Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

by Will Carroll

Yeah, I missed you guys last week too. B&B took a quick break while I was in Vegas at the Winter Meetings. There's just no way to give this column its due diligence while dealing with the craziness that happens in a normal meetings, let alone a Vegas meetings, so I skipped a week for the first time in the (gasp) four years I've been doing this. But now all the calls, texts, and emails are back in force, and we'll figure out where the injuries are affecting things for your favorite team or your fantasy team. There's plenty of them, so let's get to it:

You all know about the dreaded 370 rule, but Michael Turner might be about to learn. He's on pace for 379 carries right now (and only 7 catches!), meaning that in his first year as a starter, he may end up having a second-season dropoff reminiscent of Heroes. There's not a big sample size, but the fatigue factor is interesting. Can a modern, 24/7/365 athlete really not recover, not only week to week but also year to year? Is the beating that their bodies take so costly that they're literally leaving something behind with every carry, up to a breaking point? You can look at 370 and say it's not perfect. Some backs break down before and maybe Eric Dickerson is just such a physical freak (or did he just avoid big hits?) that it didn't work for him. All we do know is that Turner (and perhaps Mike Mularkey, who's done this before) has to be accounted for by the Falcons. Maybe their dis-use of Jerious Norwood is more understandable if they know they're going to need him next year.

DeAngelo Williams is "a little fuzzy" on what happened in the second half, but he returned to the game. Steven Jackson was knocked out of the game with a hard double-hit (helmet-to-helmet, then helmet-to-turf), but returned late in the game as well. Once again, we're seeing that when it comes to concussions, the NFL still lets game-to-game concerns overrule serious medical issues. The coaches can't be blamed here. Jim Haslett is playing for a job and John Fox is playing for the playoffs, but in both cases, especially Williams, there are adequate backups and not enough reward for the risk that they're taking. Despite the writing I've done on this issue and especially in light of the work Alan Schwarz has done at the New York Times, it's very sad that this is still even a problem, but it is. It's a big one and the NFL can't keep sweeping it under the table.

There's trouble in the locker room, the playoffs are in question, and the owner is questioning whether or not Marion Barber is tough enough to be a Cowboy. There's been question as to why Julius Jones held off Barber for so many years, and maybe there's some Hard Knocks footage lying around where Jerry Jones talks about Barber making fun of his facelift or something. The toe injury was definitely affecting Barber and some think that he was started only as a courtesy, since the two plays he ran were precisely the type of plays that he would have the hardest time with. Whether that's a test or setting him up for failure, I'll let you decide. Barber's practices this week will determine how much he plays, but Tashard Choice will be involved and this has to give us some question about how evenly split the Cowboys' timeshare will be next year with Barber, Choice, and Felix Jones.

The short week factored strongly into why Joseph Addai didn't play against the Lions. Okay, the fact that the Colts were playing the Lions was also a big factor, but sources tell me that the extra days rest before and after are what made the decision for Bill Polian. The shoulder injury is variously described as the aftereffects of a stinger and a mild subluxation as the result of a big hit - what many in the game call "stuffing" the shoulder - really doesn't matter here in the short term, though if it's the former, Addai's history of stingers might become something more down the line. He's very likely to play on Thursday against the Jags, where a win puts the Colts into the playoffs and into the driver's seat in Week 17 where they'll take on the Titans. Some are discussing that the Colts may play to win or lose (or rather, "rest key players") in that game in order to pick their opponent in the wild card round. Those key players are Addai, Bob Sanders, and Jeff Saturday, while Peyton Manning would be pulled at halftime.

Speaking of Bob Sanders, the Colts defense is likely to get him back this week. Sanders' swollen, sore knees play better on grass, so the Thursday game in Jacksonville for the playoff clinch is a perfect place to spot him in. The bigger question is the progress of Gary Brackett, who won't have the Colts' normal benefit of a Week 18 bye week to heal through. His progress from a broken fibula is unclear as yet, but the team is still talking about him being back during the playoffs and will not IR him. Whether or not the Colts play Sanders in Week 17 will depend on their situation, but in all likelihood, the team does not want to see Sanders take on LenDale White without time for him to recover.

