Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
23 Nov 2005
by Will Carroll
With Thanksgiving upon us, we have the infamous short week for four teams and a rush to get the B&B to you before you send in your fantasy lineups and ingest enough tryptophan to kill a yak. You'll be watching your football Thursday, rushing to the store for your Xbox 360 and a copy of the new Football Outsiders DVOA-based video game and â€¦ what? Oh, sorry, I guess that's not out for this holiday season. For now, clutch your copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2005 close, dream with me a bit, and get to it:
If you didn't know that Donovan McNabb elected to have surgery on his sports hernia and was done for the season, you just go ahead and stay under that rock. It's safe there. What's a bit unclear is how McNabb went from playing with the hernia to a groin strain to surgery. Focus on the limp. A player with either injury â€“ or any upper leg strain â€“ is going to limp. It's natural and the body's response to trauma. It protects the injured leg, but if not watched closely, leaves other parts open to further injury. McNabb had already gone downhill and the risk he was taking simply wasn't worth it for a team in turmoil. The Eagles will regroup, reload, rebuild â€“ whatever you want to call it, they're smart enough to know that they'll need a healthy McNabb more next year than they need 75% of one now. Before you ask, yes, McNabb should return from surgery by training camp and have a full recovery.
Exhale, owners of Antonio Gates. The initial reports of season-ending injury were a bit hysterical and certainly premature. With any injury, there's not only pain, but swelling, guarding (tensing of muscles near an injury), and did I mention pain? Gates has a sprained right foot, near the ankle, and it is the pain that will determine whether or not he's able to play. Gates will be in a protective boot until Wednesday, when he'll test the ankle. That will give some guidance, but he's likely to be a game-time decision on the positive side. If the decision is that he'll miss the game, we'll likely know that a few days ahead. Long term, this doesn't appear to be a significant concern.
Could there be two more different players than Gates and Jeremy Shockey? They play the same position, sure, and are even similar sizes, but Shockey is brash, came up at the football factory lovingly called â€œDa Uâ€? by Edgerrin James, and was a top pick. Gates was a hoops player from a MAC school. Both are a bit nicked this week. Shockey has an â€œimpact chest injuryâ€? according to sources that refused to be less vague. He not only couldn't extend his arms to catch passes on Sunday, he could barely take off his uniform and needed assistance. Don't expect him to be back to full form for a couple weeks, longer if he's unable to protect his chest from another impact.
With Kelly Holcomb still out with post-concussive syndrome, a full 10% of NFL starting quarterbacks from last week are out with head injuries. I'm beginning to wonder if it goes beyond prevention, diagnosis and equipment and to the core of modern football. The roots of the game go back 150 years and it's evolved, but the dropback passing game hasn't had a significant change since Bear Bryant popularized the shotgun formation. There's likely some creative line coach or offensive coordinator that can come up with something â€“ maybe a new protection scheme, a deeper snap, or a return to the rollout. Maybe the teams that are protecting their QBs are doing something that other teams aren't doing. At this stage, every possible solution should be looked at. Brooks Bollinger won't miss a game after he was concussed last Sunday, though his replacement, Vinny Testaverde, came up woozy later in the game himself. This is despite the fact that Bollinger is still symptomatic, as of Tuesday. Last time I checked, English soccer players didn't have helmets and even they have a strict rule about post-concussion play.
With the shoulder problem, many have missed that Marc Bulger was also concussed in the slam that injured him and perhaps ended his season. Bulger â€“ a sadly fitting name right now â€“ has â€œsevere inflammationâ€? inside the capsule of his throwing shoulder, suggesting that the damage seen last time he missed some games is not only back, but worse. At this point, no one is too specific about the injuries, but thinking that there are parallels to Chad Pennington wouldn't be too far afield. The team is reluctant to IR Bulger, but with backup Jamie Martin also hurting, the team may check down to Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick down the stretch.
