Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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11 Nov 2008

Black & Blue Report: November 11, 2008

by Will Carroll

This year, as much as any I can remember, quarterbacks are dropping, and with them the fortunes of their teams and fantasy teams everywhere. The NFL has done all they can to protect quarterbacks, teams are scheming to protect them, spending big money on tackles, and still, we have as many quarterback injuries as ever. If all that isn't enough, what more can be done? Is the nature of the game such that teams will need to have better backups?

I asked Dr. Ralph Gambardella, the head of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, what he thought and he gave the answer many of you wouldn't expect: "Stuff happens." Well, yes, but is there anything we can do to keep the bad stuff from happening? "When over 200 pounds is moving in several different directions, quick movements build tremendous force, generating torque that human body parts have a hard time with. Many of our bones and joints do well with compression, but not with torque." So is torque the problem, and could we build braces and pads that do better with twisting forces than the linear orientation of the game? It's possible and certainly worth investigating. Dr. Gambardella also suggests that peripheral vision might be something that should be investigated more and certainly, that's one more test I'd like to see at the combine. Let's look at the injuries:

Willie Parker says he does not have a torn labrum, or at least that no one has told him this. There's some hand-wringing that maybe Parker just hasn't been told, but that's exceptionally unlikely. Could he have misunderstood? Missed a word when the doctor was speaking in unfamiliar terms? (Yeah, it happens. When I was diagnosed with cancer more than a decade ago, I had to make an embarrassing call later that day because I didn't know what kind. After the word "cancer," your brain kind of flips a switch.) Parker spoke with ESPN to contradict Adam Schefter's detailed report on the how and why of Parker's injury. The detail is what gets me with Schefter's report. Given all the facts I've been able to gather, I think Schefter's right. Parker could be back as early as next week, but if he's wearing a harness, you'll know. Parker also mentioned that he's still feeling the effects of the MCL sprain, so given Mewelde Moore's effectiveness in his absence, Parker could come back to find himself in a timeshare.

The Redskins rushing attack has some problems. Clinton Portis has a knee sprain (rumored to be another MCL sprain, this year's "it" injury) while Ladell Betts is still banged up. That leaves Shaun Alexander -- or, as we call it here at Football Outsiders, "nothing." Portis' knee has gotten worse, according to Jim Zorn, during the bye week, an odd choice of words. Rest shouldn't make things worse, so what do we have with this sprain? Portis' health and sanity are always in question, but seldom his talent. The real mystery is where this sprain came from. He was playing on a mildly sprained ankle and had a rough week rushing, but still put up big yardage in Week 9. Most wouldn't notice that Portis is just behind Adrian Peterson in both rushing yards and carries while being more valuable using our advanced measures, but most would agree that Portis has been very effective this season despite his normal dings and dents. This one isn't reading right so I'll be watching it closely all the way up to game time.

The Rams continue to be very conservative with Steven Jackson, describing him as day-to-day after keeping him out of last week's game. The quad strain's location appears to be the real problem, with the proximity to the patellar tendon causing the issue. All the symptoms match up, including pain at the start and end of workouts, plus a "creaky" knee as described by Jackson himself. While we shouldn't trust Jackson given his earlier statements on his readiness, the tendon involvement explains why this is going slowly and why his forcing himself on the field was such a bad idea, setting this back significantly. In essence, the Rams are forced to treat one injury in two ways -- as they would for a muscle strain and as they would for a tendon strain. The treatment isn't significantly different, but the recovery period and recurrence risk is, which leads to the conservative treatment. We'll have to see if Jackson can practice on it this week, as Jim Haslett isn't going to let him on the field without a couple solid practices.

Tony Romo is back under center for the Cowboys, but is he healthy enough to start? While he almost came back a couple weeks ago, he realized that his misguided attempt to play through the broken finger would have been a mistake both for him and the team. While his return won't fix all the Cowboys' problems, it might paper over well enough to give the rest of it some cover while they try to fix things. So far, Romo isn't showing problems with grip strength or mobility in the hand, or at least it doesn't show in his throws. Observers say that despite the brace he's still wearing on the hand, they couldn't detect any significant difference in his throws from normal. Things look good for Romo to be back on Sunday and going forward.

