Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
12 Oct 2005
by Will Carroll
Five weeks in and the NFL's schedule is starting to separate the winners from those who hope to land Matt Leinart next draft. The parity of the league leaves a vast middle ground of team who have talent enough to rely on the â€œAny Given Sundayâ€? cliché, knowing that it could apply to them as much as anyone. The difference, what some will call luck or the breaks, is often just injury. Each team has a certain level of talent. Any joke about USC taking on the NFL is just that, as it is with any collegiate team. Keeping that talent on the field is the hard part. Team medical staffs are starting to stretch, rushing to keep up with the inevitable bumps and bruises while being ready for the devastating trauma that always seems just around the corner. Quick â€“ name your favorite team's head athletic trainer. How about team doctor? There's plenty of room for more in-depth coverage of injuries and for a better understanding of their effect on the game.
If there's one thing I hate, it's the â€œteam of destinyâ€? tag. I think it was the University of Colorado back in the late 80s that really pushed me over the edge, but I won't bore you with all the hypocritical details. There was a comedian a couple years ago that talked about an athlete blaming God after he lost. You just don't hear it, because it isn't nearly as acceptable as the standard â€œFirst, I wanna thank Godâ€? speech. Natural disasters happen and as sorry as we feel and as much as we want to help, hurricanes have nothing to do with Deuce McAllister's knee. I heard every variation on this Sunday and frankly, they burn me. Every play has a risk of injury and the medical staff and player work hard to reduce the risk. Sometimes, the nature of the game or the circumstances of the play result in something terrible, like an ACL tear, as happened to McAllister. It's nothing more and nothing less than an injury. For the Saints, they'll work to find an adequate replacement while McAllister rehabs for next season. The return from ACL surgery is about 12 months to activity and 24 months to full function. Just ask Edgerrin James.
Infection seems to be running around the NFL. In a game with turf and as much physical contact, it's surprising there's not more. Braylon Edwards is hospitalized after doctors excised an infected wound on his right arm. The exact type of infection isn't known, though it is expected that it is MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). This aggressive bacteria is the same one responsible for some of the problems that Kellen Winslow Jr had. His brush with the superbug resulted in a massive weight loss and loss of conditioning. Some reports have Edwards out as much as eight weeks, but Browns sources say that is a worst case scenario with his return depending on his response to treatment. In any case, Edwards rookie season is cut short by an opposition tougher than any CB.
Even on a team that has a former starter at the no. 3 slot (and let's not forget that no. 2 Tommy Maddox was an XFL MVP), an injury to the starting QB is devastating for every team outside of Detroit. Ben Roethlisberger gave a big scare to Pittsburgh fans when he went down with a knee injury after an awkward tackle. Big Ben's knee clearly hyperextended, but MRI showed little internal damage. He'll be able to play as soon as the knee loses the swelling and tenderness, then regains full stability. That shouldn't be long and perhaps as early as Sunday. His return is even more important given that Maddox is also out with a calf injury. Maddox is likely to be available as well, making Pittsburgh's QB situation one of the more confusing ones. Who's healthier on Thursday might have more to do with who plays than who's healthy on Sunday.
It's not quite â€œWho's On Firstâ€? but when someone emails me and says â€œRoy Williams is hurt,â€? I have to ask which one. It was the former Permian Panther and current Lions WR this time, straining his quad and raising questions about his durability. Williams missed much of last season with an ankle problem. Charles Rogers also has his problems of both the injury and substance nature, leaving the once-vaunted WR depth to be mere necessity. Williams is out for Sunday and given the slow nature of his recovery last season, expect him to take at least four weeks to be full-go. It would help if the Lions had someone to get him the ball at that point.
For any other running back, a minor injury and a bit of a limp is barely a note in a dot column for the hometown beat. With Fred Taylor, it's the sound of the first shoe dropping. Or is it? Is it possible that Taylor very simply rolled his ankle and was limping a bit, nothing more? The Jags aren't doing any tests, say they won't do any treatments beyond what Taylor normally does between games (though that's plenty) and that they expect him to practice normally. Taylor looked fine in the game, going for 124 yards of slashing and power running, just like the Taylor of old or at least the healthy Taylor of old. Don't panic. If you have Taylor on your roster, you should already have a good backup at the ready.
