Injury Report: Next Man Up, Week 11
Football often lends itself to black-and-white thinking, with winners, losers, and concrete stats at the end of each game. But that logic quickly falls apart when it comes to injuries. “Active” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. “Successful surgery” doesn’t always lead to successful recovery. Too often we think of athletes as machines, who may break down but can then be put back together in the shop to come out brand new. But the fact is that what doesn’t kill you can still make you weaker, and there are some blows the body never forgets.
It’s no coincidence that many names from our 2012 Biggest Losses list, including Percy Harvin, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews, have once again been sidelined this season. Sean Lee now adds to that group of players facing a second-straight injury-plagued season, and that’s where we’ll start this week’s Injury Report.
Injury: Sean Lee, Cowboys ILB (Hamstring)
Replacement: Ernie Sims
What They’re Losing: A member of our Midseason All-Pro team, Lee has been a big bright spot on a depressing Dallas defense. His 36 run stops this season are more than any defender in the NFL.
What They’re Getting: Sims subbed in for Lee and Justin Durant last week, and earned the worst grade of any Dallas defender. He was dominated in the running game and often lost in coverage.
Outcome: I’d give Sims a pass for walking into a tough matchup against the New Orleans Saints, but he was also a mess last season when filling in for Lee. If you thought the Cowboys’ defense was bad before, its just gotten worse.
Injury: Mike James, Buccaneers RB (Broken Ankle)
Replacement: Brian Leonard
What They’re Losing: After Doug Martin’s injury, James came in and outplayed the former first round pick. The rookie was a more elusive runner, a more productive receiver, and a much more reliable pass blocker.
What They’re Getting: Leonard took 48 snaps against the Dolphins in James’ stead, versus just 11 for fellow backup Bobby Rainey. The veteran does his best work in the passing game, where his six forced missed tackles are already as many as Matt Forte has this season.
Outcome: The starting job in Tampa is still Martin’s, but James’ solid production could set up an interesting time share next season. The Buccaneers may also take this opportunity to see what they have with the young Rainey.
Injury: Seneca Wallace, Packers QB (Groin)
Replacement: Scott Tolzien
What They’re Losing: When your quarterback is featured in this column for two weeks in a row, something has gone wrong. Nevertheless, Wallace’s limitations throwing deep and under pressure made me skeptical about his chances to begin with.
What They’re Getting: Tolzien used the Packers’ weapons more effectively than Wallace did, but he undid all his good work with two interceptions and another potential pick-six that was dropped.
Outcome: Tolzien’s errors last week were part bad decisions, part poor accuracy. The former can be fixed, but I’m not so sure about the latter.
Injury: Brandon Browner, Seahawks CB (Groin)
Replacement: Walter Thurmond
What They’re Losing: Browner sometimes gets more credit than he deserves based on the secondary that he plays in. But with the 22nd-best cornerback grade in 2012 and a team-high nine passes defensed this season, he’s still a big part of the Legion of Boom.
What They’re Getting: Thurmond has been reliable in Seattle’s slot nickel role, but he’s also shined when filling in for Browner in the past. He allowed just 37 yards in coverage in two starts earlier this season, and surrendered just one first down catch on 10 targets in relief last week.
Outcome: Browner is no small loss, but the Seahawks can rest easy with their tremendous cornerback depth. If Thurmond holds up well, especially against the Saints in three weeks, he could become a coveted free agent this offseason.
Injury: Charles Tillman, Bears CB (Torn Triceps)
Replacement: Zack Bowman
What They’re Losing: Tillman entered this season off a career year where he forced 10 fumbles and earned the eighth-highest grade we’ve ever given a cornerback. But he earned only one positive coverage grade in his eight games this season while surrendering a league-high seven touchdowns.
What They’re Getting: Bowman was a key part of the Bears’ defense a few years back before losing his job to Tim Jennings. He notched an interception against the Giants in his only start this season, but surrendered five first downs on seven targets.
Outcome: The Bears’ defensive line has yet to recover from the loss of Henry Melton. Tillman’s injury hurts, but it’s not nearly as crippling as it would have been if he were playing anywhere near last year’s level.
Injury: Casey Hayward, Packers CB (Hamstring)
Replacement: Davon House
What They’re Losing: Hayward’s spectacular rookie season not only earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors from us, but also the 2012 Best Sub award. But he now finds himself of the other side of the coin, limited to just 88 snaps in what appears to be a lost season.
What They’re Getting: Green Bay’s banged up secondary has given House a decent amount of snaps in the last couple of seasons, and the results have been mixed. He posted a team-high +3.7 grade in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns, but surrendered 110 yards and two touchdowns in coverage in his last two games.
Outcome: Hayward hitting injured reserve wouldn’t change much for the Packers considering that they haven’t had his services for much of the season. Instead, we are simply left to wonder what difference he could have made on a Packers defense that needs all the help it can get.
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