Rex Grossman wasn't terrible in his sub start against the Titans, but few Bears fans are saying that he should get another start, even if Kyle Orton isn't back to 100 percent by Sunday. Orton was the inactive emergency quarterback last week and still says that he's having trouble putting pressure on the ankle, problematic since it's the push leg for throwing. His mobility and throwing mechanics will be watched closely by the Bears staff, but they have all week to make a decision. This is one that will likely go up to game time, though I think we'll have enough information by Friday to make a good fantasy decision. Against Green Bay, Orton will need to have near-full mobility to be effective. That we should be able to figure out in practice.

Last week I wrote about Greg Oden's foot injury over on Basketball Prospectus. One of the big things that's been talked about with Oden is the weight that he's carrying on that foot (and repaired knee). The same type of thing is being discussed with JaMarcus Russell after he missed Sunday's game with knee tendonitis. Russell, like Oden, was a high school star. Also like Oden, his is a very large man. While the weight is something that has been discussed, Russell put on the bulk of his bulk during his time at LSU. That's not uncommon, as it's the first time these athletes have been under constant monitoring and training regimens, have access to strength and conditioning programs, and perhaps most importantly, are reaching physical maturity. Russell weighed in at 265 pounds at the NFL Combine (256 a week later at his pro day) and is listed this year at 260. He certainly came in to camp higher, but going back to his days at LSU, Russell often came in near 280. It should have been a red flag, but this is the Raiders, a team that disregards red flags as standard operating procedure. Sources tell me that Russell's knee is more a good excuse to give him some time away from a terrible team and that he'll likely be back in concert with Darren McFadden as the team tries to figure out how to escape the cellar. Right now, they appear to be on the Devil Rays plan of sitting at the top of the draft for a decade.

There was a quick report during the Colts-Steelers game that Marvin Harrison had left the game due to a concussion. On the next offensive series, he was back in. Even the mildest concussion would, or at least should, keep a player out longer, but this didn't look like a concussion. First, the replay showed that Harrison didn't take much of a hit to the head, if at all. He just kind of laid there for a minute. When he came to the bench, he reached up to take his helmet off and stopped. A few moments later, he was seen speaking with a team doctor and making a gesture that indicated something in the back right quarter of his head. The doctor rubbed his neck briefly and Harrison nodded. All signs then point to Harrison getting a stinger. I can remember a tight end back in my student trainer days who jogged over and said matter-of-factly that he was having a stroke. The pain is sharp, intense, but thankfully, not a stroke. Harrison should be fine, short- and long-term.

Jared Allen wasn't the only one playing through a shoulder injury. Derrick Mason actually dislocated his shoulder during Sunday's game and played through it. Granted, he left the field and had it reduced (put back in place) and then got a painkilling injection, but we should still give him credit for toughing it out. The dislocation, while painful, isn't that bad in and of itself after reduction. The worry is that things got stretched or torn as the shoulder came out of socket. So far, Mason is doing pretty well, undergoing treatment to minimize the swelling and pain. We won't know if he can play until later in the week, though my guess is that if he could play immediately after the injury, he should be able to make it back after a week of treatments.

The Saints are coming off a crushing loss to the Falcons and seem to be one of those teams who are losing chemistry as losses pile up. It's easy to point fingers when things are going badly, and let's face it, the Saints aren't nearly as good as anyone expected, even with Drew Brees putting up MVP numbers. Getting Reggie Bush back might help on the field and could take some of the pressure off him from teammates, many of whom are still perturbed that he can make all of his social engagements and public appearances, but can't seem to get through practice a couple weeks after minor knee surgery. He's expected back this week, but not expected to take his normal load of carries and targets. The same social problems exist for Jeremy Shockey, plus he can't stay healthy. An ankle sprain pushed him out of Sunday's game, and then Billy Miller outplayed him. He's going to have to prove he can stay healthy; he's already proven he can't shut up.