Breaking a scapula isn't easy to do, but for Pat Williams, it's ended his regular season and put the playoffs in jeopardy. Without his run stopping abilities, the Vikings have a tougher road to just getting there and putting a return in play. It will heal and tend to heal normally, though this is such an unusual injury that without knowing the specific mechanism, it's hard to say how much stress this will be placed under in normal play. The question is really one of range of motion and whether or not Williams could adjust to the limitations. He can't really be braced or harnessed and remain effective. Adding an element of intrigue is his looming suspension. With the injury, many players would drop it and serve the time that they would miss anyway, but there's a bigger principle here for Williams.

With their playoff position sewed up, the Titans are shutting down Albert Haynesworth (Grade I+ MCL sprain) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) for the final two games. Jeff Fisher says the team is making this move to ensure three more full weeks of rest (assuming that the Titans hold onto their bye), giving them fully healthy key defenders. There's no reason to think Fisher is anything other than correct here and that both should be full speed. There's always some question about taking time off, slowing the momentum, before heading into the playoffs, but I'll leave that question for one of the smart stats guys to play with.

Bumps and Bruises:
How big are the hits in the NFL? Malcom Floyd was hospitalized after a hit collapsed his lung ... Jeff Garcia isn't making progress with his calf and Jon Gruden likes to make early decisions, so Brian Griese could be starting again this week for Tampa ...The Niners will take this to the last second, but it doesn't look as if Frank Gore is making enough progress with his ankle to be back, not this week, but this season ... Brandon Jacobs is "likely" to play, says the New York papers. If he practices, he'll play, but as a timeshare ... Matt Hasselbeck won't play this week and it's likely that the team will shut him down ... James Hardy is done for the season with an ACL tear. He will miss minicamps, but should be ready for training camp ... Gus Frerotte wouldn't start if he could, but he can't. The back still hasn't healed enough ... Laurent Robinson is done for the season ... Contrary to reports, Carson Palmer has not been shut down and the Bengals would still like to see him make an on-field appearance. That's unlikely, but if you don't tell Santa you want a pony ...


20 comments, Last at 26 Dec 2008, 3:38pm

19 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I'd like to second that request. All I've seen in the papers that he has some kind of back injury with nothing about his status going forward.

Kevin Boothe is a very nice guy, but watching his enormous ass shuffling around like a glacier dipped in rubber cement in pass protection was painful. (Note to NFL GMs: Cornellians should be designing stadia, running restaurants or selling paper in central Pennsylvania, not blocking Greg Ellis one-on-one.) Getting McKenzie back might be more important than having Jacobs.

2 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

Barber not tough enough? If Marion Barber's not tough enough to be a Cowboy, then nobody on the Cowboys offense is tough enough, except maybe Whitten. Maybe Barber isn't that durable, but the guy is fierce.

4 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I am starting to be convinced by some analysis I saw on a few other sites recently that the FO analysis isn't all its cracked up to be. It is an incredibly complex issue, and the data don't look that intriguing when you put it all together (RBs with that many carries are probably coming from above average offenses, are personally having career years, have probably logged a whole season of injury free play, opposing teams will have lots and lots of film on them the next year, backs have an extremely short shelf life anyway so often good years will be followed by decline, etc. etc.) There is a lot more there that could be filling in as the reason for the next year's subsequent decline, and I am sure I forgot a few and that people more familiar with the game could even come up with more.

Not saying we shouldn't expect a decline from Turner, but I don't think it is a curse or will even be any more likely to be injury related than if he had carried it only 255 times this year.

10 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I'm not sure what you mean by "all its cracked up to be." My understanding of the "Curse" is that it says that a back who carries it 370 times in a season is likely to decline the following year, and that's it.

It doesn't say that the guy WILL decline, and it doesn't say that the guy will get hurt. In some cases, it's an injury, but in others, it's just a noticable drop in production, which could in theory be caused by some or all of the factors you're naming. The main point of the Curse is that, as a rule-of-thumb based on past examples, the line beween "heavy use" and "overuse" appears to be somewhere around 370.

