Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

by Will Carroll

So, I took a couple weeks off. With the fantasy season dying out in Weeks 16-17 and the starters sitting more of a story than injuries, I doubt many of you missed me, but I'm not going to abandon you either. Now that it's playoff season and more people are doing various playoff pools and panicking over their team's pain, I'm back to check in on the injuries that will change the weekend. Instead of player by player, we'll go team by team, with one exception:

Wes Welker

Let's start with the injury that made everyone sit up and say "Maybe resting the starters isn't that bad." Wes Welker tore both his ACL and MCL -- and likely did the full triad -- but we won't know until he has surgery. He'll come back, just like most players do from ACL surgery, but is he the type of player that will come back well or as a Shell-ker? (Sorry, I've been sitting on that one.) It's impossible to say for sure, but Welker is less reliant on cuts than most believe. One NFL official I spoke with talked about how on video analysis, Welker is more about quickness than cuts. "If he gets back his burst, I think he can do the same things he did. He has that little hitch, that tunnel screen, and neither is predicated on a cut so much. He could round that screen off and not lose a thing." The comps here aren't receivers, but quarterbacks. Why? Function. A quarterback is forced to make a quick escape from a collapsing pocket in much the same way that Welker works in a screen. That makes the best comparison Philip Rivers, and his rehab worked out pretty well. The other interesting thing here is his early-season knee problem. Is this related? Was there a previous tearing or even a previous surgery, as some have suggested? It's the Pats, so we may never know, but then again, we got a whole lot of details about Tom Brady's knee last season.

Baltimore Ravens

The big question mark for the Ravens is Ed Reed. While Ray Lewis might still be the scary one, not having Ed Reed bird-dogging Peyton Manning's every eyeball flicker would be a more significant loss. Reed has been dealing with some fairly significant spinal issues all season, but when he plays, he's fine. Let's all hear it for painkillers, huh? For the last few weeks, he's had a hip/groin problem -- one that many are speculating might be the Alex Rodriguez/Kurt Warner-type problem -- but has played and played well despite the pain. Reed is practicing and expected to play. The Ravens do seem a bit concerned about Jared Gaither. He missed Wednesday's workout due to continuing problems with his ankle. Facing a speed rush on Saturday, Gaither's quickness is going to be paramount. The minor problems with Todd Heap (his back, this time) and Derrick Mason (hand) shouldn't come into play, though the Colts know Mason's shoulder is a big issue when he gets hit.

Indianapolis Colts

It would be easier to talk about who isn't hurt for the Colts. The roster and the injury report are basically the same thing for the team, but with two and a half weeks off, did they heal up enough to start a run? Peyton Manning is healthy, so there's that. Keeping him upright is going to fall to Charlie Johnson, who's been fighting through a painful turf toe for much of the last half of the season. His effectiveness is solid at the start of games, but he fades, which indicates that he can go as long as the painkillers hold on. The Colts will use Joseph Addai and a tight end to provide help, especially if the Ravens blitz Manning. Everyone on the offensive side was able to make it through practices, so Manning will have what he needs, including Reggie Wayne and Donald Brown. On the defensive side, things are a bit more questionable. Both Dwight Freeney (foot) and Robert Mathis (shoulder) practiced, but are still feeling the effects of their injuries. They'll both play and no doubt be effective, but the Colts are likely to use a rotation that gets them in more for passing situations. The Colts think Melvin Bullitt and Jerraud Powers will be available, which could be key stopping the Ravens running game. Expect eight or nine in the box with the cornerbacks daring Joe Flacco to find his receivers deep.

San Diego Chargers

Vincent Jackson has had the quietest "breakout" season ever, but its a playoff performance that would get him noticed by people outside of SoCal. Instead, he has an Achilles issue that's been keeping him out of practice and that kept him from going full-on for a couple weeks. He's tall and makes extensive use of his jumping ability, so this could prove to be a major liability. This is not like Randy Moss or Antonio Gates, who use their size to maintain status as a red zone target. While Jackson is big enough to do so, scouts say he doesn't "play tall" and would be severely limited if his jumps are reduced. The only listed injury for the Chargers is punter Mike Scifres, who is expected to play without limitation.

New York Jets

The only major injury for the Jets is Thomas Jones. His knee has been an issue over the last half of the season, with Wednesday a normal off-day for him. That makes it tough to read, but there's no indication that this is any different than any other week, though you should be sure he practices before using him. The Jets have shown that they understand how to best use Jones despite the issue. On the defensive side, Shaun Ellis is still feeling that bruised knee and won't be full-go, but will go. The defense is already using a rotation to keep up the high work rate, so this should be a minor issue. I do want to discuss Mark Sanchez briefly, since his knee has not been a problem since his injury. At the time, I thought that a knee sprain would mean the end of his season, largely because I believed the Jets would be overprotective of "The Sanchize." I really read that wrong, but the medical staff deserves a lot of credit for how they've managed him after that situation.

