Week 10 gave us a harsh reminder of how big a role injuries play in today’s NFL. This weekend Michael Vick, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, and Ben Roethlisberger all headed to the locker room, and took much of their teams’ offensive firepower with them. Each of their respective backups earned a negative PFF grade, and only one of the four teams who lost their starting quarterback was able to escape their game with a win (ironically, it was the team whose backup performed the poorest). Last year, fans in Chicago and Houston saw their Super Bowl dreams derailed when they lost their starting quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see if the next men up in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and Pittsburgh can help their teams avoid the same fate.
This week, we’ll take a look at one of those aforementioned backup quarterbacks, a versatile fullback in Oakland, an Indianapolis cornerback’s career day, and a troublesome secondary situation in Baltimore.
Best Offensive Sub
Marcel Reece, FB, Oakland Raiders
In a week when not many offensive reserves shined, Marcel Reece gave the Raiders one of the few consistent performances they’ve had from a running back this season. Darren McFadden is no stranger to injuries, but even when healthy he’s been exceptionally bad. His -14.3 grade is a league-low for running backs, and his 3.3 yards per rush is the worst among halfbacks with over 100 carries. When backup Mike Goodson also fell to injury in Week 9, Reece showcased his receiving skills with eight catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. Reece again proved dangerous coming out of the backfield against the Baltimore Ravens, catching seven of his eight targets for 56 yards, the second-highest total among running backs this week. He also carried the ball 13 times for 48 yards, with 32 of them coming after contact.
Survive or Succumb? Oakland’s rushing attack is limited without McFadden and Goodson, but Reece’s receiving skills have kept the chains moving for Oakland.
Honorable Mention: Charles Brown, RT, New Orleans Saints
In for Zach Strief, right tackle Charles Brown allowed just one QB pressure and was the Saints’ highest-graded offensive lineman in their upset of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons.
Worst Offensive Sub
Byron Leftwich, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Byron Leftwich isn’t here for having the worst individual performance by a sub this week (see the Dishonorable Mention below for that), but for his inability to move the Steelers’ offense once he replaced Roethlisberger. Leftwich’s first pass was a deep out to Mike Wallace that fell 5 yards short of the receiver, and things didn’t get much better from there. The Pittsburgh attack never found a rhythm in the second half, as the Kansas City Chiefs stopped them on five of Leftwich’s six drives. In the only scoring drive that Leftwich did lead, 36 of the Steelers’ 73 yards came via penalties. He finished 7-for-14 for 73 yards and a 69.00 PFF QB Rating, and Mark Sanchez was the only QB in Week 10 with a worse Accuracy Percentage than Leftwich’s 64.3%.
Survive or Succumb? The Steelers have persevered through Big Ben’s absences before, but they’re putting a lot on the shoulders of their defense and running game if Leftwich doesn’t raise his game.
Dishonorable Mention: Michael Harris, LT, San Diego Chargers
Playing for the injured Jared Gaither, Michael Harris allowed nine QB pressures against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, more than any other offensive lineman in Week 10.
Best Defensive Sub
Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis Colts
During the Thursday Night Football telecast, Mike Mayock mentioned that he spoke with Darius Butler before the game and told the former second-round pick that Indianapolis might be his last opportunity to make it in the NFL. Mayock’s words must have sunk in, because Butler turned around and had his best game as a pro. Starting for a Colts secondary that was missing Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers, Butler was targeted 12 times by Blaine Gabbert. He surrendered just six receptions for 65 yards, picking off two passes in the process. While his second interception was off a fortuitous batted pass, Butler’s first pick was the play of the game and a thing of beauty. Playing 8 yards off Laurent Robinson, Butler broke hard to the receiver as soon as he saw him cut to the outside. Gabbert’s pass was a bit off-target, and Butler’s waltz into the end zone gave the Colts an insurmountable 24-3 lead.
Survive or Succumb? Butler has a long way to go to erase the disappointment of his first three seasons, but performances like this give the Colts hope that he can finally harness his talent.
Honorable mention: Robert Ayers, DE, Denver Broncos
When Elvis Dumervil left early against the Carolina Panthers with a shoulder injury, the Broncos’ pass rush didn’t skip a beat thanks to Robert Ayers, who racked up a sack, three hits, and two hurries.
Worst Defensive Sub
Corey Graham, CB, Baltimore Ravens
While the Ravens have yet to feel the loss of Ray Lewis, they’ve struggled to replace another defensive casualty. Before he tore his ACL in Week 9, Lardarius Webb was arguably the best all-around cornerback in the league. His seven defensive stops ranked third among CBs and his 16.8 Coverage Snaps per Reception was fourth. Even more impressive, Webb covered the slot on 92 snaps this season and allowed just three receptions, by far the lowest rate in the league. Jimmy Smith has struggled mightily in his stead, and when Smith was unable to suit up on Sunday, Corey Graham (-2.1) didn’t do much better. Thrust into the starting role, the nickelback surrendered five completions to five different Oakland Raider receivers for 76 yards and a 146.4 QB rating. The low point came on a 30-yard touchdown where Graham seemed stuck in quicksand as Denarius Moore blew by him up the seam for the easy score.
Survive or Succumb? Baltimore’s offensive explosion made Graham’s bad day a moot point, but the Ravens will need more improved play from him and Smith against tougher opponents.
Dishonorable Mention: Jerry Hughes, OLB, Indianapolis Colts
After being solid in his first few starts for the ailing Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes has a -13.5 grade the past three weeks. He was flagged for three penalties Thursday night, including an inexcusable offsides call that gave the Jaguars a first down on 3rd-and-2.
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