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.
09 Sep 2008
by Will Carroll
Who says you can't come home again? It's phenomenal to be back at Football Outsiders, where all this started for me. It began as a favor and ended up a cottage industry, but with three years experience, this column is better than ever and frankly, more needed than ever. The sheer amount and value of injuries in the NFL is something that is barely acknowledged, until it happens to your team. In the seven years I've written about baseball injuries, I've seen fewer and fewer people accepting that it's "just part of the game." In the NFL, it's more a part of the game, but there is far more that needs to be done. I'll keep watching and telling you what's going on by talking to the right people in the game, in the doctors' offices, in the training rooms, and from the press box so that you get the best information. That's what we do here and like I said, I'm glad to be back. Let's get to it:
When I initially saw the hit on Tom Brady, my first thought was "that could be worse." I quickly learned the danger of judging anything from one angle, one look, and from a distance. I didn't hear (or see) Brady's scream. The initial angle I saw was the high end zone corner shot that made it appear that Bernard Pollard had hit Brady's knee head on, pushing it back. The sideline angle that I didn't see until the pregame of the Sunday Night game gave a much different story and reminded me why it's so dangerous to make snap judgments. The hit came from the outside of the knee. Brady's knee caved in medially and then twisted. When you watch the play and compare it to Wheeless' notes on ACL tears, you'll see why I didn't initially believe that the ACL was at risk. Moreover, it didn't appear that Brady's foot was planted or "locked in" by his cleats when the hit occurred. As everyone in the free world knows, Brady is having imaging done today, though manual tests indicate at least an ACL tear. There's no question that Brady will be ready to return next year, but we don't know if there's any associated damage yet -- strains to the MCL or PCL, tears in the meniscus -- and those go a long way in determining how a player returns. Given the time, Brady's work ethic, and his style of play, I don't anticipate any problems as he returns. The move to place him on the IR stops the talk of an in-season return. I do think this is a chance for Bill Belichick to prove what kind of coach he is. A winning record will get him Coach of the Year.
If a quarterback falls and no one notices, is his MCL still sprained? It's no koan, it's the reality for Vince Young. While everyone was watching Tom Brady, few noticed that Young, a mobile quarterback who relies much more on his legs than Brady, also had a significant knee injury. The sprain is said to keep him out between two and four weeks, but sources tell me that Young's work ethic is going to be tested and that "no one thinks he'll work hard enough to be back at the low end" according to one source. Another thinks that Young will actually be tested more on his return, saying that Young without his mobility is "like cheerleaders in a parka. They're not worthless, but they're not nearly as good." I'm watching to see if Young can adjust to a knee brace.
Speaking of braces, I was watching Monday Night Football with Aaron Schatz and the subject of Peyton Manning came up. I mentioned that Manning was wearing a large brace over his left knee. This isn't unusual, but usually they are worn to provide stability. Manning wore his for protection. I doubt he was wearing it in response to Brady's injury, but the fact is that these prophylactic braces aren't high tech. That link (you might notice when it references Dan Pastorini) is from 1981. Why aren't every quarterback and lineman wearing these? I honestly don't know. Manning played well on the repaired knee, but reports are that he had "moderate" swelling and soreness after the game. The turf in Lucas Oil is "puffy" and seemed to have some traction issues in its season debut. It's not a big issue that Manning is having swelling, just that he's able to return by Sunday or preferably much earlier. It's a bigger issue if Jeff Saturday is back since much of Manning's problems was the play of the interior line. There are some rumblings here in Indy that Saturday could be back at practice later this week. Saturday would be risking the knee to come back so quickly after an MCL sprain, but there's a degree of panic in the Colts that is at least pushing Saturday to test it.
Those are not all the problems the Colts are having. Dallas Clark had images taken on his knee. While he returned to the sidelines and was walking comfortably, that's not a good indication that all is well. Clark is a bit injury-prone, but also a quick healer, so it equals out somewhat. There's really no way of knowing how serious this is until the results come back, but even then, we can't be sure. Remember in 2006, Clark was diagnosed with torn ligaments, but a second imaging showed that it wasn't nearly as bad as originally indicated and he came back for the playoff push. The Colts don't have much depth at tight end and tend to use two, especially with the blitzes they're facing, so losing Clark for any period of time hurts their offense in ways beyond just his absence. The Colts are also waiting to see how Joseph Addai responds after a "head injury." No, they won't call it a concussion, but Addai took a hard hit to the head and didn't return. He's expected to be back, but as we all know by now, you simply can't predict how "head injuries" will respond. All these injuries, plus a run defense that had a hard time against Matt Forte, now head up to Minnesota to take on Adrian Peterson with both teams trying to avoid an 0-2 start.
