Who Must Step Up Following Key Week 7 NFL Injuries?

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IOctober 21, 2013

Who Must Step Up Following Key Week 7 NFL Injuries?

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    The injury bug infested the NFL in Week 7.

    Every team employs the "Next Man Up" mantra, and many clubs will have to live by that phrase over the next two months to weather the storm that comes after losing key contributors to serious injuries. 

    Let's take a look at the impact players who were injured in Week 7 and pinpoint the guys who must step up in a major way during the second half of the 2013 campaign for their respective franchises.

Jay Cutler

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    Groin Tear 

    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler injured his groin on a sack in the Bears' 45-41 road loss to the Washington Redskins.

    The injury didn't look bad, but it forced the gunslinger to leave the game in the second quarter, and he didn't return.

    Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer tweeted the prognosis for Cutler's groin tweak: 

    Jay Cutler has a muscle tear in his groin. Out at least four weeks

    This injury is especially discouraging for the Bears because Cutler was on pace for arguably the most efficient season of his NFL career.


    Players Who Must Step Up

    Josh McCown 

    The veteran McCown went 14-of-20 for 204 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in his relief effort against Washington. With Cutler out multiple games, McCown will have to continue that level of play. The Bears average 255 passing yards per game—tied for the 13th-highest average in football.

    Chicago's offense is predicated on the passing game and its intimidating trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

    Things aren't totally grave for the Bears because they have a bye in Week 8, which means Cutler may miss only three games instead of four.

    However, Week 9's Monday night showdown in Green Bay against the Packers doesn't look good for Chicago.


    Matt Forte

    The Bears' feature back is experiencing somewhat of a career resurgence in 2013 at the age of 27 after 1,529 total touches in his first five NFL seasons.

    Grabbed in the second round of the 2008 draft, Forte is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season and has already scored six rushing touchdowns. He's caught 35 passes as well.

    Marc Trestman is a passing-game guru, but he may have to feature Forte more prominently now that his starting quarterback will miss a few games.

Sam Bradford

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    Torn ACL 

    St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL in the team's 30-15 loss to the Panthers in Carolina. The former No. 1 overall pick landed on his knee on a fourth-quarter scramble when safety Mike Mitchell pushed him out of bounds.

    The Rams' Twitter account made the news official on Monday morning:

    An MRI confirmed that Rams QB Sam Bradford suffered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). He will miss the remainder of the 2013 season.

    In Bradford's absence late in the game, backup Kellen Clemens completed two of his four passing attempts for 19 yards and was sacked twice.


    Players Who Must Step Up

    Kellen Clemens 

    The Rams are now forced to ask a lot of Clemens with Bradford done for the year. The upcoming schedule is as follows:

    • vs. Seattle Seahawks
    • vs. Tennessee Titans 
    • at Indianapolis Colts 
    • vs. Chicago Bears 
    • at San Francisco 49ers
    • at Arizona Cardinals
    • vs. New Orleans Saints 
    • vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    • at Seattle Seahawks 

    Clemens threw only three passes in 2012 after starting three games for the Rams in 2011. St. Louis' offense—which, on paper, has some skill-position weapons—has averaged only 299 yards in its seven contests this season, the third-lowest average in football.

    As a team, the Rams average 3.2 yards per carry, so opposing defenses won't feel threatened by St. Louis' running game, placing more pressure on Clemens to move the ball through the air.


    Jared Cook 

    Remember when MMQB editor-in-chief Peter King wrote the following about Jared Cook, "I have not seen a better offensive weapon in all the practices I’ve seen on this training camp tour"?

    Yeah, you're not the only one.

    The athletic tight end's 26 catches rank second on the Rams, but he hasn't scored a touchdown since his Week 1 explosion against the Arizona Cardinals and hasn't had a game with more than 45 receiving yards since the promising opener.

    Cook needs to become Clemens' go-to target over the next two months.

Doug Martin

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    Torn Labrum 

    It is believed that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has suffered a torn labrum that will end his 2013 season. 

    He was injured on a third-quarter hit by Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore.

    Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo tweeted regarding Martin's injury:

    Source tells @FOXSports1 Buccaneers RB Doug Martin suffered what's believed to be a torn labrum in his shoulder. Season possibly over.

