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07 Oct 2008

Black & Blue Report: October 7, 2008

by Will Carroll

I asked earlier this season, over at Sports Illustrated, if we were reaching the limits of the human body. I wondered that again last night, as Ron Jaworski tried to defend a late helmet-to-helmet hit. "The game moves so fast," he said, defending the defender who'd just knocked the tight end out cold. (Yes, Billy Miller was unconscious for a time.) If the game is so fast now that it's reached unsafe levels, that players simply can't control themselves, then is there a way to slow it down or to penalize unsafe play? The league is doing something with suspensions and fines that are going well beyond the reported levels, but the competition committee is going to have to look at this harder. Is a helmet-to-helmet hit resulting in a player being removed from the field worth an ejection? One NFL exec suggested a playground rule; for every game that a player misses due to an illegal hit, the player that did it is also banned. I'm not sure what the solution is, or one even exists. At some level, these players are being fairly compensated for the risks they take, but by losing players to injury, it's degrading the level of the game for the Romans -- I mean, fans in the stands. Let's look at this week's injuries:

Say it with me: Turf toe lingers. By trying to play through it, LaDainian Tomlinson put himself at risk for precisely the kind of exacerbation he has now. This injury could have been healed up by a week of rest, maybe two. The unusual re-injury, where someone stepped on his foot while he twisted, isn't the right mechanism for more turf toe, though with the connective tissue already injured, that additional stress could do damage. To two doctors I spoke with, it sounds more like a self-reducing dislocation compounded with lax connective tissue. Yeah, that's bad. Tomlinson will continue to play through it, but there's little chance of him being more than effective and much more of a chance that we see the type of performance we saw last week. There is the bye week coming up, which could give him just enough room to heal up, but Norv Turner's going to have to think about the team's longer-term needs. Darren Sproles has shown he can be an effective runner, though there's no weak game coming before the bye week.

It gets worse for the Chargers, though Red Sox fans will feel this one. Antonio Gates is having trouble running in something of a cascade injury. After foot surgery in the offseason, it appears that he's altered his gait and now has a tear in the acetabular labrum, the thin lining of cartilage in the hip. This is the same injury that's pushed Sox third baseman Mike Lowell out of the playoffs and could lead to Gates being shut down. The cartilage tear isn't going to get better and will necessitate surgery at some point, though it's a pain tolerance issue. It appears that Gates will also continue to try and play through this. The saving grace of his season might be his ability in the red zone.

I gets worse in San Diego, as the Chargers have also lost Chris Chambers to an ankle sprain. There are some reports that this injury, suffered on the last play of the game, could be the dreaded "high" ankle sprain. The way the play occurred, getting the leg rolled over by a defender, doesn't give us much clarity as either injury could happen this way. Chambers was seen after the game with his leg knee deep in ice, but once again, that doesn't give us much more to go on. We'll have to wait for practice to get a better sense of this. With a "normal" ankle sprain, it's possible that Chambers could be back this week, though I shouldn't have to say more than "leg injury" and "speed player" to let you know the risk.

Brian Westbrook has always been injury-prone, especially given his chronic knee problems. The thing is that he's always been able to be effective playing through the injuries. Westbrook came back from his ankle sprain to play and quickly broke two ribs. Related? One source says yes. "He went to cut and just stopped," indicating that maybe he wasn't quick enough or "buckled" as he tried to cut. I didn't see the play so I can't add much here, but it's reasonable. With two fractured ribs, it's a pain tolerance issue, but the schedule might come into play. The Eagles' bye is Week 7, so sitting Westbrook next week gives him three weeks to heal up if they go that route. It's the smart plan, though in a tough NFC East, every game counts a lot, especially coming off a tough loss.

