The Philadelphia Eagles' defense, stung by the loss of starting cornerback Lito Sheppard last week, must now find a way to move on without top pass rusher Jevon Kearse. The AFC West has lost another starting quarterback (Aaron Brooks of the Oakland Raiders). Plus injuries across several offensive lines have foiled a number of early game plans.
Let's go to the injury review and find out who's in, who's out and who might be getting signed.
More significant than blowing the big lead at home to the Giants was losing All-Pro defensive end Kearse, who had 3½ sacks in two games. Kearse will miss the rest of the season after suffering major ligament damage to his left knee. On Wednesday, the Eagles' first-team defense featured Darren Howard at Kearse's spot and reserve Trent Cole replacing Howard at right end. Backups Juqua Thomas and Jerome McDougle, a former first-round pick, also figure to see more playing time. In addition, after losing Sheppard (ankle) for 4-6 weeks in the opener, Philadelphia then lost his backup, Roderick Hood, for possibly the next few weeks. The Eagles might have to lean on unproven defenders like Joselio Hanson and Dexter Wynn. Philadelphia's defense has been at its best when able to pressure offenses from various angles, using mostly man-to-man coverage. That becomes harder without Kearse and the lack of depth at cornerback.
The struggling Buccaneers offense has been slowed by injuries to rookie offensive guard Davin Joseph (knee) – which elevated Jeb Terry into the starting lineup – and fellow starting guard Dan Buenning (ankle), who has played, but has not been 100 percent. Add to that the back spasms plaguing star running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and you see why teams have been able to load up the pass rush and make plays in pass coverage against quarterback Chris Simms. The Bucs have had to keep tight end Alex Smith at the line because neither Mike Alstott nor Jerald Sowell are as good at lead blocking or picking up the blitz as former fullback Jameel Cook. The faulty line play and protection have contributed to Tampa Bay losing the time of possession battle by 10 minutes per game and being out-rushed by a combined 409-66.
The Bengals improved to 2-0, but lost three starters for this week's game against the Steelers, one of whom will have a long road back. Starting outside linebacker David Pollack had a violent collision while making a tackle against the Browns, suffering a broken C-6 vertebra in his neck. He faces surgery and delicate rehab process. Former CFL player Rashad Jeanty, who had a standout camp, will move into the starting lineup. The team's depth at linebacker has taken a beating, first with the four-game suspension of Odell Thurman and now with the loss of Pollack. Top reserves who could see extended playing time include Caleb Miller and Marcus Wilkins. But neither can match Pollack's pass-rush skills. Meanwhile, starting center Rich Braham (knee) and safety Dexter Jackson (ankle) will sit out against Pittsburgh on Sunday. The team is hopeful starting wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be able to suit up. Second-year center Eric Ghiaciuc will have to match up against Steelers All-Pro nose tackle Casey Hampton. That could cause problems for both quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Rudi Johnson. The options at safety are less impressive. Backup Herana-Daze Jones has been used mostly on special teams the first two weeks. The team could pair starting free safety Madieu Williams with his backup, Kevin Kaesviharn, a starter last year.
Left guard Floyd Womack will miss up to six weeks (sprained right knee). The team's primary reserve lineman, Chris Spencer, will start in place of Womack. That leaves Seattle without a backup center. Rookie offensive guard Rob Sims becomes the top reserve interior lineman. The Seahawks should not see any decline in their play up front. Spencer is a former first-round choice who shows good strength, balance and is also more athletic than Womack. So far, all they have done to solidify their bench is to re-sign Thatcher Szalay to their practice squad. That move was likely prompted by the fact that Szalay is familiar with the team's line calls and blocking scheme. Noteworthy: the team lost deep snapper J.P. Darche (hip) for the season and has since signed Derek Rackley, who snapped for six seasons with the Falcons. This is something to keep an eye on considering the Seahawks have had three kicks blocked through two games.
