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16 Nov 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 11

By Will Carroll

Watching football more closely this year shows me why this column is here. Time after time, I hear announcers and analysts make simple, silly errors when discussing injuries. Sometimes it's simply the pressure of the medium – their job is tough – and sometimes it's not doing their homework. Injuries, as we well know, are a big part of the game and sometimes, they decide the game. A sideline reporter who shall remain nameless was in position to discuss a player that had left the game due to injury and made the error of confusing a sprain and a strain. Yes, they sound alike, but it's also one quick way to tell whether someone knows what they're talking about or is just parroting what they're told. Remember, dear readers, you sprain ligaments and strain muscles. Let's not make that mistake as we get to it:

Men hate the cringe. TV producers all have to show it, slowly and agonizingly. It's the face that players make, lying on the ground and clutching their groin. We've seen Donovan McNabb make it this season more than once (and he's probably made similar faces when discussing T.O.) This groin strain (yes, strain) is not necessarily related to the sports hernia. Of course, this is tougher to tell because neither the team nor any writer covering the team bothered to tell us which leg has the strain! McNabb should miss at least one game as the muscle heals, though again, it is hard to tell how the muscular injury will be affected by the previous injury. McNabb has been playing, and at a high level, so the best guess is that he can return more quickly than many would expect – I'll go with two weeks.

Sure, he's a Longhorn, but I gasped as I saw Cedric Benson go down. He was twisted to the ground, his knee going in directions knees are not meant to go, and as he left the field on a cart, it looked for all the world like he was the next running abck headed for a year of rehab and wondering what might have been. Instead, Benson could be back this season. How is this possible? According to Benson and sources close to Benson, he's a flexible guy. A trainer would describe this as “lax.� Simply put, there's more give in his knees than a normal person's knees, so where others would have torn, Benson merely stretched. A stretch is still a sprain, with mild tearing in the knee, but certainly better than one would have guessed seeing him carried from the field. What's interesting is that this laxity should be a known quantity. Players are tested six ways to Sunday at the scouting combine, so there should be a way to select for this.

If you've been reading this column, you'll know just how seriously I take concussions. While there's no such thing as a mild concussion, there are certainly serious concussions and Kelly Holcomb was on the business end of one last week. One of the risks of playing QB, standing there as a target as speedy giants rush at you with bad intentions, is that your head is only protected by a thin plastic shell and faith in Ridell. (Think about this next time you say Otto Graham isn't the best QB in NFL history.) Holcomb lost consciousness for a “significant time� and should miss the same – significant time. Updates on Holcomb's status have been notably quiet, so watch this one closely. Without more information, err on the side of caution, even if Holcomb escaped without post-concussive symptoms like balance problems or nausea.

The phrase “speed kills� could only be a positive in the NFL. It's true to some extent, but so is the Pete Newell line that big men don't shrink when fast guys get tired. One quick truism I'd like to add is that “depth rules.� Every NFL team is talented but its seldom seen just how deep they are. Some teams crumble in the face of an injury and most teams falter in the face of a couple injuries, but it's truly a measure of an organization when they can be hit over and over, at the same position and while drilled down to the last line of the depth chart, they just keep winning. The Steelers can just point to Willie Parker next time someone asks how good they are. Sure, he's sitting on the sidelines with a sprained ankle, but that's where he's supposed to be. He filled in as well as any third string RB can while Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis were injured. Now it's their turn to pick him up. Neither is 100 percent, but by this stage of the season, who is?

I talk sometimes about cascade injuries, the situation where adjusting to one injury changes things just enough that it causes another injury. There's also a “team cascade� where the effect of one player's injury puts another player in an unusual or unideal situation, leading to an increased risk of injury. If it's the coach's job to put his team in a position to succeed, it's the athletic trainer's position to keep his players in a position to avoid injury. We've seen this type of team cascade several times this season with RBs, forcing teams to make creative platoons, go deeper into their depth chart than anyone expected, or to adjust by using more WRs. Now, the Steelers have a situation with their QBs that might require some creativity. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery, Charlie Batch went out and won – and broke a finger on his throwing hand. Tommy Maddox was able to fill in, but no one seemed excited about the XFL MVP. The Steelers might push Big Ben to get back on the field just a bit faster than they would were Batch still available. They'll also hold their breath just a bit more on the sidelines. Roethlisberger shouldn't have significant problems with his repaired knee beyond some swelling and pain. His mobility should only be slightly reduced. As for Batch, he's going to miss a minimum of two weeks with a broken pinky. If things go to according to plan for the Steelers, he'll have a lot longer than that to heal.

