Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
18 Nov 2008
by Will Carroll
The NFL is in a bad spot with the StarCaps appeals this week. On the one hand, it appears that the NFL did advise players that the supplement was "OK" despite it not being on the official "blessed list" of supplements. On the other hand, if athletes aren't held accountable for what they knowingly ingest, even if it's unknowingly, there's a problem. While I doubt that the players knew that the supplement was so effective at cutting weight because it was laced with a prescription diuretic, the players did violate the spirit and intent of the rule by taking something off the blessed list. The NFL's policy is toothless, but if these guys walk, then it's not just toothless, it's worthless and should be scrapped entirely. I can see both sides, but if they're going to have any shred of credibility, the NFL has to hope these suspensions stand. We'll know more by this time next week, but let's look at the injuries:
Sunday was an odd experience for me. Instead of being huddled around my phone and laptop on Sunday morning, I was out at the Colts game, sitting nearly on the roof with my brother and Jenn Sterger. I got a text message just before halftime saying "Earnest Graham out with ankle" and my first thought was "cascade." Graham had missed time with a knee problem and you're going to have a tough time convincing me that the previous injury didn't have something to do with Graham's season-ending ankle injury. The specifics still aren't out, but all indications are severe sprain or even a rupture in the ankle. With Carnell Williams ready to come back in some respect and Warrick Dunn available, next week's game against the Lions will serve as a real test for the Bucs' running game, in the sense that they're going to have to figure out where that yardage is going to come from. Graham should heal fine for next year, but sources say he's likely to hit IR this week.
The Giants have depth at running back, but Brandon Jacobs is their No. 1. He had a big half before leaving after "stuffing" his knee. He leaped and landed on it a bit harder than the knee could take, leaving it swelling and sore. Jacobs says he could have come back in if needed, but every player says that. Jacobs had an MRI to check on what the proximal cause was and, as expected, it was a small meniscal problem. No one I spoke with would say tear, so let's just go with "problem" for now. The Giants will watch to see how the knee reacts to rest and treatment, but will likely be very conservative with Jacobs until they're sure he's full-go. Look for less carries at the very low end of the spectrum, with a game off possible if not probable.
Clinton Portis played. Not just played, which was a bit unexpected, but started and played well. Portis wasn't a sandbag job by the Skins, he simply was a game time decision based on the flexibility of his knee and his rapid progression. While the knee problem sounds serious and most have focused on the MCL sprain, the bruising was the real problem, though one that heals much more quickly than ligaments. If you think of it as a fluid buildup inside the knee, you're not far off. Once that settled down and his knee got the normal range of motion back, or at least more normal, he was quickly back to a productive physical place. He didn't have the same burst, but the thing about being hurt all the time like Portis is that a player can learn to play through it. Portis can and did. As always, the question is how long he can do it, or whether the next injury be the one that he can't play through.
The Rams sent Steven Jackson back to the doctors to figure out why his leg isn't making any progress. The good news is that there's no further damage, but the bad news is that it's still in a tough area and that it hasn't healed up enough to let him play. The Rams have already ruled him out for Week 12's games, and there is discussion in the front office of shutting down Jackson and making sure that he heals up for next season, which they hope might go a bit better for the Rams. Injuries to Orlando Pace and Richie Incognito are also factoring in here and may lead to Marc Bulger getting more bench time. Pace is out with a knee sprain and could be done for the season, while Incognito tore his rotator cuff and is also likely done, leaving the whole left side to the backups. If the Rams decide to throw in the towel on the season, Jackson and pretty much the rest of the team loses a lot of fantasy value.
Willie Parker is a liar. OK, maybe "liar" is a strong term, but his assertions that his labrum isn't torn are just wrong. I have a hard time believing that he doesn't know, since it was him out there on the field in the shoulder harness. If several other team sources know, I have to believe that Parker knows. That's not to say he can't play through it, because it looks like the harness held and the painkillers worked. He does have a short week, as the Steelers prep for the Sunday game, but all signs point to him playing and taking the lion's share of the touches. Mewelde Moore will still factor in, but if Parker can continue to both perform well in games and recover afterwards, Moore will be nothing more than the backup as the Steelers head toward the playoffs.
Tony Romo showed no real problems during his first game back, but more importantly didn't have any real problems after the game either. Romo made all the throws and was victimized by a couple drops; he played better than his 19-for-27, 198-yard stat line. It's not great for fantasy, but enough for the win and showed that Romo can be effective with the broken finger and brace. There's no reason to think that he can't do the same or better going forward. The recurrence risk is there, but it's going to be on him to try and protect the hand without having it alter his game play. The odds work in his favor; Romo has played all this time with only this one break, so it's unlikely he'll have two similar episodes.
The Dolphins have been amazingly healthy this season by any measure. It has led to a lot of long looks and suspicion with their empty injury reports and Bill Parcells' lurking in the shadows. Fact is, they've been both lucky and good. I can't comment on what may or may not have changed about their medical and conditioning practices, but the luck isn't something that should have lasted this long, nor can it be counted on for next season. I have theories, though testing them will be an offseason project. The first major injury of the season is a sprained foot to starting quarterback Chad Pennington. No one seems quite sure how it happened, but it's painful more than it's serious. Pennington was able to play through it last week and should be able to do it again next week, but it's unlikely he'll get the rest he needs to eliminate the problem. We'll have to watch to see that it's not limiting his mobility, though the Fins could use Chad Henne some or shift to the Wildcat in order to get Pennington some rest.
Jared Allen has proven that he can play through a devastating shoulder injury. What the Vikings haven't shown is that they should be letting him do so. Allen was "in tears" at halftime before being recharged with "multiple injections," according to sources. At this stage, a possible suspension might be the best thing for Allen. He had another helmet-led hit on the quarterback, and many reports have him headed for a week off. It's not going to cure his shoulder, but it can't hurt. With Allen signed long-term with buckets of guaranteed money involved, the Vikings seem to not be thinking about anything beyond the next game. That's one reason they're not very good.
One of the things you might notice is that injuries tend to go down in number at this point in the season. After about Week 9 or 10, there's a "survivor effect" that kicks in. One might think that fatigue would keep the injury stats rising, but this is actually the time when players who have avoided injury tend to show themselves. "Only the strong survive" isn't a cliche in the NFL ... Calvin Johnson missed some time last week after straining his quad. The Lions will watch him closely heading into this week's game. You should check his late-week practice status ... Peyton Hillis survived a game as the Broncos' running back, though he did get his shoulder hit hard enough to need X-rays. He's not a long-term solution and will split carries with Tatum Bell the next couple weeks ... Brandon Harrison, the Texans' talented but injury-prone safety, missed time on Sunday with a stinger ... The Texans are less sure about Matt Schaub's knee. It doesn't sound like they would bring him back if they're eliminated from the playoffs ... The same holds true for Carson Palmer, though there's more of a chance the Bengals will want him to play as a test in the latter weeks of the season ... Willis McGahee left Sunday's game with a mild ankle sprain, but the Ravens couldn't get any running going anyway, so he didn't return. He will play this week ... Antonio Chatman is doing well after a scary hit left him on the turf. He has use of his limbs, though there's no timetable for his return.
11 comments, Last at 19 Nov 2008, 11:06am by Dales