Not all injury absences are created equal

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

The 2009 NFL season hasn't reached the midway point yet, but the annual battle of atrophy is well under way.
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As each week unfolds, quality players go down with injuries. The latest is Houston tight end Owen Daniels. He had a Pro Bowl season derailed by a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Sunday's win over Buffalo. How the Texans replace their second-leading receiver (40 catches for 519 yards and five touchdowns) will go a long way toward determining whether the franchise can make its first playoff appearance. But Houston isn't the only team facing this type of issue. A slew of other clubs already are dealing with significant long-term losses. Here is a look at some of the key injuries suffered so far in 2009 separated into three categories: a) Players whose lengthy absence has directly impacted team success; b) Those who aren't missed as much as we initially thought, and c) Losses where the jury is still out.

Critical losses

1. New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips: A thin secondary already was reeling from cornerback Aaron Ross' season-long absence because of a hamstring injury. But losing Phillips (knee) for the year in a Week 2 victory over Dallas has proved catastrophic. A 48-27 loss to New Orleans three weeks ago opened the floodgates for opponents to aerially assault the Giants downfield where Phillips' replacement C.C. Brown has bombed in coverage. The last three quarterbacks New York has faced (Drew Brees, Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb) completed a combined 67.4 percent of their attempts for 840 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception. New York's heavily-hyped defensive line hasn't provided much help either. The Giants have only three sacks in those losses. New York must remedy the problem immediately or risk getting picked apart Sunday by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. 2. San Diego center Nick Hardwick: LaDainian Tomlinson may have lost a step, but don't blame the Chargers running back for San Diego's 31st-ranked rushing offense (74.7-yard average). The Chargers lost arguably their best lineman when Hardwick damaged his left ankle during a season-opening win against Oakland. San Diego hopes Hardwick can return by late November, which is when the slow-starting Chargers usually begin their playoff push. 3. Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher: All signs this preseason pointed to a career renaissance from Chicago's defensive leader. Instead, Urlacher went down for 2009 with a dislocated wrist in the season opener at Green Bay. The Bears field a middle-of-the-pack unit in points surrendered (21.4 average) and run defense (110.6 yards). Replacement Hunter Hillenmeyer can't shed run blockers like the bigger Urlacher and isn't as effective in coverage. The season-ending loss of fellow linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris' poor play haven't helped. 4. San Diego nose tackle Jamal Williams: Although banged up in recent years, the Chargers were hoping this standout 33-year-old could make it unscathed through a 12th NFL season. Williams, though, tore his triceps in the season opener against Oakland. San Diego is 27th in run defense with a 132.1-yard average. That puts the Chargers on pace for their worst showing since a 4-12 season in 2003. 5. Carolina defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu: Like with Williams in San Diego, the preseason loss of Kemoeatu to a ruptured Achilles' tendon created a gaping hole the Panthers have struggled to fill (although recent free-agent addition Hollis Thomas has helped). The Panthers rank 24th in run defense (127.4 yards) without the 6-foot-5, 345-pound Kemoeatu plugging the middle of the line. 6. Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson: An already porous defense got even worse when the Browns lost their leading tackler to a shoulder injury in mid-October. Cleveland was gashed for 372 rushing yards and two touchdowns in their past two games against Green Bay and Chicago, both of which entered with sputtering ground games. 7. Washington left tackle Chris Samuels: Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was struggling enough already without having to fear getting smashed from his blind side. Samuels, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, may see his standout career ended by a recurring neck problem. 8. Atlanta cornerback Brian Williams: A key preseason acquisition for an inexperienced Falcons secondary, Williams went down with a torn ACL last month against Chicago. Second-year replacement Brent Grimes shows plenty of potential starting opposite Chris Houston. But Atlanta's depth with Chevis Jackson, 2006 first-round bust Tye Hill and rookie Christopher Owens leaves the Falcons susceptible against multi-receiver sets. 9. Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Odom: With eight sacks in the first six games, Odom was set to become only the second Bengals player to notch double-digit sacks since 1991. But Odom is out for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon. The Bengals need Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker and rookie Michael Johnson to pick up the slack. 10. Oakland wide receiver Chaz Schilens: Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell deserves criticism for his shoddy play, but a lack of experienced wide receivers isn't helping matters. Schilens, who was expected to become Russell's top target in 2009 after a promising rookie campaign, hasn't played because of a foot injury. Schilens is expected back for a Nov. 15 game against Kansas City.