Bumps and Bruises

Ben Roethlisberger appeared to be wearing down with arm strength as Monday's game went on. With 42 throws, it's apparent he wasn't on a pitch count ... Carson Palmer is out for Week 11, but the Bengals seem willing to wait and give him a chance to play late in the season ... All signs point to Cadillac Williams being activated this week. A final decision will be made on Wednesday, but don't get too excited. Both Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn look ready to play and Williams is "not ready to be a feature back," according to Jon Gruden ... Felix Jones isn't back at practice yet, but the Cowboys hope to have him by midweek ... Aaron Stecker has a strained hamstring and has been losing touches to Deuce McAllister as the latter has gotten progressively healthier ... Not quite Theismann or Krumrie, but Charles Gordon would likely rather not have broken his ankle. Hat tip to PFT ... Jamaal Charles' sprained ankle will push him back behind Larry Johnson ... The Bills are hopeful that Fred Jackson's ankle injury is minor and that he won't miss time ... Adalius Thomas is done for the year after breaking his arm ... Nick Barnett was playing "more aggressively" in the last few weeks, trying to find the form that made him so good last year. It might have contributed to him tearing his ACL on the Minnesota turf. He's done for the year ... Mike McKenzie broke the patella in his right knee, the same one that had the ACL replaced last season. Coincidence, I'm told ... Also true in football.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 11 Nov 2008

24 comments, Last at 12 Nov 2008, 1:41pm by dbostedo

Comments

1
by Fan in Exile :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 11:04am

I know he's not a RB or QB but I was wondering about Champ coming back this week. Is he going to be up to form? Is it a good idea?

2
by Harris :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 11:57am

You mean short of encasing them in bubble wrap or allowing the offense to field three extra lineman or locking them in motorized iron cages and letting them to fire footballs from a howitzer? Lord, I hope not. There are already a thousand poorly understood, barely thought out and ineptly enforced rules to protect the QB and the last thing the NFL needs is more of that. Players already refuse to wear all the braces and pads available to them, so what good are additional braces and pads going to do? Gambardella's attitude is just about right; it's a violent game played by impossibly large, impossibly fast humans and players, including the tutu-wearing glamour boys, are going to get hurt.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

3
by Dice (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 12:53pm

RE: the 'Skins tailbacks. Let's not leave off Rock Cartwright, esp now that D'Angelo Hall can handle kicks/punts, and the always reliable James Thrash can do it as well.

4
by Temo :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 12:54pm

Just to add, Romo was quoted as saying he still experiences a fair amount pain, especially when throwing out patterns.

I don't play fantasy (anymore), but for those that do, I don't know if you want to start Romo this week, against a Redskin pass defense that frustrated Cowboy receivers in the first game they played.

5
by Nick-Carolina (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 1:10pm

The livescience link is great. I'm always glad to see anything pertaining to hockey.

6
by Red Hedgehog (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 1:56pm

Nothing about Earnest Graham's supposed injury?

14
by Will Carroll :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:08pm

Read closer.

7
by dbostedo :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 2:10pm

"The NFL has done all they can to protect quarterbacks, teams are scheming to protect them, spending big money on tackles, and still, we have as many quarterback injuries as ever."

Is it possible that the NFL teams collectively will bear a certain injury risk level for the QB, regardless of pretections in place; And they'll find this level no matter the protections?

So that if, for instance, all QB protection rules were done away with, offenses would change to allow for more protection (quicker releases, more running, more blockers, etc.) thus keeping the injury rate about that same. And that if more protections were put in, offenses would continue to evolve toward things that may be more injurious to the QB (spreads, less protection, more scrambling, longer developing plays, etc.) until the injury rate was again to the threshhold?

