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14 Sep 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 2

by Will Carroll

I've often been told that I'm a day late and a dollar short. Today, I am a day late, but I have plenty of these funny little Canadian coins in my pocket. The B&B was delayed not by procrastination or even natural disaster, but by a trip to Montreal. I was there to speak with the World Anti-Doping Agency and won't bore you with the details here. (Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read about it over at today's Under the Knife.) The people at WADA have a near-impossible job and it's encouraging that they're willing to listen to all voices in trying to clean sports of the corrupting influence of performance enhancing drugs. (For those of you interested in the topic, I'd suggest starting with The Juice, in which Michael David Smith did a great primer on steroids in football.) So, with that behind us, let's get to it:

How can the same injury have wildly different effects on the player? In the NFL, the lack of detail and the disregard in the mainstream media for the subtle differences of degree and position make a column like this necessary. The ACL injury is no longer the career-ender it once was, but it is still a fearsome injury that costs a precious year and robs players of some quickness, speed, and explosiveness. A wide receiver has different demands on his body and specific muscles and joints than any other position. Javon Walker tore his ACL on a play where he also took a penalty. Did Walker's holdout contribute to this? Possibly, though I was unable to find any data on whether players that missed training camp have an increased injury rate. Walker's loss affects the Packers significantly and puts more pressure on Brett Favre. Walker should be able to return next season and will likely be back to near full speed by that point

Let's address the concept of “injury prone.� When someone has multiple injuries that don't seem connected, that reduce effectiveness, or simply reduce his availability, the tag is placed on people too easily. In many cases, this is simply a “tissue issue� as David Donatucci calls it -- a player simply cannot hold up under the demands of the game and like a car pushed too hard, something breaks. Kris Jenkins was a big part of the Panther defense and his loss to an ACL injury is potentially devastating. Jenkins figured to take some of the attention away from Julius Peppers, allowing him to do what he does more and better. Jenkins should be able to come back, perhaps losing a bit of his burst, by this time next year. The question now is what breaks next or if it's bad luck rather than bad genetics. There is an interesting question of how damaged Jenkins' knee was when he first came out. If the medical staff sent him out after a palpation showed a tear, I'd have some serious questions for whoever made that decision.

Discussing ‘tissue issues' as a matter of genetics is interesting because of the incidence of brothers in the NFL. Boss Bailey missed all of 2004 after having his knee scoped, a much longer recovery than expected. Will that knowledge affect how we look at Champ Bailey's timetable for returning from a subluxated shoulder? Possibly, but only in retrospect. Bailey is likely to play, with the Broncos giving him some additional help in the defensive backfield. Expect Bailey to show little or no ill effect besides some weakness in those arms, both extending to block or catch, and in showing some reluctance to make hard tackles over the next few weeks.

The injury couldn't have been any clearer. Donovan McNabb suffered a bruised sternum in Monday night's game, the result of a helmet directly into the center of his chest. Technically, the NFL's rules protect against this sort of hit, though practically, it was clean. McNabb was seen on the sidelines shortly after the play doing a series of stretches with the team trainer, but the stretches looked more like exercises done for a tight back than anything else. This is not like Steve McNair's injury, but instead is a simple traumatic injury that should clear up predictably and should limit McNabb only to pain tolerance. Sternums are slow to heal so the danger is that McNabb will be hit in the same spot during this week's game, restarting the cycle and making this a chronic problem. Look for some creative padding and a more watchful offensive line, while McNabb continues to be able to throw.

The injury is turf toe and it's normally caused by sticky turf, improved cleats, or large men making explosive starts. Kyle Boller's was none of those; instead, it was caused by 300 pounds of rampaging lineman forcing the toe into hyperextension. This isn't a common cause, so it's imporssible to tell how this will affect the timetable if at all. With the bye week, it's possible that Boller could be back as soon as the game in Week 4, though Anthony Wright's performance will have as much to say about this issue as Boller's health.

Questionable quarterbacks seem to have taken a beating this week. Patrick Ramsey joins Boller on the sidelines, having suffered a neck sprain. This is an injury where the restrictions on injury information by the league force me to resort to detective work. Ramsey was clotheslined and his neck was forced into hyperextension. That unnatural motion not only injured the ligaments in the spine, but likely caused the muscles that support the spine to go into a protective spasm. Reports from the team have the injury as not serious, with the decision to start Mark Brunell as a performance issue rather than a health issue. Ramsey's neck sprain doesn't help, but is likely the least of his problems.

