Spoiler alert: Sigh. After Sunday’s embarrassing loss in Seattle, no, I don’t think the Cardinals will be able to overcome all these injuries and get their season back on track. I agree with Blake that the season is starting to slip away.
But as the cliché goes, the NFL is a “next man up” league, so we all have to soldier on—fans and team alike. We already have a game on Thursday, and it really seems like the season is in the balance.
So let’s take a look at the damage the injury imp has done lately and see who the next men up are and how impactful the injuries will be.
LG Justin Pugh
Let’s start with the most serious injury of the bunch, Justin Pugh’s torn ACL, which will end his season. Pugh has been solid if not spectacular at left guard, but his leadership might be missed even more than his play. He’s a vocal guy and respected by everyone in the organization. He’ll be difficult to replace both on the field and in the locker room.
Next Man Up: Max Garcia
Garcia filled in for Pugh after his injury on Sunday and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The good news is that Garcia is a veteran with 52 starts in his career. The bad news is that he was awful on Sunday (the lowest-rated offensive player per PFF against the Seahawks) and is a steep drop-off from Pugh. This combined with Rodney Hudson’s continued injury trouble has completely destabilized the interior O-line. Both the running game (other than Kyler) and pass protection struggled mightily on Sunday and will likely continue to do so.
C Rodney Hudson
Might as well cover Hudson here. He has now missed two straight games with a knee injury and might miss Thursday’s game against the Saints as well. Hudson has been a far cry from the Pro Bowler we thought we were getting when we acquired him from the Raiders last offseason, but he’s mostly been a competent starter during his time in the desert.
Next Man Up: Sean Harlow
This is another pretty steep drop-off. Harlow is little more than a JAG and also played poorly on Sunday. (But who didn’t on the Cardinals offense?) He looked okay the previous week against the Eagles, though, and can be a serviceable temporary starter. The key word is “temporary,” though. He isn’t the kind of player that should be starting three or more games. Hopefully Hudson is able to come back soon and provide at least a bit of stability to the interior O-line.
WR Marquise Brown
There isn’t much good news to be had for the Cardinals lately—and I’m not even sure if this qualifies as good news—but it looks for the moment like Hollywood has avoided a season-ending foot injury. It would be huge if we could get him back in just six weeks—he was having a Pro Bowl–type season, and Cardinals fans have been salivating to see him line up opposite the returning DeAndre Hopkins. The injury imp is a cruel beast.
Next Man Up: Rondale Moore
No, the newly acquired Robbie Anderson is not the next man up. He’ll need some time to acclimate to a new quarterback, team, and system and certainly won’t be a major contributor as soon as Thursday. Hopkins will, of course, return to his WR1 role, and any target given to A.J. Green is a wasted target. So that leaves second-year speedster Moore who stands to benefit most from Brown’s unfortunate injury. He has 13 receptions for 117 yards over the past two games. We’ll need that type of production to continue, if not increase.
RB James Conner
You can also throw Darrel Williams in here, not to mention Jonathan Ward. But Conner has been the bellcow and focal point of our running game, not to mention a leader as well. He was certainly missed on Sunday, as Eno Benjamin and Keontay Ingram combined for just 44 yards on 18 carries. (Although I’m not sure if the not-exactly-explosive Conner would have fared much better after the O-line injuries.) He’s iffy at best for Thursday night.
Next Man Up: Eno Benjamin
A lot of people (read: fantasy players) were expecting much bigger things from Eno against the Seahawks’ porous run defense. He certainly had his opportunities with 15 carries, but did next to nothing with them (37 yards). He did chip in 3 receptions for 28 yards, though. I’m not expecting much from him against the Saints if he gets another start, but I’m also not too worried about the running back situation. RBs are generally pretty replaceable, and Eno or whoever should be able to do a fairly close approximation of Conner’s on-field production. His leadership is harder to replace, however.
K Matt Prater
We’ll end with our kicker. Prater has now missed two games in a row with a hip injury, and you could argue that his absence has been the most impactful of anyone. We almost certainly go to overtime against the Eagles if Prater was healthy, and Kliff is on record as saying that his lack of confidence in street FA Matt Ammendola factored into his 4th-down decision-making against the Seahawks. Prater can’t come back soon enough.
Next Man Up: Matt Ammendola
It was questionable to bring Ammendola in in the first place after his struggles with the Chiefs as a fill-in for Harrison Butker. But it was inexplicable to bring him back for another week after that Eagles shank. The team clearly has no faith in him and he shouldn’t be on the roster at this point. Simple as that. An absolutely brutal decision on Steve Keim’s part.
There are a ton of other guys with the ‘Questionable’ tag at this point, but we’ll hope for the best for them. Let’s just hope we can get through this short week of rest and the Thursday night game against the Saints without any further major injuries. At 2-4 and the arrow pointing firmly south for this team, we can’t afford any more injuries. This just isn’t a deep football team after years of poor drafting and frugality in free agency. But that’s a conversation for another day. We just have to take things one week at a time right now… as the cliché goes.