    As if the 0-6 Buccaneers needed a bad break.

    In relief duty, Mike James rushed 14 times for a meager 45 yards against a susceptible Falcons run defense.


    Players Who Must Step Up

    Mike James

    James was a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Miami (Fla.). He'll likely become Tampa Bay's feature back, as the Buccaneers are thin at the running back position.

    Upcoming matchups against the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins could be tough sledding for the rookie.

    Carolina and Seattle allow 3.7 yards per carry. Miami allows 3.8.


    Mike Glennon 

    Glennon has completed at least 24 passes in each of his first three starts with five touchdowns and only three interceptions. In short, he hasn't been horrible.

    However, his yards-per-attempt average is a pedestrian 5.6.

    With Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside, Glennon can't shy away from taking shots down the field. If he slings it deep on occasion, it should give James a bit more breathing room when he gets the ball in his hands.

Lance Briggs

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    Fractured Shoulder

    Chicago Bears veteran linebacker Lance Briggs injured his shoulder in the team's loss to the Washington Redskins. Similar to teammate Jay Cutler, Briggs' injury didn't appear to be serious, as he was listed as "probable" to return to the game.

    However, Pro Football Talk cited league sources when it tweeted the following about the injury Briggs suffered:

    Bears LB Lance Briggs out 4-6 weeks with shoulder injury, per league source. No surgery needed.

    The Bears have been absolutely decimated by injuries, especially on defense, and Washington scored at will in Briggs' absence Sunday.

    According to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, "After Briggs' exit, the Redskins ran 27 plays, gained 234 yards and scored touchdowns on three of four drives."

    Briggs currently tops Bears defenders with 64 tackles.


    Players Who Must Step Up 

    Jon Bostic 

    The Bears drafted Bostic out of Florida in Round 2 of the 2013 draft to be the ultra-athletic and active middle linebacker in the club's 4-3 scheme.

    While Briggs' injury won't equate to a position change for the rookie, he'll have to become the vocal leader on the injury-ravaged defense.

    Bostic's job got much harder with Briggs out.


    Khaseem Greene

    Draftniks fell in love with Greene due to the athleticism and quickness he exuded during his collegiate career at Rutgers.

    Though not the fastest linebacker, many saw him as an ideal fit as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense, a defender with coverage responsibilities and range to beat backs to the edge on outside running plays.

    With Briggs sidelined until at least the beginning of December, Chicago must lean on two talented but obviously inexperienced rookies in its linebacking corps.

Jermichael Finley

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    The severity of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley's neck injury isn't known, but he was taken off on a stretcher after getting smacked by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson on a fourth-quarter reception.

    According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Finley was in intensive care as of Monday morning: 

    Packers TE Jermichael Finley in ICU after his neck injury. He has not had surgery as of early this a.m. and status uncertain. Monitoring.

    USA Today's Tom Pelissero updated Finley's uncertain prognosis:

    However, it'll probably be weeks before Packers know if/when Finley can get back on field. Still under evaluation right now.

    Already without Randall Cobb, the Packers find themselves in a difficult situation in regard to their pass-catching options. 


    Players Who Must Step Up

    Jarrett Boykin

    Boykin was huge in the win against the Browns, as he caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Most defenses will focus on stopping Jordy Nelson from here on out, so the former undrafted free agent will have the opportunity to make plays.

    Regardless of how well they run, the Packers are a pass-oriented team. With Aaron Rodgers under center, they should be.

    They next face a Minnesota Vikings secondary that's allowed 308 yards per game through the air before a clash with the Chicago Bears at home on Monday night in Week 9.


    Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Johnathan Franklin

    Green Bay is running the football better in 2013 than it has over the past few seasons. Its ground-game trio has combined to average 4.8 yards per carry through six games.

    Therefore, it's not necessarily about the Packers running backs playing better; it's just that they must be ready for a potentially larger workload if Finley is out for a considerable amount of time.

    If Lacy, Starks and Franklin continue their efficient ways, Green Bay should be able to withstand the injuries to its pass-catching unit.

Brian Cushing

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    Broken Fibula, Torn LCL 

    J.J. Watt is the heart and soul of the Texans defense, but Brian Cushing is easily the second-most important player on that side of the football. 

