Next Man Up: Week 12
In the course of a long NFL season, injuries inevitably pile up and depth charts are constantly 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”.
Any injury can cost a team a game, but the loss of a starting quarterback often alters an entire season. It was this time last year when Caleb Hanie and T.J. Yates showed us how a playoff contender could sink or swim based on the performance of its backup. For the second week in a row, our offensive awards are dominated by signal-callers both good and bad. On the defensive side, we have one team whose depth has kept it on track for a playoff bye, and another whose lack of playmakers just cost it the division lead.
Best Offensive Sub
Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
It seems like the Jacksonville Jaguars brass has finally realized what most of us concluded a long time ago… it’s time to move on from Blaine Gabbert. With all due respect to Collin Klein, Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow, my frontrunner for Gabbert’s replacement is the man that already has the job. That being Chad Henne. A week after throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns in an overtime loss to the Houston Texans (earning him a spot in this column), Henne earned the fourth-best PFF QB Rating in Week 12, despite being pressured on 45.5% of his drop-backs. His biggest impact has been his ability to stretch the field vertically. On passes traveling more than 10 yards down field, Gabbert was 33 of 76 with 752 yards in 10 starts. In less than half the snaps, Henne is 20 of 38 with 522 yards. In fact, no QB has more deep passing yards over the past two weeks than Henne.
Survive or Succumb?
If Henne keeps this up, there’s a legitimate chance that he’s under center for the Jaguars in Week 1 next season, which Mike Mularkey has endorsed.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Fells, TE, New England Patriots
The Patriots may not be able to replace Rob Gronkowski as a receiver, but Daniel Fells made sure they didn’t miss Gronk’s powerful run blocking this week. With 11:13 left in the fourth quarter, Fells knocked New York Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas back into safety Yeremiah Bell, leaving Stevan Ridley free to run untouched into the end zone.
Worst Offensive Sub
Charlie Batch, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Late in 2011, Charlie Batch had a successful spot-duty start in a 27-0 rout of the St. Louis Rams. What a difference a year makes. Thanks to three interceptions and 5.85 Yards Per Attempt, Batch’s 50.91 PFF QB Rating was worst among all quarterbacks in Week 12. And unlike some other Steeler games, we can’t blame the offensive line on this one; with a 14.3% Pressure rate, Batch was under duress less than any QB in the league. The veteran completed just one of seven deep passes for 27 yards, and could not take advantage of Mike Wallace’s speed. With 8:04 left in the fourth, Wallace was open on a 15-yard out but Batch’s throw fell short by a full 5 yards. With less than four minutes to go in the game, an underthrown deep pass to Wallace was easily picked off by Joe Haden. At 37-years-old, it seems Batch has simply lost his ability to drive the ball down field.
Survive or Succumb?
Poor performances by Batch and Byron Leftwich have killed Pittsburgh’s chances to win the AFC North. If Big Ben doesn’t return soon, they may be knocked out of the playoff race altogether.
Dishonorable Mention: Ryan Lindley, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Only five dropped passes and the poor play of the starter(s) he is replacing has saved Ryan Lindley from receiving the Worst Offensive Sub award over Batch. Four interceptions and two pick-sixes ensured the Cardinals’ seventh straight loss.
Best Defensive Sub
Arthur Jones, DE, Baltimore Ravens
A fifth-round draft pick from 2010, Arthur Jones has been a mainstay in the Ravens’ defensive line rotation for the past two seasons, but has been tasked with more playing time since Pernell McPhee suffered a thigh injury in Week 7. While Ma’ake Kemoeatu struggled in run defense and Haloti Ngata earned a spot on our Had A Bad Day team, Jones disrupted the San Diego Chargers in both the running and passing games. With 11:38 left in the third quarter, he looped outside on a well-executed stunt with Terrell Suggs to sack Philip Rivers for a 7-yard loss. Then, at the 7:04 mark of the quarter, he immediately beat another injury sub, left guard Rex Hadnot, to bring down Rivers before he could even set to throw. Jones’ most impressive play, however, came with 9:01 left in the fourth, when he muscled through a double-team by Antonio Gates and right tackle Jeromey Clary to cut down Ryan Matthews in the backfield.
Survive or Succumb?
The Ravens’ defense has been injury-ravaged all season, yet Baltimore is still 9-2 because of the clutch play of subs like Jones, Dannell Ellerbe, and…
Honorable Mention: Corey Graham, CB, Baltimore Ravens
I mentioned that Corey Graham would have to step up his game after a poor showing two weeks ago, and that’s absolutely what he’s done. After a solid game against the Steelers, he allowed just 37 yards, with two passes defensed on Sunday.
Worst Defensive Sub
Dezman Moses, OLB, Green Bay Packers
In their regular season meeting last year, Clay Matthews was an absolute wrecking ball against the New York Giants. He tallied eight QB pressures and a game-changing pick-six en route to a +6.1 PFF grade. When he couldn’t suit up against New York on Sunday night, the difference was evident. Backup Dezman Moses notched a sack and a QB hurry, but was otherwise invisible on 32 pass rushes. He notched two defensive stops in the running game, but also had some embarrassing mishaps. With 11:18 left in the second quarter, he was pancaked by tight end Bear Pascoe, opening up the left side for an easy Ahmad Bradshaw 10-yard gain.
Survive or Succumb?
The Green Bay defense is starving for playmakers even when healthy, and games like Moses’ show how barren their front seven is without ‘The Claymaker’.
Dishonorable Mention: Alan Ball, CB, Houston Texans
With Johnathan Joseph out of the lineup, the Detroit Lions targeted Alan Ball with 12 passes, completing six of them for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Next Men Up
After some high-profile injuries, here are three subs to keep an eye on next week:
Gabe Carimi, G, Chicago Bears
Demoted last week after poor play at tackle, Carimi was thrust back into the starting lineup when Jared Allen’s vicious hit tore Lance Louis’ ACL. Maybe Carimi is better suited for the inside, as his +3.3 grade was the best of his short career.
Kelvin Beachum, T, Pittsburgh Steelers
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was placed on injured reserve this week and backup Mike Adams has already been ruled out. As a seventh-round rookie, Beachum has given up one QB hit in 27 snaps in relief this year.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants
Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott are both out for the season, leaving Wilson as the only relief for the oft-injured Bradshaw. In a very small sample size (just 24 rushes), Wilson has a poor 20.8 Elusive Rating, but a 58.8 Breakaway Percentage that hints at his big-play ability.
Follow Pete on Twitter @PFF_Pete