Injury Report: Next Man Up, Wild Card Round
All season we’ve shown how injuries can play a big factor in a team’s fate, and now that the playoffs are here each loss is magnified tenfold.
Let’s get right to it, assessing the biggest injuries heading into the Wild Card Round, and what we can expect from the next men up.
Injury: Eric Fisher, Chiefs RT (Strained Groin)
Next Man Up: Donald Stephenson
What They’re Losing: There was a time earlier this season when Fisher was not just falling short of expectations, but challenging for worst tackle in the league. But he’s strung together a few solid performances in the second half, allowing just just 11 quarterback pressures in his last five games and doing some solid work as a run blocker.
What They’re Getting: I didn’t give Stephenson much faith when he filled in for Branden Albert at left tackle in the last four weeks of the season, but he held his own. He had a disastrous -11.4 grade against the Titans and Giants in his first two games at right tackle this season, but fared better later against the Chargers and Broncos.
Outcome: Stephenson won’t be challenged much by Colts linebackers Eric Walden (seventh-worst pass rush grade of any 3-4 outside linebacker) and Bjoern Werner (just 13 QB pressures all season). But he’ll have to be at his best when Robert Mathis lines up on the left side, as he’s done on 38% of his pass rushes this season.
Injury: Tamba Hali, Chiefs OLB (Swollen Knee)
Next Man Up: Frank Zombo
What They’re Losing: Hali leads all 3-4 outside linebackers with 77 QB pressures this season, and his 12.2 Pass Rushing Productivity shows that he is just as efficient as he is productive.
What They’re Getting: Zombo is the veteran backup, but don’t be surprised to see undrafted rookie Josh Martin out there as well after he took every snap for Hali in Week 17. Neither is a threat as a pass rusher; Martin has yet to record a sack or QB hit, and Zombo’s 5.0 PRP is dead-last among NFL linebackers who played 200 passing snaps this season.
Outcome: Zombo is solid in run defense, but Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo is a tough run blocker in his own right. Castonzo may be shakier in pass protection, but the Chiefs won’t have anyone to challenge him if Hali doesn’t suit up.
Injury: Pierre Thomas, Saints HB (Ankle)
Next Man Up: Mark Ingram & Darren Sproles
What They’re Losing: Thomas has been a solid runner this season, but his best work comes in the passing game. His 22 forced missed tackles as a receiver are tied for the most by a running back, and his 663 yards after the catch are second only to Jamaal Charles.
What They’re Getting: Ingram has been the Saints best ball carrier, and his 79.4 Elusive Rating is the highest of any NFL halfback with 50 carries this season. Sproles has battled through injuries this season, yet still has the highest receiving grade at his position. His 2.28 Yards Per Route Run is the highest mark of any running back with 15 targets, and his 71 receptions without a drop is the best rate in the NFL.
Outcome: This is the point where the Saints running back depth pays off. The key defender to watch will be Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has played better of late but still struggles in coverage and is tied for the most missed tackles in the league.
Injury: Terence Newman, Bengals CB (MCL Sprain)
Next Man Up: Dre Kirkpatrick
What They’re Losing: As I wrote three weeks ago when he initially suffered his injury, Newman has revitalized his career in Cincinnati and filled in well for Leon Hall in each of the last two seasons.
What They’re Getting: I also wrote that Kirkpatrick may be in over his head, and he hasn’t changed my mind since thanks to some inconsistent coverage. His two fourth quarter interceptions versus the Ravens were huge, but he also should have been burned for some bigger gains and a touchdown if not for Joe Flacco’s inaccuracy.
Outcome: Chargers receivers Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal won’t challenge Kirkpatrick vertically, as neither has been much of a deep threat this season. But they have combined to force 25 missed tackles this season, while Kirkpatrick has whiffed on six attempts in his three starts. If the second-year corner doesn’t stay with them on shorter routes, San Diego could find some big gains after the catch.
Injury: Carlos Rogers, 49ers CB (Hamstring)
Next Man Up: Perrish Cox
What They’re Losing: Rogers is not the All-Pro he was in his first season with San Francisco, but he still plays a big role as their main slot cornerback. He’s allowed a reception for every 11.6 slot coverage snaps this season, one of the stingiest rates in the league.
What They’re Getting: Eric Wright is next in line to replace Rogers in the slot, but he’s never graded well in coverage and is dealing with a hamstring injury of his own. It’s more likely that we’ll see the journeyman Cox out there instead, just one week after he was cut by the rival Seahawks. He’s an aggressive corner, evidenced by his 10 passes defensed as a rookie with the Broncos, but has played just 21 sparse snaps in slot coverage this season.
Outcome: Now that he’s back healthy, you may not find a tougher player to cover than Packers receiver Randall Cobb. He led the league in slot receiving yards when he went down in Week 6, and that’s where he lined up on both his touchdowns last week. Even if Rogers plays, this is a matchup that heavily favors Green Bay.
Injury: Clay Matthews, Packers LB (Broken Thumb)
Next Man Up: Andy Mulumba
What They’re Losing: Matthews didn’t start this season up to his usual standards, collecting just nine QB pressures in his first four games before breaking his thumb in Week 5. But he looked like his old self of late, with five sacks and 24 QB pressures in his last six games.
What They’re Getting: Mulumba has become just the latest backup to try to fill Matthews’ enormous shoes, and he’s not faring any better than his predecessors. He has just seven QB pressures, the lowest total by any 3-4 outside linebacker with 100 pass rush snaps this season.
Outcome: The Packers have had plenty of chances these last two seasons to find a replacement for Matthews, and have come up empty each time. Colin Kaepernick threw for 142.8 QB rating when Green Bay gave him a clean pocket in Week 1, and he shouldn’t expect to see much pressure off the edge this time around.
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