This story is over 5 years old.


Situation Impossible: Charles Johnson

Will Jared Allen be enough to replace Charles Johnson?
Photo by Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Situation Impossible is a weekly column focusing on the most devastating injury of the week in the NFL. "Next Man Up" is a catchy phrase, but some players are harder to replace than others. Here we investigate the alternatives on hand and how a team reacted or will react to having to replace star-level performance.

Injured player: Charles Johnson, Panthers star defensive end. Not to be confused with any of the other NFL Charles Johnsons, or Charles Johnson and the Revivers.


Injury and diagnosis: The Panthers are being pretty tight-lipped about this injury. Johnson hurt his hamstring diving at Saints quarterback Luke McCown, and couldn't get off the sideline without the help of a cart.

The Panthers placed Johnson on IR-designated to return—meaning he can be eligible to play after eight weeks, so in this case Week 12—which removes a lot of the guesswork about healing.

— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl)September 29, 2015

The average hamstring strain keeps a player out for two weeks, so you can tell that this is pretty serious for a hammy.

What's missing: Charles Johnson isn't one of the best five pass-rushers in the league, but he's a consistent top-15 edge rusher for a team that has nobody else like him.

Charles Johnson versus rest of Carolina Pass Rush, 2014


Other DE










Johnson has just one sack this year, but he was head and shoulders above the rest of Carolina's defensive ends in 2014. It's not going to be easy to replace him.

What the team will do: The Panthers, like the other two teams we've covered in this feature, immediately made a move. By trading a sixth-round pick for Bears defensive end Jared Allen, the Panthers began the process of playing around this injury.

Allen has continued to show that he can be a secondary edge guy in the right situation. He had 27.5 hurries (per Football Outsiders Almanac 2015) in 2014. Allen wasn't a great fit for the Vic Fangio Bears defense, and is ornamental as a run stopper at this point.


That leaves the Panthers with end Wes Horton as their lone major run stopper at that position, and he's as one-dimensional as it gets.

Jared Allen has yet to record a sack this season. Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

X factor: Is Kony Ealy going to develop into a real pass-rushing force? Alarms went off after his strong finish last season, with sacks in each of his final three regular season games. This season, however, Ealy's gone cold. He's yet to even record a tackle despite playing in 57.3 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps. With Johnson down, the Panthers needed a competent pass rusher—that's where Allen fits in. But if Ealy can't pick up his game, the Carolina pass rush is in trouble for the long-term.

Adjusting our expectations: The Panthers currently have a 67.2 percent chance to make the NFL playoffs. The way the early season has shaken out leaves Arizona, Atlanta, and Green Bay as big favorites to claim spots. Someone from the NFC East is getting in as well. That leaves two spots for the NFC South second-place team, Seattle, and Minnesota.

Carolina has the advantage of a soft-as-pie schedule. They play Seattle and Green Bay as punishment for winning the NFC South last season. Other than that, Carolina still has two AFC South games and five NFC South games.

More important, both of their games against the Falcons occur in the closing month of the season, when Johnson should theoretically be back on the field.

Carolina's hurting right now without Johnson and linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is still out after suffering a concussion in Week 1, but this schedule puts Carolina in the catbird's seat. Allen was a nice low-cost stab at fixing the problem, and Ealy is about as good as it gets, pedigree-wise, for an unestablished prospect. Carolina should be able to survive this and hang in the playoff chase.