Injury isn’t the only reason a team may need to call upon its bench. Sometimes, when his season is on the line, a coach needs to have the guts to pull out an underperforming player who he thinks is doing more harm than good on the field.
Such was the case with the Saints this past Sunday, and that’s where we’ll begin this week’s Next Man Up.
Injury: Charles Brown, Saints LT (Performance)
Next Man Up: Terron Armstead
What They’re Losing: Brown faced a tough challenge Sunday against Robert Quinn and failed miserably. He allowed two sacks and two quarterback hits while also being flagged twice. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in a season where Brown’s 93.4 Pass Blocking Efficiency fell far below what the Saints expect from Drew Brees’ blind side protector.
What They’re Getting: A rookie drafted in the third round, Armstead has yet to take an offensive snap this season. He didn’t distinguish himself as a run blocker in the preseason, but allowed just one sack and one quarterback hurry in 107 pass blocks.
Outcome: Some are treating Brown’s demotion as a condemnation of the entire Saints offensive line, but that’s unfair to a group that has been consistently one of the best pass blocking units in the league. I trust that Armstead can clear the low bar that Brown has set, and New Orleans will soon have strengthened a critical weak link.
Injury: Bruce Miller, 49ers FB (Shoulder)
Next Man Up: Anthony Dixon
What They’re Losing: Miller’s 243 receiving yards were third-most on the 49ers and a testament to his versatility. But he also excelled in the traditional duties of a fullback, with a +8.0 run block grade that was the fourth-highest at his position.
What They’re Getting: The 49ers showed foresight by preparing Dixon for this new role; he’s run-blocked on 49.0% of his snaps this season, up significantly from the 14.2% of his previous three seasons. He looked very comfortable last week at the 5:56 mark of the fourth quarter, when he pancaked linebacker Dekoda Watson to pave the way for a Frank Gore gain.
Outcome: Dixon can bring similar physicality to the running game, but it’s doubtful that he and his 20 career receiving yards will come close to matching Miller’s production through the air. For a 49ers offense that loves being creative with its heavy personnel, the loss of their versatile fullback is an underrated one.
Injury: Lamarr Woodley, Steelers OLB (Calf)
Next Man Up: Jarvis Jones
What They’re Losing: Despite missing almost four games with injury, Woodley still managed to post the eighth-highest pass rush grade of any 3-4 outside linebacker this season, with a stellar 14.8 Pass Rush Productivity. It was the kind of dominance that we hadn’t seen from him since 2010.
What They’re Getting: With a 6.5 PRP mark, Jones hasn’t managed even half the effectiveness Woodley has. He’s earned just one sack and two quarterback hits this season despite rushing on 76.1% of his pass defense snaps.
Outcome: Though Woodley proved that he can rediscover his top form, he yet again was derailed by injuries. It makes better sense for Pittsburgh to part ways with him this offseason and re-sign Jason Worilds, who has resurrected his career in the last five weeks since sliding over to the left side. But Woodley’s albatross of a contract won’t afford them that luxury, and Pittsburgh seems to be stuck with him, for better and worse.
Injury: Pat Angerer, Colts ILB (Knee)
Next Man Up: Kelvin Sheppard
What They’re Losing: Angerer was a tackle machine for the Colts as a full-time starter in 2011, but a common error with evaluating linebackers is mistaking activity for production. His 20 missed tackles that season were the most of any inside linebacker, and he has continued to be a liability in run defense since then.
What They’re Getting: Sheppard came to Indianapolis via a trade with Jerry Hughes, a move which looks much better for the Bills in hindsight than it does for the Colts. He’s been taking Angerer’s snaps for a few weeks now, but hasn’t been much of an upgrade against the run.
Outcome: The Colts are Bottom 10 in the league in run defense, and they don’t stand to get much better with Sheppard. Combined with Jerrell Freeman’s struggles in coverage, inside linebacker may be a big weakness for Indianapolis come playoff time.
Injury: Cowboys LBs Ernie Sims (Groin) & Justin Durant (Hamstring)
Next Man Up: Bruce Carter & DeVonte Holloman
What They’re Losing: I highlighted Sims in Next Man Up last month, and his run defense in the four weeks since turned out to be as poor as predicted. Durant had been a reliable run defender in previous seasons, but his eight missed tackles this season were far too many for someone who played limited snaps.
What They’re Getting: Like Sims, Carter’s terrible run defense grade doesn’t come from missed tackles, but rather his habit of getting swallowed up by blocks on the second level. Holloman fared just as poorly in his first significant action last week, though he did flash good coverage instincts in the preseason.
Outcome: Much is being made of the Cowboys’ struggles in the pass, particularly against backup quarterbacks, but their defense is getting gashed just as badly in the run. For a team finishing their schedule against two of the top three rushing offenses in the NFL, this does not bode well for their playoff hopes.
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