Arizona Cardinals

Anquan Boldin was out of the first-round game and his participation this weekend is also up in the air. The lingering high ankle sprain and the cascading knee injury have kept Boldin out, but the Cardinals had been in coast mode until last week's shootout with Green Bay. Now they might need everything they can get in what could be another high-scoring game. Boldin's status will come down to Thursday's practice. If he can go, he'll play. If not, I'm sure Boldin will be doing everything he can to convince the coaching staff that he's ready, right up until kickoff. Ken Whisenhunt has played the "Dungy Rule" -- no practice, no play -- for most of the season, but in the playoffs, with such a tough matchup, he might be a bit more flexible. With both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Bryant McFadden very much in question for the game (though I expect both to play) as well as a lot of soreness with players like Will Davis from last weekend's windsprint of a game, the defense is not up to par. This shows just how important that bye week can be.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have been playing the Shanahan Shell Game all season with their running backs, so the concern over Pierre Thomas and his ribs is a bit overblown. Yes, he's sore, but he should be able to play. The bigger question is whether he will be the feature back or will they split the carries out to Mike Bell and Reggie Bush more. The latter seems to be the case, at least this week. That's never been a real problem for Drew Brees. A bigger issue is Malcolm Jenkins, who is having problems with a strained hamstring. The Saints cornerback will have to adjust or the Saints might be giving Kurt Warner something to target. How the Saints deal with this situation will go hand in hand with Anquan Boldin's availability, so this is going to be a real pivot point for a game that's more evenly matched than most think.

Minnesota Vikings

Of all the teams playing this weekend, the Vikings are the toughest to read right now. Despite a week off, several key players are still limited and getting a read on what they're going to do is nearly impossible. Part of the issue is that no one seems to be quite sure who has final say. Yes, Brad Childress' authority has been undermined in a lot of ways this season. On the offensive side, Steve Hutchinson is having issues with his shoulder, which may force some changes to both the running and passing schemes, while Visanthe Shiancoe, who has emerged as Brett Favre's favorite release valve, is still not over the quad strain that he played through the last couple weeks of the season. On defense, Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield are expected to play, but both will be used situationally, giving Jason Garrett a challenge.

Dallas Cowboys

There are two key injuries for the Cowboys this week. Marion Barber did not practice Wednesday, which was part of the treatment plan for his bursitis. I'm told that Barber's bursa sac has not burst, as some had reported, which removes the threat of infection. Remember, this is the type of injury that nearly derailed Peyton Manning early last season. The Cowboys have adjusted, using a three-man rotation similar to what the Saints use, and getting effective play out of their backs down the stretch. Barber may not put up big numbers, but I expect him to be a major portion of that rotation. On the defensive side, DeMarcus Ware has played through more injuries than I can count and played darned well. He's got a painful back injury, but it's no more likely to keep him out than the broken foot, broken wrist, or nearly devastating neck strain he had this season.


20 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2010, 12:39pm

4 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

Why? They're healthier now than in November.... That game had limited Freeney and Mathis (zero stats and Freeney was out the next week), no Hayden at CB, no Donald Brown.... Charlie johnson was plaing weekly with his turf toe--he's taken the past few weeks off, so it shouldn't be as bad, even if it's not 100%. Having Suggs in the lineup this time for the Ravens is a big addition, of course.

I forget which week the Colts' injury list was 29 players long (Wk 15 for Jax or Wk 16 for NYJ or both) but when the starters played those games they did just fine.

What I want to know about is Joe Flacco? Is it just assumed that he'll be so little of the offense that what I am hearing about his injury is meaningless anyway? That seems short-sighted, as he will likely be called on at some point to produce. His biggest completion last week, a 3rd down conversion, was about 12 feet high. I heard right hip pointer that has continued to get worse the past month--his last two games, both must-win games--he's averaged under 100 YPG. It affects his planting and throwing, I understand, but haven't heard about mobility issues. With Freeney and Mathis and the new blitzing in Indy, that could be an issue... dontcha think?

15 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

Yes, if nothing else, a missed FG. Then again 5/6 or 83.3% is roughly league-wide career average, so... having your opponent miss one of every six is expected. Just not so close.

But the Colts also overcame unlucky or unfortunate miscues, such as 2 INTs and a fumble on the 3 yard line. Ravens had their lowest penalty game of the season that week--2 for 20, so it's not like the refs' laundry-fest gave the game to Indy. Apply a normal penalty game for them and the outcome may have been quite different.

