Injury Report: Next Man Up, Week 7
Injuries are disheartening, but they also provide opportunity. We’ve already seen players like Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper take advantage of their newfound playing time this season, and we can add Panthers guard Travelle Wharton to that list after his +3.7 grade last week. Who will be the next replacement to follow in their footsteps? Let’s take a look at this week’s next men up.
Injury: Matt Schaub, Texans QB (Ankle)
Replacement: Case Keenum
What They’re Losing: A spat of interceptions and an awful game in primetime against the San Francisco 49ers have apparently convinced everyone that Schaub is a terrible quarterback. That’s a bit too much recency bias for my liking, but the last month has been a puzzling meltdown for a passer who’s never finished a season worse than 13th in our quarterback grades.
What They’re Getting: August football is sometimes misleading, but Keenum excelled as a downfield passer this preseason. He earned 12.6 yards per attempt and a 142.1 passer rating on throws that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Outcome: Even without this injury, you had to wonder how much longer Gary Kubiak could endure Schaub’s errors. As Keenum walks into a tough matchup at Arrowhead Stadium, perhaps this is the step back that Schaub needs to right his head and return to form as one of the league’s better signal callers.
Injury: Randall Cobb, Packers WR (Fractured Fibula)
Replacement: Myles White
What They’re Losing: While Percy Harvin has been sidelined, Cobb has staked his claim as the NFL’s most versatile receiver. He leads his position in both rushing yards and yards from the slot, and has the second-most forced missed tackles of any wideout.
What They’re Getting: After Cobb, no Packers receiver has more than two catches from the slot this season. White led Green Bay in slot routes run this preseason, but his production there doesn’t come close to matching Cobb’s.
Outcome: Though White may replace some of Cobb’s production as an inside receiver, he can’t match his versatility as a runner and tackle-breaking machine. Until Cobb returns, Green Bay has lost an extra dimension to their offense.
Injury: Orlando Franklin, Broncos OT (Ankle Sprain)
Replacement: Louis Vasquez
What They’re Losing: Though just average as a run blocker, Franklin excels at protecting Peyton Manning’s front side. For the second straight season, he has the highest Pass Blocking Efficiency of any right tackle in the league.
What They’re Getting: Vasquez had a Top-10 pass block grade among guards last season, though this would be his first career start at tackle. He allowed one pressure on 15 pass block snaps after sliding over when Franklin exited the game last week.
Outcome: Vasquez’s unfamiliarity on the edge brings some concern, but Manning helps his tackles tremendously with his rapid decision-making and quick release. Chris Clark has allowed just one sack or QB hit since taking over for Ryan Clady on the left side, and I expect Vasquez’s transition to the right to go just as smoothly.
Injury: Jerod Mayo, Patriots 4-3 OLB (Torn Pectoral)
Replacement: Dont’a Hightower
What They’re Losing: While Bill Belichick has often mixed and matched the pieces around him, Mayo has been a constant presence in the middle of the Patriots defense for six seasons. A balanced player without any glaring weakness, he led New England with 56 defensive stops last season en route to the second-highest grade of any 4-3 outside linebacker in the league.
What They’re Getting: Hightower’s snaps have fluctuated game-to-game based on the Belichick’s ever-changing strategies, but he figures to be more of a fixture in the defense now. Another player who contributes in all phases of the defense, his 17.5 Pass Rushing Productivity last season was, like Mayo, among the Top 10 marks at his position.
Outcome: It’s tough for Belichick to lose a consistent performer who he trusted so much. But the flexibility that the Patriots demand of their players means that Hightower is at least familiar with some of Mayo’s defensive duties. The drop-off will not be as drastic as it would be for a team with a more strictly structured defense.
Injury: Aqib Talib, Patriots CB (Hip)
Replacement: Logan Ryan
What They’re Losing: Talib has always been talented (if inconsistent), and the Patriots are getting the best out of him so far this season. He has our fourth-highest coverage grade while surrendering a miserly 28.9 passer rating this season.
What They’re Getting: The Patriots use five or more defensive backs on nearly 70% of their snaps, so Kyle Arrington will likely stick in his usual slot role while Ryan takes Talib’s place on the left side. The rookie was beat for a touchdown by Tony Gonzalez in Week 4, and would have surrendered another one to Nick Toon last week if not for a Drew Brees overthrow.
Outcome: The Patriots may not feel Talib’s loss against the Jets’ depleted receiving corps, but they certainly don’t want to go too long without one of this season’s best cornerbacks.
Injury: Harrison Smith, Vikings S (Turf Toe)
Replacement: Andrew Sendejo
What They’re Losing: Smith showed a lot of promise last season as a rookie, earning the sixth-highest coverage grade of any safety. Though he wasn’t off to as good a start this year, he grabbed the only two interceptions the Vikings’ secondary has this season.
What They’re Getting: Sendejo hasn’t been much more than a special teamer in his four NFL seasons, but he got his first career start in Week 4 when Jamarca Sanford was hurt. He had a relatively quiet game until he drew a fourth quarter flag for unnecessary roughness and was later benched in favor of Mistral Raymond.
Outcome: Smith’s loss is just another blow to a secondary that could ill-afford one. This will at least allow Minnesota to see what they have in Sendejo and Raymond, though the short-term returns may not be pretty.
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