    The middle linebacker was hurt on a cut block by Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in Houston's 17-16 loss.

    NFL.com's Albert Breer tweeted the specifics of Cushing's knee injury:

    Tests confirm broken fibula, torn LCL for Texans LB Brian Cushing. ACL, PCL, MCL, patella are fine. Three-month recovery timetable for Cush.

    Before the devastating injury, Cushing ranked as the No. 11 inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) this season.

    At 2-5, this is an injury the Texans could not afford. 


    Player Who Must Step Up

    Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays 

    These inside linebackers will have the unenviable task of replacing Cushing's impact for the remainder of the season.

    Sharpton was a fourth-round selection in the 2010 draft out of Miami (Fla.) and will be thrust into a starting role for the Texans. Mays started next to Cushing in all seven games this year.

    The Texans still have a top-notch defensive line, but the linebackers behind it must be productive, or Houston will continue its losing ways.

Leon Hall

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    Torn Achilles

    Leon Hall injured his Achilles tendon while covering Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win.

    CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora confirmed Hall's injury: 

    Bengals CB Leon Hall did in fact tear his Achilles, a season-ending injury.

    Although it was not the same Achilles he tore in 2011, it's a horrible injury for one of the NFL's most versatile and underrated cornerbacks.


    Players Who Must Step Up

    Terence Newman 

    Newman now becomes the Bengals' No. 1 cornerback for the last half of the 2013 campaign. Here's a look at Cincinnati's remaining schedule: 

    • vs. New York Jets 
    • at Miami Dolphins 
    • at Baltimore Ravens 
    • vs. Cleveland Browns 
    • at San Diego Chargers
    • vs. Indianapolis Colts
    • at Pittsburgh Steelers
    • vs. Minnesota Vikings
    • vs. Baltimore Ravens

    That means he'll likely draw matchups against Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Josh Gordon, Keenan Allen, Antonio Brown and Greg Jennings.

    The 35-year-old former first-round pick will certainly be tested down the stretch. 


    Adam Jones 

    Due to Hall's injury, Jones will probably be forced into the starting right cornerback role in Mike Zimmer's defense.

    Jones has been a decent playmaker for the Bengals this year, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares with more responsibility.

    The Bengals are 5-2 and have a full two-game lead in the AFC North.

    Andy Dalton has pieced together back-to-back strong outings, but Cincinnati will not be able to afford a defensive regression with Hall sidelined.

Reggie Wayne

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    Torn ACL 

    Reggie Wayne tore his ACL when trying to adjust his body to a throw from Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter of the Indianapolis Colts' 39-33 victory over the previously undefeated Denver Broncos.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter delivered the somber confirmation on Monday morning via Twitter: 

    Confirmed and crushing: tests showed Colts WR Reggie Wayne has a torn ACL. His season and streak of 189 straight games is over.

    Wayne was targeted 194 times and caught 106 passes in 2012. Through seven games this year, the future Hall of Famer saw 58 targets and made 38 receptions.

    His season ends with 1,006 career catches.


    Player Who Must Step Up

    Darrius Heyward-Bey

    Bey is a stunning speedster, but he's struggled mightily with drops and consistency his entire NFL career.

    He received a season-high seven targets against the Broncos and caught four of them for 44 yards and a touchdown.

    Even if the Colts decide to mainly use him on bubble screens and reverses, the former top-10 pick has to become an explosive playmaker for Indianapolis to continue to thrive on offense.


    LaVon Brazill

    T.Y. Hilton must become a focal point of the Colts' aerial attack, but he'll need complementary production from others around him.

    Brazill was a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft and was suspended for the opening four games of the 2013 campaign after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

    He has not accumulated any stats this season.

    That will have to change over the next two months if Indianapolis wants to give Andrew Luck more throwing opportunities.


    Trent Richardson 

    This one's simple. The Colts traded away their 2014 first-round pick for Richardson. Through five games in Indianapolis, the former No. 3 overall pick has carried the ball 75 times for 228 yards (3.0 YPC).

    Donald Brown isn't the answer for the Colts running game.

    Richardson was supposed to be.

    He needs to start producing at a much more efficient level to give the Colts offensive balance.