Week 2 was a notable week for injuries. The early slate was especially problematic, with quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Tua Tagovailoa, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton failing to finish the game for their respective teams. Several standout defenders also went down, with Pittsburgh losing edge rusher T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, Philadelphia losing defensive end Brandon Graham for the season, and Denver edge rusher Bradley Chubb leaving early on a problematic ankle that also kept him out of Week One. There were also injuries to several skill players, which you can read about in The Professor’s Week 3 article on Fantasy Players in New Roles, but this piece will focus on the quarterbacks and defenders.
Carson Wentz, QB, IND
The Colts did score a touchdown on a blocked punt in their tightly-contested game with the Los Angeles Rams, so Carson Wentz wasn’t carrying the team on his shoulders, but he had established a connection with receiver Michael Pittman and appeared set up to give Indianapolis a chance in this week’s division matchup with the Tennessee Titans, even if the Colts didn’t pull out the win against the Rams.
Then Wentz suffered a severe ankle sprain on a hit from Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Colts’ fortunes turned. Down 27-24, backup Jacob Eason threw an interception on his first drive and was unable to do anything with his final opportunity, a drive that started on his own 10 with 0:24 remaining. To make matters worse, Indianapolis then watched the division-rival Titans complete a spectacular comeback in Seattle to get to 1-1.
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of Wentz’s injury. Wentz was not playing at a standout level, but he had recaptured enough of his past form for Colts fans to hope for more. Eason has provided very little evidence that he can be a quality starter in the NFL and a loss this week would put the Colts in a brutal position; they would sit at 0-3 with the Titans at 2-1 with a head-to-head victory.
Expectations for the Colts should be dropped across the board on offense, a disappointing development for Michael Pittman owners given his numbers on Sunday. Based on what head coach Frank Reich said about how quickly the injury swelled up, Wentz’s mobility will be severely limited even if he can play next Sunday. The Colts did have an epic rebound from a slow start in Reich’s season with quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm, but Luck was a significantly better player than Wentz. It’s shaping up as a long season for the Colts; the Titans line has moved from -4.5 to -5, but it’s still a solid value if Eason starts.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, MIA
Miami narrowly picked up a victory over the Patriots in Week One, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa turning in a promising performance in a well-schemed offense to start his second season.
It’s hard to take any positives from his second game. The Dolphins lost seven yards on their first drive, the Bills scored a touchdown, and then Tagovailoa was knocked out of the game on a failed fourth-down conversion that ended their second drive along with his day.
Jacoby Brissett’s performances with New England and Indianapolis before his Miami debut on Sunday probably had him ranked in the league’s top 40 quarterbacks, so the drop-off isn’t as dramatic as it could be, thought the fact that this weekend’s game ended 35-0 is a concern to be investigated in film study.
Tagovailoa was carted off the field, so Brissett is likely to start against the 2-0 Raiders this week and perhaps well into the future. With Buffalo and New England both rebounding to 1-1 as Miami fell to 1-1, the Dolphins could quickly disappear from the playoff picture if Brissett can’t get the offense moving. There will be a dropoff in the expectations for the skill players, though it will not be as dramatic as the drop for Indy’s players as the Colts swap Wentz for Eason.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, HOU
The victory over the Urban Meyer-led Jaguars in Week One was easy to dismiss, but there was no avoiding that Houston appeared to be a competitive team as they went back and forth with a Cleveland Browns team that many expect to win the AFC North.
Tyrod Taylor may not have been as impressive with the Browns and Chargers, but he had regained his form from his time with the Bills to start 2021. On Sunday, Taylor was 10/11 for 125 yards and one touchdown when he pulled a hamstring on his lone carry of the day, a 15-yard score.
Rookie Davis Mills, a Stanford product with limited starting experience, was thrust into action, and the Browns proceeded to pull away. It will be interesting to study Mills’ film, but the stat line of 8/18 for 102 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a 10.0 QBR is not promising, particularly next to the 94.8 QBR Taylor posted.
Houston has to turn around and play a hot Carolina team on Thursday Night Football. The short timeframe is a notable factor for Taylor’s soft tissue injury and may prevent him from playing. A Mills start would cause the entire offense to be downgraded, though receiver Brandin Cooks would still merit consideration given his dominant role through two weeks.
Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold has posted consecutive impressive starts for his new team and the Panthers are set up to win by a significant margin if Taylor can’t go. The Panthers are -7 on the road, but this game may close near -10 if Mills is announced as the starter.
Andy Dalton, QB, CHI
Many Bears fans got their wish as Justin Fields replaced Andy Dalton at quarterback, though the move, unfortunately, came due to injury rather than a coach’s decision.
Fields proceeded to make a rookie play and throw a devastating interception near Chicago’s own end zone that allowed Cincinnati back into the game, but Fields responded by using his legs to convert a critical 3rd and 9 that allowed the Bears to run out the clock in a three-point victory. It was a perfect juxtaposition of why the coaches want Fields to learn behind Dalton and why the fans want to see what Fields can do.
Fields will make mistakes, but that’s true of almost every quarterback in his early starts. Chicago did score on their first drive in this game, but the offense wasn’t exactly humming with Dalton at the helm. Replacing Dalton with Fields doesn’t cause a downgrade, but it makes Chicago a higher-variance offensive unit, both in terms of the upside and downside. If Dalton isn’t back this week, Fields will make his first start against star pass rusher Myles Garrett, who will have a massive advantage over Chicago’s mediocre offensive tackles, but you have to start somewhere.
Defense and Offensive Line Roundup
The losses of edge rusher T.J. Watt and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu are a tough blow to the Steelers’ defense. Alualu’s broken ankle will keep him out for an extended period, which is a significant problem with fellow lineman Stephon Tuitt already on IR. The trio of Cam Heyward, Tuitt, and Alualu was one of the league’s best three-man fronts, but Pittsburgh is currently down to Heyward. The Steelers will have to hope Watt’s injury is less serious or the defensive front will be far less formidable.
Early reports indicate Eagles’ defensive end Brandon Graham suffered a torn Achilles. It may be the end of a standout career for the 33-year old Graham. Philadelphia had already signaled a changing of the guard with the three-year deal defensive end Josh Sweat recently signed, but Graham was still playing a notable role for an Eagles defense that had started hot. Graham’s absence will hurt their edge presence against both the run and the pass.
Denver’s depth in the secondary was already being tested with corner Ronald Darby out. The Broncos are now facing an extended period without edge rusher Bradley Chubb, who left on Sunday with an ankle injury that had kept him out of the opener. The circumstances indicate Chubb will be out for multiple weeks to get the ankle fully right, which puts the onus on Von Miller to provide a pass-rush presence off the edge. Miller played a phenomenal game in Week One when Chubb sat out, but it’s difficult to carry that load week in and week out. It will help the Denver defense significantly if Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones can provide an interior pass rush to complement what Miller brings on the edge.
A final note is on the offensive line, where some standout players around the NFL suffered injuries this week. The Titans lost left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was already coming off a brutal performance in the opener, to a knee injury during warmups, then star left guard Rodger Saffold exited early. Running back Derrick Henry had a dominant game despite that, but it’s not great to lose two top linemen on one day. Another important player to watch is Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks. Brooks is dominant when healthy, but that’s been rare in recent years. Brooks left this week with a chest injury. That doesn’t help a Philadelphia offense trying to run a scheme based on a strong run game.
This article looked at several significant injuries to quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and defenders in Week Two. For more of The Professor’s content, including his breakdown of changes in roles and injuries at the skill positions in Week Two, check out BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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