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23 Nov 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 12

by Will Carroll

With Thanksgiving upon us, we have the infamous short week for four teams and a rush to get the B&B to you before you send in your fantasy lineups and ingest enough tryptophan to kill a yak. You'll be watching your football Thursday, rushing to the store for your Xbox 360 and a copy of the new Football Outsiders DVOA-based video game and … what? Oh, sorry, I guess that's not out for this holiday season. For now, clutch your copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2005 close, dream with me a bit, and get to it:

If you didn't know that Donovan McNabb elected to have surgery on his sports hernia and was done for the season, you just go ahead and stay under that rock. It's safe there. What's a bit unclear is how McNabb went from playing with the hernia to a groin strain to surgery. Focus on the limp. A player with either injury – or any upper leg strain – is going to limp. It's natural and the body's response to trauma. It protects the injured leg, but if not watched closely, leaves other parts open to further injury. McNabb had already gone downhill and the risk he was taking simply wasn't worth it for a team in turmoil. The Eagles will regroup, reload, rebuild – whatever you want to call it, they're smart enough to know that they'll need a healthy McNabb more next year than they need 75% of one now. Before you ask, yes, McNabb should return from surgery by training camp and have a full recovery.

Exhale, owners of Antonio Gates. The initial reports of season-ending injury were a bit hysterical and certainly premature. With any injury, there's not only pain, but swelling, guarding (tensing of muscles near an injury), and did I mention pain? Gates has a sprained right foot, near the ankle, and it is the pain that will determine whether or not he's able to play. Gates will be in a protective boot until Wednesday, when he'll test the ankle. That will give some guidance, but he's likely to be a game-time decision on the positive side. If the decision is that he'll miss the game, we'll likely know that a few days ahead. Long term, this doesn't appear to be a significant concern.

Could there be two more different players than Gates and Jeremy Shockey? They play the same position, sure, and are even similar sizes, but Shockey is brash, came up at the football factory lovingly called “Da U� by Edgerrin James, and was a top pick. Gates was a hoops player from a MAC school. Both are a bit nicked this week. Shockey has an “impact chest injury� according to sources that refused to be less vague. He not only couldn't extend his arms to catch passes on Sunday, he could barely take off his uniform and needed assistance. Don't expect him to be back to full form for a couple weeks, longer if he's unable to protect his chest from another impact.

With Kelly Holcomb still out with post-concussive syndrome, a full 10% of NFL starting quarterbacks from last week are out with head injuries. I'm beginning to wonder if it goes beyond prevention, diagnosis and equipment and to the core of modern football. The roots of the game go back 150 years and it's evolved, but the dropback passing game hasn't had a significant change since Bear Bryant popularized the shotgun formation. There's likely some creative line coach or offensive coordinator that can come up with something – maybe a new protection scheme, a deeper snap, or a return to the rollout. Maybe the teams that are protecting their QBs are doing something that other teams aren't doing. At this stage, every possible solution should be looked at. Brooks Bollinger won't miss a game after he was concussed last Sunday, though his replacement, Vinny Testaverde, came up woozy later in the game himself. This is despite the fact that Bollinger is still symptomatic, as of Tuesday. Last time I checked, English soccer players didn't have helmets and even they have a strict rule about post-concussion play.

With the shoulder problem, many have missed that Marc Bulger was also concussed in the slam that injured him and perhaps ended his season. Bulger – a sadly fitting name right now – has “severe inflammation� inside the capsule of his throwing shoulder, suggesting that the damage seen last time he missed some games is not only back, but worse. At this point, no one is too specific about the injuries, but thinking that there are parallels to Chad Pennington wouldn't be too far afield. The team is reluctant to IR Bulger, but with backup Jamie Martin also hurting, the team may check down to Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick down the stretch.

