Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

28 Sep 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 4

I'm focusing on injuries, which is a good thing. You wouldn't want me talking about my fantasy teams. In my key league, I'm 0-3, having run into the top-scoring team two out of the three games and taking an absolute pounding at the hands of LaDanian Tomlinson last Sunday. I'm not losing faith quite yet, knowing that I drafted well and am just the victim of that combo of bad luck, bad scheduling, and good opponents so far. At least my team's not injured yet. Crap, I just cursed it, I bet.

Enough jabbering – you're here for the injuries. I do want to talk a bit about the NFL's public service announcement on steroids, however. The NFL has gotten a free ride on its drug policy thus far, so it's smart that they beat baseball to the punch with a PSA. Still, this one makes about as much sense as some of the more opaque anti-smoking ads that seem created by Philip Morris. “Don't get caught in the dark?� Honestly, I had no idea what this commercial was for, why it had vanishing students in a school hallway, or if it was even supposed to be effective. It's a missed opportunity to educate and enlighten, as well as making a better public relations stance against performance enhancing drugs. That said, let's get to it:

Maybe we can replace the “J–E–T–S, Jets, Jets, Jets� cheer with another one. I'd suggest “O–U–C–H, ouch, ouch, ouch� or some other four letter word that … well, I'm sure Jets fans are quite familiar with those words this week. Let me start with another four-letter word – O-V-E-R. As in, the season and perhaps career of Chad Pennington is over. Pennington came back in a matter of months from having his rotator cuff repaired by Jim Andrews. Now he's headed back to Birmingham after the surgery was torn apart by a pair of vicious tackles. Pennington came back into the game later – after backup Jay Fielder was injured – and showed that there was nothing left. He played on guts, and sometimes, even in football, guts aren't enough.

There remains a chance, ever so slim, that Pennington could return this season, and the Jets will resist putting him on the IR. Conservative treatment could improve him enough to play some, though it's clear that he's headed for another visit with Andrews's scalpel at some point. Rotator cuff injuries, especially those as messy as this one promises to be, are often career ending. Quarterbacks are not only left with weaker arms, but tend to lack the touch and feel necessary to succeed in the modern passing game. It looked like modern advances might have given Pennington a shot, if only he'd been given a bit more time.

As for Fiedler, he's got shoulder woes of his own. In the game only a short time, Fiedler replaced Pennington nearly perfectly – he was ineffective and injured. A torn labrum, the thin tissue that lines the glenoid fossa, will likely need surgical intervention. Since backup QBs are a dime a dozen and there are freely available QBs like Jeff George and the once and future Jet Vinny Testaverde, Fiedler's more likely to return to the NFL as a coach than a QB.

Respect is done. Rodney Harrison ended his 2005 with a knee injury, something that we may see as an exit. Harrison was nonchalant about returning with a couple Super Bowl rings this season, and a year long rehab for a knee might be more than the 32 year old safety wants to go through. Most reports have the injury as a torn ACL; while that's the truth, it's not the whole truth. Harrison has the dreaded O'Donoghue's Triad, a tear of the MCL and meniscus as well as the ACL. That injury – one of the five you meet in football hell that I wrote about in the book – will make the rehab longer, cost Harrison just a bit more of his quickness, and make repeating that much more difficult for the Pats.

Losing Mr. Respect would be enough, so the Pats have to set themselves up as an underdog even more. Matt Light, the tackle that covers Tom Brady's blind side like no metaphor ever could, has a fractured bone in his lower right leg. The injury would be devastating to most teams, but at least through one game, Nick Kaczur played effectively enough to keep Brady upright and healthy. Light's fracture could be one of two bones – the tibia (shin) or fibula. The tibia is load-bearing and would cost Light the rest of the season. If it's the fibula, modern techniques such as bone stimulation and pharmaceuticals could have him back by November. Light's right leg is the ‘push leg' that allows him to get outside on speed rushes, so any problem there would force a change in the blocking scheme, cheating Corey Dillon over or shading the tight end.

We'll have a couple instances of “substitute fields� on Sunday. New Orleans's situation is well known, and the Alamodome has hosted football several times. The conditions in Mexico City aren't as well known, so we called down to a friend, a sports medicine physician near Mexico City, for a report. “That stadium should be fine,� he told us. “It's used for soccer all the time, so I wouldn't expect any turf issues there. Mexico really wants this to look good.� That's good to know. Kurt Warner won't be testing the turf, however. He'll be watching from the high altitude sidelines, out at least a week after a Grade II strain of his groin forced him from the game on Sunday. Groin strains are not only painful, but for QBs, the most debilitating. QBs put more stress on their groins during dropback, need quick lateral movements for dodging rushers, and use the muscle in their deliveries. The injury also has a tendency to linger, especially if it is not allowed to fully heal. Josh McCown could do to Warner what Warner once did to Trent Green.

