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?
19 Nov 2009
by Will Carroll
Another week, another concussion story. Look, I don't want to sound like a broken record here, but again, is it going to take someone dying for some change here? The Brian Westbrook story throws a new wrinkle into the management of post-concussion athletes. He's a talented No. 1 running back on a contending team. After a nasty concussion, the Eagles held him out a week and lost. Did that factor in to his return? We have to wonder now that we hear that Westbrook was not symptom-free when he was cleared to return. Westbrook reportedly had headaches late last week, before going into Week 10. One more hit to the head and Westbrook's season isn't the only thing on the line, it could be a career-ender. Now, Westbrook will see the experts in Pittsburgh and others to determine whether he can come back this year or even at all. All indications right now are that his season is done and that's not just a damned shame, it looks like it was preventable. Worse, public pronouncements from Donovan McNabb pressuring Westbrook return isn't going to make this any easier on anyone. It's this kind of thing -- or this kind of thing that makes this such a tough problem to even get a handle on.
We'll see how the Westbrook saga affects Clinton Portis' return. The Redskins aren't contenders and concussion or not, Ladell Betts has been as effective as Portis when in there. Portis is still having blurry vision and other post-concussion syndromes, so there's almost no chance that he'll be back this week. Sources tell me that Portis' symptoms get worse with activity, so playing football and inevitably taking hits are well down the line. Portis was, I'm told, not wearing a mouthpiece at the time he was hit. I couldn't confirm this from tape and the Redskins declined comment on that issue. If that's the case -- and even if it's not -- I think the NFL needs to think about mouthguard penalties. A simple visual check by the various officials before the snap would work. Once is a warning, second offense is a "send-off" where the team is not penalized, but the player is sent off the field for one play, would send the message. Using more advanced mouthguards would help as well, but since the Maher guard hasn't gotten much uptake in the four years since I first heard of it, I'm assuming there's some reason the players are avoiding it.
Ronnie Brown is done for the season. What was initially thought to be an ankle sprain turned out to be a more serious foot injury. Details will come out soon on the exact nature of the injury, but sources now are conflicted on what it is that ended Brown's season. Sources tell me that it's a broken bone in the foot, the result of being stepped on. That's a very odd injury and usually indicates a fracture of the second, third, or fourth metatarsal. It could involve the Lisfranc joint, but the heavy force usually just snaps the bone. Brown may be headed for surgery, given the decision to IR him, which would mean he'd need a surgical fixation. He should be able to come back from this in time for next season, but he's injury prone and there's not much the Dolphins can do to change that, especially if he doesn't have someone like Ricky Williams to split the carries with. You can see now why Brown and Cadillac Williams shared carries at Auburn. I'll leave it to the real football guys to tell us what that means for the Dolphins, the Wildcat, and Pat White.
People think I'm joking when I say I blame the Curse of 370 for Michael Turner's ankle injury. Yes, it was a traumatic injury, a roll-over hit that was a classic high ankle sprain and that has nothing to do with what Turner did last year or last week. Or does it? It's a reach, admittedly, but let's say that Turner could have been a half-step -- a yard or so -- ahead of where he was. If so, that doesn't happen. Is it too much to think that the fatigue Turner carries from his overuse last season might be costing him a half-step, a tenth of a second, this season? No, and I think that carryover fatigue is the biggest factor for seasonal and multiseasonal fatigue injuries. It's a small, insidious thing, one that's clearly more subtle than one big number, but I think 370 is a nice symbol. As for Turner, he's out this week and as we've seen with high ankle sprains, it usually takes at least a month before the player is 100 percent, even though many -- I'm looking at you, Anquan Boldin -- will try to come back early. This could be the chance Jerious Norwood needs to establish himself as more than just a Football Outsiders favorite, but he's a longshot to play because of his own injuries.
NFL teams lie. That's not a secret or even a surprise, but sometimes that confusion reigns. The Bengals aren't lying about Cedric Benson -- they're calling the injury both a strain and a bruise, allowing two confusing terms to do the obfuscation for them. The two muscles in the leg that move it in or out are the abductor and the adductor. It's easier to read than clearly say, leading to some engaging in the insanely annoying practice of sounding out the words ("ay-bee-duction" and "ay-dee-duction") in some schools of sports medicine. When Benson flipped out of bounds and landed on a conduit for wires (I'm assuming -- not sure what else the conduit could be there for), the bruising is much more like a hip pointer, just lower. Calling this a bruise is more true, though the weakness could have initially mimicked a strain. Benson is likely to play and the fact that Larry Johnson came in as a cheap insurance policy means nothing to reading the seriousness of the injury. It says a bit about how much they trust Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard.