Someone with two broken thumbs sounds more like someone that got a visit from their friendly neighborhood loan shark than an offensive lineman, but after discussing this with some team sources and physicians, I'm more surprised that this isn't more common. Jon Jansen, like every lineman, extends his hands and grasps, usually the jersey or pads. The defensive player is writhing, quickly shifting, spinning, rushing and generally doing anything to disconnect. One quick move against that greatest of gifts from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, opposable thumbs, can snap them at the base. It's painful, yes, but not tremendously debilitating. Jansen will cast up and hope to have as much success as James Hall did last season. Without the use of his thumbs, however, don't expect Jansen to hold rushers quite as long or to use chopsticks.

There's nothing more debilitating than sore feet. There are some forms of medicine that believe that the feet are connected to every other point in the body. There's no evidence for this, though when your feet hurt, it sure feels like the whole body is hurting. This is one of the reasons that plantar fascitis is so problematic for football, where an athlete must run and stand for up to four hours at a time. With an injury that takes time and rest to heal, if not surgery, it will be difficult for Eric Johnson to heal up in the short term. Listed currently as doubtful, Johnson will likely not be a significant portion of the Niners' gameplan next Sunday. He shouldn't be a part of yours.

The macho culture of the NFL sometimes makes me look at injuries and shake my head unsympathetically. If Mike Anderson wore a simple, light flak jacket, he would be fine today rather than sore with every breath. Anyone who has had a rib injury can tell you that while the pain is usually not terrible, it's constant, each breath a reminder. Anderson has actually separated the cartilage from the bone, which is just as painful as it sounds, but not serious if he can withstand that pain. Don't expect Anderson to get a lot of work, but to play, especially in short-yardage situation. Painkillers will be Anderson's friend if he gets into the game.

The job of the NFL kicker seems like one of the easiest in the world … until the game's on the line and the kicker is standing 50 yards away from the crossbar. Still, it's unusual for injury to affect these players. This week, there are two kickers who may miss next week's game. John Hall of the Redskins has a quadriceps strain and Jason Hanson of the Lions has a hamstring strain. These opposing muscles have very different effects on their outlook for the coming weeks. The quad is the large muscle that extends the lower leg, so a quick kick (even the soccer-style used today) needs a healthy, strong quad. Hall is out at least Week 2 and perhaps longer. Hanson's job, where the hamstring comes more into play during the run-up to a kickoff, isn't as affected by his injury. The hammy may take longer to heal, but for a kicker, it's the ‘better' injury.

Bumps and Bruises

Jeremy Shockey won't miss any time with a minor ankle injury … Kerry Collins hit his throwing thumb on a helmet in last week's game. Watch to see if it gives him any problems … Johnnie Morton suffered a concussion in last week's game. Expect him to be used sparingly … Dallas Clark won't be featured in this week's Colts game plan due to a concussion.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 14 Sep 2005

39 comments, Last at 18 Sep 2005, 12:01pm by Moon Hippo


by MDS (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 7:06pm

Great line on the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I'm a believer.

by zach (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 7:21pm

some philly fans are calling for mcnabb to sit out next week as a protective measure, since the 49ers will be so easy to beat that koy detmer or mike mcmahon could do it.

this doesn't make any sense to me. the eagles didn't get to where they are now by underestimating the opposition. we should play him, and take him out of the game only if we get a big lead.

by zach (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 7:23pm

there was a flying spaghetti monster reference, and i missed it? shameful.

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 7:46pm


Javon didn't hold out did he? just threatened to... (or rather his his agent threatened he would)...

by SJM (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 8:38pm

Man, it didn't even occur to me that my Redskins got hit worse by injury than almost any other team, although apparently none of them are serious except Hall. The Skins signed former Maryland kicker Nick Novak but are holding a roster spot for Hall rather than releasing him or placing him on IR.

Any medical experts know anything about Taylor Jacobs (inactive last week against the Bears)?

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 9:26pm

Technically, the NFL’s rules protect against this sort of hit, though practically, it was clean.

It wasn't clean - the refs just missed it, like a bunch of other penalties that game. Carl posted the relevant section of the NFL rulebook, and that hit was clearly against the rules, though curiously for the spearing player's protection, not the speared player.

I found it very strange that after a fight before the game where they ejected two players (though not, curiously, everyone who threw a punch - apparently just the two who seemed to start it), afterwards, the refs ignored three fights, a late hit, and a horse collar tackle at the very least. I wasn't watching the hits the Eagles made against the Falcons, so I can't be sure.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 9:37pm

Re #5: I think my Broncos might want to argue that. The highest paid CB in the league and their #1 RB, as well as losing CB2 and CB3 to cramps, too. :(

by TimW (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 10:47pm

Re: #6

I believe for the 'horse collar tackle' rule to be applied, the tackler also has to fall on the legs of the tackle-ee (that's a new word). See link from NFL.com. In the referred-to play, there was no such falling on the legs, so the tackle was considered clean.

by dan doyle (not verified) :: Wed, 09/14/2005 - 10:53pm

tacklee this..it's football and a "horse-collar" tackle is one way to bring em down

by Adam H (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 12:29am

Re 9 Yeah, how dare they play football! They deserve what they get!

