The Denver Broncos have lost Shaq Barrett for 3-4 weeks and Jeff Heuerman for the rest of the season. In their places will be Shane Ray and Matt LaCosse.
This has been a season for the Denver Broncos in which positive circumstances have been to hard to come by.
The tides seem to be turning quickly though, as two consecutive wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers have vaulted the Broncos back into the playoff conversation. At 5-6, the Broncos now find themselves nipping at the heels of the 6-5 Baltimore Ravens for the AFC’s final wild-card spot.
That’s the good news. The bad news came on Monday when it was reported that linebacker Shaq Barrett will miss 3-4 weeks with an injured hip flexor and tight end Jeff Heuerman will miss the remainder of the season with broken ribs that also caused him to bruise a lung in Sunday’s win.
While injuries of all kinds are always a concern, the loss of Shaq Barrett should be easier to patch up. The Broncos are loaded with pass rushers, and in Barrett’s absence will be 2015 first-round pick Shane Ray. Through the first 11 games, Barrett has played in 31.51 percent of the team’s defensive snaps while Ray has been on the field for 26.03 percent of them, according to Pro Football Reference.
While Ray hasn’t been the game-wrecker that he was at the University of Missouri – where he was a consensus All-American and won SEC Defensive Player of the year in 2014 – he provides the depth and experience in defensive coordinator Joe Woods’s defense that the team will need to overcome the temporary loss of Barrett.
The more impactful loss will be that of Heuerman. The fourth year tight end out of Ohio State was just starting to find his spot as a receiving threat in the Broncos’ offense. He became one of Case Keenum’s favorite targets in the team’s loss to the Houston Texans when he caught 10 passes on 11 targets for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Heuerman also excelled in run-blocking, where he did a lot of his work before he was moved up to the starting spot when tight end Jake Butt went down for the season with a torn ACL. In all, the Broncos have now lost three tight ends for the season when you include rookie Troy Fumagalli, who was put on injured reserve before the season opener.
On a brighter note, the hole created by Heuerman’s injury will be filled with Matt LaCosse. LaCosse signed with the team late last season and has just recently started to make a splash in the passing game, catching his first career touchdown in the win over the Steelers. At 6’6” and 255 pounds, he creates the same matchup advantage for the Broncos that Heuerman does, and his size will aid him in run-blocking.
Brian Parker will move up to the number two tight end spot, and he can also be expected to be depended on in the run game.
LaCosse has been on the field for 25.07 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, so it’s not as if Heuerman will be replaced with someone unfamiliar with the offense.
As the Broncos look to turn their season around and make a push for the playoffs, it looks like these two injuries should only prove to be minor obstacles, thanks to the depth provided by Shane Ray and Matt LaCosse. Those two players should help the Broncos to not miss a beat on either side of the ball.
After all, with five games remaining and a one-game deficit for the final playoff spot, this Broncos team can’t afford to miss a beat.