Next Man Up: Week 16
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”.
As teams are swept from the playoff race, it’s fair to ask how much injury played a role in their demise. On Sunday, we saw some bench players help elevate their rookie quarterbacks to the precipice of the postseason, while lack of depth pushed some veteran quarterbacks to the brink of elimination. Here are the best and worst ‘next men up’ from Week 16.
Best Offensive Sub
Maurice Hurt, OT, Washington Redskins
Andy Reid released Jason Babin to give Brandon Graham more playing time, and the third-year defensive end rewarded him with five sacks and 13 additional quarterback pressures in his first three games of full-time duty. On Sunday, however, Graham’s torrid pace was halted when he met a wall by the name of Maurice Hurt. Playing for injured right tackle Tyler Polumbus, Hurt surrendered zero pressures in 25 pass-block snaps. The only time Graham got close to Robert Griffin III was when Trent Cole forced the rookie QB out of the pocket. Hurt also chipped in with a +0.6 run block grade. If you want to see an NFL linebacker humbled, go to the 5:43 mark of the second quarter, where Philly’s Mychal Kendricks tried to plug a running lane only to have Hurt toss him 3 yards back where he came from.
Survive or Succumb?
This was Hurt’s first game at tackle after some disappointing starts as a rookie left guard last season. The Redskins hope he can carry this performance over into Sunday night’s winner-take-all NFC East finale.
Honorable Mention: Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, New England Patriots
While the Patriots may miss Rob Gronkowski’s play-making ability as a receiver, their backups have been able to replicate his success as a run-blocker. Hoomanawanui’s +2.6 run block grade led all New England players last week.
Worst Offensive Sub
David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steeler fans considered it good timing that rookie David DeCastro finally returned from a preseason knee injury just as guard Willie Colon landed on the injured reserve list. However, in the biggest game of Pittsburgh’s season, their first-round pick came up awfully small. DeCastro ended the Steelers’ first drive when he gave up a third-down sack to Geno Atkins. There’s no shame in being bested by the best defensive tackle in the league, but the rookie then surrendered pressures to Rey Maualuga, Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, and Domata Peko. DeCastro’s 86.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency was a league-low for guards last week, and he was equally overmatched in the ground game. Time and again he simply whiffed on defenders, and his -1.9 run block grade helps explain why Pittsburgh running backs gained just 34 yards on 14 rushes to the right side.
Survive or Succumb?
DeCastro was hardly the only Steeler to have an off game against the Bengals, but Pittsburgh fans will have all offseason to wonder if he will be part of the problem or solution to their offensive line woes.
Dishonorable Mention: David Diehl, OT, New York Giants
Diehl was our worst-graded offensive lineman last season, but had been holding his own after right tackle Sean Locklear was carted off in Week 13. Unfortunately for New York, Diehl was up to his old tricks against the Baltimore Ravens, surrendering three hits and four hurries for an awful 83.6 PBE.
Best Defensive Sub
Lawrence Guy, DE, Indianapolis Colts
On Sunday the Colts surrendered more rushing yards in a game than any NFL team had since 2007 — but at least one of their run defenders can walk tall this week. Playing a career-high 49 snaps after Cory Redding left with an injury, Lawrence Guy racked up eight tackles and six defensive stops against the run. Those numbers didn’t only lead his team, but led all NFL defensive linemen in Week 16. His 18.8 Run Stop Percentage was the highest of any 3-4 DE with over 10 run snaps, and his stout play at right end is a reason why the Chiefs rushed for only 3.8 yards per carry behind left guard Jeff Allen, versus a 9.1 average everywhere else. His big push on a 4th-and-1 with 10:21 left in the game prevented the Chiefs from potentially taking the lead, and set up Andrew Luck to again work his late-game magic.
Survive or Succumb?
The Colts are bound to face Arian Foster, Ray Rice, or Stevan Ridley somewhere in the playoffs, and giving Guy more playing time could be a way to shore up their 30th-ranked run defense.
Honorable Mention: Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
In a game the Vikings needed to have, Griffen never let Matt Schaub get comfortable, with two hits and five hurries on the Texans’ quarterback.
Worst Defensive Sub
Alex Albright, ILB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys had been surprisingly successful since Week 7 without one of their leaders and best defenders, Sean Lee. However, their injuries at inside linebacker finally caught up to them when Ernie Sims left against the New Orleans Saints with dizziness from a lingering concussion. Next man up Alex Albright earned an honorable mention here last week, but he did not fare nearly as well in his second stint of extended duty. He was directly involved in all three Saints touchdowns, starting at 10:31 in the first quarter when Eric Olsen stonewalled him at the point of attack to pave the way for Mark Ingram’s 9-yard score. On 3rd-and-goal in the closing minutes of the third quarter, Albright was in the center of the miscommunication that left Pierre Thomas wide open for an easy touchdown catch. And on the next Saints drive, Albright was again part of the confused group that watched David Thomas waltz from the flat into the end zone with no defender anywhere near him.
Survive or Succumb?
Miscommunication is one of the perils teams find when scraping the bottom of their depth charts. The Cowboys had better get Albright on the same page as the rest of the defense in time for their battle royale with Washington.
Dishonorable Mention: Rocky Bernard, DT, New York Giants
Chris Canty picked up five stops and a pressure in just 24 snaps, and the Giants felt his loss when he left with a MCL sprain. In his stead, Bernard mustered just one stop and no pressures in nearly twice the playing time.
Next Men Up
In preparation for this week’s games, here are three subs to keep an eye on:
Garrett Celek, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Celek showed a mix of receiving skills and inconsistent run blocking in relief of Vernon Davis last week.
Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco 49ers
As Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham fell to injury in the last month, Moss’ playing time has steadily increased. His 86.0 WR Rating is middle-of-the-road, but a 2.15 Yards Per Route Run is the 27th-best mark among all receivers.
Kahlil Bell, RB, Chicago Bears
If Matt Forte’s ankle injury keeps him out of the Bears’ must-win game in Detroit, Chicago will have to hope that Bell improves on his -2.8 rushing grade this season.
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