Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
19 Oct 2005
by Will Carroll
Does it seem like your fantasy players get injured more than the ones you ignore, the so-called â€œbig ugliesâ€? on the lines? Do defensive players get hurt less than offensive? The problem of perception is one exacerbated by the twin gods of fantasy gaming and the injury list. There's also something a professor of mine calls the â€œblue chevette syndrome.â€? He bought a new Chevette (the 70's equivalent of â€“ well, is there a modern Chevette?) and immediately noticed that there were more of his car than he thought. Buying a low-end Chevy is never going to buy exclusivity, but he realized it wasn't that there were suddenly more blue Chevettes, merely that he now noticed the blue Chevettes that he'd ignored previously. We all have our filters. We do a better job recognizing people we know than people we don't, and let's face it, in the modern NFL, you might not recognize even the All-Pro right guard from your local team. You'd have a good guess, since he's roughly the size of that blue Chevette, but don't be fooled. Just because you suddenly see more injuries, it doesn't mean they're suddenly there. You're just noticing them more. Yes, that means you're turning into a medhead.
We all saw this coming. It's a variation on the Willis Reed entrance or maybe the Kirk Gibson miracle home run in 1988. Tedy Bruschi is coming back, yet this one's different than the now-cliched hero's return. Where Reed and Gibson could have only failed by falling, barely able to injure themselves more, Bruschi is playing only months after a stroke felled him. If I had more time and less carpal tunnel, this would be a good place to remind everyone just how serious strokes are and how much we can do to help prevent them and save those that have them. The research and advances we've made in cardiovascular care over the last few years are amazing. In Bruschi's case, we'll go with the assumption that the doctors that cleared him believe that he is safe, that what he does on a football field will not cause a recurrence or relapse. This ups the ante on speculation about the original cause, of course. Once Bruschi does return, what can we expect? It's reasonable to assume that he's slightly deconditioned and even with the bye, he won't be an every down player. We can assume that he hasn't lost significant skill due to age â€“ it was less than a year ago that he was in the Super Bowl and no one saw decline there â€“ or effects of the stroke. I think that what we'll see from Bruschi is about 90% - he'll look great to most of us, but there may be just enough drop-off in his game that the experts can find ways to exploit him. Then again, 90% of Tedy Bruschi is roughly 600% of Monty Beisel.
Bones heal. It's a basic medhead tenet that broken bones are preferable to torn tendons or ligaments (when confronted with that particular babysplitting). Dallas saw receiver Patrick Crayton left the stadium in a boot with Bill Parcells telling people the ankle was broken and he was done. Turns out it's not broken, but he's likely still done with tendon and ligament damage. Worse, it's definitely a "terrible triad" for tackle Flozell Adams (MCL, ACL, meniscus). Adams was the anchor for a line that was keeping Drew Bledsoe upright, a key for him to be successful. Added together, these injuries are a one-two punch to the hopes of an America's Team that America is finally paying attention to again.
Sometimes it's not who is out of the game, but the return that makes the difference. It's an easy decision for the Steelers to start Ben Roethlisberger -- and not Tommy Maddox -- on Sunday since he's available, but he's hardly 100 percent either. Worse, Hines Ward, Big Ben's comfort receiver, is unlikely to play and even less likely to be a factor if he does. Roethlisberger's knee problem isn't a major concern given his game â€“ he scrambles occasionally, but it's not like he's Michael Vick back there when healthy. Will it slow down his drop? No; if it does, there's no way that the Steelers staff would allow him out there. They could adjust to a quicker three- or five-step drop if it was a minor concern. That affects timing. Given Ward's injury as well as the foot problem of Antwaan Randle El, the Steelers will likely be forced to a short passing game based on timing, and even more dependence on the run. This is one of those situations where injuries â€“ and the Steelers have a lot â€“ force strategy. The fact that Cincinnati still has problems stopping the ground game makes that a little easier for Pittsburgh fans to take.
That momentary swing from offense to defense is often interesting to watch. For a moment, our discussion harkens back to ironman football with players going each way. You'll remember that, in those days, Chuck Bednarik was an imposing 6'3, 230. These days, that's a safety, not a Hall of Famer. Marc Bulger showed why today's platoon system is in place. Even in the Arena League, the QBs are saved from the ignominy of playing defense. Bulger tried for a moment to make up for his interception and instead got a grill full of David Thornton for his effort. Worse, the fall he took drove his throwing shoulder into the hard new surface at the RCA Dome. Bulger was listed as out with a shoulder sprain, likely signaling at least a subluxation if not a full separation. That obviously will affect his throwing for several weeks, leaving a replacement QB to run the replacement coach's team.