Are we still on quarterbacks? Yes, another one went down. Jeff Garcia, the very definition of mobile QB (non-prison model), suffered an ankle sprain during Sunday's game. No one seems really clear on when this happened, since he stayed mobile and showed no distress during the game. Sometimes, just keeping it warm and loose is enough to play through something, while stopping allows the swelling to come in and the stiffness just behind that. That's the best explanation I have. Early indications are that Garcia's ankle is sore and swollen, and he's going to be limited this week. None of my sources would make a better guess than "questionable" for his chances of starting Week 2 against Atlanta.
It's nice of LaDainian Tomlinson to tell everyone not to "freak out." A little turf toe -- actually, this is more of an enforced hyperextension caused my someone landing on his foot rather than the strict definition of a toe "sticking" on push off -- never killed anybody, but it did kill some fantasy seasons. Tomlinson's pain tolerance has been questioned and that could come into play here. Not that he won't play through it, but after the psychic hits he took during last year's playoffs, he might be a bit more inclined to try and play through pain this season to prove himself. Of course, the result is what we're after and if he's willing to play through a little pain to do so, so be it. The issue from turf toe will be acceleration and I'll let you decide how important it is for Tomlinson's style to have quick starts. He's a must-start, even with this, but I'll be watching practice reports to see how it's affecting him.
The downside of a power running style is all the hits, or as Dire Straits sang sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug. Marion Barber is much more often the windshield of the NFL, but one good shot is all it took to bug him. Barber strained the intracostal cartilage, the stuff between his ribs, so it only hurts when he breathes, moves, or gets hit. He'll need "several" injections to play Sunday, but he is expected to play. I'm expecting him to get a few less carries, meaning Felix Jones is a good play again this week.
If you were following along from Thursday to Sunday, you watched the Ravens backpedaling, going from "Oh sure, Willis McGahee will start, but split the carries" to "we think he'll play." By game-time, even the playing was in question as the Ravens runner just didn't get to the point he needed to be physically able to play effectively. He was active, but never touched the ball, making some wonder if this was an attempt at trickery by John Harbaugh. That remains to be seen, but McGahee was listed as probable and does get "credit" for playing. He's expected to have a real role this week, though it's likely to be the timeshare we thought we'd see at this time last week rather than his normal feature role. They'll be facing a decent front seven in Houston and have the late game, making it tougher to swap him out in most leagues.
And then there were none. Nate Burleson tore his ACL and is out for the season, leaving Matt Hasselbeck with almost no real targets. Deion Branch is still a ways off and Bobby Engram won't be back until October, leaving guys like Logan Payne and Jordan Kent as targets. Worse, Mo Morris is out with his own sprained knee, though his won't require surgery. Morris is expected to miss a couple weeks, leaving the carries to Julius Jones. I don't think I need to explain to this audience how bad this is. Combine this with the back problems Matt Hasselbeck is having and the hits he took (five sacks, nine QB hits) and you can see why Seattle has some big issues for Mike Holmgren to address. One source who watched the game this week live said "they might be better with Seneca Wallace right now. He's not a better player, but he's a better playmaker given the options."
Brodie Croyle was even overshadowed when he got injured. A separated shoulder will keep him out at least three weeks, longer if Damon Huard can make something happen with a woeful KC offense ... Drew Bennett is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Official word is a month, but that's a best-case scenario, especially playing on turf ... Jamal Lewis looked pretty solid, though his hamstring was sore after the Week 1 game. His recovery is going to be key to the Browns offense ... It looks like the Texans are losing patience with the oft-injured Ahman Green. He's likely to be inactive this week after spraining his ankle and could be headed out ... He's a kicker! But Mike Nugent will miss a week with a deep thigh bruise, forcing the Jets to sign Jay Feely ... Late word from the last game of Week 1 has Darren McFadden leaving with an apparent shoulder injury. There are no updates at deadline, so watch for news.
53 comments, Last at 13 Sep 2008, 11:18pm by Purds