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 ...