Injury Report: Next Man Up, Week 8
It’s tough to remember a day filled with more devastating NFL injuries than last Sunday. Among the players lost were three quarterbacks, one of the most productive running backs in the league, a possible future Hall of Fame receiver, and two of the league’s best defenders. Let’s muddle through the mess and sort out which injuries are death knells for their teams, and which squads have the depth to overcome their misfortune.
Injury: Jay Cutler, Bears QB (Torn Groin)
Replacement: Josh McCown
What They’re Losing: The tantalizingly talented Cutler was having a career year under new coach Marc Trestman. He still had a turnover-laden meltdown Week 4 at Detroit and still makes poor plays under pressure, but he has the league’s fifth-highest PFF QB Rating this season and was on pace for a career-high Accuracy Percentage.
What They’re Getting: McCown was thrust into a shootout on Sunday and carried himself well. He pushed the ball downfield, gaining 16.5 yards per attempt and a 156.3 QB rating on throws 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. But turnovers have been a constant in this journeyman’s career, as he’s only once finished a season with more touchdowns than interceptions.
Outcome: It’s easy to dismiss McCown, which probably sounds a little too much like “McNown” for Chicagoans’ liking. But Trestman has managed to utilize Cutler’s downfield passing while limiting his mistakes, and I have hope that he can do the same with McCown until his franchise quarterback returns.
Injury: Sam Bradford, Rams QB (Torn ACL)
Replacement: Kellen Clemens
What They’re Losing: Bradford was certainly having an eventful, if inconsistent, season prior to this latest setback. After earning the worst grade since his rookie season in a Thursday night shellacking at the hands of the 49ers, we all questioned if his accuracy would ever live up to its reputation. But he buttoned-up his play since then, rising to eighth among starting quarterbacks in Accuracy Percentage and earning a career-high +5.5 grade last week against the Panthers.
What They’re Getting: It’s tough to earn a -1.3 grade in just six snaps, but that’s exactly what Clemens did filling in for Bradford on Sunday. He took two sacks, fumbling on both of them, as he failed to show much decisiveness in the pocket. In his last stint as a starter, filling in for Bradford in 2011, his 62.5 Accuracy Percentage was among the lowest marks in the league.
Outcome: In the short term, there’s little hope that Clemens can be the man that leads the Rams back into the playoff race this season. And in the long term, General Manager Les Snead has the unenviable task of deciding whether Bradford and his bloated salary are worth investing in. This is crippling for St. Louis both on and off the field.
Injury: Doug Martin, Buccaneers RB (Shoulder)
Replacement: Mike James
What They’re Losing: There’s no denying Martin’s production after he gained the second-most yards from scrimmage of any running back last season. But a lack of elusiveness and some horrendous pass blocking has given him the third-worst grade at his position in 2013.
What They’re Getting: James doesn’t have Martin’s next-level talent, but he is decisive in his cuts and a solid receiving threat, earning a +2.6 grade so far despite his 3.6 yards per carry average.
Outcome: James isn’t going to approach the numbers that Martin put up last season, but Martin himself was falling short of that production this year. Given Tampa Bay’s turmoil elsewhere, their running game seems like the least of their worries.
Injury: Reggie Wayne, Colts WR (Torn ACL)
Replacement: T.Y. Hilton & Darrius Heyward-Bey
What They’re Losing: Andrew Luck’s arrival helped Wayne reestablish himself as one of the game’s greats, as he’s earned the fourth-highest grade of any wide receiver over the last two seasons. He added a new dimension to his game as an inside receiver, and has accounted for over half of Indianapolis’ slot production this season.
What They’re Getting: Hilton is emerging as one of the better downfield threats in the league, with nearly half of his yardage coming on deep passes. Heyward-Bey, however, has dropped nearly one-fifth of his catchable targets while averaging just 0.91 Yards Per Route Run.
Outcome: Hilton is solid as one of the game’s best young receivers, but Heyward-Bey has shown no signs of being a reliable starter. With no other Indianapolis receiver having taken more than 25 snaps this season, I don’t know how Indianapolis can replace Wayne’s production with their current weapons.
Injury: Jermichael Finley, Packers TE (Neck)
Replacement: Andrew Quarless
What They’re Losing: Finley has never been able to make due on the promise he displayed before his 2010 knee injury. He showed signs of getting back there with a 1.96 Yards Per Route Run mark this season, but poor run blocking anchored down his overall grade.
What They’re Getting: Quarless is supposed to make up for his lack of receiving skills with solid blocking. Unfortunately he hasn’t been good at either this season, managing just four catches on 73 pass routes with a -3.6 run block grade.
Outcome: Finley and Randall Cobb accounted for 82% of the Packers’ production from the slot this season. Without them both, Aaron Rodgers will need to rely even more on his outside receivers to pick up the slack.
Injury: David Baas, Giants C (Knee)
Replacement: Jim Cordle
What They’re Losing: The Giants signed Baas to a sizable contract in 2011, and he’s given them some lopsided returns. His run block grade last season was Top 10 at his position, but no center had a worse pass block grade.
What They’re Getting: Cordle’s first career start was a rough one, allowing three QB pressures to a formidable Kansas City Chiefs front. However, he’s settled down and allowed just three in the three games since then.
Outcome: The Giants had to come to a decision about Baas this offseason anyway, as his cap number jumps over $8 million in 2014. If Cordle shows he can hold his own over the next nine games, he may establish himself as New York’s center of the future.
Injury: Brian Cushing, Texans ILB (Torn LCL, Broken Leg)
Replacement: Darryl Sharpton
What They’re Losing: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a linebacker with fewer weaknesses than Cushing. With the fifth-most QB pressures and second-most run stops of any inside linebacker this season, he excels across the board.
What They’re Getting: Sharpton earned a -6.4 grade in seven games last season while filling in for Cushing, and has had a particularly tough time in coverage this season.
Outcome: I named Cushing the third-biggest loss of last season, as no Texans linebacker stepped up to fill the void he left after his Week 5 injury. His departure this season could be the death knell for a Houston team on its last legs.
Injury: Leon Hall, Bengals CB (Torn Achilles)
Replacement: Adam Jones & Chris Crocker
What They’re Losing: Hall has long been one of the best cover men in the league, and was proving it again with our fifth-highest cornerback grade this season. He allowed just a 59.1 quarterback rating on throws into his coverage and didn’t draw a single penalty.
What They’re Getting: Jones was a Secret Superstar last season, but he’s surrendered the most yards in coverage of any Bengals cornerback this season. Crocker could take much of Hall’s slot duty, but it’s unclear how much the Bengals can count on the 11-year veteran. Last year’s first round pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, could also get the chance to finally jump-start his career in Hall’s absence.
Outcome: Matthew Stafford moved the ball too easily against Cincinnati after Hall’s departure last week, and other opposing cornerbacks will find the Bengals secondary less daunting without one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
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