And obviously, the line is different for everybody. I wouldn't expect Reggie Bush to suffer from the curse of 370, because I can't imagine him ever making it to carry #370 without getting hurt beforehand. His limit might 300. The 370 is just a guide, so if you're a fan of a team whose RB is getting 400 carries one year, you can brace yourself for his likely decline in the very near future.

12 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

you're missing his point, which is that one can reasonably point to any number of factors that can account for the decline of players 'stricken' by the curse of 370. the entire theory is founded on a bedrock of bogus methodology, period.

13 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I have read the original PFP article as well as the on-line counterpoints... and I can see both sides. Yes, the "Curse of 370" suffers from some questionable methodology (most notably the multiple endpoints issue), but would you want your favorite star running back to get 375 carries in a season?

The real issue may not be as poetic and as severe as the Curse terminology implies, but the fact remains that *most* runners who get handed the ball "a lot" will suffer a real physical decline that measurably effects their play in the future.

18 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

The last sentence is exactly what is at contention here and you state it as a brute fact. Stop begging the question and provide some actual argument.

I am not sure it is a fact the suffer physical decline, certainly they are a lot more likely to get hurt than they were the year the ran it 370 times, but that is because only people who don't get hurt get the ball 370 times. You don't hit 370 in 13 games.

I wonder if we could find a curse of X receptions! Where WR with receptions over X (say 117?) tend to decline the next year (except for some receiver Y who is exceptional :P). I am sure you could find some end point it would work for...

If you cannot that might provide some evidence for the the "curse of 370".

6 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

RE: Skeptical of the Curse of 370

Pick up a copy of PFP '05 or '06. That gives the full blown analysis, the website is the cliff notes version. The only exception to the rule is Dickerson.

The Curse of 370 is real, but don't take FO's word for it. Check out when the careers faded for Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, Eddie George, Larry Johnson, Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis and others faded. Very interesting.....

17 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I don't have my PFP 2008 in front of me, but from the site:

"A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or a loss of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson. Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson, and Edgerrin James all blew out their knees. Larry Johnson broke his foot. Earl Campbell and Eddie George went from legendary powerhouses to plodding, replacement-level players. Shaun Alexander broke his foot and became a plodding, replacement-level player. This is what happens when a running back is overworked to the point of having at least 370 carries during the regular season."

or maybe

"The "Curse of 370" was expanded in Pro Football Prospectus 2006 to include seasons with 390 or more carries in the regular season and postseason combined. Research also shows that receptions don't cause a problem, only workload on the ground."

What magic fairy dust gets sprinkled on running backs to allow them an extra 20 in the post-season, and does this (or another) dust protect them from the effects of carries in the pre-season?

"Plenty of running backs get injured without hitting 370 carries in a season, but there is a clear difference. On average, running backs with 300 to 369 carries and no postseason appearance will see their total rushing yardage decline by 15 percent the following year and their yards per carry decline by two percent. The average running back with 370 or more regular-season carries, or 390 including the postseason, will see their rushing yardage decline by 35 percent, and their yards per carry decline by eight percent."



- Without a "p" value, what do these differences in percentage mean.
- The decline in total rushing yardage is meaningless stat - decline due to decreased number of carries (I would estimate around 30% fewer carries)
- Decline in average yds/carry has multiple explanations as well - loss of effectiveness (Curse of 370?), defenses keying on run when RB in question in game, poor OL play (regression in lineman performance = if only someone would invent a stat that mesures line play we could test this), etc.

"Research in Pro Football Prospectus 2008 suggests that overuse in college does not create a problem for top prospects, but also shows that players chosen after the first round rarely have a successful NFL career after a college season over 330 carries."

Apparently, NFL hits are more magical in their ability to create decline.

It is a reasonable hypothesis that high use may be associated with future injury/decline; however, other equally plausible or mitigating explanations exist, and given the multiple flaws in the statistical analysis these cannot be ignored.

