Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
09 Nov 2005
by Will Carroll
Here's something I never expected. I did a book signing tonight for Mind Game, the Baseball Prospectus book about the Red Sox. While there, we had a couple people come by to talk baseball, to dissect last year's BP projections, to ask why I wore a White Sox jersey, and then, there was a group that had their Pro Football Prospectus books in hand, wanting to talk Colts, injuries, and my work on this column. I started writing never expecting anyone to really read it, but now I have two sports where my little niche is working? There's a thirst and hunger for the analysis of injuries in every sport. Heck, an NHL agent thought doing a hockey column would be a great idea. Maybe someday, Brian. For now, the NFL is king and while baseball fixates on finding front offices, let's get to this:
Someday, there will be an award for the player that overcomes injury and puts up the most value. We'll have to know a lot more about injuries and by then, Aaron Schatz will have developed some new stat that will factor in my new stat about injury-adjusted effectiveness. Of course, I'll have to learn to do basic math to invent a stat. So when all that occurs, maybe we'll name it the Fred Taylor Award. It's one thing to be a punch line and another to laugh last. Taylor's young, rich, and talented and if he's a bit injury-prone, so what? It's not like that's news to the Jags or to Taylor. He's already on his way to another 1000-yard season, assuming that the ankle injury that has held him back in a few games that recurred last week is as trivial as Jack Del Rio is making it out to be. I'm not sure how much to trust a man that left an axe in the dressing room, but sources tell me that Taylor's ankle is â€œnot good, but not really that bad.â€? An MRI confirmed what the team thought and he'll probably hit the List at questionable. Adjust accordingly.
I'm not sure if there's an exact number of concussions one can have before there are negative effects. We simply don't know enough about them. We do know that we need more research and sadly, the NFL is giving us a number of research subjects every week, from serious to the very low grade injuries that are going unnoticed in many cases. Wayne Chrebet, the gritty gutty Jets receiver, received his ninth concussion during Sunday's game and the team placed him on injured reserve. That a guy like Chrebet can make it 11 seasons in the NFL despite his size, draft status, and college background says a lot about his determination. Let's hope he's leaving the game before serious damage sets in. He seems the type that could be a good coach or a leader in another field. Let's also hope that we can eliminate or reduce the effects of concussions in future Chrebets.
John Madden talked about the brace â€“ though the proper term would be â€œcastâ€? â€“ on the hand of Marvin Harrison. Harrison, it is well known, has a minor wrist injury as the result of a a fall. Madden's suggestion that Harrison has refused treatment is simply ignorant and shows that Madden, a former coach and longtime analyst, is sloppy, at least when it comes to injury. The mere fact that there was a closeup as Madden spoke showing a fiberglass, formed, color-coordinated cast with proper padding should tell anyone that this is not a DIY thing Harrison picked up at Walgreens. Harrison may not want to talk about his injury or even acknowledge it, but as anyone in the Indianapolis media can tell you, John, Harrison doesn't really want to talk about anything to anyone. Madden's comments were an insult to the Indianapolis medical staff, one that's helped Harrison play through an injury with his same stellar results.
Corey Bradford left Sunday's game with the Jags with a hand injury. He attempted to play through it, managing to catch five passes, but it was the one he dropped on the last drive that everyone will remember. Sometimes, trying to play with a hand so swollen that you can't move your fingers well, especially if you're a receiver, isn't the best thing for the team. Adjusting function for injury is something that a coaching staff has to do on the fly, knowing that Bradford can't catch properly and that his backup, albeit less talented can perform that function is crucial. The â€œwalk it offâ€? play at all costs replaceable nature of the NFL makes it hard for any player to say â€œI can't.â€? That's the duty of the coach and if the players don't trust their coaches and trainers enough to be honest, it's time to take a hard look at the true cost of injuries. There's probably a lot more drops than just Bradford's.
One of the basic tenets of medheads is that the first thing an injured player grabs is usually what hurts. Pain makes people forget deception. James Farrior grabbed at his knee when he went down against the Packers and had a knee injury that put him on the list a couple weeks ago as well. So when Bill Cowher said Farrior had an ankle injury, it raised some eyebrows around here. Farrior seems to be having some sort of cascading breakdown, where one injury after another occurs during the normal adjustment stages of dealing with and recovering from injury. His MLB slot is crucial to the Steelers defense, so don't expect to see him out there if he's limited.
