Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
16 Sep 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.
25 comments, Last at 18 Sep 2008, 5:12am by Boston Dan