I'll admit I laughed when Keith Olbermann dropped the "I can see Russia from here" line on Trent Edwards during Football Night. (For all your politics needs, check out Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com! And no discussing it on Football Outsiders!) Of course, that and the old "Batman" commercial are about all that's funny about concussions. Edwards was hit very hard in yet another helmet-to-helmet hit, so much so that he was "still groggy" after the game according to reports. As with any concussion, there's no way to tell how Edwards will respond, but given the severity of the concussion and his initial symptoms, we have to anticipate that his Week 6 status is going to be a major issue. J.P. Losman was effective enough that the Bills shouldn't be too worried with either quarterback at the helm.

The Seahawks have been dealing with injuries all season, but now they're starting to recycle. Both Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch came out of the week hurt, but not too hurt. Hasselbeck was out early with a hyperextended knee, but came back after some painkillers and tests made it possible for him to come back. He'll have some imaging done this week, but it appears that he escaped any serious damage. Branch wasn't quite so lucky, though it wasn't as bad as initially reported. He has a severe stone bruise on his heel, a painful but not serious injury. It's unlikely he'll be ready to go next week, but he shouldn't be out much longer than that. Given the reports that he was limping, it's tough to say if this was a cascade injury or just bad luck, but the extra healing time his knee will get, it should cancel out the effects.

I warned going into last weekend's Carolina game that the offensive line was troubled with both tackles out. How did the team respond? By running up the middle. By game's end, 17 of their 46 attempts went right over center, while another 14 pulled a guard and stretched around end. Of course, Jake Delhomme didn't have much he could do and got beat up a little bit, but we'll see whether or not Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah will be healthy enough this week to get back in the lineup. Gross' concussion should clear up, but it's always tough to tell.

It may not be injury that holds Brian Griese out next week. Despite an elbow injury, Griese simply hasn't been that effective during the Bucs last couple games, leading Jon Gruden back to Jeff Garcia. It's unclear now how severe the elbow problem is, but given Garcia's relative health and effectiveness, any lingering injury to Griese is going to tip the scales to Garcia, according to my sources. The Bucs are actually much more concerned about the knee injury to Barret Ruud, who will be undergoing imaging Tuesday.

Speaking of elbow injuries, Carson Palmer came through his start pretty well. He threw effectively, though several people indicated that he seemed a bit wilder than normal. Those of you who follow my work on baseball know that control is one of the first signs of an elbow injury, but with the knowledge that Palmer doesn't have a significant tear of the elbow ligament, I think we can discount this a bit. As Palmer gets beyond the acute phase of the injury, we'll have to make sure he's not maintaining this exhibited loss of control, though it's much tougher to judge in football than baseball. Overall, it appears Palmer is past this to the point where you can safely use him from week to week.

"We don't do that." That's what Mike McCarthy told Peter King when asked about painkillers and Aaron Rodgers. Unlike virtually every team, the Packers will not let a player play if painkillers are required to get him out there. It's my understanding that they will use them if the players can play and painkillers make them more comfortable. Rodgers was able to show in a pregame warmup that he could play through it, and while he couldn't throw deep a lot, he saved his bullets and threw when he needed to. Rodgers won't practice much this week, if at all, but stayed upright enough because the team held a running back in on most passing plays that he's no worse off now than he was going into the game.

Bumps and Bruises

Justin Fargas is expected back in the Raiders' running back rotation this week, but is 1A to Darren McFadden ... The Colts won't complain publicly, but Kelvin Hayden's knee injury was the result of bad turf in Houston. The Texans didn't prep the turf despite rain and heat issues ... Speaking of the Colts, one exec I spoke with this week thought that the Colts and Seahawks are having issues due to their coaching situations ... Jon Kitna had back spasms, but was removed becuase he was stinking the joint up. He'll be back in this week ... Marques Colston is 50-50 to return next week, so watch practice reports ... Eddie Royal's ankle is more of a problem and with Brandon Stokley healthy, the Broncos might give Royal some time off to heal up ... It was a bit of a surprise that E.J. Henderson was put on IR after dislocating his toes, but sources say the damage was pretty extensive ... Randy McMichael is done for the season after breaking his leg.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 07 Oct 2008

16 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2008, 12:02pm by Dan Rosenberry

Comments

1
by hector :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 2:52pm

That "bye week coming up" for the Chargers isn't until Week 9. LT owners no doubt wish it were sooner.