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 12:29am

#8: I don't even understand how that's possible. How do you fall on the legs of someone who's in front of you?

by Ray (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 9:52am

RE: #9 dan doyle "it’s football and a “horse-collar� tackle is one way to bring em down"

Yes, however it is an illegal way to bring them down. If it happens it should be flagged.

RE: #11 Pat "How do you fall on the legs of someone who’s in front of you?"

Not sure how you do it intentionally. If the "tackle-ees" legs get caught in the turf, then the tackler gets carried forward by the tackle-ees upper-body motion, then I could see it happening. But I don't see how the tackler could control that. Basically it seems to come down to, "it's only a penalty if the tackle-ee breaks his leg".

by Jim A (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 9:57am

Walker should be able to return next season and will likely be back to near full speed by that point

By my unofficial count, here are the 1000-yard wide receivers who have suffered a torn ACL the past five years: Rocket Ismail, Michael Westbrook, Joey Galloway, Rob Moore, Patrick Jeffers, Marcus Robinson, and Derrick Alexander. A borderline case is Bobby Engram, who had back-to-back 900-yard season before his injury.

None of these receivers have had 1000 yard seasons since the injury. Galloway, Robinson, and Engram recovered enough to be serviceable WRs. The rest were pretty much out of the league a couple years later.

The future doesn't look so bright for Javon Walker.

by Athelas (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 11:14am

Hey Will-
Just heard you on WEEI.
You didn't embarrass yourself!

(Really, good job, and I'm looking forward to the new book.)

by TimW (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 11:44am

Re: # 12

That's basically how I see it. It's only a penalty if you somehow end up on the legs of the ball carrier, otherwise, no problem. At least that's my understanding.

by Flying Spaghetti Monster (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 11:49am

May you all find comfort in the warm embrace of my al dente appendages.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 12:41pm


But that's stupid. It just seems random whether or not that's going to happen. It's not like you'll be able to recognize what's happening and stop. It basically seems to be "it's not a penalty until you actually injure someone." Given the fact that I don't think the defender has a choice whether or not that happens, this rule just seems retarded.

by Jon (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 12:52pm

great column Will, glad to see you doing a great job at football as well as baseball

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 12:55pm

I noticed a bunch of people used the horse collar tackle during the week, but I'm not sure if anyone was flagged for it. I commented on this during preseason as well... I like the fact they don't enforce it, but if they're not going to, why vote it in?

by TimW (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:01pm


I'm not disagreeing that it's pretty arbitrary. See the link for another look. After some more research, it looks as though the rule is the 'immediate yanking down' of the defender from behind. I guess you can grab him, but not yank on the jersey. Another link as well:

by Nate (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:03pm

I noticed a bunch of people used the horse collar tackle during the week, but I’m not sure if anyone was flagged for it. I commented on this during preseason as well… I like the fact they don’t enforce it, but if they’re not going to, why vote it in?
The way I understand it, you actually have to have your hand inside the shoulder pads of the tacklee. That's just not going to be all that common.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:28pm

I remember this conversation in the offseason. I believe the interpretatation was that it's okay to drag a guy down by the shoulder, but not by the shoulder pad or jersey, cause it's using the players' equipment against him.

by Ray (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:48pm

Good lord, I hope the refs aren't as confused about what this rule really means as we are. Although judging by week one...

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:52pm

"Still, it’s unusual for injury to affect these players."

Ahhhh, kickers and punters.

About one in every four kickers receives a serious injury every year. For punters, it's 14 percent.

I've always thought that stat alone is enough to convince anyone just how dangerous life in the NFL is. When 14 percent of your punters get paperwork sent to OSHA and BLS, something's up!

It's always interested me to see the injuries that kickers and punters get disproportionately compared to the rest of the leage.

For kickers, they watch out for back, trapezius, finger, hand, thumb, leg, quad and, the real feared one, heel maladies.

A kicker is nearly twice as likely to hurt his heel as another NFL player.

That's why the hammie injury sticks out. They're three times less likely to get that than other guys on the field, and it's an injury (like knees) that's distributed pretty uniformly throughout the positions.

For punters, the only injury that strikes them more than most other players is wrist trauma. I talked to them about this, and they said it's mostly from getting clipped and bracing their fall with their hands, which snaps their wrists.