As disturbing as the QB injuries are, I was more disturbed by the events surrounding the concussion to Dallas OL Rob Petitti. FO's own Tim Gerheim summed up the situation well in this week's Audibles at the Line: “Petitti got up after one play woozy and unstable on his feet, but he convinced the official to let him stay in. On the replay you could see that just after he fell down he got kneed in the side of the head. Nobody on the Cowboys sideline took him out, and before the next play Bledsoe called time out. Petitti could barely stand up. It boggles my mind that 1) nobody took him out when he was staggering around initially, and 2) they put him back in for the next play.� I couldn't have said it better. While the NFL is saying all the right things about injuries, here's a situation where we had a clearly injured player, multiple people with multiple opportunities to catch the gravity of the situation, and no one did anything. While it's impossible to know the exact nature of the events or the process, the result is unacceptable and both the NFL and NFLPA should take a long, hard look at this.

Zach Thomas has been a holy terror since he was a prep star in the Texas Panhandle. I can remember watching him play in college and then watching as team after team passed him in the draft. When the Dolphins finally picked him, even Mel Kiper Jr. said he was too small and too slow. I'm no football scout, but there are only four guys I've ever seen that made my jaw drop from the LB slot: Thomas and Dat Nguyen in college, Jessie Armstead in high school, and Mike Singletary, all season long in '85. DeMeco Ryans shows flashes at times, but let's get back to Thomas. According to the FO individual defensive stats, no player in the NFL has been involved in a higher percentage of his team's defensive plays. Now the Dolphins will be without their defensive captain for at least two games and more likely four after Thomas separated his shoulder in Sunday's game. The team is leaving all the options open at this stage, including surgery. The Dolphins aren't going anywhere this post-season, so they'll likely err on the side of caution here.

Can we come up with a better term for stinger, one that sounds more serious? It's hard to take an injury seriously when it sounds like a finishing move in pro wrestling. Michael Strahan knows how painful it is this week. The pass rushing end was injured in Sunday's game and had an MRI on Monday to determine the seriousness. There's likely no connection to his torn pectoral last season, but coupled with any residual weakness there, his arm might be compromised slightly, certainly affecting his ability to keep 300 pound men from battering and pushing him all over the Meadowlands. Stingers can be cumulative, so watch for any hint that he's having chronic weakness. At 34, there's no indication that Strahan is slowing down, but this could be something that hastens any decline.

The Pats have had more than their share of injuries this season. Who knew that the “Blue� in this report was going to be the deep blue that the Pats wear? While dealing with injuries that are giving the transaction guy carpal tunnel and the team medical staff busy beyond their wildest nightmares, the team is still trying to figure out how to deal with multiple running back injuries without the benefit of Steelers-like depth at the position. Patrick Pass is still hobbled slightly by his hamstring, but he's the best available. Corey Dillon is out with a calf strain and Kevin Faulk is questionable with his foot injury. That leaves Heath Evans and a lot of four wide sets, assuming they have enough WRs and TEs to fill the slots. It's a hard come down for the Pats and a tougher week for Bill Belichick. Our condolences to the coach and his family.

Maybe this Pats curse travels. David Patten, a former Patriot now in Washington, had been trying to play through the meniscus tear but finally succumbed. He was scoped on Friday and surprisingly was placed on IR. The recovery time is a solid six weeks, but given Patten's disappointing performance in DC, this may be as much about the roster slot as it is the actual injury. There's no reason that Patten can't physically recover, though he'll need someone to take a chance that he's still got the skills to play if the Redskins cut him in the off-season as expected.

Bumps and Bruises

The concussions mentioned above weren't the only ones that took place. There are likely far more than noted, but put Adam Archuleta, Kevan Barlow, and Blaine Saipaia on the list as well. This is really becoming an issue of passion for me. Check Joe Vitt's quote in this article and you'll see why concussions are also a cultural problem … Ben Roethlisberger will make his return in Indy, just a couple weeks after minor knee surgery. The extremely hard surface at Indy may be a challenge. James Farrior is likely to play, but no one seems sure how much … Sure, he's on FOXSports.com alongside us, but Jay Glazer has become a must-read columnist for his insider info regardless … Avoid Tatum Bell this week, if you can … Bryant Young is out after tearing his MCL as well as his meniscus in his right knee. He'll try to avoid surgery, but he's out a minimum of four weeks … The Eagles pushed Lito Sheppard to the IR after it was determined he'll need surgery to fixate his high ankle sprain.