3
by Drunken5yearold :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 3:39pm

Yeah, it will be very interesting to see what the Chargers do if they're not in great shape at the bye week. They have NE, then @Buffalo, then NO @London. They could easily go 0-3 or 1-2 during that stretch to have a record of 2-6 or 3-5. Meanwhile, Denver has a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way, starting with Jax, then @NE, and then their bye week. The Broncos will probably be 5-2 entering their bye week, and it's hard to see them finishing with a record worse than 10-6. If the Chargers are 3 games back of the Broncos (or worse), do they shut down some of their stars to finally get them healed? Most players and teams want to do their best no matter what the situations or the odds, so it's hard to see them doing that unless the players in question are completely ineffective. However, I would argue that the team would probably be better off in the long run if they did hold their injured players out. Consider:

1) LT has turf toe, which usually lingers and takes months to heal completely. The toe has already been re-injured. He has not been effective and Sproles has shown flashes in limited opportunities.

2) Gates has turf toe and this hip problem. He has not been effective, but their is no suitable back-up on the roster.

3) Merriman is already out for the year.

4) Chambers may have a high ankle sprain and miss significant time. Buster Davis hasn't played much but could possibly step in and perform well.

5) Various other key players have nagging issues (Jamal Williams' knees, Hardwick's foot, McNeil's neck stinger).

Most of the time, I would argue that a back-up at 100% is better than a starter at 85%. The Chargers offensive line was actually doing a good job during the first three games, when they had back-ups Shelton and Newberry playing for McNeil and Hardwick. So shutting down an injured star player isn't necessarily the death knell for the season. In addition, this would position the team to be in a better situation next year (all stars healthy) or if they return in time (and the team does well in their absence) they could possibly play in the playoffs.

In hindsight, it was unreasonable to expect this team to live up to expectations after it became apparent that all three of the team's superstars (LT, Merriman, Gates) were hurting/out.

2
by andrew :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 3:30pm

"It was a bit of a surprise that E.J. Henderson was put on IR after dislocating his toes, but sources say the damage was pretty extensive ."

that injury just gets more painful the more I hear about it...

4
by Dan B (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 3:43pm

"I'm not sure what the solution is, or one even exists."

Why not slow the game down naturally- i.e. make everybody play on natural turf, in the elements, and grow the grass longer? Soften up the fields by making sure they're good and wet the night before? Yes, the players can run a lot faster now than they ever have, but let's get them off the track, and on a "field."

Part of this comes from my absolute hatred of my beloved Lions roof on their stadium. Yank it off! This is Michigan, not Minsk!

5
by JMM :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 3:45pm

Replace the hard shell helmets with a soft shell helmet. Then players will manage to reduce the impact at any speed.

6
by Will Carroll :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 4:10pm

Safety by certain death? I love it!

In a sport where amputation is considered a badge of courage - seriously, there was a story about it this week - I don't think this would get us more than a dead body or ten.

8
by JMM :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 5:03pm

"Safety by certain death." is one way to look at it. In his book "Why things Bite Back" Tenner uses both artificial turf and plastic helmets as examples of safety improvements which had the unintended consequence of increasing the severity or frequency of occurrence of injuries. The counter example he uses is professional Rugby. I'd add Aussie rules football. All three have large, willful and athletic men working to impose their will on others. Only one has a major issue with head and neck injuries. Yep, the one that uses protective gear.

14
by deflated (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 1:06am

I really wouldn't try and compare head injury statistics between NFL/rugby/aussie rules like that - completely different dynamics in the way bodies come together in tackles. NFL at the line of scrimmage is all about stopping the RB in the hole, hitting the ball carrier with as many bodies as hard as possible to stop all forward progress. In rugby preventing the runner from passing is more important, tacklers will often tackle high and trade 2-3 yards to make sure they wrap up the ball and take it to ground. Aussie rules is different again, you can't tackle from behind or around the legs and players will often just run backwards away from a tackler until they can pass (and in a 150yd long field there's plenty of room to run).

