After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
06 Sep 2005
by Will Carroll
The last week of the preseason is something of a snooze. Teams like the Colts don't let their starters get past the coin toss, ignoring a meaningless blowout. It's more about keeping your starters healthy and available for week one than anything else. Sure, an important backup like Jeff Garcia can break his leg, forcing him out for at least eight weeks, but it's seldom that even the important backups see the field long enough to get hurt.
It's a smart strategy, but it leaves me with a dearth of material. (Dearth Material is of course the Sith Lord that writers fear more than any other. Okay, that's the last Star Wars reference of the season.) So instead of looking back at the injuries of the week, we'll gaze into the future at ten injuries I think we'll see this season. Unlike the Team Health Reports I do at Baseball Prospectus, there's no system to these. These are guesses, albeit somewhat educated, and hopefully the start of a fun discussion. Here's the rule â€“ if you disagree, you have to stick your neck out too and make your own predictions.
Grab your crystal ball and lets get to it:
Trent Green was left a step slow by blood thinners. Add in a thin O-Line and Green was just an injury waiting to happen. In week six, Green was blindsided and driven into the turf, injuring his throwing shoulder and ribs. LaVar Arrington's blitz was unexpected and left Green writhing on the turf. Green could be back in time for the last couple weeks of the season, but the Chiefs' hopes now rest on the untested shoulders of Todd Collins. At 35, Green may see his career move back to the clipboard-toting role.
The surprise for Stephen Davis wasn't that his knees couldn't hold up the whole season, it was that they held up so long. Davis was platooned smartly with DeShaun Foster most of the season until a sore hamstring forced Davis to be used more than John Fox would have liked in Weeks 12 and 13. Davis was beaten up in a cold weather game at Buffalo, then wore down significantly as the game went on with Atlanta. The Panthers ran more than normal, trying to grind out a win against the high-scoring Falcons, but it cost the Panthers their top offensive threat. Davis will wait on surgery, hoping that he can return for the playoffs -- if the Panthers can make it without him.
The Falcons are a lot like the Colts. When their star QB goes down, their hopes of contention go with them. Unlike the Colts, the Falcons don't put much effort into protecting Michael Vick. Much of that is his scrambling style, the polar opposite of the nearly immobile Peyton Manning, but Vick also takes a bit too much punishment when he's just standing in the pocket. Vick missed two games this season with minor injuries â€“ a rib cage strain in Week 4 and a deep thigh bruise in Week 10 â€“ and the Falcons lost both games despite inferior competition. When the Falcons come up just short in the playoff chase, you can point to those two losses.
Byron Leftwich can play with a broken leg. Byron Leftwich can play with a sprained knee. Byron Leftwich can play with a concussion. What does it take to knock him out? A high ankle sprain suffered during a scramble ended his season in Week 7. The injury lingered all season, forcing the team to rely on it's unproven backups and push more carries onto their fragile backfield. The team collapsed over the last half of the season and when Leftwich rushed back in Week 12, his ankle simply couldn't handle the strain. His off-season surgery will determine whether the Jags are a team on the rise or decline in '06.
Speed kills, but knee injuries kill speed. Dwight Freeney, perhaps the fastest speed rusher in the game, was bitten by the turf monster in Week 9. After blowing by the tackle and depositing himself deep in the backfield, a last second pitch play designed by the Patriots to exploit his aggressiveness caused him to try and cut a little harder than his knee could take. Freeney's knee gave out and he was carted off. Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock were able to hold up in Freeney's place as the team buckled down, playing better against the run all the way into the playoffs.
Who had Week Five in the Charles Rogers Fracture Pool? Rogers managed to keep his collarbones healthy â€“ by breaking his arm in a fall. Rogers just seems to be fragile, what some physical therapists call a â€œtissue issue.â€? It's amazing that anyone can hold up under the physical demands of NFL-style football, and adding in Rogers' acrobatic yet graceless falls makes this a near inevitability. Rogers clearly has the talent to play at this level, yet lacks the one skill that every player must have â€“ the ability to get out on the field week after week.
The Niners turned to rookie QB Alex Smith early in the season. Weeks 4 and 5 were both solid and he looked ready to get his first win coming off the bye at Washington until the blitzing Redskins defense literally knocked him out. A short scramble rolled Smith out of the pocket and as he planted to throw, he was hit by â€œa host of defenders.â€? He stayed down after the pile got up and had to be carted off the field. Troy Aikman, who knows a thing or two about concussions, said it was one of the worst hits he'd seen a QB take. Smith was out for six weeks, the post-concussion syndrome leaving him weak, nauseous, and unbalanced. Smith is expected to be fine for next season.
Deuce McAllister spent most of the season chasing a rushing title as the vagabond Saints played inspired football despite trying circumstances. Instead of the Cinderella ending, McAllister's quest for the title ended in Atlanta in Week 14 with a painful turf toe. The Saints still squeaked into the playoffs, but without their rushing threat, upstart QB Adrian McPherson couldn't get the team very far. McAllister finished just behind Kevin Jones and Julius Jones despite missing three games with the injury.
Brett Favre's victory lap was cut short. In Week 7 at the Minnesota Metrodome, his nemesis throughout his long, storied Packer career, Favre threw a pass and hit one of his blockers' helmets, catching his thumb. The torn ligaments required surgery and ended what is sure to be a Canton-bound career. Favre waited to have the surgery, staying on to tutor Aaron Rodgers in his first season. Favre toyed with the idea of coming back for one more season, but will join the NBC halftime show instead.
It didn't take long to find out if Steve McNair would be able to make it through another season. It was the violent Ravens defense that tested his sternum, and McNair decided he simply couldn't play with the pain, handing the reins of the offense over to Billy Volek and calling it a career after the season was over. McNair made some appearances during the season, but was limited and protected closely. At the last home game, McNair received his due, having his uniform number retired by the Titans while the media recognized that he was one of the key figures in turning away from the â€œblack quarterbacksâ€? myth.
37 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2005, 4:35pm by Carl