There's an odd little medhead tenet that broken bones aren't that bad. Sure, they hurt and look disgusting if they poke through the skin, but given the choice between that and a basket of torn ligaments, most players would rather have the fracture. They heal relatively quickly, relatively predictably, and modern technology and pharmaceuticals are reducing the time lost and complications. Still, a broken bone is not something anyone wants and all the technology in the world won't help if the thing still aches when plced under stress. That's the situation with Jeff Garcia. The Lions QB has a structurally sound leg, though it still hurts under certain combinations of stressors. Given his mobility and physical freelancing, its small wonder that Garcia puts himself in the situation. It will be interesting to see if pushing back a little early will cause Garcia to deal with this all season, leaving the door cracked just a bit for Joey Harrington's career.

(Ed. note: We're going to make sure this tenet makes it into the KUBIAK projection system for next year's book. Not treating a year lost to a broken bone differently than a year lost to a torn knee ligament caused our low prediction on Steve Smith.)

Last time we talked, there was just speculation about Priest Holmes. Now the talk has gone from what-ifs about his injuries to what-ifs about the salary cap effects. The specific injury to Holmes' spine still has not been identified though the mechanism (helmet to helmet hit) and the symptomology (a “step� in his cervical spine, along with weakness, spasm, and loss of sensation) suggests that Holmes' career is in jeopardy. It remains unclear how Holmes is being treated, another piece of information that would help us to understand the effects this injury may have. Holmes' family and agent continue to insist that his career is not over and there have been no public suggestions of surgery, so this story isn't over and may not be for a while.

I have a rule about injuries. There are many sources out there that give you the whats and whens of injuries. Some beat writers do a great job of telling you what's going on and getting good quotes that give some insight. That leaves me to translate the rest, but if I don't have anything to add to the conversation, I just let what's out there stand. Hopefully, this explains why I haven't said much about Julius Jones. The Cowboys are becoming the one team that I can't get any additional information out of. Maybe I'm calling the wrong people or maybe Bill Parcells runs a tight ship, much like the A's, my injury bete noir in baseball. Jones has been battling a high ankle sprain for several weeks and he finally returned to the field this week. He is likely to continue his slow return pattern, sharing the load until he's 100 percent -- provided he hasn't lost half of his job to Marion Barber by then. High ankle sprains are not only slow healing, but recurrent in-season. I can't find a good example of a player returning to full function after the injury inside of the same season.

Bumps and Bruises

Football is a tough game. How tough? Mike Tice got taken out merely standing on the sidelines and may have torn his MCL … Covering football this season reminds me that there's no one I'd like to share a cup of coffee with than Peter King … In other Vikings news, Daunte Culpepper underwent knee surgery and is expected out until mid-season of 2006. Even that return would surprise me a bit … Greg Jones gives Fred Taylor a bit more time to heal up his ankle. Depth is nice … Beware the first week when shifty backs come back from leg injuries. Just watch Domanick Davis and see if you don't agree this week … Give Darrell Jackson a couple more weeks on your inactive roster. As expected, he won't be back as expected. He's now targeting the November 27th game … Gus Frerotte injured his right index finger, hitting it against an opposing player's helmet. Any injury for Frerotte involving a helmet had better be an opposing player's helmet and not his own … Dang, Redskins.com, didn't you read the intro? Ladell Betts sprained his knee, not strained it. He's out this week, regardless … No MRI for Ashley Lelie this week, but that doesn't mean there's not something going on with his knee. Watch this one … It's snowing outside. Seriously. That means this season is getting deep and the time to recover from injuries is shorter. See you next week.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 16 Nov 2005

22 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2005, 12:31pm by PL


by PatsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 5:14pm

The parade of ridiculousness continues as the Pats lose two more to IR -- Randall Gay (CB) and Dan Koppen (Figurative Metaphor).

