Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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Notre Dame and Baylor entered the one-loss group in what is shaping up to be an extremely tight race for playoff consideration.

16 Sep 2008

Black & Blue Report: September 16, 2008

by Will Carroll

The phrase used to be that you never lost your job buying IBM. With this week's financial turmoil, I'm not sure what the phrase is any more, but in football, the steady performers ... aren't. LaDainian Tomlinson was the first overall pick in almost every league ... and he's scored one-eighth of the points that Darren Sproles has so far. Steven Jackson? Not so much. I'm sure you all drafted Julius Jones and Ahmad Bradshaw pretty high ... no? Good, because I would have called you a liar if you'd said you did.

The fact is that with each of these, injuries played a part in why they're on the field scoring points or are off it, not scoring points. (If you're a purist, pretend I said "helping their teams win games.") Ryan Longwell has 18 points, the same as Adrian Peterson, who was the first pick in every league that didn't take Tomlinson. (Well, except for one I play in, where Peyton Manning was taken in a homer pick.)

Pigskin purist or fantasy geek, you're all starting at the scoresheet wondering what happened. Simple: Healthy teams are in better position to win. If Matt Cassell is good enough to win with a great offense or if Peyton Manning just wills a win somehow, then we tip our cap and move on, but we play the probabilities here where there are no certainties. Let's get to it:

Could we have seen this collapse coming? For Colts fans, after two weeks of terrible football, the panic is setting in, but there's no solid explanation found among the usual suspects. Still, I think one number tells the story: 32. That's the rank that they came in when you look at the most-injured teams over the last three years. That they could play through that level of lost time speaks to the ability of their skill players. As the money flowed up to those players, the depth started to thin out, even for a team that masterfully works the undrafted free agent and waiver market. One insider wondered if the team's struggles on special teams tell us anything. "It's about the depth," he said, "and if you don't have guys who can cover a kick, can you count on them to be real players?" The injuries continue to stack up on the Colts, especially on the offensive line. After Tony Ugoh left with a groin strain, the line schemes were changed, as was the play-calling, but there's worry that they'll be without most of the starters against the Jaguars. The fact that the Colts won and that the offense put up superficially good stats doesn't keep everyone from noticing that this team has weaknesses, and that if they can't stem an injury tide that's washed over them for four seasons, their playoff hopes will be washed away by it.

I guess we shouldn't freak out about LaDainian Tomlinson's toe. At least, that's what he said, before he ended up on the sidelines of another big game for the Chargers. Turf toe -- and that's what it is -- lingers. Before halftime came, Tomlinson was seen on the sidelines with ice on his foot, speaking with Antonio Gates. I'm sure they were comparing notes. Tomlinson did return to the game, but came out quickly. My guess is they tried some kind of bracing or taping at halftime and tested it, only to find that he wasn't comfortable enough to be more effective than Darren Sproles. Sure, Tomlinson says the injury is no worse than last week, but given his results against Denver, can we trust him for next week? I'll say it again: Turf toe lingers. Tomlinson will need rest, treatment, and most importantly, time. A week off would probably be the best thing, allowing the toe to heal and for the medical staff to get a handle on the situation. Otherwise, we'll be talking about this for a long time.

The Jags already have a must-win game and a must-find-help offensive line. I said going into last week that the lack of an interior push would hurt David Garrard and Fred Taylor more than it would Maurice Jones-Drew. That held up, but Jones-Drew's ankle didn't. He sprained his ankle, but stayed in the game, though reports say that it was significantly swollen by the time the press got into the locker room. MJD's biggest weapon is his mobility, so we'll need to keep a close eye on it as the Jags move into practice this week in preparation for the Colts. While the touches might gravitate back to Taylor in a normal situation, it's hard to say how the decimated line will impact the game plan.