Have a safe, happy holiday, everyone. Back next week.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 23 Nov 2005

29 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2005, 9:55pm by zlionsfan


by lafcadio (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:05pm

In rugby, when you have a KO and have to leave the field, you're suspended 3 weeks, I mean you're not allowed to play during 3 full weeks. It's the same in boxe. Indeed, I think it is the same thing in every sport depending on association affiliated to the Youth and Sports ministry. It is to protect the health of the players. I think it's a safe and wise rule, but NFL rosters would lose too much "stars" if this rule was applied in the NFL.

by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:27pm

Is it time for my weekly "The NFL will get someone killed if it doesn't address concussions" rant already?

Moving swiftly onwards, the injury to Marc Bulger should be familiar to Rams fains. He's been the starter there for 3 seasons, and now he's badly hurt. Kurt Warner was the Rams starter for 3 seasons, and look what happened to him.

I knoe Joe Vitt is interim coach, but Mike Martz's offense is dangerous for QBs. Warner lasted 3 seasons, and in his 3rd Season, Bulger has now had two major injuries.
The good news for Bulger is that he'll have a new head coach next season, who might put a higher priority on not getting him killed

by Mr. Q (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:30pm

Ben Roethlisberger will make his return in Indy, just a couple weeks after minor knee surgery. The extremely hard surface at Indy may be a challenge.

Didn't Indy change over to Field Turf?

by Patrick (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:33pm

Yep, Indy has switched over to field turf this year.

by Nolan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 1:38pm

That should be "Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick".

by bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 2:37pm

How disappointing. Tryptophan does NOT kill yaks. Countless studies bear this out. Sure the Bush administration dismisses this as "mere scientific sleight of hand," but it's proven.

Don't get me wrong, tryptophan DOES tend to inflame their Schatzki's ring, a stricture at the bottom of the esophagus (common among yaks), which makes swallowing and digesting troublesome, but a simple out-patient dilation procedure at the local vet and the yak is back in the starting lineup the next day, ready to haul packs up to base camp.

Happy Thanksgiving.

by Jason (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 2:56pm

#3 & #4 beat me to it. Indy no longer has the "extremely hard surface."

Aren't you IN Indy, Will?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:04pm

For that comment alone, Vitt shouldn't be allowed to lead men.

by Brian (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:10pm

I was going to make the hard surface comment as well. Too slow.

Has anyone else noticed that the Colts seem to be suffering less minor knee/hip/etc injuries this year? I already thought field turf was pretty cool, but if this is attributable to the change I'm now a huge fan! Plus the rubber spray on the replay when someone drags their toes on a catch is pretty cool.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:16pm

Bulger has now been injured twice on the St. Louis surface.

After fullback Thomas Tapeh of the Eagles had his hip dislocated on a tackle on this surface, Mike Martz went ranting and raving about how his team had to play on the worst surface in football and how it was basically a crime to allow players to continue to be injured by it. What would he say now with his own man - Bulger - out?

by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:18pm


Speaking of concussions, would a mild concussion from the big hit by Tedy Bruschi late in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl explain McNabb's somewhat erratic behavior during that drive?

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:31pm

It might also explain why he felt nausea. IIRC nausea is a common symptom.

by Jerry Garcia (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 3:54pm

Brooks Bollinger was puking up after his concussion . . .

by charles (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 4:22pm

the term "the u" was made popular not by edgerrin james but by Kellen Winslow, during his crazy post game locker room rant after a loss to Tennesse in college. Not saying kellen invented the term but he was the one that had all the people outside miami talking about "the u". the same rant also produced "i'm a f***** soldier."

by Purds (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 4:32pm


Is there anything systemic about the nearly three-year rash of injuries suffered by Patriots players? Anything about their practice facility, their strength training, their style of play (lots of starters on special teams, players going both offensive and defensive)?