Here's a sentence that you probably never thought you'd see: After being carted off without feeling in his legs, Michael Boulware is expected to play Sunday. That's right, the bruised spinal column that had Boulware in an ambulance isn't enough to keep him off the field. Reports have Boulware actually walking out of the hospital after tests. The injury to his lower back is reportedly still painful and that seems worrying. I won't secondguess the medical staff on this one. NFL medical staffs watch spinal injuries as closely as can be done, so if he's cleared to play he's going to be healthy. At least I hope so.
If you've never seen Dat Nguyen play, you've missed one of the most amazing things on a football field. I was at A&M when Nguyen ran the Wrecking Crew and to see the devastation that an undersized, soft-spoken Vietnamese kid could create was simply awesome. Like Zach Thomas, he was a middle linebacker out of the Big XII that did nothing but make plays. Nguyen hasn't had quite the success of Thomas, but he does have an actual neck, so let's call that a draw. Unfortunately, it's that neck that's injured, the dreaded chronic stinger. The confusing reporting on this injury comes mostly from Nguyen's own agent, who told the Cowboys that Nguyen would be out for the season. Since Nguyen's been playing with the situation roughly the same since the initial injury in late September, it's unclear what if anything changed. Nguyen might be slowed a week, but don't bet on it.
Thomas Jones finishes out the full cycle of knee ligaments this season for the B&B. We've had each of the other three ligaments that provide stability â€“ anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate, and medial collateral â€“ so Jones gets the dubious honor of being the first lateral collateral injury of the season. Getting all four by Week 5 shows just what a weak link the knee is. Chiseled athletes can have all the muscles they want; the knee is still only as strong as a band of fibrous collagen. Jones LCL sprain is a â€œGrade I+â€? according to Bears sources, so it's not terribly serious and he's likely to play some on Sunday against the Vikings, though Cedric Benson figures to get the bulk of carries. The knee shouldn't hamper Jones appreciably beyond this week, though giving Benson a chance might limit his workload down the line.
The good news is that given the opportunity with Ahman Green out, Najeh Davenport was able to have a breakout game with a couple of touchdowns by the second quarter. The bad news is that he didn't make it past that second quarter, breaking his right ankle. Davenport had surgery on Monday, ending his season with an IR move. The Packers have just been crushed by injuries so far this season. Almost every team has an adequate backup at most positions. Where it gets bad is multiple injuries, forcing the team to go down the depth chart. (Think of last year's Tennessee secondary, or any team that ever employed Spergon Wynn.) Davenport should be able to return without significant limitations for 2006; ankle injuries, even with surgical intervention, tend to heal normally. One medical source did question Davenport's unique size/speed combo as potentially problematic for an ankle, having to both be mobile and support his weight.
Sometimes, a player just needs a challenge. Apparently, taking over for Randy Moss wasn't enough. Nate Burleson wants to overcome not only a sprained left knee, but a strained right shoulder. Out since Week 2, it's unknown how Burleson injured the shoulder, but with the WR listed as â€œquestionableâ€? for this week, it's actually an upgrade. Burleson's status is as up in the air as the Vikings playoff hopes so even if he plays, don't expect #1 WR type numbers as he breaks back in and attempts not to break down again.
I never thought I'd have to write about a coach here in the B&B. Mike Martz is taking the season off to recover from an infection that has spread to his heart. Any infection is serious and the stress of coaching is no help when Martz is focused on getting healthy. Martz should make a full recovery and expects to coach next season, but with infections, almost anything can happen. Our best wishes to Martz in his recovery, as with any injury â€¦ Kurt Warner is expected back in two weeks. The Cardinals will have a decision to make at that point since Josh McCown is throwing so much, Dennis Green is worried about pitch counts â€¦ So just how bad was Duce Staley's knee injury? He's still out and unlikely to be the feature back, but it's more Willie Parker than injury cover up according to team sources.
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