On flip side, there has been a Patrick Pass participating in practice sighting.

by ajn (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:09pm

patsfan, if you want to see where this is heading, you can look it up. i think it's filed under "titans, 2004".

by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:45pm

I'm another Pats fans, and I perfer to hope it will be more along the lines of "Panthers, 2004", only without the missing the playoffs thing.

by Sep (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:46pm

Go to Bostonsportsmedia.com, Bruce posts an article by some writer from Lynn saying Bill B. is nothing without his assistants. However, winning a divisional game, on the road, in a place where you usually struggle, without 3/5 of your O-line, your TE, a WR, your RB and Troy Brown playing defense again, I would say that is "adequate" coaching.

And please, let Pass come back sooner than later, if only for the sniper quotes!

by mshray (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:51pm

Will, there seems to be a word missing from this sentence in your Bumps & Bruises paragraph. Covering football this season reminds me that there’s no one I’d ____ like to share a cup of coffee with than Peter King. Is it 'more' or 'less'?

by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 7:07pm

What's the take on Ernest Wilford's "mild shoulder sprain" (quoted in case the person I am quoting is a fool)? I seem to recall other receivers dealing with more serious shoulder injuries pretty well and quickly, and I'm sure you've covered it at some point... But what is the effect of a shoulder injury on a wide receiver? Why can they deal with it well?

by bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 7:35pm

RE #5
mshray, I had the same question. I know that I get enough of Mr. King on-line, but who knows... hearing him rhapsodize about a triple-tall half-caf egg-nog caramel macchiatto, or whatever, might actually be amusing. For a good 30... 40 seconds.

by I.K.S.R.F.O. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 7:47pm

Ok at this point in the year unless the patriots lose brady, dillon, seymour, vrabel, branch, or bruschi for the year then the majority doesn't care who is hurt for the patriots. yes randall gay is out for the year. And.... so.... Is this supposed to be relevant news is randall gay an important player. We all know patriots fans are trying to show how beat up their team is and how much heart they have to keep winning games but it's cool now we get it the patriots are injured.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 8:44pm

Randal Gay is important because he is a football player, and the Pats are rapidly running out of that kind of person, so yeah, he's kind of important. After all, Brady and Dillon can't tackle, and Vrabel and Bruschi can't catch the ball. It takes a lot more than a few big names on either (or even both) sides of the ball to make a winning team.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 9:30pm

I should've asked for analysis on Monday, but I was wondering about Giants DT William Joseph's dislocated right elbow. Coughlin said he'd probably miss about 4 weeks. Is that a realistic estimate? Once he comes back, will the elbow be weaker?

Thanks a lot.

by Meat Lockyard (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 9:33pm


I think the point of this article is to be comprehensive, as even players you haven't heard of are important. Articles on this site are different than those on most lowbrow sports news sites. Writers here don't simply write about whatever the "hot" (popular) topic is among casual NFL observers, so this isn't a clone of any of the articles you've read about Pats injuries. I was thinking about asking what kind of training Will has, EMT or medical school or maybe even Christian Science, because this is obviously more competent than the generic and reactional guesses elsewhere.

Culpepper is likely out until halfway into next season? How often does it take a whole calender year to come back? Do players actually make it at that point?

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 10:28pm

Re: 9
Vrabel can't catch the ball? I seem to recall him catching a couple touchdown passes. I know the game was somewhat important... Oh yeah! It was the Super Bowl!

by Will (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 10:53pm

Meat - I'm just a reporter with a good phone and a background in sports medicine. Its a funny little beat I have.

Wilford - Good question and one I didn't get a good answer to. Obviously, if he can't extend the arm or take a hit, that will have a negative impact.

Comprehensive - No, B&B is specifically not comprehensive. I try to add to the discussion with ten important injuries and some discussion of the others (and stuff) in bumps.

King - It is an odd sentence. I would *like* to have coffee with him. Not only an informed football writer, but a big baseball fan. That'd be a great hour of radio if I could pull it off. Me, Peter King, sitting in a Starbucks with a recorder between us.

by Justus (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 11:13pm

Meat Lockyard - there are currently almost 200 players in the NFL injury reports. The point of this article is NOT to be comprehensive. If it was the Randal Gay report would be buried among the Elton Brown and Ray Mickens reports.