Isaac Bruce and the Rams seem to think that he can play through a turf toe injury. A painful, lingering injury, turf toe normally takes at least a month to come back from, especially for a player that will be stopping and starting on a turf field. Bruce initially reported feeling a “pop� at the time of injury, something that suggests a significant tearing inside the toe. While the official line is still “doubtful,� put me on the list as incredulous that Bruce would be able to go and that the Rams would take that kind of chance with a player at a position where they have depth.

The Jaguars are becoming endangered through a continued thinning of the herd. The latest Jag to roam the training room rather than the playing field is DE Reggie Hayward. Hayward was seen limping off the field, but the injury is not to his leg. Instead, Hayward aggravated a previous lower back injury and the swelling causes weakness and pain to radiate to his legs. Hayward, a free agent acquisition, was expected to increase the team's sack totals. Now, he'll be increasing the team medical staff's workload, one that's already among the highest in the NFL. The Jags season now rests on the shoulders of Mike Ryan and his team of trainers, therapists, and the associated team physicians and consultants.

Jay Glazer of FOXSports.com reported on Sunday that the groin injury suffered by Donovan McNabb was in fact a sports hernia. This confusing term – more accurately called athletic pubalgia – refers to a tear in the sheath that surrounds the muscle or to a tearing away of the muscle from the bone. Yeah, it's that painful. Men everywhere will flinch when I tell you that the main symptom is a radiating pain to the scrotum. The injury may be new to you, but only because of increased precision in diagnosis, not because these didn't happen before now as some have stated. Depending on McNabb's tolerance for pain, he could play through it, as it is unlikely to get worse. The fix is actually relatively simple, though surgical and something the Eagles hope could wait until the end of the season. The Eagles continue to deny any definitive diagnosis has been made, but team sources say that while McNabb insists he could play, they might sit him until after their bye week to see if rest and treatment can help him make it through a season that the Eagles hope to play deep into.

Unlike most sports leagues, the NFL doesn't have a multi-tiered injured reserve. You go on the NFL List and we'll see you next year, maybe. Even if there was a lesser length available, Takeo Spikes would still be out for the season. A ruptured Achilles tendon will push him out for the season as he has it reattached, then rehabs it in hopes that he won't have the recurrence that is seen occasionally, as in the case of Ronald Curry. Spikes is a pursuit linebacker so any loss of speed or quickness will diminish his effectives. The ascending salary he's assigned may have the Bills' capologists working overtime.

Just how bad are cramps? Anyone who has ever had one knows that for a moment, there's nothing else in the world. The muscle goes tight, almost hard and tends to lock up two joints, such as when the hamstring affects the hip and knee or when the calf locks up the knee and ankle. The causes tend to be multivariate, involving fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. At risk of annoying my friends at Gatorade, the one most ignored factor is flexibility. Look at even speedy receivers like Chad Johnson, slowed regularly by leg cramps. They have become increasingly muscular and chiseled yet few do more than the half-assed stretches that football players have done since Pop Warner days.

Bumps and Bruises: David Akers is out for next week with a strained hamstring. I'm sure Andy Reid is kicking himself over sending Akers out for that kickoff, but not quite hard or accurately enough to activate himself … I have no idea if Michael King could survive a play in this condition. Can't you see the injury report listing “King – Out. Squished Like A Bug� … Jeff Garcia is out of his cast and about a month away from the practice field … The whole left side of the Jags offensive line – Mo Williams and Chris Naeole – strained their MCLs and are likely to miss a week or two … Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, Trent Dilfer, and Boomer Esiason. That's the Jeopardy answer to the question “Who is upset about John Teerlinck's coaching?� … Anyone else wondering what Travis Henry popped positive for? … Is it Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder that's injured or is his lower back acting up again? … Poker players have a word for what the Steelers were doing putting Duce Staley in the game last Sunday: bluffing.

As always, feel free to email me, comment at FootballOutsiders.com, or just make faces at me in the comfort of your own home. Back to you, J.B. (Wait, that only works on TV.)

Posted by: Will Carroll on 28 Sep 2005

36 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2005, 3:41pm by Bob

Comments

1
by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 1:53am

Great article. This type of info should be required reading for people applying for trainer certifications, bodywork, etc.