8
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 2:13pm

I think that if injuries become to large a problem one sensible way to reduce them would be weight limits. Certainly having people over 250lbs running around and falling on each other drastically increases the chance of injury, and I personally would prefer weight limits to ever more restrictive contact rules.

13
by jimbohead :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:08pm

Had a friend who did featherweight football in college. The stuff he did to control his weight, then bulk up for game day, was absurd. We're already talking about people with weight/size related health issues. Can you imagine what would happen if they started playing the weigh-in game?

9
by Jim Haug (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 3:38pm

Tomlin confirmed that the Parker injury is a subluxation of the shoulder.

15
by Will Carroll :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:11pm

A sublux does not rule out a torn labrum. In fact, its a common cause.

10
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 3:46pm

LILABOG,

Weight limits are a terrible idea, unless you like the idea of having teams lie about player weights, introducing eating disorders and nutritional diseases to the NFL, having more rules and regulations which cause players to be suspended, and so on, despite the fact that there is ZERO EVIDENCE that the largest players in the league cause more injuries than average-sized players. (I suspect that the heaviest players cause FEWER injuries because they cannot generate the speed or acceleration that smaller players can. Think Bob Sanders, Ray Lewis, or Rodney Harrison.)

dbostedo,

I'm not sure how late hits, for example, are affected much by offensive protection one way or the other. If they were legal, no offensive scheme could adequately protect against them. Nor do I think the slide rule has lead to more QB scrambles. I'm also not sure why you think the NFL can't protect QB's more. They could make QB's down by two-hand-touch, to use a ridiculous example, and make all QB hits illegal. Not even Mike Martz could get his QB killed in that case. You're also assuming that improved helmets have somehow caused offenses to scheme less protection, which I find unlikely. The bottom line is that QB's are better protected now by both rules and equipment than they were in the past but players are bigger and, more importantly, faster, and arguably they go for more kill shots because of the desire to get on ubiquitous highlight films (which is what gets them to the Pro Bowl and earns them more money). I seriously doubt schemes have made QB's more vulnerable, especially considering how the West Coast offense and its principles have infiltrated the league and how it differs from the offensive schemes which came before it.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

17
by dbostedo :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:24pm

I wasn't saying that's what I really thought, just trying to explain what Will mentioned. It may be completely explained by bigger, faster players.

As far as late hits go, I don't think that's a big cause of QB injuries. Most of the ones I can think of were on legal plays; Of course, they would be, because that's what we're talking about. No matter what gets made illegal, QB injury rates seem to stay high, even though the "illegal" plays mainly go away. (Actually, is that verified? Or just supposition on Will's part?)

I still think there may be some merit in overall QB injury rate being somewhat controllable by scheme or team. Think about it this way - pretend all the teams in the NFL were running the same offense they did in 1985, but with all of today's rules, players, and equipment. Do you think QB injury rates would be the same?

18
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:53pm

No, injuries would probably be higher because modern schemes expose QB's less. But let's reverse it. Let's say the rules, players, and equipment were all the same as 1985. Do you think everyone would still be running the same scheme?

My answer is no, the schemes would have still evolved, and therefore the injury rate would be lower, because current schemes reduce QB exposure as a side effect when the main effect is scoring more points. Bill Walsh didn't invent the West Coast to protect his QB from injury. He invented it because his QB didn't have the arm to go downfield, IIRC, and it turned out that defenses couldn't stop it. It spread because it foiled defenses, not because it protected QB's. (As a counterexample, Joe Gibbs used to like to keep lots of TE's and backs in to block. That was his philosophy. He did it back in the 80's and he did it recently. Arguably, he believed in protecting the QB more than most modern coaches do now. So it's tough to make generalizations about schemes increasing or decreasing protection.)

I think it's partly coincidence that modern schemes protect the QB more. After all, the Martz offense with Warner and later Kitna did a poor job of protection, but he used it anyway because it scored points. Bottom line, I don't think schemes are affected very much by the rule changes to protect QB's.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

24
by dbostedo :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 1:41pm

"No, injuries would probably be higher because modern schemes expose QB's less."
"...because current schemes reduce QB exposure as a side effect when the main effect is scoring more points."

