5 NFL Backups Absolutely Rising to the Occasion Down the Home Stretch
At it's core, football is about the 11 men on the starting lineup who ultimately decide the final outcome. Despite this, even these 11 men need help at times.
In a game as physically demanding as football, a team's backups are as important as the starters, perhaps even more so. Take a cursory glance at any good team and you will find a deep bench capable of taking the game into their hands and winning.
Whether it be the spunky quarterback coming off the bench cold when the star quarterback is hurt, or the defensive lineman who relieve the stars for a spell, good backups can be the difference between a good team and a great team.
Here's a look at five reserves who have proven themselves to be as important to the success of their teams down the stretch as any starter in the league.
When you're a team as talented as the San Francisco 49ers, you can afford to stash your second-round pick on the bench for the first 12 games of the season.
However, this does come with one expectation for the player: When called upon, it is a must that he perform. LaMichael James is a great example of this.
James played in his first NFL game on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and he was asked to not only return kickoffs, but also spell running back Frank Gore from time to time and help the 49ers move the chains.
When it came to both tasks, James performed admirably. In his three kickoff returns he gained an average of 34 yards per return, then on offense ran the ball eight times for 30 yards, including a long run of 13 yards.
James was also used in the passing game, where he had a catch for 15 yards which helped set up a 49ers field goal in the second quarter.
James will continue to get playing time for San Francisco in the final four games of the season. With two big games coming up against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, he will have to continue the good job he did against Miami by performing well on the field and keeping Gore fresh going into the playoffs.
Let's take out Anthony McCoy's last game with Seattle, one that saw him grab three catches for 105 yards that was part of Seattle's 58-0 onslaught against the Arizona Cardinals.
Even without those numbers to pad McCoy's stats, he has produced when the Seahawks have asked him to in relief of starting tight end Zach Miller.
McCoy's run-blocking for the Seahawks has been a good supplement to what Miller has brought them during the game, but recently he has managed to do more with the ball than Miller has.
Despite playing in six less games and being targeted 21 less times than Miller, McCoy has 16 catches for 236 yards on the season. Most of those yards did come against Arizona in Week 14, but he's been decent in relief throughout the rest of the season, scoring twice prior to the Seahawks-Cardinals blowout.
Will McCoy continue to produce when called upon? There's a good chance he will, and the Seahawks will need his production to get into the postseason and continue to contend for the NFC West title.
This feels like cheating considering that James Jones has started most of the year with the Packers in the absence of Greg Jennings along with the fact that the Packers use three wide receivers on offense a lot, but since I am going based off the depth chart (Jones is third at his position on the Packers' depth chart), I have to include him.
Jones has 46 catches for 562 yards and nine touchdowns. Again, most of this came when Jones was starting, but isn't the mark of a good reserve someone who's able to start in relief and play well?
Jones earned himself a starting job for next season, and if the Packers choose not to re-sign impending free agent Greg Jennings, he will be the main reason. As for this season, Jones will still be expected to perform to the level he has performed while helping the Packers on their quest to win a second Super Bowl in three years.
The Patriots always have reserve players that manage to be Mr. Everything types. No surprise that this season Danny Woodhead is again filling this void.
Woodhead has seen a reduction of use on offense due to the emergence of running back Stevan Ridley and the performance of Julian Edelman at wide receiver, but with Edelman now on injured reserve, Woodhead will be called upon by New England to not only spell Ridley in the backfield, but also lineup at wide receiver when needed.
So far Woodhead has performed well in each aspect when called upon, with 28 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns along with 215 yards and two touchdowns on 58 rushing attempts. His catches will likely go up in the final four games while his carries will likely go down. Either way, he will be expected to continue playing well for the Patriots, as he has in his last four seasons for the Patriots.
Cousins doesn't fit the same mold as the rest of the backups profiled here, because if all goes well for the Redskins he won't see the field again this season.
However, his performance against the Baltimore Ravens gives Washington some faith that if Robert Griffin III isn't able to go on Sunday against Cleveland, the Redskins will be in pretty good hands.
Cousins only went 2-for-2 for 26 yards and a touchdown, but considering he did this in an offense tailored to RG3's talents and not his, this is pretty good. Coming in cold off the bench is a difficult proposition at any time, but even more so in the fourth quarter.
Will he play against Cleveland? It again depends on RG3's health. But if Griffin isn't able to play, the Redskins do have some faith that Cousins will be able to give them the win on the road against a pretty tough team.