Against the Colts in Week 11, the Ravens averaged 3.2 YPC on 30 rushes. That's a decent sample size for luck to be a factor. One huge run could have been "luck" or one great stop for a loss. But over 30 rushes.... to me it looks like one team outplayed the other. And again last week against the Pats, the Ravens had 234 yards on 52 carries, but if you remove Rice's 83 yarder to start the game (it was flukey as you'll see), they averaged 2.96 a carry--not exactly the dominant run game the media is portraying. Say the Ravens get "lucky" in the same game with a 35 yard run instead of 87 and all the Pats fans are pulling out their hair, then the rest of the game goes as it did in terms of the run game. They'd probably be saying "but we stopped them and held them to 3.6 a carry! How did we lose?" The answer to that question, TOs, is beyond the scope of your statement and my response.

Despite a 240 yard rushing performance, they struggled to put Oakland away two weeks ago. They needed a 4th qtr TD drive of 22 whole yards (thanks to an INT of Russell--like who DOESN'T intercept him!) to seal the deal. Normally if you see a team run for 240 yards, you assume a pretty comfortable win, especialy over a 5-win team with no offense.

I think in a lot of ways, it's the Ravens who are lucky and playing with house money right now. They are dangerous, no doubt about it. But if luck is even this week, I don't see them winning.

Sorry, this is probably the wrong forum for this thesis of mine.

18 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

Granted I'm biased as a Ravens fan, but that 2.96 yard per carry looks better when you realize that the Patriots knew the Ravens were going to run and the Ravens ran anyway. In a more balanced game one would assume a less focused run stopping defense. That does leave the big question of whether Flacco is healthy enough to handle a more balanced game.

14 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

This, from ESPN's John Clayton on Flacco--sounds grosser than I expected.

"Flacco has shown he can play with the top quarterbacks in the league, but he's ailing. His sore hip caused fluid to drain into a quad muscle, limiting his mobility. It takes him a couple of quarters to loosen up. His throws tend to sail high. Last week he had only four completions against the Patriots, including two short screens."

2 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

What does Childress' authority have to do with getting a read on the Vikings' injuries? Do you think that Childress, if his authority had not been undermined (leaving aside for now any debate about the degree to which that has happened), would be giving any insight on the matter? Have you heard the man speak publicly? He sounds like a Fed Chairman in the depths of an ether binge.

10 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

It has to do with adjustments in the game plan. If we know how one team adjusts for a certain injury by doing a certain thing (ie, if Hutchinson is hurt, they'll run off tackle more), we can understand how that will affect the game. The injury itself isnt informed by this.

5 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

Why does it seem as if the Cowboys are consistently the healthiest team in the league every year?

They must have some super high tech medical equipment / training equipment.

7 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

They have (from what I've heard) the best training staff in the league. That's what having an owner like Jerry can get you when there's no salary cap on staff members within the organization. I've heard multiple stories from various free agent acquisitions saying that they notice a distinct difference between the training program in Dallas compared to the one they came from. It's not by accident, and I never hear any of our players undergoing special therapies.

I'm not really sure how they do it, but the trainers definitely know how to be as preventative as possible with injuries.

8 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

As a Cowboys fan, I hope this is true, but it's remarkable how little bang for their buck owners can end up with when it comes to medical staff. Take the Lakers for example, big money team of course... and yet every little injury turns into a season-ender. Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza, and even Karl Malone (who seemed unbreakable for 20 years and was still in top shape in 2004) have seen small injuries derail entire seasons.

In Dallas, there are 3 people on our team whose losses would be reported as "devastating" even more than any other. One is Tony Romo, whose back will probably give out before he's 32 unfortunately (thanks for leaving him in to take shots week before last, Wade), but has been alright this year. The others are Ware and Witten, who simply refuse to sit down and play through injuries that would derail almost anyone else's season (not to sound like a homer, check the record). Man, I remember when people said we were fools for taking Ware over Merriman...

9 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

How is Malcolm Jenkins's injury going to give Kurt Warner something to target? When Greer and Porter start (which they will do), Jenkins plays special teams. He was mediocre filling in as a starting CB when those two were injured, but he did very well earlier in the season in ST coverage, one of the few Saints ST bright spots besides Thomas Morstead.

Anyway, not to suggest that a player with a tweaked hamstring will dominate in any aspect of the game, but it seems like the return of Greer and Porter will dampen Jenkins's liability.

17 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

No mention at all of Flacco's injured right leg? The team is downplaying it but he was limping off the field pretty badly after the win on Sunday. Given that the Ravens are going to need more than 34 yards passing to win this week I'd equate Flacco's health status as just as important as Jared Gaither's.

20 Re: Black and Blue Report: January 14, 2010

The Chargers are far healthier than they were 3 weeks ago. Healthier than they have been since week 1. I read that no fewer than 6 players were on an injury report since week 1 -- until now.

3 weeks ago, Merriman, Phillips, Weddle, a few D lineman and a few backup LB's were all injured and limited to part time play at best.

Merriman is still not 100%, having 3 weeks of rest for Plantar Fascitis, and claiming he feels better than he has "in the last 6 or 7 weeks". That is an injury that lingers though, and will limit him until next season. But the overall condition of the defense is the best its been all season health wise, especially in the front 7.