Not missed

1. New Orleans left tackle Jammal Brown: On some teams, losing a Pro Bowl lineman like Brown would have proved disastrous. Instead, the Saints haven't skipped a beat with replacement Jermon Bushrod. Brown, who is set to become a restricted free agent in 2010 under the current collective bargaining agreement, could become valuable trade bait in the offseason if Bushrod continues his solid play. 2. Indianapolis wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez: The offseason release of Marvin Harrison and Gonzalez's knee injury suffered in the season opener were expected to slow a high-powered passing offense. That never happened. Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie emerged from obscurity to join fellow wideout Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark as favorites for quarterback Peyton Manning. Gonzalez will be yet another weapon for the undefeated Colts (7-0) once he returns later this month. 3. Miami quarterback Chad Pennington: At this time last season, three starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna) were already out for the year. So far in 2009, Pennington is the only signal-caller who fits that bill. Pennington, though, already was playing on borrowed time in South Florida with the Dolphins grooming 2008 second-round pick Chad Henne as his successor. Henne's learning curve was accelerated with the chance to start once Pennington went down with another major shoulder injury in week 3. While Pennington's leadership helped the Dolphins rebuild their franchise in 2008, Henne has a much stronger arm and far more upside. Miami's effective use of the wildcat offense also allows the team to remain a playoff contender while Henne matures. 4. Cincinnati tackle Andre Smith: As the No. 6 overall pick in April's draft, Smith was projected as an immediate starter at right tackle. That changed when Smith arrived overweight after a lengthy contract holdout, then injured his foot immediately in practice. Smith still hasn't played, but it hasn't mattered. Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander has worked wonders with a unit whose combined talent is greater than the individual parts. 5. (tie): Philadelphia right tackle Shawn Andrews and linebackers Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. Philadelphia's heavy draft investment in its offensive line has paid dividends. Winston Justice is doing a nice job replacing Andrews, a Pro Bowl talent who is missing a second consecutive season with back problems. Eagles general manager Tom Heckert Jr. also compensated for the loss of two starting middle linebackers (Bradley and Gaither) by swinging a deal with St. Louis for Will Witherspoon just before last month's NFL trade deadline. In his first two games for the Eagles, Witherspoon has 14 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Jury still out

1. New York Jets running back Leon Washington: Jets coach Rex Ryan admitted he was devastated when Washington suffered a gruesome broken leg in week 7 against Oakland. "Maybe three or four guys have to replace him," Ryan told Jets media. "He's so versatile." Fortunately for Ryan, the cupboard isn't bare at running back with Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene now spearheading the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack. Unfortunately for Ryan, Greene isn't as good a pass-catcher as Washington and the Jets don't have an explosive replacement at kickoff returner. 2. Houston tight end Owen Daniels: Texans coach Gary Kubiak hadn't worked with a tight end this gifted since enjoying the services of Shannon Sharpe while Denver's offensive coordinator in the 1990s. Joel Dreessen, who has 25 catches in four NFL seasons, will replace Daniels in the starting lineup. Compensation in the passing game will have to come from the Andre Johnson-led wide receiver corps. 3. Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith: Long considered one of the NFL's most underrated defenders, Smith is now out for the season with a shoulder injury. Replacement Travis Kirschke (calf) also is banged up. That means Nick Eason and rookie Ziggy Hood may have to man the run-stuffing left end spot in Monday night's game at Denver. 4. Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu: Just when the Seahawks were finally getting healthy with the imminent return of cornerback Marcus Trufant and linebacker Leroy Hill, Tatupu tore his pectoral muscle a few weeks ago and won't be coming back this season. Injuries to more than a dozen other starters — including key players like quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones, wide receiver Deion Branch and defensive end Patrick Kerney — help explain why Seattle stands at 2-5. 5. San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley: The offensive line is the area where San Francisco could least withstand another injury. Yet for the next six weeks, the 49ers must play without their best lineman as Staley recovers from a sprained knee suffered last Sunday at Indianapolis. San Francisco hopes 11-year veteran Barry Sims can hold the fort in Staley's absence. 6. New York Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins: The Jets have played well defensively since losing Jenkins (knee) two weeks ago, but the four-time Pro Bowl selection will probably be missed down the stretch. Arguably no player at his position has the ability to stop the run and rush the passer so effectively. 7. Miami cornerback Will Allen: With a knee injury sidelining Allen for the season, Miami started a pair of rookie cornerbacks (Vontae Davis and Sean Smith) last Sunday for the first time in the franchise's 44 seasons. Both will have to grow up quickly with two upcoming AFC East games against pass-happy New England.
Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Redskins, Panthers, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Patrick Kerney, Brian Urlacher, Jon Kitna, Travis Kirschke, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Barry Sims, Kurt Warner, Will Allen, Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Hollis Thomas, Thomas Jones, Aaron Smith, Jamal Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Jones, Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Samuels, Kris Jenkins, Will Witherspoon, Deion Branch, Brian Williams, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Carson Palmer, Andre Johnson, Marcus Trufant, Dallas Clark, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Eason, Tommie Harris, Shawn Andrews, Antwan Odom, Nick Hardwick, Jammal Brown, Jason Campbell, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, C.C. Brown, Joel Dreessen, Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker, Tye Hill, Winston Justice, Owen Daniels, Leon Washington, Michael Johnson, Stewart Bradley, Jermon Bushrod, JaMarcus Russell, Aaron Ross, Joe Staley, Anthony Gonzalez, Chris Houston, Brent Grimes, Kenny Phillips, Chad Henne, Pierre Garcon, Chaz Schilens, Chevis Jackson, Shonn Greene, Chris Owens, Austin Collie, Andre Smith, Sean Smith

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