Just off the cuff, this doesn't seem right to me. I would think that the past's larger percentage of running plays overall in the NFL would be one big factor that would lessen QB exposure. And for every 'quick passing don't get the QB hit' team, there's likely to be a Mike Martz/Steve Spurrier 'screw-the-QB' type offense.

I was thinking mainly that the number of people kept in to block, and the smaller percentage of passing plays, would lessen QB exposure to injuries in the mid 80's. So as offenses evolved to pass more, or be more risky, rules were put in place that kept the QB injury rate about the same. But I could be completely wrong - perhaps QB hit or sack data from the 80's could enlighten this?

As an aside, one of the main reason's I've heard for not seeing more designed QB runs or option type plays is because it gets your QB killed. Well if the rules were tightened so that QB injury rates would drop, maybe you'd start to see more of it which would, again, keep the injury rate the same. Sounds kind of silly to a certain extent, but maybe coaches have a certain level of risk aversion sort of built-in.

19
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 7:58pm

I don't know that there is zero evidence, more weight means greater forces, and a lot of the injuries do not happen at full speed but happen at walking or jogging speed and result from players falling over or rolling onto each other.

My main personal experience is from hockey, but I know there the extra 30-40lbs is a lot more determinate of injury rates than the extra 1mph from having a lighter quicker skater. Both when players injure themselves and others. Your ligaments and tendons do not grow in strength in proportion to your overall weight. It is mainly areas trying to keep pace with volumes, a losing battle if ever there was one.

In a hockey game 225X22 is significantly more force than 190X23 (around 10%?). And that is assuming maximum speed collisions which are rare.

As for the objection that people would game the system, they already game it now so what is the point? And people who are 250 could game it up to 260, but they are not going to be able to run 300 lbs guys out there without it being obvious. Which is the point. As far as keeping players from unhealthy careening all over the place, first off I doubt that would actually be that effective, second a few random weightings all year, and not weightings before games would reduce the incentives. Anyway it was not meant as a 100% serious suggestion, just something to keep in mind as injury rates go up as players get steadily larger and faster.

Another thing bandied about in hockey is larger rinks to make collisions less likely and skating/passing more important. Perhaps as players get larger and faster the NFL could move to larger fields to increase the value of smaller players.

20
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 10:25pm

That's a nice theory, but hockey is very different from football and you haven't provided any evidence about football. (Hockey players move A LOT faster and the biggest football players rarely get opportunities to hit in open space like hockey players do.) Yes, the big guys roll up on each other, but they would get hurt at 250 also if their foot was trapped.

A bigger field would change nothing in football, since the action centers around the snap, unlike in hockey where you can skate side-to-side and use the width of the rink without losing ground like you would in football.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

21
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 1:23am

I am pretty sure if you went to larger field you would see smaller lineman.

11
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 3:52pm

"Nor do I think the slide rule has lead to more QB scrambles."

No, but I think it leads to more injuries on scrambles. Getting drilled in a late slide is a lot worse than lowering your shoulder into a tackler.

16
by Will Carroll :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:13pm

Aside from Trent Green, I cant think of any QBs injured on scrambles. What am I forgetting?

23
by Eddo :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 11:10am

Kyle Orton, 2008 version.

Also, I believe Donovan McNabb, 2006 version.

There must be more.

Did you mean concussions?

12
by Admore (not verified) :: Tue, 11/11/2008 - 5:03pm

@ Will Carroll - Do all the QBs wear concussion reducing helmets? Shouldn't that be mandated, at least? That's extra protection that costs nothing in terms of changes to gameplay.

@ Rich Conley - Well, yes, but isn't that a problem with late or borderline hits on slides being tolerated, rather than the slide rule?

22
by Staubach12 :: Wed, 11/12/2008 - 1:27am

Will, doesn't the helmet reduce peripheral vision to the point that it doesn't make sense to test for that sort of thing?