The Colts running game is quietly effective and Joseph Addai's fantasy points show it. Just look at who he's ahead of on the season and you'll see that Bill Polian is right when he says he's happy with how the team is running. Polian also said on his weekly radio show that he was more worried about effectiveness than "balance for balance's sake." Addai was effective, but he was also out for a portion of the game. The story behind that is fascinating: Addai was running for a touchdown when a Pats' player swiped at him, hitting his hand. The hit came hard enough and at the right angle to dislocate two fingers, his index and middle. The medical staff had to take him into the locker room to reduce the middle finger (pop it back in) and he needed a quick painkiller shot to do so. Back in, they taped his fingers together as a splinting and had to wait for the numbness to wear off before they were confident he could feel the ball. So why was Addai out? The Colts fear fumbles more than they fear using their No. 3 running back, Chad Simpson (who's quietly taking over for first round pick Donald Brown).
When Andre Johnson was coughing up blood and was diagnosed with a bruised lung, a doctor I know who is an ER guy told me "That's something we see after a good car crash." Not one Trainer or doctor I spoke with had seen it in football or even hockey. Now, we have a second one in a matter of just weeks. I know few agree with me, but I think the bigger-stronger-faster of the NFL has bodies near their maximum potential and that potential is dangerously close to the breaking point. Hits are so jarring that, while the rib cage stays intact, the internal organs are taking the beating. The physics of this go back to car crashes. If you watch a Mercedes supercar getting smashed, you'll see it crumples like paper in the off-set crash. While it's good that the human body doesn't do this, it's also bad. The organs inside are like the driver and the impact forces have to go somewhere. Let's be realistic and say that the forces aren't going to get lower and the hits aren't going to be restricted. The answer then is better protection. Nike's shown that they're willing to blow up tradition and have some ridiculous looking uniforms, but we're going to need to go past shoulder pads and flak jackets and come up with something more. I'm not sure we're ready for football that looks more like those damned Fox robots, but there's an intermediate step in there somewhere that's focused on safety and it's time someone did something about it.
The hit wasn't dirty, just unfortunate. The play was meaningless, but as Josh Cribbs lay on the field after the Monday night game was over, there was a tangible reminder that every play, every decision has a cost. The big question here is not only how serious the injury is and how much time Cribbs will miss, but what is the injury? While the obvious thought has to be "concussion", Cribbs never lost consciousness and seems to have more of a head/neck injury from the odd angle of impact than anything else. The head being forced back is, once again, a car crash like problem and one that used to be quite the issue. In the 70s and 80s, players regularly had "Cowboy Collars" and other devices that would keep the neck from being overtaxed by a hit, keeping the head upright more, but limiting flexibility. We see these less now because it actually increases some other issues. Cribbs will be watched closely and his pain and function will determine how much time, if any, he misses. As of right now, I'll say he's likely out this week just on risk.
Troy Polamalu's hair still looks great. The knee? Not so much. He suffered another sprain, this time to the PCL, which tells us that the MCL sprain left the knee less stable. It's a classic cascade injury. Could it have been prevented? Probably not. The PCL sprain is minor -- sources say "Grade I, maybe" -- but that the overall stability of the knee is the big concern. It's an injury where holding him out for a week might help keep him healthy into the playoffs. The Steelers have shown they can play without Polamalu, but that they're not as good when he's not flying around. With weak opponents three out of the next four weeks, it could help the Steelers and Polamalu out. The injury-proneness of Polamalu, Bob Sanders, and Ed Reed makes me wonder if there's a balance between the reckless excellence that makes them so valuable and health.
Dwayne Bowe was suspended for a violation of the drug policy and its very instructive how this went down. While the NFL is getting a pass from the Wall Street Journal on its woefully inadequate testing policy, it is showing that players are willing to try things they know are banned, even to do something as simple as cut weight. The drug Bowe was popped for is a simple diuretic. While it's listed under the NFL policy as a "masking agent," it's more often used for cutting weight. This isn't the same drug as was caught in the Starcaps scandal, but it's similar. The difference here is that Bowe knew what he was taking and why. Evidently, Todd Haley has pressured players about weight, even after training camp. The interesting part of this is that while Bowe did not appeal his suspension, he played at least two weeks after being informed. My guess is that the "B" sample was being tested for confirmation, resulting in the delay, but I'm not sure. Bowe made a stupid mistake in using a banned substance, but it gave him no performance gains.
Eli Manning is suffering no symptoms from plantar fasciitis, he says. This means it was a mild case or that it's lingering back there. I'm sure the Giants will keep treating him ... Kyle Orton's ankle is day-to-day, but a simple ankle sprain. Expect him to play, since he's not that mobile to begin with ... I have no idea how a thumb injury would affect blocking but not carrying the ball, but that's what the Cowboys say is going on with Marion Barber ... Who's got the line on what NFL player tries this first? ... Jordan Gross is done for the season with a broken leg (you'll see it reported variously as ankle and leg -- it's semantics) but the running game didn't suffer with him out, as the passing game is where Gross excelled ... Speaking of the run game, the short week isn't going to help Jonathan Stewart, who usually rests his Achilles. It will help with the long week heading into Week 12 ... If you saw the "chop block" that Brady Quinn threw on Terrell Suggs, you know how serious this could be for Suggs. I'm glad Quinn was fined for this one ... Remember that the Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries is now available, in physical or electronic form, at a very reasonable price for a reference guide.
31 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2009, 7:11am by DeltaWhiskey