Finally, the curse is not being presented "tongue-in-cheek" or with a sideways wink ( Backpedaling has occurred, but "the Curse" is one of the few stats from this site that seems to have caught on. That FO continues to promote the "Curse (Myth?) of 370" questions the notion of this site being devoted to rigid statistical analyis of football. The reality is, that at present, the "Curse" is minimally different than "run-to-win." It is an interesting stat that is fun to throw out there as needed - cliche like. At most, there may be something that happens when running backs carry the ball 370 or so times, and maybe we ought to look a little closer - then again, perhaps it is a curse, because there seems to be a lot of voodoo involved.

7 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

I think sweetness & emmitt handled 370 well. Smith did it multiple times when you throw in the playoffs (over 400 for smith if including playoffs). I like the "curse of 370" idea, but I follow it loosely. Some players are different, so I consider it a guideline not a rule. I also think age at season of 370 is a factor.

8 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

Eric Dickerson is just such a physical freak (or did he just avoid big hits?)

FWIW, Dickerson always made a point of wearing the absolute maximum amount of padding and protection available -- from extra thigh pads to flak jacket like rib protectors to rec specs instead of contacts etc.

On another topic, Santana Moss got knocked out this week, but came right back into the game.

11 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

champ bailey, one of the game's best defensive players, has been out with a groin injury for over two months and he doesn't even get a "bumps and bruises" mention? come on....

14 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

The methodological problem for the curse of the 370 is that if you change it to the curse of 360, the evidence becomes considerably weaker, although still indicative that overuse can lead to decline. This is because a few backs in the 360-369 range were pretty productive the next year. But it seems unlikely the ten extra carries matter that much, so some have accused FO of exaggerating the data.

I'm pretty sure the whole "curse of 370" was meant to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek by the original author, who probably understood exactly how arbitrary that number was. I do think sometimes when it's cited, that playful intent is lost.

16 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008

The first time Emmitt broke 370 (and actually 400 if you include Playoffs and Pro Bowl), his YPC increased the next season. He did have a dropoff after a different 370+ season, but overall he definitely proved that Dickerson is not the only guy to beat the Curse.

20 Re: Black & Blue Report: December 16, 2008


I would agree that Turner is being overutilized by the Falcons and that Norwood is simultaneously being underutilized. However, there are major issues with the whole "Curse of 370" rule that has become a sort of dogma at Football Outsiders. There are multiple factors that contribute to the "dropoff" after a 370+ carry season but I question if getting in the 320-369 range is going to do anything to alter that as well. The simple fact is that A LOT of things are coming together that all are leading up to Turner's huge year:

* A rookie quarterback under center. Admittedly, Matt Ryan is looking like quite the find under center BUT he is a rookie. As such, Atlanta has definitely been a run-first offense this year, which has benefited Ryan immensely. Typically, quarterbacks see a big spike in performance their second year. If this pattern holds true for Ryan, then Turner's numbers are likely to decline, EVEN if the offense as a whole does better. The important thing is the stuff like DVOA and other things you do measure; namely, is he converting the downs he should and providing balance for his quarterback?

* A very healthy offensive line. As a whole, Atlanta has had nowhere near the injury issues other teams have had. Simply looking at their 2007 squad, the Falcons of 2008 are performing notably better through a combo of scheme alteration, SOME personnel adjustment (although rookie Sam Baker has missed most of this year due to injury) but also tremendous overall unit health.

* Poor defenses. Granted, I still believe Atlanta is not as talented as their record says but, thankfully, they've played some very weak teams as well this year.

It is debatable, in my opinion, the actual effect proposed in the 370 hypothesis. Just to REACH 370 carries means a running back is having a combination of factors (tough to reach 370 if you are down by 14 in the fourth quarter, etc.) that lead to that amount of use. As it is above the norm to reach that number, it also means the back is exceptionally healthy as well (see Turner not having missed a game yet). I think the supposed decline seen at 370 is comparable to other carry amounts by backs around the league who have less than 370.

For what it's worth, I do think Atlanta needs to utilize Jerious Norwood a lot more than they have and open the offense up more for Ryan...however, for now, the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" model of pounding Turner at defenses seems to be working well. Let next year come, give Ryan a seam-stretching tight end threat, and watch Turner's numbers decline naturally as the Falcons air it out more.

Just a thought...