Here's an interesting use for the bye week â€“ Shawne Merriman dislocated his wrist during Sunday's game and had surgery early Monday to fixate the wrist with several metal pins. He'll have two weeks to recover before the Chargers next game and â€“ wait for it â€“ he's expected to play! The rookie leads the team with five sacks and really seems to be earning the big bonus. The wrist shouldn't affect his speed rush or even his tackling ability, which is mostly based on speed as well. It's still hard to imagine that medical science makes this possible or that psychiatry is so far behind that this isn't considered the definition of insanity.
The Jets are seeing more than their share of injuries this season â€“ or are they? Is there such a thing as a fair share? Prediction of injuries in any sport is still more guesswork, despite some interesting work by Sig Mejdal and Nate Silver's attrition concepts at Baseball Prospectus. Football is a vast wasteland when it comes to injury projection, so I'm hoping to work out some kind of â€œred flagâ€? system to help assess risk. It's an offseason project, to be sure. The latest Jet injury is Chris Baker, the starting TE, who heads to the IR and an operating table with a broken ankle. Baker had been catching more passes this season and shold be able to come back strong in 2006.
Priest Holmes is getting multiple opinions on a variety of head and shoulder injuries, yet he's likely to play this week. Someone explain to me why that's a good idea when Larry Johnson is available? The fact that Holmes is dealing with not just one condition, but enough that people are starting to use very sophisticated terms about the syndrome he's experiencing would have to be worrisome despite his continued effectiveness. Holmes is dealing with post-concussive syndrome, a brachial plexus complex injury, and some sort of spinal condition affecting his cervical spine (neck). I don't have enough information to truly be able to understand why all the Chiefs announcements are so positive and the team's information doesn't give us any clear indication as to an underlying piece of information that would have guided them this way. We're forced to sit back and wait, hoping this all turns out well for Holmes not just this week or season, but long term. There is life after football.
(Ed. note: This morning, after Will turned in his column, rumors began to come out of Kansas City that Priest Holmes is done not only for the season but possibly for this career. The main issue seems to be spinal injury, as mentioned by Will, and not the knee and hip injuries.)
Kevin Jones is feeling the pain that his fantasy owners have felt all season. Both arms are problematic for him. Ultrasound tests showed a muscle strain on one side and a nerve contusion and impingement on the other. Jones is having a hard time with taking a hit to the arm or shoulder as well as some difficulty holding onto the ball. These are both skills that are in the â€œmustâ€? column for running backs. Jones is practicing, though his status is questionable for Sunday's game absent marked improvement. A Jones on the sideline at least gives his owners a chance to suit someone else up.
Donnie Edwards is a procrastinator. The Chargers linebacker is going to try and make it through half an NFL season with torn cartilage in his knee. Is this possible? Yes. Edwards is asymptomatic at this point and the bye week will certainly help him recover a bit. The Chargers staff will keep a close eye on him and certainly he'll be spending a lot of time with the training staff over the next couple months. A known injury is easier to deal with than an unknown or traumatic injury. It doesn't mean that Edwards won't make the wrong step and end up on the operating table this season, just that he's got a chance to avoid it for now.
As I go through the season, I'm making notes about things I'd like to research and publish in Pro Football Prospectus 2006. Don't laugh â€“ it's not that far away. One of the things I'd like to look at is the fragility of backups. It seems that backup QBs, RBs, and especially defenders seem to have a higher injury rate. Is it the reps, the conditioning, or is stamina and the ability to regenerate from week to week part of what makes the starters the starters. â€¦ Each week, I secretly hope that Marcellus Rivers or Marcellus Wiley get injured. Not seriously, but just enough to get them in here. I have a Pulp Fiction line I just have to get in before this year's up â€¦ Marc Bulger should be back for St. Louis this week. Get him in your lineups if you still believe in the Rams attack â€¦ Darrell Jackson's out at least another two weeks and I'm not sure you'll want him even then. Wide receivers don't return to function as fast as they return to the lineup â€¦ Think of that last line before you get too excited about Torry Holt's return â€¦ J.J. Arrington is this week's tree in the forest. If he misses next Sunday's game, will anyone notice? â€¦ Mewelde Moore has been criticized in the past for the most heinous of NFL offenses, not playing while hurt. We'll see how he does next week as he tries to play with an injured wrist.
33 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2005, 7:16am by James, London