Injury Report: Next Man Up, Week 12
The silver lining to injuries in the NFL, and the hope inherent in the “Next Man Up” mantra, is the opportunity that arises for backups to shine in their new starting roles. With that in mind, one of the feel-good stories of this season has to be the rise of Josh McCown. A few weeks ago he was a 34-year-old career journeyman, drifting through depth charts towards retirement. When Jay Cutler’s injury called him into duty, I thought McCown’s underrated downfield passing could keep Chicago afloat, but he has exceeded even my optimistic expectations. In just about three games’ worth of work, his +13.3 grade is already the seventh-highest of any passer this season. McCown is not Chicago’s quarterback of the future. But he is their passer of the present, and has proven that the Bears will not crumble without Cutler as they have in previous seasons.
Who will be the next backup to follow McCown’s example and grab their newfound playing time by the horns? Perhaps one of these players below.
Injury: Jabari Greer, Saints CB (Torn ACL)
Replacement: Corey White
What They’re Losing: An aggressive man-to-man cornerback, Greer has racked up both passed defensed and missed tackles since coming to the Saints in 2009. His coverage has always been solid (if inconsistent), and he was in the midst of a rebound from a rough early season start when he went down last week.
What They’re Getting: White looked primed to step in for Greer after allowing just 87 yards in coverage in his first nine games as a nickel back this season. But he then surrendered 96 yards against the Falcons on Thursday night, with much of that damage coming at the hands of unheralded rookie Darius Johnson.
Outcome: White also struggled greatly last season when the Saints asked him to line up against outside receivers. If he doesn’t improve, New Orleans might want to move him back to slot coverage and turn to a veteran like Chris Carr.
Injury: Rahim Moore, Broncos S (Lower Leg)
Replacement: Mike Adams
What They’re Losing: While Moore is remembered most for his late-game gaffe in the Broncos’ playoff loss last season, the truth is that he is one of the best young safeties in the league. Though he wasn’t having as big an impact in the run game this year, he was still an active tackler with solid coverage.
What They’re Getting: Adams started opposite Moore as a strong safety last season, but the veteran has logged most of his snaps this season at free safety. He surrendered a touchdown in coverage for Moore last week, which is a bit worrisome after he allowed six scores last season.
Outcome: Last year’s unfortunate conclusion aside, the Broncos are a better team with Moore and will want him back for the playoffs. Denver has enough depth in the secondary to roll the dice with David Bruton if Adams doesn’t work out.
Injury: Mike Iupati, 49ers LG (Knee)
Replacement: Adam Snyder
What They’re Losing: Iupati has been shakier than usual in pass protection, but is still predictably effective in the ground game. He finished each of his first three seasons with one of the Top 3 run block grades by a left guard.
What They’re Getting: Snyder is often praised for his versatility, but he’s continued to receive poor grades from us no matter where he takes his snaps. His -18.2 grade with the Cardinals last season was fourth-worst among guards, and unfortunately par for the course for him.
Injury: Tarrell Brown, 49ers CB (Ribs)
Replacement: Tramaine Brock
What They’re Losing: While other San Francisco defensive backs got more attention, Brown earned the fourth-highest coverage grade of any NFL cornerback last season (and a +4.8 mark in the playoffs to boot). He’s been a bit more inconsistent this year, but still has eight passes defensed with just two touchdowns allowed in coverage.
What They’re Getting: Brock will enter his first start for Brown with a brand new contract extension and the highest coverage grade of any 49ers cornerback this season. His team-high four interceptions are twice the amount that Brown’s total in the past two seasons.
Outcome: The question for San Francisco may not be how Brock fills in for Brown, but how Eric Wright performs in Brock’s nickel role. He’s only played in one game this season, but in his last full campaign (2011) he earned the sixth-worst overall grade of any cornerback.
Injury: Charles Johnson, Panthers 4-3 DE (MCL Sprain)
Replacement: Mario Addison
What They’re Losing: He may not be a household name, but few players can match the pressure that Johnson has brought in recent years. He has the second-most quarterback pressures and third-highest Pass Rushing Productivity of any 4-3 defensive end this season.
What They’re Getting: The Panthers will use a committee of Addison, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton to try to match Johnson’s production, but their combined 20 quarterback pressures this season are still 30 short of Johnson’s total by himself.
Outcome: The Panthers defense has succeeded with a hodgepodge of rookies and free agents playing key roles, but the engine that powers it all is the duo of Johnson and fellow defensive end Greg Hardy. Without half of that presence up front, Carolina’s pass defense will be much easier to attack.
Injury: Erik Walden, Colts 3-4 OLB (Suspension)
Replacement: Bjoern Werner
What They’re Losing: Walden’s sizable contract may fool some into thinking that he’s a valuable player, but nothing could be further from the truth. He graded as our worst 3-4 outside linebacker in both 2011 and 2012, and is back near the bottom of the list again this season.
What They’re Getting: Battling back from a foot injury that cost him three games, Werner has mustered just seven quarterback pressures in his rookie season.
Outcome: Werner hasn’t had the playing time or impact yet that the Colts would have hoped for when they drafted him in the first round, but even his below-average production is better than what Walden brings. Maybe Indianapolis will see what they aren’t missing when Walden sits out this Sunday.
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