What causes a team to suddenly experience a plague of injuries like the Pats? Bad coaching? Changes to the playing surface? Play book changes that ask players to do things they aren't as trained for? Just saying "bad luck" might, in fact, be the answer but it seems a poor default on a site as dedicated to actual analysis as this one. And if it does, in fact, turn out to be something other than just bad luck then it can be predictive and factor into DVOA in a more meaningful way.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 11:13pm

If Culpepper makes it all the way back next year I'll be surprised. My guess is that it will be August 2007 before anybody has a good grip on his degree of recovery.

by RandallGay\'sFather (not verified) :: Thu, 11/17/2005 - 1:53am

randall gay was a starting corner so that was an important loss. if you watched the game vs the colts you would have seen how bad dante starks is and why he was pulled from the game. gay was also a starter last year in the playoffs, so yea i'd say hes pretty important.

by Dante Starks (not verified) :: Thu, 11/17/2005 - 3:25am

about time I get some credit!!!

by Meat Lockyard (not verified) :: Thu, 11/17/2005 - 4:20am

Justus: I stand corrected. I was making a different point, but your point is more refined. FO remains the most humbling site I interact on.

by Don Quixote (not verified) :: Thu, 11/17/2005 - 9:41am

Hmmm- I just wanted some more info on Fabini's injury.
& what is it with torn pectoral muscles this season? Seems like every third guy on i.r. has a torn pec!!
(Figuratively speakin' of course..)

by ChicagoScott (not verified) :: Thu, 11/17/2005 - 8:05pm

Please don't compare the 2005 Pats' injuries to any other team in the history of the NFL. It is disrespectful to the almighty Patriots. Do not disrespect the Patriots...ever...I mean it...you don't want Tom Brady to go postal on you.

by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 1:47am

Wile we're on the subject, how about a little respect for the Eagles injuries?

Philly's QB may go on injured reserve after playing through a sports hernia for 9 games, they lost their #2 WR at the start of the year, they lost the short-yardage back before the season started, a defensive end who could have started was shot right before training camp, the kicker missed one third of the season with an injured leg, the punter and starting center are on injured reserve, half the remaining starters are banged up, and I think I'm forgetting some people.

by PL (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 12:31pm

What causes a team to suddenly experience a plague of injuries like the Pats? Bad coaching? Changes to the playing surface? Play book changes that ask players to do things they aren’t as trained for? Just saying “bad luck� might, in fact, be the answer but it seems a poor default on a site as dedicated to actual analysis as this one.

Justus, I think you'd have to look at how the injuries happened. That's a little easier for me, living in New England and getting to watch most of the games:

Bruschi - Stroke, not much you can do there, bad luck.
Harrison - Knee got rolled under another player, tearing ligaments, bad luck.
Starks - "bad shoulder", yeah right, more like a sprained neck from watching footballs fly over his head and wide receivers streak past him.
Poole - Ankle sprain. This one could go either way, as I believe he got hurt in practice. I don't know if someone fell on him, or if he just rolled it while playing. As you fatigue, the muscles around the ankle don't support the ligaments quite enough, making it easier to sprain them. So this might be a not fully conditioned player, or it could be bad luck.
Koppen - separated shoulder. This injury happens when you fall on the point of your shoulder. The collarbone comes away from the rest of your shoulder, due to a ligament tear. All the conditioning in the world can't prevent it from happening if you're dumped on your shoulder, but can you prevent yourself from being dumped on your shoulder, ever, in the NFL? Probably not. I'm chalking this one up to bad luck too.
Dillon - "leg problems" What we're seeing with Dillon is what Will referred to with the cascading injuries. He's not practicing much and he's favoring one injury, putting more stress on the other leg, and now that one hurts too.

So I don't think there's one definite answer, and many injuries happen at practice, where no one is allowed to be, and lastly, Belichick is not one who is exactly forthcoming with injury information. Though not at bad as the NHL people who completely lie about everything, including the body part that is injured.