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?
14 Sep 2005
by Will Carroll
I've often been told that I'm a day late and a dollar short. Today, I am a day late, but I have plenty of these funny little Canadian coins in my pocket. The B&B was delayed not by procrastination or even natural disaster, but by a trip to Montreal. I was there to speak with the World Anti-Doping Agency and won't bore you with the details here. (Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read about it over at today's Under the Knife.) The people at WADA have a near-impossible job and it's encouraging that they're willing to listen to all voices in trying to clean sports of the corrupting influence of performance enhancing drugs. (For those of you interested in the topic, I'd suggest starting with The Juice, in which Michael David Smith did a great primer on steroids in football.) So, with that behind us, let's get to it:
How can the same injury have wildly different effects on the player? In the NFL, the lack of detail and the disregard in the mainstream media for the subtle differences of degree and position make a column like this necessary. The ACL injury is no longer the career-ender it once was, but it is still a fearsome injury that costs a precious year and robs players of some quickness, speed, and explosiveness. A wide receiver has different demands on his body and specific muscles and joints than any other position. Javon Walker tore his ACL on a play where he also took a penalty. Did Walker's holdout contribute to this? Possibly, though I was unable to find any data on whether players that missed training camp have an increased injury rate. Walker's loss affects the Packers significantly and puts more pressure on Brett Favre. Walker should be able to return next season and will likely be back to near full speed by that point
Let's address the concept of â€œinjury prone.â€? When someone has multiple injuries that don't seem connected, that reduce effectiveness, or simply reduce his availability, the tag is placed on people too easily. In many cases, this is simply a â€œtissue issueâ€? as David Donatucci calls it -- a player simply cannot hold up under the demands of the game and like a car pushed too hard, something breaks. Kris Jenkins was a big part of the Panther defense and his loss to an ACL injury is potentially devastating. Jenkins figured to take some of the attention away from Julius Peppers, allowing him to do what he does more and better. Jenkins should be able to come back, perhaps losing a bit of his burst, by this time next year. The question now is what breaks next or if it's bad luck rather than bad genetics. There is an interesting question of how damaged Jenkins' knee was when he first came out. If the medical staff sent him out after a palpation showed a tear, I'd have some serious questions for whoever made that decision.
Discussing â€˜tissue issues' as a matter of genetics is interesting because of the incidence of brothers in the NFL. Boss Bailey missed all of 2004 after having his knee scoped, a much longer recovery than expected. Will that knowledge affect how we look at Champ Bailey's timetable for returning from a subluxated shoulder? Possibly, but only in retrospect. Bailey is likely to play, with the Broncos giving him some additional help in the defensive backfield. Expect Bailey to show little or no ill effect besides some weakness in those arms, both extending to block or catch, and in showing some reluctance to make hard tackles over the next few weeks.
The injury couldn't have been any clearer. Donovan McNabb suffered a bruised sternum in Monday night's game, the result of a helmet directly into the center of his chest. Technically, the NFL's rules protect against this sort of hit, though practically, it was clean. McNabb was seen on the sidelines shortly after the play doing a series of stretches with the team trainer, but the stretches looked more like exercises done for a tight back than anything else. This is not like Steve McNair's injury, but instead is a simple traumatic injury that should clear up predictably and should limit McNabb only to pain tolerance. Sternums are slow to heal so the danger is that McNabb will be hit in the same spot during this week's game, restarting the cycle and making this a chronic problem. Look for some creative padding and a more watchful offensive line, while McNabb continues to be able to throw.
The injury is turf toe and it's normally caused by sticky turf, improved cleats, or large men making explosive starts. Kyle Boller's was none of those; instead, it was caused by 300 pounds of rampaging lineman forcing the toe into hyperextension. This isn't a common cause, so it's imporssible to tell how this will affect the timetable if at all. With the bye week, it's possible that Boller could be back as soon as the game in Week 4, though Anthony Wright's performance will have as much to say about this issue as Boller's health.
Questionable quarterbacks seem to have taken a beating this week. Patrick Ramsey joins Boller on the sidelines, having suffered a neck sprain. This is an injury where the restrictions on injury information by the league force me to resort to detective work. Ramsey was clotheslined and his neck was forced into hyperextension. That unnatural motion not only injured the ligaments in the spine, but likely caused the muscles that support the spine to go into a protective spasm. Reports from the team have the injury as not serious, with the decision to start Mark Brunell as a performance issue rather than a health issue. Ramsey's neck sprain doesn't help, but is likely the least of his problems.
Someone with two broken thumbs sounds more like someone that got a visit from their friendly neighborhood loan shark than an offensive lineman, but after discussing this with some team sources and physicians, I'm more surprised that this isn't more common. Jon Jansen, like every lineman, extends his hands and grasps, usually the jersey or pads. The defensive player is writhing, quickly shifting, spinning, rushing and generally doing anything to disconnect. One quick move against that greatest of gifts from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, opposable thumbs, can snap them at the base. It's painful, yes, but not tremendously debilitating. Jansen will cast up and hope to have as much success as James Hall did last season. Without the use of his thumbs, however, don't expect Jansen to hold rushers quite as long or to use chopsticks.
There's nothing more debilitating than sore feet. There are some forms of medicine that believe that the feet are connected to every other point in the body. There's no evidence for this, though when your feet hurt, it sure feels like the whole body is hurting. This is one of the reasons that plantar fascitis is so problematic for football, where an athlete must run and stand for up to four hours at a time. With an injury that takes time and rest to heal, if not surgery, it will be difficult for Eric Johnson to heal up in the short term. Listed currently as doubtful, Johnson will likely not be a significant portion of the Niners' gameplan next Sunday. He shouldn't be a part of yours.
The macho culture of the NFL sometimes makes me look at injuries and shake my head unsympathetically. If Mike Anderson wore a simple, light flak jacket, he would be fine today rather than sore with every breath. Anyone who has had a rib injury can tell you that while the pain is usually not terrible, it's constant, each breath a reminder. Anderson has actually separated the cartilage from the bone, which is just as painful as it sounds, but not serious if he can withstand that pain. Don't expect Anderson to get a lot of work, but to play, especially in short-yardage situation. Painkillers will be Anderson's friend if he gets into the game.
The job of the NFL kicker seems like one of the easiest in the world â€¦ until the game's on the line and the kicker is standing 50 yards away from the crossbar. Still, it's unusual for injury to affect these players. This week, there are two kickers who may miss next week's game. John Hall of the Redskins has a quadriceps strain and Jason Hanson of the Lions has a hamstring strain. These opposing muscles have very different effects on their outlook for the coming weeks. The quad is the large muscle that extends the lower leg, so a quick kick (even the soccer-style used today) needs a healthy, strong quad. Hall is out at least Week 2 and perhaps longer. Hanson's job, where the hamstring comes more into play during the run-up to a kickoff, isn't as affected by his injury. The hammy may take longer to heal, but for a kicker, it's the â€˜better' injury.
Jeremy Shockey won't miss any time with a minor ankle injury â€¦ Kerry Collins hit his throwing thumb on a helmet in last week's game. Watch to see if it gives him any problems â€¦ Johnnie Morton suffered a concussion in last week's game. Expect him to be used sparingly â€¦ Dallas Clark won't be featured in this week's Colts game plan due to a concussion.
39 comments, Last at 18 Sep 2005, 12:01pm by Moon Hippo