Next Man Up: Week 13
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”.
In last week’s column, someone asked “Where is Bryce Brown?” while noting the Philadelphia running back’s 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was a tough call to leave the rookie out, and it’s just as difficult after his 169-yard two-touchdown encore versus the Dallas Cowboys. We pride ourselves into taking a player’s entire performance into account, not just the fantasy stats. And I can’t ignore that, for the second week in a row, Brown’s fumble gave his opponents the decisive score in an Eagles loss. Highlighted, instead, is Brown’s teammate, who had some effective run-blocking that won’t show up in the highlights, but certainly did in the film room.
Best Offensive Sub
Jason Avant, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
In his seven years with the Eagles, Jason Avant has earned a reputation as a valuable reserve and spot starter. He already started two games earlier this season and was once again asked to step up after fractured ribs ended DeSean Jackson’s season last week. Playing over 80% of the offensive snaps against Dallas, he turned in a complete performance that boosted both his rookie quarterback and rookie running back. Nick Foles was 4-for-4 for 79 yards and a 118.8 passer rating when targeting Avant and Brown had four rushes of 15+ yards thanks in part to the veteran wideout’s downfield blocking. With 6:11 left in the second quarter, Avant sealed off safety Danny McCray to clear the alley for an easy Brown touchdown. On the next drive, he controlled Mike Jenkins at the point of attack for Brown’s 20-yard run around left end. Two plays later, Avant’s 29-yard reception on a flag route put the Eagles in field goal range.
Survive or Succumb?
As Philadelphia tries to assess its young players for the future, it’s important to have a veteran like Avant to help them along the way.
Honorable Mention: Jah Reid, G, Baltimore Ravens
You can’t blame the Ravens’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on their offensive line. Take a look at Ray Rice’s 34-yard touchdown run with 5:00 left in the third quarter, and notice how Reid held his block long enough to allow his RB to reverse field.
Worst Offensive Sub
Mike Thomas, WR, Detroit Lions
The Lions hoped that this would be the year that they found a complementary receiver to take advantage of all the double-teams that Calvin Johnson sees. It has not turned out that way. Veteran Nate Burleson broke his leg in Week 7. Talented Titus Young apparently has found it too difficult to be a professional. Rookie Ryan Broyles showed a spark with 126 receiving yards on Thanksgiving, but lasted only nine snaps against the Indianapolis Colts this week before tearing his ACL. That thrust Mike Thomas into a feature role, and let’s just says he’s fallen far from his success with the Jacksonville Jaguars. With 11:38 left in the second quarter, Matthew Stafford’s perfectly thrown slant into the end zone bounced harmlessly off Thomas’ chest. On 42 pass routes, Thomas received four targets, dropping two and catching one for minus-one yard.
Survive or Succumb?
At the start of the 2013 season, Burleson will be 31 years old, Broyles will be coming off his second ACL surgery in two years, and Young may no longer be on the roster. The search for Megatron’s right-hand man continues.
Dishonorable Mention: Edwin Williams, G, Chicago Bears
Injuries to guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer have hurt the Bears’ running game. Left guard Williams was dominated at the point of attack by Seattle Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane and frequently stonewalled by smaller linebackers when pulling to the right side.
Best Defensive Sub
Trevor Scott, DE, New England Patriots
Chandler Jones’ standout rookie season was put on hold when he sprained his ankle in Week 11 against the Colts. Jermaine Cunningham filled in against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night, but was then suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Fifth-year end Trevor Scott totaled just five pressures as a backup with the Oakland Raiders last year, but matched that total in one game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. His two sacks and three hurries led all Patriot defenders, and his 15.7 Pass Rush Productivity was the fifth-best mark by any 4-3 DE last week. With just over eight minutes left in the second quarter, Scott beat another injury sub, right tackle Ryan Garner, with a speed rush for a sack-fumble. Vince Wilfork recovered the loose ball on the Dolphins’ 26-yard line, leading to a Patriots field goal.
Survive or Succumb? Scott earned just one sack in his last two years in Oakland, but as Andre Carter showed, Bill Belichick has been able to turn someone else’s trash into his treasure.
Honorable Mention: Chris Owens, CB, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons defense harassed Drew Brees into his worst game in years, despite losing Asante Samuel after just three snaps. Thanks Owens, who came in to tally two passes defensed and allow just 35 yards on eight targets.
Worst Defensive Sub
Kevin Rutland, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
A season after fielding a Top 10 pass defense, the Jaguars have given up the fifth-most yards through the air this season. It didn’t help on Sunday when they had to suit up against the Buffalo Bills without cornerback Derek Cox. In his stead, Kevin Rutland surrendered three completions, 69 yards, and a touchdown in just 15 coverage snaps. Rutland’s 4.60 Yards Per Coverage Snap was the worst rate in the league last week. His game turned south almost immediately, when rookie T.J. Graham burned him for a 51-yard catch with 10:39 left in the first quarter. Stevie Johnson labored with his own injury and had a season-low 16 receiving yards, but 13 of them came on a double-move that shook Rutland for an easy touchdown.
Survive or Succumb? Jacksonville is looking towards their future, and in two seasons Rutland has yet to show that he should be a part of it.
Dishonorable Mention: Leonard Johnson, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Johnson drew some tough assignments against Demaryius Thomas, but his 49 yards, touchdown, and two penalties in coverage should have Bucs fans wondering if they can make a playoff run without Eric Wright.
Next Men Up
Geno Hayes, OLB, Chicago Bears — As Nick Roach slides over to Brian Urlacher’s middle linebacker spot, Hayes will have to improve on the -11.8 run grade he posted with Tampa Bay last season.
Nate Garner, OT, Miami Dolphins — Despite the aforementioned sack against Scott, Garner surrendered only one other QB hurry to go along with a +2.1 run grade last week. He’ll take over the right side of the Dolphins line as Jonathan Martin replaces Jake Long on the left.
David Diehl, OT, New York Giants — Sean Locklear’s injury could be a big one if Diehl repeats his disastrous play of last season. He’s surrendered 16 pressures in five starts this year.
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