As disturbing as the QB injuries are, I was more disturbed by the events surrounding the concussion to Dallas OL Rob Petitti. FO's own Tim Gerheim summed up the situation well in this week's Audibles at the Line: â€œPetitti got up after one play woozy and unstable on his feet, but he convinced the official to let him stay in. On the replay you could see that just after he fell down he got kneed in the side of the head. Nobody on the Cowboys sideline took him out, and before the next play Bledsoe called time out. Petitti could barely stand up. It boggles my mind that 1) nobody took him out when he was staggering around initially, and 2) they put him back in for the next play.â€? I couldn't have said it better. While the NFL is saying all the right things about injuries, here's a situation where we had a clearly injured player, multiple people with multiple opportunities to catch the gravity of the situation, and no one did anything. While it's impossible to know the exact nature of the events or the process, the result is unacceptable and both the NFL and NFLPA should take a long, hard look at this.
Zach Thomas has been a holy terror since he was a prep star in the Texas Panhandle. I can remember watching him play in college and then watching as team after team passed him in the draft. When the Dolphins finally picked him, even Mel Kiper Jr. said he was too small and too slow. I'm no football scout, but there are only four guys I've ever seen that made my jaw drop from the LB slot: Thomas and Dat Nguyen in college, Jessie Armstead in high school, and Mike Singletary, all season long in '85. DeMeco Ryans shows flashes at times, but let's get back to Thomas. According to the FO individual defensive stats, no player in the NFL has been involved in a higher percentage of his team's defensive plays. Now the Dolphins will be without their defensive captain for at least two games and more likely four after Thomas separated his shoulder in Sunday's game. The team is leaving all the options open at this stage, including surgery. The Dolphins aren't going anywhere this post-season, so they'll likely err on the side of caution here.
Can we come up with a better term for stinger, one that sounds more serious? It's hard to take an injury seriously when it sounds like a finishing move in pro wrestling. Michael Strahan knows how painful it is this week. The pass rushing end was injured in Sunday's game and had an MRI on Monday to determine the seriousness. There's likely no connection to his torn pectoral last season, but coupled with any residual weakness there, his arm might be compromised slightly, certainly affecting his ability to keep 300 pound men from battering and pushing him all over the Meadowlands. Stingers can be cumulative, so watch for any hint that he's having chronic weakness. At 34, there's no indication that Strahan is slowing down, but this could be something that hastens any decline.
The Pats have had more than their share of injuries this season. Who knew that the â€œBlueâ€? in this report was going to be the deep blue that the Pats wear? While dealing with injuries that are giving the transaction guy carpal tunnel and the team medical staff busy beyond their wildest nightmares, the team is still trying to figure out how to deal with multiple running back injuries without the benefit of Steelers-like depth at the position. Patrick Pass is still hobbled slightly by his hamstring, but he's the best available. Corey Dillon is out with a calf strain and Kevin Faulk is questionable with his foot injury. That leaves Heath Evans and a lot of four wide sets, assuming they have enough WRs and TEs to fill the slots. It's a hard come down for the Pats and a tougher week for Bill Belichick. Our condolences to the coach and his family.
Maybe this Pats curse travels. David Patten, a former Patriot now in Washington, had been trying to play through the meniscus tear but finally succumbed. He was scoped on Friday and surprisingly was placed on IR. The recovery time is a solid six weeks, but given Patten's disappointing performance in DC, this may be as much about the roster slot as it is the actual injury. There's no reason that Patten can't physically recover, though he'll need someone to take a chance that he's still got the skills to play if the Redskins cut him in the off-season as expected.
The concussions mentioned above weren't the only ones that took place. There are likely far more than noted, but put Adam Archuleta, Kevan Barlow, and Blaine Saipaia on the list as well. This is really becoming an issue of passion for me. Check Joe Vitt's quote in this article and you'll see why concussions are also a cultural problem â€¦ Ben Roethlisberger will make his return in Indy, just a couple weeks after minor knee surgery. The extremely hard surface at Indy may be a challenge. James Farrior is likely to play, but no one seems sure how much â€¦ Sure, he's on FOXSports.com alongside us, but Jay Glazer has become a must-read columnist for his insider info regardless â€¦ Avoid Tatum Bell this week, if you can â€¦ Bryant Young is out after tearing his MCL as well as his meniscus in his right knee. He'll try to avoid surgery, but he's out a minimum of four weeks â€¦ The Eagles pushed Lito Sheppard to the IR after it was determined he'll need surgery to fixate his high ankle sprain.
Have a safe, happy holiday, everyone. Back next week.
29 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2005, 9:55pm by zlionsfan