Some players just can't stay healthy. It doesn't make them bad people or bad players, just something that has to be accounted for. Laurence Maroney is one of those players. He missed much of last season dealing with a shoulder injury, so it certainly caught everyone's attention when he left Sunday's game with a similar problem. Like Tomlinson, he was able to return briefly, but the presence of healthier, more effective backs is a bigger problem for Maroney, who simply hasn't been healthy enough to establish himself as a feature back. With Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and LaMont Jordan around and a bigger focus on power running, Maroney might still be the most talented back on the team, but he might not be the best fit right now. Look to see if Maroney is getting first-team snaps in practice this week, but realize that even if he does, he's in a big timeshare.

In today's NFL, I hate saying anyone went down like they'd been shot, but that's what it looked like for Justin Fargas. The groin strain was sudden and obviously painful, but that doesn't always mean that it's significant. Early word is that he's "very sore" and that makes him very unlikely to get significant playing time, if any. The downside here is that Darren McFadden got the opportunity to show what he can do. Granted, doing it against Kansas City isn't exactly going to give him a big DVOA boost, but it was still an impressive performance that's going to give Lane Kiffin (or whoever) more reason to give McFadden more touches. Of course, more workload left McFadden a bit hobbled, leaving the game with turf toe. If you don't think that's bad, go back up and read the Tomlinson section and his stats for this week. McFadden's toe is said to not be serious, but again, I'll refer you back to the Tomlinson situation. If McFadden isn't 100 percent and Fargas is out as expected, that would open the door for Michael Bush, who's not a bad waiver wire pickup this week if early practice reports have McFadden limited.

Jason Witten had a nice game, playing a big part in the Cowboys comeback win after Terrell Owens disappeared in the second half. His seven catches included the game changer, but he did it all -- including taking big hits -- with a separated shoulder. It took a pair of injections to get him back in the game, but sources tell me that it was a pretty bad separation, nearly classifying it as a dislocation. Witten's response to the injury will be key, and the Cowboys' medical staff will work hard to keep the shoulder functional. There is little question that this will linger, but also little question that Witten will play through it. He won't need a harness, but he'll likely need some form of protection. This might open the door a bit for stud rookie Martellus "High and Tight" Bennett, but Witten will remain option two in Tony Romo's book.

At 36, even a small change can throw things off. It's hard to tell exactly where Joey Galloway injured his foot, but his lingering groin strain might be involved. One observer says that there was a noticeable limp at times, especially early in the game. While foot and ankle injuries are often traumatic, the result of a bad step or just bad luck, the idea that Galloway fatigued and changed his gait certainly has to be considered. Galloway did show good acceleration and speed. Any sort of foot or leg problem that slows him is going to tear into his value and that of whoever is throwing the ball. It also could impact Earnest Graham, allowing the defense to creep closer to the line. There's been no information from the Bucs on Galloway, so we'll have to watch to see how they list him on the OIR. I would not be surprised to see him listed quickly as "out."

The downside of writing in several places is that it's tougher to go back and point to things. Luckily, Google Docs helps. On Sunday morning in the Med Check, I said "Eddie Royal was just banged up after a big first game, but note this, all you who picked him up: He's not a big guy and might not take the hits well." While he had a nice game against San Diego and some important catches, you might have noticed him laying on the turf after taking a big hit on the two-point conversion. He came off the field under his own power, but while he's putting up numbers now, those hits are going to take their toll. Jay Cutler loves that the little guy will go up and make those catches, but he's going to have to not lead him into hits if he doesn't want to have to go to the sideline to see him.

As I was making my calls around last week for the Med Check, talk always seemed to come back to Tom Brady. One insider brought up Carson Palmer, not because of the easy comparison, but because Palmer's struggled since returning from his ACL injury. He wondered about the subtle changes that the surgery makes, both physical and mental, and how they might affect Brady's return to a high level -- a very high level indeed. As for Palmer, he's taking a beating in the pocket and sprained his ankle on Sunday, but stayed in the game. It shouldn't affect him by next Sunday, though with the line play and the inability of his wide receivers to get separation, a guy who simply can't scramble well is going to pay a physical toll.

