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