Next Man Up: Week 11
At this point of the NFL season, injuries are piling up and depth charts are being tested. Whether a team survives these blows, or succumbs to them, depends upon the performance of its players on the bench. As coaches say, “next man up”.
If you’d read last week’s column, you may have expected Marcel Reece’s 193 yards from scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints. You may also have applauded Corey Graham as he rebounded against the Steelers with an interception and two passes defensed. When looking at the best injury replacements from this week, we’ll focus on a controversy-stirring performance from a San Francisco quarterback, an overwhelmed Philadelphia rookie, a stout defender on Arizona’s front line, and a mistake-prone safety in Oakland.
Best Offensive Sub
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Entering his Monday night matchup with the Chicago Bears, Colin Kaepernick had nearly as many career yards rushing (175) as passing (241). Nonetheless, in a dominating effort, Kaepernick showed a national audience how ruthlessly efficient he can be through the air. He threw only 21 passes, yet completed 16 of them for 243 yards and 10.6 yards per attempt. His 130.00 PFF QB Rating and 85.7 Accuracy Percentage in Week 11 was bested only by Robert Griffin III. The second-year QB was unafraid to challenge Pro Bowler Charles Tillman with eight targets, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree where Kaepernick deftly escaped the pocket and threw on the run.
Survive or Succumb? Those who so easily dismiss Alex Smith may not know that his 96.88 PFF QB Rating this season is fifth-highest in the league, right behind Tom Brady. However, after Smith’s recent slump and Kaepernick’s great performance against one of the best defenses in the league, I can’t blame Jim Harbaugh for playing this “hot hand” until it busts.
Honorable Mention: Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Like Kaepernick, Chad Henne had an unexpectedly stellar performance against one of the top defenses in the NFL. He threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns with 10.7 yards per attempt against the Houston Texans, and may have jump-started Justin Blackmon’s career.
Worst Offensive Sub
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Foles excited the Philadelphia faithful with a 44-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin on his ninth pass as a pro, but it’s been all downhill from there. His -7.2 grade against the Washington Redskins was one of the worst we’ve handed out to a QB this season. Foles’ downfall was his inability to throw vertically. Ten of his 21 completions were behind the line of scrimmage, and he was 3 for 15 for 66 yards and two interceptions on throws 10+ yards downfield. He didn’t have much help, as his receivers dropped five passes and his linemen surrendered 13 pressures. Yet, on 20 drop-backs when he was given more than 2.6 seconds to throw, he completed four passes for a QB rating of 0.2. No, that’s not a typo.
Survive or Succumb? Long-term, it makes sense for the Eagles to stick with Foles to see if there’s any hope for him. However, to preserve the slim chance of saving his job, Andy Reid needs Michael Vick back ASAP.
Dishonorable Mention: Michael Harris, OT, San Diego Chargers
The first repeat offender in Next Man Up history, left tackle Michael Harris surrendered another eight QB pressures after giving up nine last week. In two starts, that’s six more than Ryan Clady has conceded all season.
Best Defensive Sub
David Carter, DE, Arizona Cardinals
Having earned a grade of +18.4, Calais Campbell is one of our highest-graded 3-4 defensive ends in the league. When he was declared out with a calf injury, it should have been a huge blow to the Cardinals’ defense. It wasn’t, thanks to the play of second-year pro David Carter. Carter tallied just one assist and no defensive stops, but he was stout in the running game, occupying blockers to give linebackers Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon the space to wreak havoc. The Falcons gained just 17 yards on seven rushes to the super-sub’s side. When Atlanta turned to the passing game, Carter earned three QB hurries and one batted pass, helping to harass Matt Ryan into five interceptions and the second-worst passer rating of his career.
Survive or Succumb? Carter may not be the game-changer that Campbell is (few are), but his consistency is a nice luxury for a promising defense.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Gilchrist, CB, San Diego Chargers
When Quentin Jammer left with a calf injury, slot cornerback Marcus Gilchrist turned in an all-around gem with three defensive stops, two QB hurries, two batted passes, and just 19 yards allowed in coverage.
Worst Defensive Sub
Michael Mitchell, S, Oakland Raiders
With franchise safety Tyvon Branch out with a neck injury, Mitchell stepped into the Oakland Raiders’ starting lineup with disastrous results. While Mitchell’s raw stats say that he surrendered just two receptions for 12 yards, the game film shows that he was partially responsible for three New Orleans Saints touchdowns. Shortly before the half, Lance Moore beat CB Michael Huff on a go-route, and Mitchell was not nearly deep enough to give any help over the top of a 38-yard TD bomb. On the Saints’ next drive, Mitchell recklessly sprinted upfield to attack Mark Ingram on an outside run. Ingram easily eluded the diving tackle attempt and ran untouched through the empty secondary for a 27-yard score. Finally, later in the third quarter, Mitchell was too slow to get over and stop Moore’s out-route on a 15-yard touchdown. In the span of four Saints drives, three big mistakes by Mitchell helped New Orleans extend its lead from 14-7 to 35-10.
Survive or Succumb? On a defense that already gives up the most points in the NFL, errors like Mitchell’s simply compound the Raiders’ problems.
Honorable Mention: Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis Colts
After flourishing against Blaine Gabbert, Darius Butler did not fare so well against his old team. Tom Brady completed seven passes for 75 yards while targeting Butler 10 times.
Next Men Up
After some high-profile injuries, here are three guys off the bench to keep an eye on next week:
Charlie Batch, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
In a spot-start for Ben Roethlisberger last year, Batch earned a +2.1 grade, including a +2.6 grade under pressure.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, New England Patriots
Attention Stevan Ridley: Rob Gronkowski has a +9.6 run block grade this season. Shiancoe had a -3.7 run block grade last season.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos
This rookie RB has just 3.8 yards per carry and a 16.8 Elusive Rating in limited snaps behind Willis McGahee.
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