grades there rank in the top three of quarterbacks. Across from him, the Tiger-Cats will get legendary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell back from injury. Will he be enough to start turning this season around for the Tiger-Cats? He’ll need to play extremely well to slow down Crum and this hot Redblacks team.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR NATE BEHAR, OTTAWA VS. HB RICHARD LEONARD, HAMILTON

There isn’t a receiver on more of a hot streak recently than Behar. Before Dustin Crum took over at QB, Behar had nine catches for 58 yards and three first downs in three-and-a-bit games. With Crum, he has 21 catches for 189 yards and nine first downs. He’s the highest-graded receiver in that span and a clear No. 1 receiver for Crum. He’ll have a tough challenge this week as Leonard is no slouch. The defensive halfback is tied for the league lead with seven pass breakups. He has yet to allow a touchdown and surrenders a 70.9 QB rating when targeted. If he can’t slow down Behar though, it could be a long night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB BO LEVI MITCHELL, HAMILTON

While Crum is playing like a star this season, Mitchell was not before his injury. His 41.8 passing grade currently ranks last of any quarterback to play a snap this season. He has eight turnover-worthy plays to just one big-time throw. Mitchell is certainly capable of so much more. Last year, he was near the top of the league with an 85.5 overall grade. He only had seven turnover-worthy plays in his 296 dropbacks compared to 19 big-time throws. Mitchell needs to find his way back to that level if he wants to get this Tiger-Cats season back on track.


SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS VS. TORONTO ARGONAUTS

There isn’t a better team in the CFL right now than the Toronto Argonauts. They play great ball-controlling offense and lock teams down on defense. There’s a reason they are still unbeaten this far into the season. Across from them, the Roughriders are going through some struggles. They have one of the lowest-graded offensive lines in the league, and that does no favors for now-starting QB Mason Fine. He lived up to his name last week, playing a fine game against the BC Lions. However, he’s going to need to play better than that if he wants to keep up with CFL sensation QB Chad Kelly (87.3 overall grade)

MATCHUP TO WATCH: C PETER GODBER, SASKATCHEWAN VS. DI DEWAYNE HENDRIX, TORONTO

The Riders are surely excited by the return of their starting center Godber. Their offensive line has struggled mightily since he went down injured, going from surrendering pressure 20.6% of the time to 31.4% of the time. Godber was playing like the best center in the league before his injury. He was the only center to have both his run block and pass block grade above 70.0. He’ll see a lot of Hendrix in this game, and that’s going to be fun to watch. Hendrix has been a force this year, recording 22 total pressures in just four games. His numbers and grade have been going down since the Argos’ second bye week, so he’ll be looking to bounce back. Nonetheless, going against Godber may not be the best matchup for him.

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB A.J. OUELLETTE, TORONTO

While Kelly has been the flashy body of the Argos offense, Ouellette has been the engine making it go. His rushing grade has been above 71.0 in every game he’s played so far this year, and his 85.3 overall rushing grade ranks first in the CFL. He averages a league-leading 3.6 yards after contact per rush and forces a missed tackle every 3.7 carries. Ouellette consistently gets big yardage for the Argonauts in big situations. His 5.5 yards per carry on first downs lead the league and help consistently put the Argos in favorable situations that allow their second-down offense to thrive.


BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS VS. EDMONTON ELKS

It’s been about as bad a start as can be for the Edmonton Elks this year. Winless all season, they’ll get to go home with a chance to officially set the North American professional sports record for most consecutive home losses (they are currently tied at 20 straight losses). They just released their highest-graded wide receiver (Maurice Ffrench) because they didn’t like his run blocking. Now, they get to face a BC Lions team that lost starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. last week and didn’t miss a beat. Backup Dane Evans recorded five big-time throws in relief and finished the week with the second-highest passing grade at 83.9. Regardless of who starts at QB, it doesn’t look good for the Elks.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT BRETT BOYKO, EDMONTON VS. EDGE MATHIEU BETTS, BRITISH COLUMBIA 

This should be a fun one. Betts leads the league with 10 official sacks (we have him credited with 12). His 83.2 pass-rush grade leads all edge rushers, and his 32 total pressures and 17.0% pass-rush win rate both rank second. He’ll frequently line up across from Boyko, who has struggled to protect his quarterback. His 38.4 pass-blocking grade represents a step up from the man he replaced (Josiah St. John’s 17.0), but it still ranks near the bottom of the league. What’s most concerning is that Boyko struggles most against inside moves, and Betts has a ridiculous 65.7% win rate on inside moves (23 wins on 35 attempts).

PLAYER TO WATCH: CB GARRY PETERS, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Peters had a breakout season in 2022, and he’s only been improving on that in 2023. Through six games, his 81.8 coverage grade ranks second among outside corners. He’s tied for the league lead with seven pass breakups and also has two interceptions on top of that. He has yet to allow a touchdown. Quarterbacks targeting him have a paltry 41.7 rating. Despite being targeted 36 times this season (tied for third-most), he’s allowing just 0.82 yards per coverage snap, one of the lowest numbers in the league among outside corners. Peters is playing at the same All-Star level he was last year and is capable of completely changing a game with his coverage.


CALGARY STAMPEDERS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES

It was a tough loss last week for the Stampeders, who’ve now had a couple of those this season. They’ll be looking to right the ship against an Alouettes team coming off a bye. It’s very encouraging that Stamps’ QB Jake Maier is coming off his best two-game stretch of the past two seasons as their running game has faltered. The Alouettes are hoping their QB can bounce back a bit, as Cody Fajardo’s play has dropped off a bit since the first couple weeks of the season. He’s still one of the most accurate QB in the CFL though with a 77.3% adjusted completion rate. So he’s still very capable of leading this Alouettes team to a win.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR AUSTIN MACK, MONTREAL VS. CB TRE ROBERSON, CALGARY

Mack has been quite the story this season. The rookie is the highest-graded outside wide receiving in the CFL so far this year with a 71.7 receiving grade. He averages a very impressive 2.40 yards per route run, which ranks second in the league. He’s one of, if not the early favorite for Most Outstanding Rookie. For Calgary, they’ll hope to slow him down with Roberson. His 74.6 coverage grade ranks sixth among outside corners. He allows a mere 0.69 yards per coverage snap. He’d have to put the clamps on Mack, which has proven to be easier said than done. Roberson missed practice on Wednesday but with a Sunday game, they’ll hope that he’s ready to go for game time.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB JAKE MAIER, CALGARY

If Maier’s last two games are indicative of a trend, it appears he’s starting to figure out the CFL game a bit more. His passing grade before Week 6 was 58.6, and since then, it’s been 77.9. His adjusted completion percentage went from 68.5% to 74.3%. But more impressively, he completely inverted his big-time throws (BTT) and turnover-worthy plays (TWP). In his first four games, Maier had just two big-time throws and seven turnover-worthy plays. In his last two games, he’s had seven BTTs and just two TWPs. Maier is being safer with the football while also pushing the ball downfield more often. This is the kind of football the Stampeders have been hoping he’ll play. This game could indicate if it’s a trend or just a blip.

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