There's a term I remember from high school football: "medicine ball." It was that pass over the middle, just a bit high, leaving the receiver open to a crushing blow from lurking linebackers. It would get us the glare in practice and receivers hated those types of balls, knowing they had to go get them and take the hit. Some developed alligator arms and reputations from those balls, but in the NFL, where car-crash physics make open hits even more devastating, those medicine balls probably get stares I can't imagine back in the huddle. There's another phenomenon that appears to lead to more injuries than even the medicine ball, and that's the tall athletic wide receiver. Sure, we all want our teams to have a Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, or Keyshawn Johnson for their on-field skills. What they have in common â€“ besides their penchant for trouble â€“ is the ability to go high in the air for catches. Their height advantage over quick corners actually leads QBs to throw high, creating a "jump ball" situation where the tall WR has an advantage. Then again, Randy Moss can tell you that this effect, combined with missile-like safeties coming into the play out of cover-2 defenses, can have a downside. Gravity still works and a player going high into the air is subject to coming down. Getting hit or even just disturbed in mid-air can lead to some horrific landings. Moss found out just how bad it can be. When he landed, it was a rough equivalent to a Fosbury high-jumper coming down without the pad. Moss has bruised ribs, an injured hip, and most disturbing, a groin strain. Given the abdominal involvement, some are already speculating that Moss may have a 'sports hernia' rather than a simple muscular strain. Team sources, however, tell me that a major part of the problem was that when Moss hit the ground, his legs came together quickly catching certain unmentionables between them. Once every man reading stops cringing, they can certainly imagine why Moss would not only have pain at the time, but why he would continue having pain and nausea after trying to return. Moss is a 50-50 shot for the game, erring on the side of playing after seeing Moss try to play through his hamstring problems last season.
It's almost more interesting to watch what happens after Brian Griese goes down, the easy transfer of power within the Buccaneers nepotistic meritocracy. The son of a coach playing a pair of sons of players makes sense; simply put, growing up around the game conveys a sort of gym rat sensibility, if not actual talent. Of course, the Bucs system doesn't require too much talent from the quarterback position, and if Cadillac Williams can avoid injury over the next decade, he'll disguise the weakness at the position well. Griese is done for the season after tearing both the ACL and MCL due to a rolling hit (clean) from Zach Thomas, a player you may know from his trail of dead. Chris Simms, a player that has the same monkey as Peyton Manning, will take over. Griese will miss at least eight weeks and likely the entire season. If surgery is necessary, Griese will be back for training camp. (Then again, the Bucs might just trade for Tim Rattay and make me think about deleting the first part of this paragraph.)
Receivers make their living with their legs and their hands. When one of those things is broken, the receiver loses an immense amount of value -- and worse, chronic injuries such as strained hamstrings or bad knees tend to sap not only stats, but years from their careers. The rest of the body is more or less extraneous for football purposes. Drew Bennett has an odd career arc, but thumb surgery is actually a positive for him. He's been taking a pounding as the ace receiver on a poor team without many options, so this may take some wear off him while not being a chronic injury. The injury may mean more to Steve McNair and Ben Troupe in the short-term than it will to Bennett.
One of the least understood injuries that can ruin a season is the high ankle sprain. The term itself is confusing and the anatomy is even garbled. Ask most people where their ankle is and they'll point to the malleolus, the two bony protuberances at each side of their lower leg. It'd be nice to think of the ankle as a simple hinge running through the line of the malleloli, but the structure is extremely complex. Saying high ankle sprain saves us from saying â€˜syndesmosis ligament injury.' The syndesmostic ligament runs between the tibia and fibula, the bones of the lower leg. When this is strained, there's extreme pain and possibly instability. It's the unstable ones that take the longest to heal, often requiring surgery. Stable takes about six weeks to fully heal, but remember that athletes are worried about return to function rather than full healing. If Fred Taylor is dealing with a high ankle sprain, it's stable, but since we don't have a point of injury, it's difficult to say when he'll be back. If he's running, however, cross high ankle off the list and worry about Taylor's laundry list of other maladies.
Jason Taylor has a streak of 87 straight games played, but it's likely to end after a foot injury in Sunday's game forced him to the sideline. Ironman streaks are meaningless, trivial oddities and relics of our puritanical, hard-working roots. It's a very New England, Cotton Mather concept and certainly not something that a laid-back, late-night party town like Miami needs. Sure, we all call in sick once in a while and the day off makes us feel a little bit better about things. Taylor went through the hard times, the Wannstedt years, and now that Nick Saban is cleaning things up, Taylor can just soak it in. Now, you don't want to carry this to a Ricky Williams extreme either. One game off or so, then Taylor's back in there with his brother-in-law terrorizing opposing passers.
The Jets took another major blow when Kevin Mawae fell to the ground on Sunday. Unfortunately, big Sam Adams fell on his arm while he was down, causing an odd motion â€“ a 350 pound guy will cause those â€“ and ending with Mawae's left triceps tearing. It's not a complete tear and Mawae was able to return, but his function was gone. The triceps is a major "pushing" muscle and Mawae was essentially one-armed after the injury. Mawae will have surgery once the swelling goes down to re-attach the muscle. He's expected to have a full recovery, returning on roughly the same schedule as Chad Pennington.
The story on Ken Hamlin is off the field, but the injuries he suffered â€“ a fractured skull as the most serious â€“ left him in ICU. Sometimes, football is the least of a player's concerns â€¦ It's too easy to cite some studies done connecting marijuana use and bone density loss to Ricky Williams' hip bruise. There's no connection â€¦ Kurt Warner is back at practice, if not back on the first string. His injury may cost him next week's start â€¦ Expect Ahman Green to play on Sunday â€¦ Calvin Pace fell through a window at his home, cutting his arm and ending his season. There's a lot more to this story, but he's a backup D-Lineman in Arizona â€¦ Joe Horn's hamstrings are heading for RBC area. For you non-medheads, that's â€˜recurring, becoming chronic' and yes, it's as bad as it sounds â€¦ Is there ever a point where an owner looks in the mirror and says â€œMaybe the reason we're not winning is me.â€? What does he do then?
23 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2005, 5:47pm by rjh