Next Man Up: Week 9
Since last week’s debut of Next Man Up I’ve been tracking the NFL’s injuries, a factor that often unjustly decides the fates of our favorite teams. Franchises frequently survive, or succumb to, their maladies based on the play of their reserves.
This week, we’ll focus on a tale of two subs in MetLife Stadium, a defender replacing a legend in Baltimore, and a sign that Philadelphia’s offensive line woes aren’t disappearing anytime soon.
Best Offensive Sub
Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have preferred a committee approach with their running backs this season, but injuries to Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall left them no choice but to lean heavily on Isaac Redman at MetLife Stadium. On the field for a career-high 53 offensive snaps, the undrafted fourth-year back became the focal point of the Pittsburgh offense. Of his 147 rushing yards, 121 came after contact. The New York Giants’ defense had only 36 missed tackles coming into the game, yet Redman dodged six of their attempts for a stellar 99.7 Elusive Rating. His most important escape came on 3rd-and-2 with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, when he slipped out of Osi Umenyiora’s grasp for a first down. Two plays later, he lunged into the end zone for the winning score. On the next drive, Redman iced the game by bouncing past two would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage and weaving for 28 yards. It was a fitting end to a great performance by the Pittsburgh back.
Survive or Succumb? Dwyer and Mendenhall are due to return soon, but Redman is clearly capable of carrying the load in the meantime.
Honorable Mention: Evan Dietrich-Smith, OG, Green Bay Packers
Shuffled into left guard duty after Bryan Bulaga exited in the second quarter with a hip injury, Eric Dietrich-Smith allowed no quarterback pressures in 52 snaps against the Arizona Cardinals.
Worst Offensive Sub
Demetress Bell, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Brought in after Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles in the offseason, I’ve already written that Demetress Bell has been the Worst Budget Signing of this year’s free agent pool. After being relegated to a backup role, Bell was once again called into duty on Monday Night when right tackle Todd Herremans went down with a foot injury. And once again, Bell simply compounded the Eagles’ problems. He surrendered four quarterback pressures in 36 pass-blocking snaps, while having possibly the worst sequence you’ll see from a lineman this season. During the Eagles’ second-to-last drive, with 1st-and-goal from the New Orleans Saints’ 5-yard line, Bell was flagged as an ineligible man downfield. Two plays later, he backed the Eagles up another 5 yards with a false start penalty. And then on the ensuing play, he surrendered a quick sack to Cameron Jordan. 1st-and-goal from the 5 had become 3rd-and-goal from the 23, and Brent Celek’s fumble on the next play ended any hopes of a Philadelphia comeback.
Survive or Succumb? With reports that Herremans could be out for the season, the thought of eight more games with Bell at right tackle should be a scary one for Eagles fans.
Dishonorable Mention: Willie Smith, OT, Oakland Raiders
Right tackle Khalif Barnes has been out since Week 2 and, after giving up another six pressures on Sunday, Willie Smith’s 91.4 Pass Block Efficiency is now sixth-worst among tackles this season.
Best Defensive Sub
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Baltimore Ravens
The entire NFL seemed to mourn the loss of Ray Lewis for the rest of the season (ok, maybe not Pittsburgh), but the fact is that his 2012 version did not resemble the Hall of Fame linebacker that we were accustomed to. While Lewis’ 48.0 Combined Tackle Efficiency spoke to his sure tackling, his 7.1 Run Stop Percentage indicated a scarcity of impact plays. He especially struggled to keep up with receivers, allowing 71.4% of passes in his coverage to be completed for a 100.3 opponent QB rating.
Asked to fill the biggest of shoes, Dannell Ellerbe has matched Lewis’ play and then some. Despite earning a negative grade in each of his first six games as a reserve, the fourth-year linebacker has tallied a +7.0 mark in two starts while playing every defensive snap for the Baltimore Ravens. He led the team with five stops and five QB pressures against the Cleveland Browns. In fact, his 54.2 Pass Rush Productivity led all inside linebackers in Week 9. And, after allowing only four completions on nine targets against the Houston Texans, he denied both passes that Brandon Weeden threw into his coverage Sunday. In his two starts, Ellerbe has shown an ability to fight through traffic on running plays, blow past offensive linemen on blitzes, and stay with receivers over the middle.
Survive or Succumb? The Ravens may never replace Lewis’ presence in the locker room, but so far Ellerbe has been an upgrade from the future Hall of Famer on the field.
Honorable Mention: Tony Carter, CB, Denver Broncos
With his two passes defensed against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tony Carter now has an interception, four PDs and just 58 yards allowed in the three games since Tracy Porter’s injury.
Worst Defensive Sub
Mark Herzlich, ILB, New York Giants
As both a Boston College alumnus and someone inspired by Mark Herzlich’s courageous comeback from Ewing’s Sarcoma, it pains me to single out the second-year linebacker in just his third NFL start. But playing for the injured Chase Blackburn, Herzlich too often looked overmatched in the Giants’ loss to the Steelers. In the running game, he was frequently caught in the wash on the second level or simply moved aside at the line of scrimmage. The middle linebacker’s coverage woes from his rookie season continued, as he allowed completions on all five targets sent his way. On a 3rd-and-1 with 7:04 left in the first quarter, Herzlich was fooled by a play action and couldn’t stay with Redman on an outlet over the middle. The middle linebacker again surrendered a third-down conversion on Jerricho Cotchery’s crossing route with 1:35 left in the first. And Herzlich looked like little more than a turnstile on Emmanuel Sanders’ second-quarter touchdown.
Survive or Succumb? It’s not like Blackburn has been lighting the world on fire, but Herzlich’s youth and effort are not outweighing his coverage liabilities right now. The Giants may need to see marked improvement to trust him again as their starting Mike.
Dishonorable Mention: Javier Arenas, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Stanford Routt must have been really disappointing for the Chiefs to find him expendable, even after Javier Arenas allowed five completions for 57 yards on five targets against the San Diego Chargers.
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