Injury Report: Next Man Up, Week 4
As the season rolls along, injuries continue to test every team’s roster depth. The San Francisco 49ers’ defense rebounded nicely Thursday night, even without Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, thanks in part to solid contributions from Michael Wilhoite, Dan Skuta, and Corey Lemonier.
Let’s take a look at some other players who will be thrown into the spotlight in Week 4.
Injury: Christian Ponder, QB MIN (Fractured Ribs)
Replacement: Matt Cassel
What They’re Losing: After a solid performance in a Week 17 playoff-clinching victory last season, Ponder once again finds himself near the bottom of our quarterback rankings in 2013. He’s been particularly poor when blitzed, with three interceptions and a 16.8 passer rating when the defense sends extra rushers.
What They’re Getting: As much as Ponder has struggled, I’ve been baffled by the groundswell of support for Cassel to be the Vikings’ starter. His season-to-season performance has fluctuated between “not awful” and “absolutely dreadful.” Even in his banner 2008 campaign with the Patriots, he earned our fourth-worst passing grade.
Outcome: Cassel is capable of solid performances here and there, but those hoping for him to emerge as the Vikings’ quarterback of the future will be sorely disappointed. He may be a better short-term option than Ponder, but that’s not saying much.
Injury: Terrelle Pryor, QB OAK (Concussion)
Replacement: Matt Flynn
What They’re Losing: Pryor is coming off his strongest game of the season, where he made some plays with his legs but did his best work as a passer. He was excellent when under pressure, where he threw for 14.1 yards per attempt and a 129.9 passer rating.
What They’re Getting: If Pryor isn’t cleared to play, Flynn will get his first start since a 480-yard, six-touchdown effort against the Lions in Week 17 of the 2011 season. That game has always served as a reason to believe in Flynn, but let’s not forget his previous game against Detroit in 2010, when he came in relief for Rodgers and struggled to move the offense en route to a -4.4 grade.
Outcome: It’s alarming that Flynn has now lost a quarterback battle in two consecutive preseasons, and his numbers this August didn’t wow us. However, he’s clearly capable of putting together a good game, especially against a defense as dreadful as the Redskins’.
Injury: Henry Melton, 4-3DT, CHI (Torn ACL)
Replacement: Nate Collins
What They’re Losing: The Bears had good reason for making Melton their franchise tag player this offseason. The only defensive tackles to generate more quarterback pressures than him since 2011 are Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh.
What They’re Getting: Collins has been productive for Chicago off the bench, and notched a QB hit and two hurries in Week 3. Rookie Zach Minter could also get the call, after a solid preseason where he generated eight quarterback pressures.
Outcome: It’s nearly impossible to replace a difference-maker like Melton with one man, but the Bears have a promising pair behind him that will mitigate their losses.
Injury: Jason Jones 4-3DE, DET (Ruptured Patellar Tendon)
Replacement: Willie Young
What They’re Losing: Jones is one of the more versatile defensive linemen in the league, frequently switching between defensive end and tackle in a 4-3 front while generating consistent pressure. However, he’d only earned two quarterback hurries this season before going down early against the Redskins.
What They’re Getting: Young played a career-high 60 snaps on Sunday after Jones left, and can now expect a similar workload every week. He was our highest-graded 4-3 defensive end this preseason and hasn’t slowed down since; his 17 quarterback pressures are tied for the sixth-most at his position. Rookie Devin Taylor, who flashed some pass rush potential in August, will also see increased work, while Israel Idonije will help fill the interior rush role that Jones had.
Outcome: If there’s any defensive line deep enough to survive the loss of a versatile weapon like Jones, its Detroit’s. This has the early makings of a breakout season for Young.
Injury: Alex Carrington 4-3DE, BUF (Torn Quad Tendon)
Replacement: Alan Branch
What They’re Losing: Carrington was a revelation last season, as he generated the 10th-highest Pass Rushing Productivity for a defensive tackle and was named the Bills Secret Superstar. He was in the midst of his best game of 2013 last week when his season was ended prematurely.
What They’re Getting: Branch doesn’t bring much of a pass rush, but he’s always been stout in the middle and is only two years removed from the third-highest run defense grade of any defensive tackle. He earned three run stops in Week 3 while playing the most snaps in a game since October of last season.
Outcome: As quietly productive as Carrington was last season, the Bills are another team with a deep defensive line. With Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus still manning the middle, Buffalo should be able to withstand this unfortunate loss.
Injury: Henry Hynoski, FB NYG (Fractured Shoulder)
Replacement: Bear Pascoe
What They’re Losing: It was a bad week for 2012 Secret Superstars, as the Giants lost theirs as well. Hynoski parlayed a solid 2011 playoffs into the fifth-highest blocking grade of any fullback last season.
What They’re Getting: Pascoe has been New York’s ironman, filling in at tight end and fullback on multiple occasions as his teammates have succumbed to injury. He brings versatility, but he’s also never finished a season with a blocking grade better than +0.8.
Outcome: The Giants already have the worst running game in the league, and now they have to try to turn things around without one of the game’s best young fullbacks. This is a bad break for a team that can ill afford one right now.
Injury: Anthony Spencer 4-3DE, DAL (Microfracture Knee Surgery)
Replacement: George Selvie
What They’re Losing: Though it’s uncertain how he’d have adjusted as a down lineman in the Cowboys’ new 4-3 defense, Spencer’s 56 defensive stops as a 3-4 outside linebacker last season were the most by any edge defender in the league.
What They’re Getting: A former seventh-round pick who was waived by three teams in the previous three seasons, Selvie may have found a home in Dallas. He’s earned 15 quarterback pressures and has the fifth-highest run defense grade of any 4-3 defensive end this season.
Outcome: The Cowboys have been largely without Spencer’s services this September, and their depth could be tested as the season goes along. But if Selvie keeps this up, the hit to the Cowboys will be minimal.
Injury: Jeff Allen, LG KC (Groin Injury)
Replacement: Geoff Schwartz
What They’re Losing: The Chiefs invested a second-round pick in Allen last year, but he fell flat in his rookie season by earning the second-worst grade we gave to any left guard. He was off to a better start in 2013, but now may miss this week’s matchup with the Giants.
What They’re Getting: Schwartz has proven his versatility in recent seasons, excelling as both a tackle and a guard. His best work comes in the running game, but he’s no slouch as a pass blocker either, as he’s earned a solid 97.2 Pass Blocking Efficiency in reserve duty this season.
Outcome: The Chiefs are committed to their young guard, but Schwartz is an excellent backup to fill in while Allen is out. Kansas City’s offensive line shouldn’t see any decline this Sunday.
Follow Pete on Twitter @PFF_Pete