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2023 NFL Week 3 Injury Takeaways: Fallout of Mike Williams Injury

Sep 17, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) works against Tennessee Titans cornerback Tre Avery (23) after a reception during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Through three weeks of the 2023 NFL regular season, we can see the war of attrition already taking place.

The Baltimore Ravens were without seven starters, which undoubtedly played a role in their home overtime loss to the Gardner Minshew-led Indianapolis Colts this past weekend.

Joe Burrow’s calf is limiting his ability to make plays outside of the pocket. His injury, which stems from this offseason, is a big reason why the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense is sluggish. The team has averaged only 15.3 points per game, bottom five so far in the NFL and a far cry from the 26.1 points it averaged last season.

Two rookie quarterbacks didn’t suit up for Week 3 due to injury, as Bryce Young (ankle) and Anthony Richardson (concussion) continue to get acclimated to what life is like in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys’ defense didn’t have the same energy we saw in the first two weeks. Losing Trevon Diggs for the season to an ACL tear was gut-wrenching news for Dallas fans. 

The Cowboys are 0-1 without him, giving up almost triple the points to the Arizona Cardinals they did in the first two weeks combined.

Week 3 Injury Takeaways

Wide Receiver Injury Model Lookback

The Sports Info Solutions Injury Risk model again shows us why it placed such a high risk on certain players to start the season. 

The model predicts the likelihood of a player missing at least one game, and through three weeks, eight of the top 15 wide receivers have already been slated to miss at least one game.

Top 15 WRs Injury Prediction Injury Updates
Christian Watson Has yet to be active this season due to a hamstring injury
Deebo Samuel Active for weeks 1-3
Chris Olave Active for weeks 1-3
Kadarius Toney Active for weeks 1-3
Richie James Jr. Dealing with an MCL injury, on IR
Juju Smith-Schuster Active for weeks 1-3
Tyler Lockett Active for weeks 1-3
Jaylen Waddle Missed Week 3 with a concussion
Jerry Jeudy Missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury
Mecole Hardman Jr. Active for weeks 1-3
Diontae Johnson Dealing with a hamstring injury, on IR
Jakobi Meyers Missed Week 2 with a concussion
Allen Lazard Active for weeks 1-3
Brandin Cooks Missed week 2 with a knee injury
Mike Williams Out for the season after ACL tear in week 3

The silver lining when injuries happen in the NFL is the opportunities they represent for other players. It shows how well a front office can build a team with depth and how well coaches can develop players to handle elevated roles.

Fallout of Losing Mike Williams

The Los Angeles Chargers’ wide receiver room has a big void to fill after losing Mike Williams for the season in their win against the Minnesota Vikings. We will find out quickly if those replacement players can be successful. The door is wide open for rookie Quentin Johnston and veteran Josh Palmer to step up and make big plays. 

Last season, Williams missed a chunk of games in the middle of the season due to a right ankle injury. He sat out Weeks 9 and 10 and tried to come back in Week 11 but only played six snaps before re-aggravating the injury. That ended his day there and forced him to miss the following two weeks. 

This will provide insight into how the Chargers will operate and what they will have to deal with for the remainder of the 2023 season. 

The Chargers played 675 offensive snaps with Williams and 460 without him in 2022. Last season, when Williams wasn’t on the field, the Chargers employed 12 personnel a bit more, contributing to them playing against a stacked box (eight or more players) eight percent more often. 

Because of Justin Herbert's passing ability, teams don’t generally stack the box against the Chargers. However, defenses might be more inclined to do so now without Williams in the fold. 

There was also a six percent increase in man coverage played by opposing defenses when Williams wasn’t on the field. In the small sample size this season provides, teams are playing man coverage against the Chargers 28 percent more of the time without Austin Ekeler

With Williams out for the season and Ekeler’s return timetable still in question, you can expect defenses to have the confidence to play more man coverage, daring the other Chargers’ receivers to make plays. 

Defensive backs can be more aggressive without Williams’ ability to stretch the field vertically. The Chargers’ average depth of target dropped a full yard when Williams wasn’t on the field last season. The offense operated at a less explosive rate, which could shrink the space Keenan Allen has to work with. 

Allen will be the focal point defenses will try to stop. Williams’ explosive and contested catch ability perfectly balances Allen’s savvy route running. With Williams on the field last season, Allen caught 41 of the 47 targets, operating extremely efficiently. 

But when Williams wasn’t sharing the field with Allen, Allen caught only 25 of 42 targets. Without Williams now, one would expect Allen to shoulder even more of the target share than he already does. 

Even if more passes go his way, expect the completion percentage to dip, with him getting the most defensive attention. Also, Herbert could force more contested throws Allen’s way.

Williams might not be the most talented or essential part of the Chargers offense, but he’s been a key cog in making the entire operation work cohesively. 

Since he entered the league in 2017, the Chargers are 53-48(.525) overall. In games where Williams was inactive or played in less than 40 percent of snaps, the Chargers are 12-13 (.480), and when he plays 40 percent of the snaps or more, they are 41-35 (.539). 

With Herbert at the helm, you always feel like you have a chance to score when you get the ball. Without Williams, it will make his job harder, and we’re intrigued to see how well Herbert can elevate the other offensive weapons and if they will rise to the occasion.

Brett Barnes authored this article.