All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney (hamstring) and kicker Adam Vinatieri (groin) will be re-evaluated later this week to determine if they can play against Jacksonville on Sunday. Freeney walked off the field gingerly at the end of Sunday's win over the Texans, while punter Hunter Smith had to replace Vinatieri for the team's final extra point try. If Freeney is unavailable, the team could either go with free agent Ryan LaCasse or shift starting defensive tackle Raheem Brock back outside to end. Reserve Darrell Reid would take Brock's place inside. The Colts have been talking to several free agent kickers, gauging their interest and conditioning. If emergency calls are made, likely candidates would include Todd Peterson, Paul Edinger, Jose Cortez or even Gary Anderson, who is 47 years old.
The struggling pass rush suffered another blow when starting right defensive end Erasmus James (knee) was lost for the season. The former first-round pick had not yet become an all-around threat, but did record four sacks a year ago and was providing good up-field pressure. The Vikings lack depth at defensive end with rookie Ray Edwards the current backup behind James. That might cause the team to flip fellow former first-rounder Kenechi Udeze to the right side, and move Darrion Scott, who has 17 career starts, into the lineup. Minnesota will likely look outside the organization to find a free agent situational pass rusher, someone such as Carlos Hall, Tony Bryant or even Jonathan Welsh, who played at Wisconsin, a place coach Brad Childress knows well.
The Texans suffered a major loss against the Colts when rookie starting left tackle Charles Spencer suffered a broken leg. Spencer had one of what will be several surgeries Monday, and will miss at least the rest of this season. The team might have also lost starting center Mike Flanagan for a week or two (injured left foot). Journeyman Ephraim Salaam will replace Spencer at left tackle, while former starter and current free agent Seth Wand could be re-signed for depth. Inside, the choices are to insert second-year center Drew Hodgdon, who has been inactive the first two weeks, or to shift starting guard Steve McKinney over to the pivot. That would create a depth issue at guard. If Salaam fails to produce, the Texans could move former tackle Chester Pitts outside to tackle or try rookie backup right tackle Eric Winston on the left. Starting quarterback David Carr was just starting to look comfortable in the pocket. The Texans' complex zone blocking scheme could falter if the newly restructured line does not play as a cohesive unit.
The slow start of the offense can be blamed on a variety of issues, but the biggest has been the injuries and poor performance of the offensive line. The loss of former first-round pick Robert Gallery (calf) had them re-adjusting the line for last week's contest against the blitz happy Baltimore Ravens. Equally damaging has been the fact that guys such as Gallery and Jake Grove, high draft picks, and starting guard Barry Sims have failed to live up to prior showings. Grove missed time in the preseason (left shoulder injury) but has yet to show the same nasty streak and competitive attitude that attracted scouts' attention when he was at Virginia Tech. Until the line gives the offense more time to set up plays and protects the quarterback, it will be hard for their scheme to work properly.
The Cowboys lost star wide receiver Terrell Owens for 2-4 weeks (broken right ring finger). Owens had surgery Monday. With a bye-week looming followed by a game against Titans, the Cowboys are unlikely to alter their roster. They could activate rookie receiver Sam Hurd, who has been practicing behind Owens since the start of training camp. Hurd has shown better toughness and hands than expected, and has learned his playbook very well, earning the respect of head coach Bill Parcells and the team's veteran receivers. Owens has three weeks to rehab and prepare himself for the media frenzy that will occur before, during and after the Cowboys game against the Eagles on Oct. 8.
OTHER NOTABLE INJURIES
The Miami Dolphins have likely lost starting offensive guard Bennie Anderson for the year (left triceps injury). They will attempt to replace him with Kendyl Jacox, but are likely to sign a street free agent as well … St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace (concussion) and outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (dislocated elbow) were knocked out of their loss to the 49ers, leaving the availability of both players in doubt for this weekend. Backup lineman Todd Steussie would move outside to tackle if Pace cannot play, while veteran Dexter Coakley could get the start against the Cardinals … the Washington Redskins have given every indication that starting running back Clinton Portis will be full-go this week against the Texans, a team that should be a welcome sight for the 0-2 Redskins.
- Jevon Kearse