A mainstay of the Cleveland Browns' vastly improved defense has been 33-year-old linebacker Karlos Dansby. The Browns signed Dansby this offseason away from Arizona, and he's since taken a leadership role on what is otherwise one of the league's youngest defenses. In large part due to Dansby's addition, Cleveland has allowed only 19.5 points per game, the seventh best mark in the league. That figure could begin trending in the wrong direction, however, as the veteran linebacker is expected to miss "upwards of a month" with a knee injury according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In just 10 games, Dansby racked up 73 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. He's held the defense together despite a multitude of injures along the defensive front to starters Armonty Bryant and Phil Taylor. The Browns will also be without fellow linebacker Jabaal Sheard for multiple weeks and perhaps the rest of the regular season. If Dansby can't return before the tail end of his recovery timetable, it may be too late for the Browns to recover and quality for the postseason.
49ers activate Glenn Dorsey
Despite the 49ers inconsistent play and near constant rumors of Jim Harbaugh flying the coop this offseason, they've managed to stay on the periphery of the NFC playoff picture. The team even received a vital boost this week from the return of suspended pass rusher Aldon Smith. San Francisco also expects star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman back sometime over the next two weeks. Yet none of those players can adequately replace the production of nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, an interior run stuffer who has spent the entire 2014 season on short-term IR while recovering from a biceps injury. The 49ers announced Monday that Dorsey's arm has healed and the lineman has been activated.
Last year with Dorsey plugging the middle of the defense, San Francisco finished top five against the run. Though the drop off without Dorsey hasn't been too significant statistically, the 49ers have yet to face the Seattle Seahawks, the top rushing team in the NFL. A healthy Dorsey should go a long way towards neutralizing Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks other talented backs when the two teams meet later this month.
Max Unger suffers high-ankle sprain
One of the scarier injuries during the NFL's Week 11 action befell Seahawks center Max Unger. On a routine run play, Unger was out blocking when his leg became pinned under a defensive lineman and a teammate. The All-Pro was in immediate visible pain and spent several minutes down on the turf. Eventually, Seattle's medical staff was able to move him onto a cart and off the field. Naturally, the team immediately ruled him out for the remainder of the game. Though Unger won't return anytime soon, the Seahawks learned that he suffered only a high-ankle sprain and could play again in 3-4 weeks.
Unger is just the latest Seattle offensive linemen to miss time. Left tackle Russell Okung has been in and out of the lineup with an arm injury while rookie right tackle Justin Britt was sidelined for part of Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Other than Unger, the injuries shouldn't keep the players from participating in next weekend's tilt with the division-leading Arizona Cardinals, but the defending champion's ability to withstand injuries has grown very weak along the offensive line.
Falcons lose Robert Alford for 2-4 weeks, Antone Smith for season
Though their record wouldn't suggest it, the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons currently lead their division. They've endured a number of injuries already, losing their starting left tackle Sam Baker and starting center Joe Hawley during the first month of the regular season. Though their play hasn't often looked pretty, the Falcons have survived in the weak NFC South through big plays on offense and an opportunistic secondary. Unfortunately for Atlanta, both took hits this week as explosive running back Antone Smith suffered a broken leg while cornerback Robert Alford injured his wrist according to the Journal-Constitution.
Smith's injury is expected to knock him out for the rest of the 2014 season. The news is somewhat better for Alford who may only miss 2 to 4 weeks. Still, both played significant roles for the Falcons. If their loss costs them even a single game, it's difficult to envision the team capturing the division crown. In that scenario, it is possible if not likely that head coach Mike Smith will lose his job.