It is never in good taste to cheer in the midst of an injury to a player from the opposing team, even in the most seemingly fit set of circumstances. However, that does not mean that those injuries, suspensions, or holdouts cannot be wildly influential for a team. Yesterday was one of those days for the St. Louis Rams, where is seemed like every major headline pertaining to a player being “out” dealt with one of the remaining Rams’ opponents. Here are some of those that will matter…
Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman
Adam Schefter announced yesterday in the early evening that the NFL has suspended Seattle Seahawks’ CB Brandon Browner without pay for the next 4 games, “effective immediately.” That means that he will not be available for the remainder of the regular season and the first game of the post season, should Seattle make it. Browner is the Seahawks 6’4 tall monster corner, capable of jamming smaller receivers at the line of scrimmage and having the size to handle the Calvin Johnsons and Brandon Marshalls of the league.
On top of the loss of the Browner, their “second” corner, Richard Sherman, has his hearing set for next week with the NFL, and will likely get handed the same punishment as his teammate. Sherman and Browner are, arguably, the best cornerback tandem in the league, although having Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor behind you in the secondary definitely allows those two to play a little more aggressively underneath. Still, the Browner/Sherman duo has combined for 77 tackles (15% of team total), 22 pass deflections (30%), 7 interceptions (70%), and 6 forced fumbles (46%).
In addition to those individual numbers, the Seahawks have only allowed 2441 passing yards (5th in NFL), 12 passing touchdowns (T-3rd), held opposing quarterbacks to a 59.4 completion percentage (10th) and a 78.2 QB Rating (9th), and, most importantly, allowed only 16.8 points per game (3rd). While the rush defense has been solid, it hasn’t held a candle to what they have been able to accomplish against elite passer, take Tom Brady as an example. Losing two of the best defenders on your team is going to hurt, especially when three of the four remaining games are against teams that heavily rely on the run game to support opening it up through the air. That includes the St. Louis Rams, who had trouble getting anything going offensively in their win over the Seahawks earlier in the season.
The Minnesota Vikings’ star player was put on IR yesterday due to an ankle injury. While not the prototypical wide receiver, Harvin has become one of the most dynamic playermakers in the game, using the attention that Adrian Peterson draws coming out of the backfield to get open and create huge plays down the field. Since Christian Ponder’s 58 yard, 2 interception performance against the Arizona Cardinals at the midpoint of the season, the young quarterback has not been playing good football. Instead, he has relied heavily on Peterson, Harvin, and the Vikings’ defense to control the game and squeak out wins.
The Vikings have won only two of their last seven games. Regardless, Percy Harvin has put up some amazing numbers this season with respect to how he is used in the offensive system in Minnesota. He currently leads the team with 62 catches for 677 yards, with 8 receiving touchdowns on the season. Harvin also has a rushing touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown, amassing nearly 574 yards in the return game this year.
Outside of this threat in the return game, the Vikings have essentially no passing game outside of Harvin. The next leading receiver on the team is TE Kyle Rudolph, who has 45 catches for 412 yards. However, Rudolph is listed as “questionable” with a shoulder injury this week and was limited in practice on Wednesday. Those two make up 44.5% of the receptions, 47.2% of the receiving yards, 57.1% of the receiving touchdowns, and, most importantly, 51.6% of first down receptions. Outside of Harvin, no “receiver” on the Vikings roster has 30+ catches, 350+ receiving yards, or 2+ touchdowns. Michael Jenkins is the next “big” receiver on the roster, and he is a career 50 receptions, 500 yards, 3 touchdowns per season kind of player, not a “true #1″ or “playmaker.”
The Vikings will have trouble moving the ball unless Adrian Peterson is acting like a complete animal, both on the ground and, especially, through the air. That should bode well for the Rams, considering they have had good success against run-oriented offenses, like the 49ers and Seahawks, this season.
The Buffalo Bills’ situation is very similar to the Minnesota Vikings, except for the fact that the do not have an Adrian Peterson on their team or an top tier defense. Sorry Bills Mafia, but the Bills schedule has been “bunny” level compared to nearly any team in the NFC, especially in the NFC North or West. Aside from Houston, New England, and San Francisco (0-4), the Bills have played Jacksonville, New York (the bad one), Cleveland, Tennessee, Kansas City, and Arizona (4-2). Still, Buffalo has only tallied 2382 passing yards (26th) and 277 total points (16th), despite being down in nearly every game, forcing an aerial attack in the second half. To be fair, the Rams are in no position to talk about not being able to put up big yards or points on the board. On the other hand, the Rams have played seven games already this season against team that have the potential to be playing in January.
Regardless, neither team can afford to lose one of their top playmaker, especially the top receiver on the team. That is what is happening in Buffalo with Stevie Johnson. He leads the weak Buffalo receivers corps with 55 receptions for 705 yards, with 5 touchdowns this season. Again, like Minnesota, the Bills have a viable second option at tight end. However, it is never a good sign when your only passing options are either chip-blocking off the line or wheeling out of the backfield.
For Buffalo, Donald Jones is the next man up in the wide receiver rotation, hauling in 38 catches this season for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns. To put that in perspective for Rams’ fans, even Brandon Gibson has 437 yards this season, and he has been M.I.A. since the opening two games of the year. Even Chris Givens, who didn’t see 18+ offensive snaps until Week 6 against the Miami Dolphins, has 559 yards on the year, not mentioning that he got put in “time out” by Jeff Fisher against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10.
The sad part about the Bills situation is that both Steve Johnson and Donald Jones were listed on Wednesday’s injury report for Buffalo. Jones was able to fully participate in practice, even with an apparently calf injury, but Johnson did not practice at all, leaving him “questionable” for the game on Sunday against the Rams. In the absence of the Johnson and with the forecast predicting heavy rain on Sunday, the Bills will likely have to rely on the legs of C.J. Spiller. Typically, that would not be a problem for the Bills, considering Spiller is having the best rushing year of his short career. However, the St. Louis Rams have not allowed a 100 yard rusher since before the bye in Week 9, which in quite the feat considering they have played the San Francisco 49ers twice in that time. In fact, the Rams have allowed only two players to rush for 100+ yards in a game, Marshawn Lynch (2nd in the NFL in yards) in Week 2 and Stevan Ridley (7th) in Week 8 on the road in London.