Column

NFL teams facing too many snap decisions as QBs keep getting hurt

NFL features numerous quarterback adjustments this week as teams vie for final playoff spots.

These quarterback audibles aren't about deception. They're about desperation.

With the clock winding down on the NFL regular season, several teams are being forced to make a change at the most pivotal position.

It's a case of next man up . . . and under center.

The Arizona Cardinals are the NFC's top-seeded team, yet they're making their fourth quarterback change of the fall. They're going with Ryan Lindley against Seattle on Sunday, after losing Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries, and briefly giving rookie Logan Thomas a try.

Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, whose team has clinched a playoff berth, was asked Monday about the notion there aren't a lot of people outside the organization who believe Lindley can step in and thrive.

"There doesn't need to be," Arians said. "The only ones that need to believe [are] in that locker room, and they believe it. They saw it on the practice field today, and they'll see it all week. Like I said, it's easy to be written off. We've been written off all year. . . . We like where we're at, and we like the guys who are playing for us, and he's one of them."

Houston's playoff hopes are dangling by a thread — the 7-7 Texans have three 8-6 teams in front of them that likewise aren't among the top six seeds — and they're also reshuffling at quarterback. They lost Ryan Fitzpatrick to a broken leg Sunday, and backup Tom Savage sustained a knee injury in the same game. Earlier, the Texans lost starter Ryan Mallett to a torn pectoral muscle.

So Houston's quarterback decision for Sunday's game against Baltimore comes down to Case Keenum or Thad Lewis. Keenum started eight games for the Texans last season under coach Gary Kubiak and was cut in August, so he has some familiarity with the system of first-year Coach Bill O'Brien. Lewis was a free agent signed last month.

"We'll divide the reps as we go through the week," O'Brien told reporters Monday. "We'll do a good job of taking a good look at both of them."

Even with a 5-8-1 record, Carolina is still in the playoff hunt in the lukewarm NFC South. Cam Newton, who suffered fractures in his back in a car accident last week, did not play in Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay. Derek Anderson filled in, and would do so against Cleveland on Sunday depending on what Panthers Coach Ron Rivera sees from Newton this week.

"The biggest factor will be whether or not they tell me he can protect himself," Rivera said Monday of Newton. "I don't want to put a guy out there if he can't protect himself. By that [I mean] being able to run out of the way, scramble out of the way to stay alive, keep the play alive by being able to get out of the way."

Washington has circled back to Robert Griffin III for Saturday's game against Philadelphia, a day after Colt McCoy was sandwiched by a hit that aggravated his neck injury. It marks the Redskins' fifth starting quarterback change this season.

"He's got every chance this week against the Philadelphia Eagles to take this position and run with it," Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said of Griffin, who stepped in for the injured McCoy against the New York Giants on Sunday and threw for 236 yards and a touchdown but also was sacked seven times and lost one of his three fumbles.

"I'd like to see him have some urgency about him and play well," Gruden said, "and hopefully there won't be much of a debate if he does well."

At 3-11, the Redskins are guaranteed to finish last in the NFC East for the sixth time in seven seasons. The near-constant quarterback shuffle has exemplified the sense of futility.

"It's not what you want," Gruden said. "You want somebody to take the position and play and have success, obviously. But unfortunately Robert got hurt early, Kirk [Cousins] had turnover issues, and Colt took an opportunity and ran with it and then Colt got the injury.

"Now we're back to Robert. I have nothing against all three. I think all three quarterbacks have a good future. I just want somebody to take the position and run with it, and hopefully we'll see something like that this week with Robert."

The Thursday night game, Tennessee at Jacksonville, features a pair of 2-12 teams in the thick of the "race" for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And each likely will be without its regular quarterback.

Charlie Whitehurst is expected to finish the season for the Titans, who lost both Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger to injuries. And, because of a foot injury to rookie Blake Bortles, the Jaguars could be turning to Chad Henne.

Philadelphia is sticking with Mark Sanchez for Saturday's game at Washington. Eagles Coach Chip Kelly said Monday that the collarbone of quarterback Nick Foles has yet to heal sufficiently.

Cleveland's Johnny Manziel had a disastrous debut against Cincinnati, but the Browns are sticking with him for Sunday's game at Carolina instead of switching back to the benched Brian Hoyer.

Manziel threw for 80 yards with two interceptions in a 30-0 rout by the Bengals.

"Very humbling," Manziel told reporters Monday. "This game, obviously it has its ups and downs, and yesterday was one of those days for us that didn't go our way."

Cleveland isn't looking to make a quarterback change. The Browns just want a changed quarterback.

No cruise control

Remember when the Indianapolis Colts drew criticism for coasting into the playoffs by resting their starters down the stretch, among them Peyton Manning?

Well, these aren't the same Colts. Even though his team has clinched the AFC South, guaranteeing a home playoff game, Coach Chuck Pagano said the Colts still plan to keep their foot on the gas for their final two games — at Dallas and at Tennessee.

Pagano seemed surprised Monday when asked whether he planned to sit quarterback Andrew Luck for those games.

"To sit him? Why?" Pagano said. "You could walk out of this building and get run over tonight. You know what I mean. You've got to live. You go tell him. That's the way he is. We've got to make decisions, do the right thing and protect guys from themselves in the right situation. But we're going to try to win a football game and we're going to play."

That's got to be a relief to the Eagles, who badly need Indianapolis to beat Dallas.

Among the other pivotal Week 16 games are San Diego at San Francisco, as the Chargers still have a faint playoff pulse; Atlanta at New Orleans, as both teams are still in the postseason mix; and Denver at Cincinnati, as the Bengals are leading the only AFC division, the North, that has not been clinched.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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