Or, is it just a really bad run of bad luck?

by Mike Singleton (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 5:03pm

More injuries to report from Panthers camp.

Pro Bowl MLB Dan Morgan is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. DT Brenston Buckner, RB Deshaun Foster, S Idrees Brashir and S Thomas Davis are all listed as questionable.

Morgan hurt his ankle early in the Bears game and did not return. It really affected the Panthers run defense after he left. Popular belief says Julius Peppers is the Panthers best player, but the reality is Morgan is the player we miss most when he is injured (as he often is). This will affect the Panthers ability to stop the run against the Bills this Sunday as it looks like he has very little chance of playing. He's been playing through a shoulder injury for most of the season anyway.

by Will (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 5:28pm

Indy switched to FieldTurf, but I've walked on that turf. It's still very hard. Not as hard as it was, yes, but I'd wager most of us have softer carpets in our houses.

by Brian (not verified) :: Wed, 11/23/2005 - 10:27pm

Harder than other FieldTurf?

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2005 - 11:27am

Purds (#15 )--

I tried to answer your question, but the spam filter ate my post. The short version:

Play style (not just starters on special teams, but the general "physical" style that they practice and play), older players (Poole, Starks, Chad Scott, and DIllon are all over 30), playing field (practice facility is OK, the field at Gilette is terrible), and a certain amount of luck.

The strength training is probably not an issue; Mike Woicik's been the ST coach since 2000, and held the same post for Dallas during their run of Superbowls in the 90s.

by little red tractor (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2005 - 12:49pm

Rules are much more stringent in rugby, football etc re concussions, but their seasons are much longer, 8-9-10 months, so a three to four week exclusion has less impact than it would have on the much shorter NFL seasons.

I would expect this would have to be factored in to how the NFL responds to such injuries.

by lafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2005 - 1:24pm

It would be fun to see second and third and fourth stringers have a chance to deliver !
It would be kind of NFLE, or at least, coaches would take care of the health of their players and don't send their top players run the ball/show in the fourth quarter of a sure win, and the players substituted wouldn't be angry with that... (see Dilfer, Trent).

And you're right, the rugby's season is too long, way too long in fact, especially in France (or in North hemisphere), our best players are playing games (true games which means) from early August to the end of June. Some clubs allow only THREE weeks to their players to rest !!!!!
How can they perform an efficient work of musculation and general training if their bodies are never rested ?
US football players seem done when injured, here, it's the opposite, I'm expecting a lot from Marty Edmonds BECAUSE he was injured last year and took time to rest and to heal. Usually, the team winning the "bouclier de Brennus" is the one who record the coming-back of a few players injured at the beginning of the season, they are fresh and help their team to win...

Your system is great, it's kind of Super 12, nice games, no fear to lose and to try to build something, short season, long off-season to prepare the bodies, tactics etc.
It's impossible here, 'cause of the clubs, but it would be fun, so many (rugby) games boring...

by lafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2005 - 1:26pm

I forgot,
Sempre endavant !


by FastEddy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 8:55am

Seems to me that concussions, especially among QBs, occur by hitting the head on the front or the back. Not the side, since you'd be landing on your shoulder first, so you might whiplash your neck, but your head wouldn't hit the turf.

Of front vs back blows to the head, I'd bet that blows to the back of the head would far more common. QBs get knocked flat on their backs more than on their faces, right?

So why not build a 'bulge' into the back of the helmet and stick more padding in there? It would look a bit weird at first, perhaps, but people would get used to it. A bulge of maybe 1 inch, filled with resistant padding right to the back of the head would likely cut down on this sort of concussion a lot.

Of course, you'd probably want to do a study to see if that's really the way concussions happen. But I remember seeing Chrebet of NYJ getting his 9th concussion a few weeks back. He landed flat on his back and the back of his head slammed into the turf.

