Guerry Clegg commentary: Injuries take their toll on Dogs, Falcons, Braves

October 12, 2013 

"First, we lose Malcolm Mitchell. Then Todd Gurley. Now we lose Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley. That's it. We're done. Toast. Hopefully we can still make the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Anybody have a scouting report on Miami?"

Yes, injuries are part of the game, and everybody has them. But few teams have been hit as hard by injuries as the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Start with the Braves. No other team in the playoffs were without their top starting pitcher (Tim Hudson), top two utility infielders (Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky), top two set-up relievers (Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters).

On top of that, outfielders Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer were on fire when they were hurt. Heyward, Schafer and Reed Johnson all had come back from the disabled list late in the season and were still trying to get their timing at the plate back. Reliever Jordan Walden is another one who was just coming back from the DL.

Would it have made a difference against the Dodgers if they had remained healthy? Who knows? Even if the Braves had been completely healthy, the Dodgers still were the better team. But maybe if Walden were pitching the eighth inning in Game 4, he wouldn"t have hung an 2-2 breaking ball to Juan Uribe as David Carpenter did. Walden was arguabley the most dominant eighth-inning pitcher in baseball before his injury.

And even if the Braves had won, they still would have had to face Zack Greinke in Game 5.

How much did Georgia's injuries impact the Bulldogs'41-26 loss to Missouri on Saturday? There's no question that losing all that offensive firepower certainly didn't help. There were dropped passes in critical situations. The whole offensive scheme had to be tweaked without Gurley and Marshall available to establish a power running game and with Mitchell or Scott-Wesley to stretch the field deep and without Michael Bennett to make those clutch catches over the middle.

Quarterback Aaron Murray clearly wasn't the same player he has been all season.

But the game was lost in the first half by the defense, which played terribly. There were blown assignments and missed tackles.

Injuries didn't cause the pass protection to collapse, leading to a fumble by Murray and a returned touchdown.

Georgia's injuries had nothing to do with letting a freshman backup quarterback for Missouri come off the sidelines and run for a first down. Georgia's injuries didn't cause the leader of the defense, Amarlo Herrera, to draw a roughing-the-passer penalty after a great defensive play. Those injuries didn't give up a touchdown on a halfback pass.

Still, despite all that, Georgia is clearly not the same team it was just two weeks ago when the Bulldogs beat LSU.

No team has been hit harder than the Falcons. As the Falcons were losing to the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden said, "This is not the same Falcons team from last year."

Not all of that is due to injuries. One of their glaring weaknesses is the offensive line. Left guard Justin Blaylock is the only player starting in the same position as last year. Peter Konz moved from right guard to center, replacing the retired Todd McClure. They released right tackle Tyson Clabo and his replacement, Mike Johnson, got hurt. Left tackle Sam Baker is hurt.

Of course, the injuries on the offensive line have been overshadowed by injuries to running back Steven Jackson and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

The defense has been hit hard as well. Kroy Biermann is out for the season. Biermann is primarily an end, but could line up at tackle or linebacker, and could even drop deep in pass coverage. There's not "a next man up" on the roster who possesses such versatility. With Biermann out, Jonathan Babineaux has had to move from tackle to end, which is not his strength. Cornerback Asante Samuel has missed time and has played hurt. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent are injured.

The defense wasn't very good to start with. It's been abysmal without some of its best players.

As a fan, all you can do is hope the injury curse will decide it has had enough of this state and move on.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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