I'd be happy playing rugby or aussie rules in soft helmets or bare-headed; you couldn't pay me to go out on a NFL field if you could only wear a soft helmet.

(and if you don't think rugby has a problem with neck injuries do some googling on spinal injuries and scrums)

15
by JMM :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 9:14am

Rugby and all contact sports have neck and head injuries. And the rules are different in all three as are the techniques. Part of those differences are due to not having a hard shell helmet. (Which came first, the helmet or the rule? I don't know, has anyone studied the evolution of the three over the last 120+years?)

Remember, if you are being paid to go out onto an NFL field with a soft helmet, the assumption is everyone else on the field also has a soft helmet. Techniques will change as will the game. The game was played with similar rules as today in the 1930's and 40's with soft helmets. They were able to tackle runners going through the line.

I can't predict how, except I do believe there will be less leading with the head and fewer neck and head injuries.

7
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 4:37pm

From the politics link:

“The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. I made the acquaintance of a girl and we necked all the way to Indianapolis. She was nearsighted.”

– Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

I think I am going to enjoy this site.

[/Redskins homerism]

9
by Anonymous (not verified) :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 5:10pm

LT's career decline has begun in earnest.

10
by shake n bake :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 5:33pm

Know anything about what's going on with Tony Ugoh? He didn't show up on the injury report so he was able to practice fully, but if he's not starting over Charlie Johnson something is wrong with him, injury being the most likely. Last year he showed he was a vastly better LT than Johnson so something had to have been wrong with him for them not to play him.

11
by KyleW :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 7:05pm

Either I am far too devious or the idea put forward by an NFL executive about "for every game that a player misses due to an illegal hit, the player that did it is also banned" has a massive loophole - especially for divisional games.

For example if I am the Eagles and one of my 3rd or 4th string WRs is injured in an illegal hit by, say, DeMarcus Ware then I have an opportunity to create an advantage over another team in my division by keeping my close to replacement level player out which forces them to keep a superstar player out. This means I can affect the outcome of another team's games through manipulating the injury report, especially if the player is out with a concussion which could legitimately take a long time to recover from.

I quite like the solution offered by Dan B. Get the football played on a field again (though not one like the Steelers' late last year).

12
by anotherpatsfan :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 7:30pm

Will: Any word on Galloway's lingering foot problem?

13
by drobviousso :: Tue, 10/07/2008 - 8:24pm

Or Colston's hand?

16
by Dan Rosenberry (not verified) :: Wed, 10/08/2008 - 12:02pm

There are different rules on special teams and post turnovers to protect players in unusual situations. Why couldn't there be different protective equipment?

I'm advocating things like different pads and helmets for offense and defense, for the line and eligible receivers, etc. A defender has a lot more power to control the severity of the contact than the receiver who is getting hit at the same time as he's catching the ball.

It could make senses to reflect that differing degree of control by a differing injury risk. A soft shell helmet is riskier for the player, but if they're in near full control of their contacts it might not be that much riskier, while at the same time reducing the risk to those affected by the helmet. This should cause defenses to be a little more cautious in impacts which would have beneficial effects on offensive players.

It might not reduce the frequency of concussions on the defense, but it would help the offense avoid concussions. Assuming defenses currently choose the optimal risk/reward of concusions and higher salaries required/tackle and induced fear, there's no reason to assume that the defensive concussion rate would change positively. However, it would drastically reduce the frequency on the offense as they wouldn't be getting hit with hard hats at high speed anymore.

Note: I'm not advocating any specific safety technologies, more that by varying the protection level to reduce the offensive use of protection by decreasing the protection in certain areas, an overall change could be effected that would be seen as positive. I'm also not advocating reduced protection across the board as the "defenseless" player that doesn't have control over the collision type needs everything he can get.