One other comment: I consider myself quite knowledgeable about which players play for which teams. but i think it would be helpful if there was a (Position/Team) indicated for some of the lesser known players that surface on this report. there is usually a name or two each week that i have to look up.

2
by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 1:53am

Great article. This type of info should be required reading for people applying for trainer certifications, bodywork, etc.

One other comment: I consider myself quite knowledgeable about which players play for which teams. but i think it would be helpful if there was a (Position/Team) indicated for some of the lesser known players that surface on this report. there is usually a name or two each week that i have to look up.

3
by Athelas (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 9:48am

Interesting about cramps coming from not enough stretching--I was just reading that according to players coming from other teams, the Patriots do more stretching than they had done at their old teams. Could that have anything to do with the Super Bowl victory over the Eagles?

4
by Athelas (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 9:49am

Interesting about cramps coming from not enough stretching--I was just reading that according to players coming from other teams, the Patriots do more stretching than they had done at their old teams. Could that have anything to do with the Super Bowl victory over the Eagles?

5
by b-man (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 11:19am

With Kevin Faulk out for an extended period now, what is the droppoff (if any) with Zereoue. Seems that he can keep his hands on the ball, has the same quickeness and, if I recall right, almost single-handedly brought back the Stillers against the Pats in 01.

6
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 11:30am

Altheas:
It may not just be the Pats' stretching that helps, but their opponents's idiocy. On the Pats Super Bowl DVD, three Pats providing commentary are laughing their asses off as the Eagles come out for the Super Bowl bouncing around like 7th graders let out for recess. The Pats are like, "Save it for the 4th quarter, boys."

7
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 11:46am

Athelas. Sorry.

8
by Eric (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:02pm

Will,

What is the story with Akers? Is it more likely a strained or torn hamstring? If the hamstring is torn, what is the recovery time for a kicker? Is that it for the season, or is the recovery time a few weeks (which seems hard to believe)?

9
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:10pm

Muscle strains are also called tears or pulls. See link. Eagles have called it a tear (one day after the game) and a strain (yesterday) so I'd guess they use the terms interchangeably as well.

10
by solarjetman (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:15pm

Question about Champ Bailey. He looked like he pulled his hamstring pretty bad on Monday, and isn't practicing this week until at least Friday. Yet he's a notorious "tough-it-out" guy, and isn't ruling out playing in Jacksonville on Sunday. Despite the fact that this just past week, David Akers tried to kick on a pulled hamstring and ended up tearing it. Do you think Champ's injury is similar to Akers', and does he stand a similar chance of causing more severe damage if he stubbornly suits up on Sunday?

11
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:19pm

solarjetman:

tear = pull = strain. :)

12
by Eric (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:41pm

Will,

What is the story with Akers? Is it more likely a strained or torn hamstring? If the hamstring is torn, what is the recovery time for a kicker? Is that it for the season, or is the recovery time a few weeks (which seems hard to believe)?

13
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:52pm

You know, the interesting thing about groin injuries with QBs is that there aren't MORE of them. In any given year, only about three QBs suffer a groin injury.

Cornerbacks, of course, pick up a great many. But so do DEs. In fact, a DE is about six times more likely to suffer a groin injury than a QB.

OLs, WRs and RBs also don't get that many on a per capita basis.

Think DBs and DEs.

14
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 12:55pm

"Is it Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder that’s injured or is his lower back acting up again?"

Ben also suffers from a recurring problem with his toes, the lingering effects of getting them broken before entering the NFL.

They were re-injured last year in the playoffs, and sometimes he has a hard time planting when they're "dinged" again.

15
by Digit (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 1:45pm

Based on Patriot Reign's commentary, I think it more likely that the Patriots had more experience dealing with things- there's a section in there about Rodney Harrison going around during the week encouraging his teammates to 'stay hydrated, get a lot of water, drink a lot of water' before they play the games.

So likely as not, the Patriots remember the small details like that, and that enable them to outlast their opponents in games because they're better prepared in terms of endurance.

16
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 4:20pm

Carl:

That's weird. What's a CB do that a WR doesn't do that causes groin pulls?

17
by Larry (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 4:34pm

A WR knows where he's going and a CB is reacting, that seems like it might make a difference.

18
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 5:00pm

"That’s weird. What’s a CB do that a WR doesn’t do that causes groin pulls?"

