Next Man Up: Week 17
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”.
NFL players are often applauded for gutting through injuries, but such selfless acts can sometimes harm a team more than help it. When news broke that DeMarcus Ware was suiting up for the do-or-die season finale against the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. However, once the action started it was clear their defensive captain was not himself. Hindered by shoulder and elbow injuries, the perennial All-Pro didn’t record a single tackle and earned a -4.1 grade, the lowest we’ve ever given him. The Cowboys may not be mentioned below, but injuries definitely played a factor in their fate.
Best Offensive Sub
Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants
During a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview Friday afternoon, Rueben Randle kept referring to the Giants’ 2012 season in the past tense. It prompted the host to question whether the rookie receiver thought that New York’s playoff hopes were done. If Randle did believe that, he sure didn’t play like it against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hakeem Nicks’ litany of injuries limited him to just one snap, but the Giants’ offense still exploded thanks to Randle’s first-half heroics. With New York facing 2nd-and-goal on their first drive, Randle got inside of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and behind Colt Anderson for the opening score of the game. On the next drive, the rookie outjumped the beleaguered Nnamdi Asomugha for a 38-yard touchdown. And with 6:33 left in the second quarter, Asomugha’s defensive pass interference on Randle turned a 3rd-and-goal into a 1-yard touchdown dive. On the day, Eli Manning completed all four targets thrown to Randle for 58 yards, two scores, and a perfect passer rating.
Survive or Succumb?
The Giants’ hopes for a Super Bowl repeat were dashed minutes after their game ended, but Randle showed he can be an important playmaker for New York next season.
Honorable Mention: A.Q. Shipley, C, Indianapolis Colts
Filling in for Samson Satele, Shipley allowed just one hurry in pass protection and held Houston Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody to zero defensive stops in the running game.
Worst Offensive Sub
Don Barclay, OT, Green Bay Packers
There’s been a lot of shuffling on the Packers’ offensive line since right tackle Bryan Bulaga hit injured reserve and center Jeff Saturday was benched (but yet still somehow made the Pro Bowl). That’s left undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay manning Green Bay’s right tackle spot, with shaky results. Sunday was his worst game yet, as his three sacks in pass protection were the most allowed by any tackle last week. All five pressures he allowed came in the second half, and he also tacked on two false-start penalties on third downs. With 8:28 left in the third quarter, after the rookie’s early jump had just turned 3rd-and-2 and into 3rd-and-7, Brian Robison got around Barclay to cause an Aaron Rodgers fumble at midfield. In two games versus the Vikings, Barclay has incurred four penalties and allowed eight QB pressures.
Survive or Succumb?
If Robison and Everson Griffen replicate their success against Barclay, Green Bay will be in jeopardy of losing its Wild Card rubber match.
Dishonorable Mention: Bobbie Williams, G, Baltimore Ravens
I’m not sure what was worse: Williams’ three hurries allowed and -2.3 run block grade against the Cincinnati Bengals, or his late hit and shameless flop in the second quarter. The Ravens need Marshal Yanda healthy for the playoffs.
Best Defensive Sub
Ricky Jean-Francois, DE, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers lost Justin Smith in the third quarter of their Week 15 game against the New England Patriots, and his absence was felt immediately. The Patriots rattled off 31 second-half points, and the Seattle Seahawks piled on with 42 the following week. Against a potent passing attack, backup Ricky Jean-Francois is not the type of playmaker who will demand double-teams and free up pass-rushing lanes for Aldon Smith. But against a team like the Arizona Cardinals, he’s an asset that controls his blocker and allows his linebackers to flow to the running back. “RJF” held his ground against left guard Daryn Colledge and left tackle D’Anthony Batiste, and his 15.4 Run Stop Percentage helped limit the Cardinals to 55 yards and a 3.2 average on the ground. He also added his second sack of the season, muscling past Colledge to drop Brian Hoyer in the third quarter.
Survive or Succumb?
Jean-Francois’ solid play was good enough for the 49ers against the overmatched Cardinals, but San Francisco will need Smith against the high-powered offenses it will meet in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Mays, S, Cincinnati Bengals
After Chris Crocker left early with a quad injury, Mays turned in a complete game with a QB hurry, a run stop, and zero yards allowed in coverage.
Worst Defensive Sub
Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans
Against the Texans, Andrew Luck’s passer rating dropped from 119.2 to 42.2 on throws when he faced pressure. Unfortunately for Houston, those times were too few and far between. J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith disrupted the pocket a number of times, but the same could not be said of rookie Whitney Mercilus. In for the injured Brooks Reed, Mercilus rushed Luck on each of the 28 pass snaps that he saw, but didn’t record a single pressure. The first-round draft pick was equally invisible against the running game, tallying just one stop on 33 snaps in run defense. Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener isn’t a particularly accomplished run blocker, but he stonewalled Mercilus at the point of attack on Vick Ballard’s second-quarter touchdown plunge.
Survive or Succumb?
Mercilus has earned a negative grade in five of the six games that he’s taken a majority of the snaps. He’s shined in spot duty, but can’t be relied upon extensively this early in his career.
Dishonorable Mention: Marcus Sherels, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Not to put a damper on the Vikings’ magical playoff run, but Sherels surrendered 162 yards on Sunday, more than all other Minnesota cornerbacks combined. You can be sure the Packers will target him again this Saturday if Antoine Winfield can’t suit up.
Next Men Up
Tomorrow I’ll have a more in-depth look at the injuries heading into this weekend’s Wild Card games and how they could decide which teams move on.
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