Preview: Alouettes’ depth will be tested in Ottawa on Saturday

The Montreal Alouettes (7-7) are coming off an important road win over the Calgary Stampeders last week. They’ll look to win their second consecutive game and their third against the Redblacks (4-10) this season when they travel to Ottawa on Saturday at 4 p.m. (TSN, RDS, TSN 690, 98.5FM).

This will be the first of a home-and-home series between these two teams. The first two meetings between the Redblacks and Alouettes were decided by a combined eight points, as the Als won 19-12 at home in Week 1 before taking down Ottawa 25-24 in Week 11.

Injuries to three key players:

More injuries will force the Alouettes to make changes to their lineup, as they’ll be without wideout Austin Mack (thigh), cornerback Kordell Rodgers (foot) and kick-returner Chandler Worthy (ankle).

Mack, who comes into this week as the leading receiver in the CFL, has been outstanding for the offence all season. The 26-year-old recorded two 100-yard games in his first two matchups against the Redblacks (120 in Week 1, 116 in Week 11). The Als have a 4-2 record when Mack finishes with at least 80 receiving yards in a game, so winning without him will be a challenge.

Replacing him isn’t going to be easy, but there are still plenty of weapons at quarterback Cody Fajardo’s disposal going into this clash. Tyson Philpot, who missed the beginning of the season due to injury, has led the team in receiving yards in each of the last two weeks. Kaion Julien-Grant (upper body) has been back for two weeks, while Tyler Snead has stepped up by accumulating at least 63 yards in four of his last six outings.

Rodgers has had a strong rookie season, as he’s made 37 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games at corner for the Als. Kabion Ento, who was moved back to the practice roster last week, will start in Rodgers’ place in Ottawa.

Worthy suffered the injury during last week’s game against the Stamps. James Letcher Jr., who has been on the practice squad all season, will make his CFL debut on Saturday.

The 24-year-old had a terrific showing during the first preseason game of 2023 in Ottawa, so he’ll look to build on that performance in his first regular season contest.

“I played there before, so I know what to expect,” Letcher said of his preseason performance in Ottawa. “It was a preseason game, but I’ve been there, and I remember the atmosphere. I’m excited to go out there for my first regular season game as a professional. I’m excited and I’m ready.

“(I felt) anxious and excited. The first night I found out I was playing, I couldn’t sleep (laughs). I was up until 2:00 a.m. looking at the dark room. I couldn’t sleep at all. I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

The chase for sack no. 100:

Veteran defensive end Shawn Lemon is one sack short of reaching the 100 mark for his career. This is a significant milestone, as he’ll become only the 13th player in CFL history to reach that number.

Check out these interesting facts regarding Lemon’s sack totals:

Lemon has put together 24 multi-sack games in his career, including a three-sack performance in 2021.

Also, he’s known for playing for several teams. Here is the number of sacks he has recorded for each of his respective clubs:

Calgary: 38
Toronto: 24
BC: 18
Montreal: 7
Edmonton 6:
Ottawa: 6

His first career sack came in 2012 when he was with Edmonton. He was playing against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and was wearing number 79 for the Esks at that time. The quarterback he brought down was former Alouette Alex Brink.

Stopping Ottawa’s rushing attack:

No team has run the ball more than the Redblacks this season. Coming into this week, they lead the league in total rushing yards (1900) and rushing attempts (346). They’re also third in average yards per rush (5.5 yards).

“They’re number one in the league when it comes to rushing,” defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe said of the Redblacks. “They have two threats back there. I think the running back, number 31, Williams is a pretty darn good running back. Obviously, their offensive line is doing a good job opening some holes for him. They have a quarterback, Dustin Crum, with mobility. He has the most rushing touchdowns in the league. That’s what really stands out.”