The way it was explained to me, Pat, is that CBs (and DBs in general) differ from WRs in that they have to turn very quickly in a sort of fast zig-zag motion that is prone to rupturing groins.

This explanation involved a lot of finger pointing by CBs at their nether regions, often while naked after a practice.

I wouldn't recommend this interaction for the average fan. It's not pretty, getting to know way too much about the guys' groins.

WRs, on the other hand, tend to run controlled, precise routes that don't require as abrupt shifts as CBs, who don't really know where the wideout will go.

Believe it or not, groin injuries aren't the nasty ones other players suffer, such as spine, neck, head or, as Will wrote, the feared MCL and meniscus tear.

By the way, most players in the NFL just call these multiple sorts of knee injuries "meniscus" tears (even though they might involve the MCL, etc.). It's common parlance.

It's sort of NFL shorthand for "I'm screwed."

19
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 5:33pm

The reason I asked is that when the Eagles talked about the injuries in their press conference, they mentioned three other players who have had this same injury: Terrell Owens, Dirk Johnson, and Sheldon Brown. 1 WR, 1 punter, 1 CB, and 1 QB. The Eagles are just very unlucky, apparently. :)

The one thing that's ticking me off is that sportswriters are suggesting that McNabb shouldn't play with the injury, or that maybe Reid should give him time off.

1) Rest won't help. At all. The pain will come back immediately as soon as he plays again.
2) Sometimes the surgery doesn't even work. Owens's "abdominal/groin" injury is due to the same problem from something like 5 years ago.
3) There's no risk to McNabb other than pain, except maybe the risk that he might get hit too often because of slowed reaction times due to the pain.

That's partly why I love Will's column (and I hope he reads these comments) - because jeez, even some sportswriters need to learn about these things. Then again, it's not like writers to put the truth before a good story, right?

20
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 5:50pm

Ahhhh. The "ab" injury. Inscrutable abdominal tears, ruptures, strains, yada yada yada.

WRs are about 50 percent more likely to get those than other players, so that wouldn't be unusual for TO.

The highest rates of ab injury, however, are suffered by DTs, guys who often don't even seem to have any abs at all (which, actually, is the problem).

Linebackers get a lot of them, too.

Why? A lot of it is caused by trying to haul down running backs or their fullback blockers, shearing the ab muscles while they contort to make rip down the rusher.

21
by Will (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 6:02pm

I read 'em. And I learn, just like the rest of you. There's a lot of information out there and what you guys are seeing is what Bill Moyers called "a public education" - I'm learning along with the rest of you and we're all figuring out what it means.

22
by Jamie T. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 6:21pm

I saw your replay last week so I thought I would keep tabs on how many times Jeff Fisher lists injuries as anything other than questionable this year because I'm convinced that your numbers are wrong.

So far, starting at week two we have 12 questionables and two outs. Is this on par with the rest of the league? Just for fun, I'll start this week keeping a record of the Titans' oponents injury list as a half hearted attempt at a control.

Titans season: 1 out, 12 questionable
Titans week 3: 1 out, 6 questionable
Titan's opponents: 4 out, 3 doubtfull, 5 probable

23
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 6:50pm

They're not my numbers. They're the NFL's. I guess the NFL is in a vast conspiracy to deny Jamie the information he needs about the Titans' injury lists.

Most years he's right in line with the rest of the league on Probable listings. Some years he's higher on Questionables. He seems to edge toward putting a player as Questionable rather than Probable.

Maybe this year he's decided to just do away with Probables.

As I've argued in here in the past, I would strongly advocate that. The problem in the past has not been coaches being too generous with the Questionables, but rather too cavalier with the Probables. All the statistical evidence points to the fact that either (1) A Probable is really a Questionable; or, (2) A Probable is going to end up in the next week or so as a Questionable or Doubtful or Out or Out/IR, so you might as well list it as such now.

In a five-year span, Probables only make up about 10 percent of the listed injuries anyway.

It's a meaningless designation. Get rid of it and make everyone who gets a Probable a Questionable, but that's more accurate for the other team and the fan at home.

24
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 6:55pm

By the way, you also need to stop thinking that a coach or even a GM makes up the injury list and the designations. Most typically, it's the team physician and trainer who work it on in consultation with the player and/or any other doctor giving a second opinion about the injury.

From a statisticians point of view, it would be odd to even consider only one year of injury statistics as somehow relevant. They aren't. You would need several more years.

We've accounted for 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Six years. Over a six-year period, the Titans overall list about the same number and types of injuries as all the other teams, except the Colts and Rams.