Bumps and Bruises

Michael Turner has a very mild ankle sprain and will continue to get the majority of touches ... Devin Hester has a rib injury, though some are speculating that it's a cartilage injury along the lines of Marion Barber. He's very questionable for this week ... Jeff Garcia continues to insist his ankle is sore, but playable. We'll see where Jon Gruden slots him in practice ... Sidney Rice has a moderate sprain of his PCL, but he'll try to play with a brace ... How bad is it for the Seahawks wide receivers? Seneca Wallace injured his calf in warmups and couldn't go, forcing them to take a "significant chunk of the game plan" out. Wallace will miss a month. Losing Logan Payne didn't help either, but at least he tore his MCL in the game. Payne's done for the year ... Early word is that Dallas Clark will not be ready for Week 3, but that no decision has been made on him or on Jeff Saturday ... Ben Utecht got crushed on a crossing pattern by former teammate David Thornton. He left with a sternum injury and could miss time ... The Chiefs are saying it's a neck, not a head injury, that put Damon Huard on the sidelines. After their experience with Trent Green, I hope this isn't sleight of hand ... Robaire Smith is done for the season with a nearly complete Achilles tear.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 16 Sep 2008

25 comments, Last at 18 Sep 2008, 5:12am by Boston Dan

Comments

12
by shake n bake :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 5:06pm

If anything the panic has decreased (as least until we know the extent of Ugoh and Bob Sanders' injuries) for Colts fans, because of the win. The Colts can win some games with the current lineup, while they wait for the injured players to return. The Colts, barring disaster, will get healthier, making them much much better. I'm not worried yet and I think my attitude is shared by many and rubbing off on lots of the rest.

That the Colts have won 14, 12 and 13 games including a superbowl title while being the most injured team in that span disproves the thought that the Colts have put too much money into their stars at the expense of depth. Their depth has been tested more than any team in the league and they excelled.

1
by JasonK :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:01pm

FYI: I don't think that the banner at the top of the screen is supposed to literally read "Black and Blue Report Banner"

13
by snelgy (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 5:10pm

JasonK: I'm assuming that the banner read that because of a browser interpretation. Update your browser.

2
by Bobman :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:20pm

RE: Brady's knee and comparing other QBs: So what happened to cause Daunte Culpepper's career nosedive--was it the injury? Lack of Moss? Did he rely more on his mobility than Palmer and Brady, and therefore lost more of his game to the injury? I hope Palmer and Brady come back full-strength; Manning and Ben R need somebody to compete with....

8
by nojo :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:32pm

It wasn't the injury. He was having a horrible season before he got injured. I'd say it's 30% lack of Moss, 70% lack of offensive line (amazing what you can do when you have 7 seconds to throw the ball). I don't think that he's a good comparison to Palmer or Brady.

3
by Bobman :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:21pm

JasonK f-ing funny pick-up!

4
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:47pm

Its amazing Brian Westbrook is not on the injury report after last nights game. It seemed like the Cowboys were trying to twist his head off every touch. He was facemasked at least four times. The refs should've made some ejections, because clearly the flags were not sending the message.

This seems like an inordinately high number of injuries for only week 2.

11
by duck (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:56pm

Yeah, and there's still people talking about an 18 game regular season.

5
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 3:59pm

"That the Colts have won 14, 12 and 13 games including a superbowl title while being the most injured team in that span disproves the thought that the Colts have put too much money into their stars at the expense of depth."

No it doesn't. It just polarizes things. Injuries to non-superstars are irrelevant. Injuries to superstars can be critical. Until recently (freeney/harrison last year), the colts haven't really had any big-cap players get hurt.

14
by Purds :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 5:13pm

Rich, you're right in part, but I would argue a lot of teams would love to have had the success of the Colts in the past three years, even with the polarized payscale and injuries. Let's face it, which would you rather have?