A punter with a bad wrist can't really catch the ball as it's tossed back to him, so it can really affect his game.

They also have a slightly higher incidence of calf contusions, which might explain where the would-be-blocker sticks his helmet when the punter is in midair.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 1:57pm

I'm glad Will has written about turf toe. One of my other pro bono jobs annually is to dispel the notion that turf toe is a minor injury. It's an excrutiating, often debilitating, malady.

I have a buddy who played for the Steelers as a special teamer. He used to put steel plates (!) into his shoes as a crude form of orthopedics to reduce the pain and swelling while running downfield the clobber the wedge.

This is a guy who had his leg snapped in half, suffered numerous concussions and still limps when he cuts the grass. Ask him the most painful injury he ever had, however, and he will yell, "TURF TOE!"

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 2:56pm

Typo on the Kyle Boller paragraph:
"it’s imporssible to tell"

I guess you can fix it then delete this comment.

by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 3:55pm

Great Flying Spaghetti Monster reference. I'm a little worried about the Kurt Warner'fication of Kerry Collins, and I don't mean the two time MVP Warner, I mean the busted thumb guy who got cut by the Rams and Giants (and who the Cards pinned their hopes to this year).

Is it too early to start calling for the Andrew Walter era?(Raider nation has lost it's hope on Tui)

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 3:57pm

"The highest paid CB in the league and their #1 RB, as well as losing CB2 and CB3 to cramps, too."

The nice thing is that those are two of the more fungible positions in the NFL. I think the Pats lost CBs 1-6 last year and managed to win a few games.

This is especially true when discussing Denver's top RB. Talk about a dubious seat!

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 4:02pm

"Kurt Warner’fication of Kerry Collins"

Kurt Warner really has been a tragic vicim of the accursed concussion. See also Tim Couch.

I'm not too sure if a nasty blow to the head would affect Collins. See also Jeff George.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 4:16pm

Maybe a blow to the head would stop Collins from overthrowing his receivers.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 4:24pm

Collins doesn't need a blow to the head. He needs lithium - the guy's clearly a manic depressive. How else could he have a QB rating of 120 one week and 15 the next?

by chill (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 4:39pm

To finish the discussion on the horse-collar tackle, the play is ONLY a penalty if the tackler is named Roy Williams and plays for the Dallas Cowboys!!! This is just like when the NFL brought in the push off rule for wide receivers. That year a certain Cowboy (named Michael Irvin) was the only receiver that was flagged for pushing off. Since that is who the NFL was punishing for his actions. Just like Roy Williams.

by Jerry Jones (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 5:42pm

Chill, I agree completely with your very rational assessment of the NFL's enforcement policy. There has been a conspiracy against Dallas since the Cowboys took up our stead in Texas.

I have traced the roots of the nexus entrapping the Cowboys and have found all the likely suspects: The CIA, Rand Corp., Trilateral Commission, Halliburton and Skull & Bones.

They are working with the Freemasons and the NFL to keep the 'Boys down!

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 5:48pm

Is there a difference between a subluxated shoulder and a dislocated shoulder? Earlier I heard that Bailey had a dislocated shoulder, and quickly looked at my Pro Football Prospectus' "10 Injuries you meet in...". The prognosis in the book and the one given for the subluxated shoulder are vastly different. So I'm curious what the difference is.

by Zac (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 8:05pm

Doing a Google search once subluxation leads to all kinds of chiropractic sites. One was helpful to note, however, that "Subluxation is also a medical term. The medical definition is incomplete or partial dislocation -- a condition, visible on x-ray films, in which the bony surfaces of a joint no longer face each other exactly but remain partially aligned."

No help on why the outcome may be different from a normal dislocated shoulder, but it's a start.

by PhillyCWC (not verified) :: Thu, 09/15/2005 - 8:10pm

Re: The "clean" hit on McNabb...apparently the league didn't think it was so clean, since they fined Chad Lavalais $7,500 for the hit (a larger fine than on Trotter and Mathis for the fight).

by Bruce Dickinson (not verified) :: Fri, 09/16/2005 - 1:39am

The therapeutic model regarding feet is called Reflexology. Similar to Oriental medicine, it assumes a series of energetic channels flowing through the body. Kind of like nerves.

If Champ misses too much time, perhaps Shanahan can take a look at his 3rd brother Beetle Bailey. Even though he's a comic book character, it makes sense for a coach who's been wasting just as much time with Clarett, Jerry Rice and the linemen from the Browns.

by Moon Hippo (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2005 - 11:55am


by Moon Hippo (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2005 - 12:01pm

ok - I typed it into Google and am now laughing my ass off.

I think I'll pray to the FSM that Seattle can somehow find a way to beat Atlanta today.