In some years, they lean toward more Questionables than Probables. But, as I've said above, I'm glad they do this. More teams should.

25
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 6:59pm

Will:

I was just hoping you read the comments because I was complimenting you. Sorry if it came off wrong. :)

Carl:

TO's injury was a sports hernia - they list it as "abdominal/groin" but it's a recurring injury from a sports hernia that surgery didn't quite fix a few years ago. See link for details. Reid even said that TO might have surgery down the line (after the year) to fix it properly.

26
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 7:22pm

I see, Pat. One of my pet peeves is that these injuries have such cute names. Why can't we abolish "turf toe" or "sports hernia?"

They make it sound like a ballet ailment, not something men get pounding to poop out of each other.

27
by ABW (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 8:54pm

Prime example of the meaninglessness of the "Probable" designation - Tom Brady was on every single(I think) Patriots injury report last year as "Probable - right shoulder". He's still on there. He still hasn't missed a game.

Most pointless injury designation ever.

28
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 9:02pm

Most Boston haters would point to the "probable" designation that kept Dillon out of two games last year, if I recall.

They later changed it.

29
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 9:40pm

Carl:

What's worse is that it isn't a hernia. That's why the medical term for it isn't "sports hernia" - it's athletic pubalgia, as Will noted before. Sportswriters apparently don't like saying "McNabb has an athletic pubalgia", though.

30
by Larry (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2005 - 10:58pm

I was hoping for a little more on whether the Eagles' contention that Akers injury this week was unrelated to his previous injury was
1) likely
2) probably wrong
3) ridiculous
4) Blatant CYA

I suppose your comment should be interpreted as, at minimum, #3, but I was looking for a direct confrontation of Reid's press conference statements.

Why don't most sports pages have a doctor on staff to do this kind of analysis? Fans might actually learn something.

31
by Terry (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2005 - 8:52am

Re: No. 30

"Why don’t most sports pages have a doctor on staff to do this kind of analysis? Fans might actually learn something."

Heh heh! Ha. Hoo ... Newspapers are cheap, notoriously so. That's a good one.

32
by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2005 - 11:19am

That's not really true. Our newspaper has a health reporter and a science reporter, not to mention a gazillion sports reporters.

The problem is for the editors to put them together. Ours does that, but many don't.

If you get your health or science reporter to discuss aspects of sports for the sports' page, it's usually interesting. The problem is usually turf battles over who gets credit for the coverage, yada yada yada.

Not an issue here. Is at other places.

33
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2005 - 1:43pm

With respect to Matt Light, reports out of Boston are that it was his fibula, not his tibia, for what it's worth.

Also interesting are a couple of stories that Bruschi's been talking to doctors about maybe coming back this year after all (Pats have until the sixth game (or is it the sixth week of the season?) to decide what to do with him). If outside doctors really do give him a legitimate clean bill of health, it would be great if he could play this year the way things are going, but as a Celtics fan who all to well remembers the Reggie Lewis doctor-shopping fiasco I don't want Bruschi back prematurely.

34
by MerigoldBowling (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2005 - 4:25pm

As someone said above, a muscle strain = a muscle tear. They then grade the "strain" to how many fibers were torn. I think 0-10% is a Type I, 10-99% is Type II and 100% is type III.

Will, are there any studies (JOSPT, etc.) that link cramps with flexibility?

35
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2005 - 5:27pm

I was hoping for a little more on whether the Eagles’ contention that Akers injury this week was unrelated to his previous injury was

They claimed that it was in a different location, not unrelated. The hamstring strains might be a symptom of something else, in which case they thought the first was just an isolated injury, and rehabbed it. Instead, the muscle was still weak, and tore in a different place.

Don't know what could cause that sort of thing, though.

36
by Bob (not verified) :: Mon, 10/03/2005 - 3:41pm

"It may not just be the Pats’ stretching that helps, but their opponents’s idiocy. On the Pats Super Bowl DVD, three Pats providing commentary are laughing their asses off as the Eagles come out for the Super Bowl bouncing around like 7th graders let out for recess. The Pats are like, “Save it for the 4th quarter, boys.� "

Yeah but this is only becuase they won, if the Eagles win the video would show the Eagles sitting around saying that "football is a game of passion and emotion and we had them and the Patriots didnt". Silly statements by a few football players arent really relevent. Winning and losing is relevent and you can "prove" almost anything by getting a few silly quotes from the winners. If the winners said they wond becuase they all had chicken soup for lunch it wouldnt make it true.