Backup plans: Teams with key injuries have plenty in reserve

The flurry of injuries to come out of the first regular-season weekend immediately set off cries that there is no way players could withstand an 18-game season and that some projected favorites -- the Packers, Jets, Colts, and Eagles -- are in trouble.

Injuries: the great equalizer. Not really, though. There's no need to panic.

Anyone remember what happened to New England in Week 1 of 2008? Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury. The Patriots seemed like toast for sure. Then Matt Cassel stepped in and led New England to 11 victories (but not the playoffs).

Donovan McNabb went down with broken ribs in Philadelphia's season opener last year. The Eagles went 1-1 in his absence with Kevin Kolb at the helm, but McNabb returned to lead his team to the playoffs.

As catastrophic as the season-ending injuries to Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Packers running back Ryan Grant (wrecked right ankle) seem now, their respective teams have 15 games to adjust. You can't minimize their absences, but there are ways to overcome.

Let's delve a little further:

As for the Jets ...

New York not only will shift personnel, but they will probably show more multiple fronts, giving two- and four-man looks along the line while still utilizing their base two-gap schemes. There's also help on the way, although it's a few weeks off, and it's coming from a different position. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace should be back in about a month from his broken right foot, and he's a major factor in what the Jets do. Rex Ryan and his coaching staff will find different ways to scheme when Pace returns, helping the Jets remain one of the better defenses in the NFL.

And with the Jets, the biggest concern isn't on defense. It's with an offense that still struggles passing the ball with Mark Sanchez behind center.

As for the Packers ...

Green Bay won't have its most versatile runner in Grant, who's posted consecutive 1,200-yard rushing seasons. This is a pretty big loss but not the end of the world for a team that moves the ball well through the air. Brandon Jackson is more than serviceable as the starter, but he is going to be challenged in pass protection. If Jackson and John Kuhn can improve over the next few weeks, Green Bay plans to eventually unveil rookie James Starks, a rookie sixth-round pick who really impressed the coaching staff in the offseason before falling victim to a nasty hamstring injury.

If Jackson and Kuhn can't hold things down, free agent Ahman Green probably is listed in Ted Thompson's speed dial.

As for the Eagles ...

While most observers debate whether Kolb or Vick should start at quarterback against Detroit on Sunday, the big losses were center Jamaal Jackson and fullback Leonard Weaver. Jackson tore his triceps in the season-opening loss to Green Bay, and Weaver blew out his ACL. Both have been placed on injured reserve.

As much as the Eagles struggle in short-yardage running situations -- as proven on the failed fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak by Vick -- not having two brutes who can move the pile hurts. We also saw how badly the Eagles' offensive line missed Jackson late last season after he went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. Philadelphia will start Mike McGlynn at center and will have plenty of time to adjust to his strengths and weaknesses, but if there is a team that took some problematic hits to injuries, it's the Eagles.

As for Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley, who both suffered concussions on Sunday, they should be back at some point in the next two weeks. But the big question is whether Kolb can get his job back from Michael Vick when he returns.

As for the Colts ...

Strong safety Bob Sanders could be lost for a substantial amount of time with a biceps tear, but his injury is more a case of bad luck for a hard-luck player who plays the game with envied, unrivaled passion. Though he earned his starting job back after missing all but two games last season with knee and biceps injuries, Sanders was a luxury of sorts for the Colts.

His durability was always going to be a play-to-play issue, but Indianapolis has a more-than-capable backup in Melvin Bullitt. Sanders' loss will be tough because so many people were pulling for him and because he's a good player, but the Colts are equipped to handle things.

As for the extended regular season ...

When it comes to these injuries highlighting the potential added risks to players over an 18-game season, I'm not buying it. This is Week 1. I am very much in tune with players who say an 18-game season not only takes a toll on their bodies over the short and long term, and I'm all for them getting compensated and garnering additional health care for their dangerous line of work.

However, these are unfortunate injuries that happened to mainly veteran players who didn't participate fully in a full slate of preseason games and, in some cases, all of a team's twice-daily workouts.

Hot wheels

Another development that came out of Week 1 was the lack of 100-yard rushers. There were four, including Vick (103 yards).

Houston's Arian Foster (231 yards), Tennessee's Chris Johnson (142) and Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall (120) were the only running backs to hit triple digits, and they all came out in the win column. With the overall sloppy nature of Week 1, it's no surprise there weren't a ton of big-time performances.

Let's venture on to Week 2 and see who could go big -- and it might not be any of these three.

» Foster, who looks like more than a one-game wonder (he's the perfect mix of patience, size and speed for Houston's zone-blocking scheme), goes to Washington, a team that's usually tough to run against. Dallas managed 103 yards on 22 carries on Monday night but none of its three running backs surpassed 39 yards. It will be a much tougher go for Foster this week, and Houston will probably end up throwing more than 17 times.

» Johnson faces Pittsburgh, and Mendenhall faces Johnson's Titans. Of the two, I (surprisingly) think CJ2K might end up with more yards. With Vince Young occupying defenders because of his ability to run, there are more running lanes for Johnson. And with his speed, if he can get to the second level, he's tough to catch.

» Two more running backs I think could have big days: The Rams' Steven Jackson (vs. Oakland) and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (vs. Tampa Bay). St. Louis can't have Sam Bradford flinging it 55 times again, and with the quarterback situation somewhat up in the air in Carolina, the Panthers will get back to what they are -- a running team with Williams carrying the ball.

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