Just my opinion, but I don't see why something like this wouldn't work. In fact, why not make the helmets for ALL players like that, might save a few Chrebets as well.

And if hits to the front of the head are a significant problem, put a bulge on the forehead as well. Personally, if I were an NFL QB and making millions and wanting to continue making millions for a long time, I'd grab a helmet like this and take the ridicule.

by SJM (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 2:25pm

Re #23

It was only a couple of years ago that a new helmet was introduced after a big study on concussions. I believe the major difference was better protection along the jawline. I don't know much about the study other than that it was the first major study of concussions undertaken by the league.

Also, concussions don't only occur when players' heads bounce on the ground. I believe that the concussion often occurs with the initial hit, not when the player hits the ground.

by Mike (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 2:47pm

Well, any significant blow can cause a concussion since it's essentially the brain hitting the skull wall. You don't have to actually hit your head. A sudden shot to the back or chest usually has enough force to cause a concussion.

However hitting your head on the turf probably doesn't hurt.

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 3:29pm

"However hitting your head on the turf probably doesn’t hurt."

I think Wayne Chrebet might disagree with that assesment.

by FastEddy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 6:45pm

#24 & #25: Sure, ok, you may get concussions through other means. But the big blow has gotta be when your head hits the turf. Remember those ads about how they've made laptops drop-proof? I seem to recall that when a laptop is dropped it hits with a deceleration of an incredible number of G's. Maybe 1000, if I recall. So they wound up shock-mounting stuff so the G forces on the components was way reduced, to 25 Gs, or some smaller number.

Same thing for the head. If you get slammed in the body that might cause a concussion due to 25 Gs (let's say), but hitting on the ground might be 1000 Gs. So obviously the nastier concussions would happen the 2nd way. Sure, you might get MILDLY concussed in other ways, but hitting the ground has got to be the biggie.

But actually it should be simple to resolve. Get a crash test dummy from a car company. Put sensors on its head, put on a football helmet, and slam it in various ways. Then, pad the back of the helmet more, and try the experiment again.

I'd guess it would take a car company a week to do the tests. Or that insurance company group that was doing crash tests on cars on Dateline NBC for a few years.

But I'll bet the NFL rejected putting 'bulges' on helmets or making the helmets bigger so they could have more padding because the helmets wouldn't look as sexy. Something stupid like that.

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2005 - 10:09pm


The league already has a mandated piece of equipment to reduce concussions. It's called the mouth piece.

The reasons why QBs are more prone to concussions then other players isn't because they're necessarily getting hit more (Linemen hit each other pretty hard every play) or even the nature of how they get hit. It's the fact that QBs rarely wear their mouth pieces for 2 reasons.

1) It's harder to call plays. It severely hinders a QBs ability to audible and call dummy audibles at the line. The WRs often times struggle to hear with crowd noise already a factor, let alone being able to understand what their QB is yelling at them if he's wearing a mouth piece.

2) If they put their mouthpieces in prior to the snap, it would tip off the opposing defenses.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2005 - 9:55pm

I don't think adding padding to the helmets is going to prevent head injuries; if anything, it's going to make them more likely. Players will just be more likely than ever to use their helmet as a weapon, so there will be more occasions for impact to the head.

If the NFL wants to reduce the occurrence of head injuries, they'll instruct the officials to call spearing penalties when they see them. When was the last time you saw someone flagged for spearing? I don't remember seeing it once this year. When was the last time you saw a defender spear a ballcarrier? If you watched football today, the correct answer would likely be today.

Helmet-on-ball contact isn't likely to hurt the defender much; it's the helmet-to-helmet shots that are likely to injure one or both players, more likely the ballcarrier (bearing the brunt of the blow). But it seems to be so hard to crack down on these plays; after all, the ESPN quacks on Monday night love them so ... how else would you get JACKED UP?

I wonder what would happen if the NFL played a preseason game with players equipped according to rugby rules?