14 wins
12 wins + Super Bowl win
13 wins

OR

10 wins
12 wins
16 wins + Super Bowl loss

And the right answer, for almost every fan out there? Either one!

15
by shake n bake :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 5:15pm

Right because every other team in the league can lose multiple elite players and it won't knock them down a peg.

They won 13 without Marvin and 12 without Bob Sanders. They spent big money on Corey Simon and he did little in 2005 and jack in 2006, but they were able still win 12+ games both years. Then they lost his big money replacement the next year, Anthony McFarland and they still won 13 games.

6
by bowman :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:00pm

Does #32 on a list of most-injured team mean that the Colts were the least-injured team? Is this based on people on IR, games missed by starters, or some other measure?

7
by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:24pm

He was saying that the Colts have been, up until recently, the least injured team in football. Let's take a look!

Offense:
Lilja
Saturday
Pollak
Ugoh
Clark
Santi
Tamme
Harrison
Manning
Addai

Defense:
Freeney
Sanders
Hagler
Rushing

Our All-Pro Center and three starting O-linemen, all the tight ends, The Franchise, our #1 RB, and our HoF wide receiver.

On defense, we have our All-Pro defensive end and reigning DPoY strong safety.

The Colts are banged up, that's for sure. That they gutted out an ugly win against a Vikings team playing not to lose doesn't say much. They've gotta make up lost ground, pound Jacksonville, and hope the Titans lose.

16
by shake n bake :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 5:32pm

No, from the adjusted games lost essay in PFP 08, the Colts have been the most injured team over the last 3 years and were the most by far last year.

18
by buzz (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 9:16pm

Yea I think you have it backwards. Over the past 3 years the colts have been by far the MOST injured team. If you read the article in te book they point out that this is based on games missed, listed of questionable, etc. These are then weighted toward how good the players are. So the colts have missed the most "valuable playing time" of all teams in the past 3 years.

22
by Will Carroll :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 9:44am

Umm no. I take it you haven't read the essay in this year's PFP. The Colts are BY FAR the worst team (ie, most injuries) in the league when it comes to health. Bill Barnwell's work on games lost is groundbreaking and predictive. The Colts are perilously close to 'death spiral' levels.

24
by Diane (not verified) :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 12:18pm

"death spiral" ...

great ... now I have visions of the Colts in ice skating costumes ...

10
by BucNasty :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:40pm

Black and Blue Report

So wait, this isn't an article about Vince Young?

9
by BadgerT1000 :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:34pm

Surprised that Charles Woodson's broken toe doesn't warrant a mention. Just because Woodson got a shot before the game and then played an awesome fourth quarter doesn't change the fact that he is suffering from a pretty painful condition.

Scott Wells lingering "trunk" issues could also use some explanation. The Pack keeps saying he should be back soon but who knows?

17
by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 8:07pm

Will,

Do you have any insights into Roethlisberger's shoulder? Any chance of making the injury worse by playing with it?

20
by Will Carroll :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 9:40am

No, I think they've got a pretty good handle on the sprain, though I'm enjoying Tomlin's semantical ramblings.

19
by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 8:49am

I think this column would be most helpful with a Friday publishing schedule...or at least a Friday update. Telling me on Tuesday that Witten's probably going to play on Sunday isn't nearly as useful as getting a prognosis as we get closer to gametime.

Don't mean to criticize, this is one of my favorite features on FO.

21
by Will Carroll :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 9:41am

I do publish other columns, just not here. I do an update on Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning at SI.com. I'll try to learn how to set up links to those here on XP, but normally one of the guys will drop a link in.

25
by Boston Dan :: Thu, 09/18/2008 - 5:12am

Will Carroll's work on SI.com can be found on this list of columns and blogs.

No love in the form of archives for Will over there? That is a shame.

23
by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 10:21am

I guess I'll add SI to my list of required reading on Sunday mornings. Thanks for the info.