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» Defense and Rest Time

Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

19 Oct 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 7

by Will Carroll

Does it seem like your fantasy players get injured more than the ones you ignore, the so-called “big uglies� on the lines? Do defensive players get hurt less than offensive? The problem of perception is one exacerbated by the twin gods of fantasy gaming and the injury list. There's also something a professor of mine calls the “blue chevette syndrome.� He bought a new Chevette (the 70's equivalent of – well, is there a modern Chevette?) and immediately noticed that there were more of his car than he thought. Buying a low-end Chevy is never going to buy exclusivity, but he realized it wasn't that there were suddenly more blue Chevettes, merely that he now noticed the blue Chevettes that he'd ignored previously. We all have our filters. We do a better job recognizing people we know than people we don't, and let's face it, in the modern NFL, you might not recognize even the All-Pro right guard from your local team. You'd have a good guess, since he's roughly the size of that blue Chevette, but don't be fooled. Just because you suddenly see more injuries, it doesn't mean they're suddenly there. You're just noticing them more. Yes, that means you're turning into a medhead.

We all saw this coming. It's a variation on the Willis Reed entrance or maybe the Kirk Gibson miracle home run in 1988. Tedy Bruschi is coming back, yet this one's different than the now-cliched hero's return. Where Reed and Gibson could have only failed by falling, barely able to injure themselves more, Bruschi is playing only months after a stroke felled him. If I had more time and less carpal tunnel, this would be a good place to remind everyone just how serious strokes are and how much we can do to help prevent them and save those that have them. The research and advances we've made in cardiovascular care over the last few years are amazing. In Bruschi's case, we'll go with the assumption that the doctors that cleared him believe that he is safe, that what he does on a football field will not cause a recurrence or relapse. This ups the ante on speculation about the original cause, of course. Once Bruschi does return, what can we expect? It's reasonable to assume that he's slightly deconditioned and even with the bye, he won't be an every down player. We can assume that he hasn't lost significant skill due to age – it was less than a year ago that he was in the Super Bowl and no one saw decline there – or effects of the stroke. I think that what we'll see from Bruschi is about 90% - he'll look great to most of us, but there may be just enough drop-off in his game that the experts can find ways to exploit him. Then again, 90% of Tedy Bruschi is roughly 600% of Monty Beisel.

Bones heal. It's a basic medhead tenet that broken bones are preferable to torn tendons or ligaments (when confronted with that particular babysplitting). Dallas saw receiver Patrick Crayton left the stadium in a boot with Bill Parcells telling people the ankle was broken and he was done. Turns out it's not broken, but he's likely still done with tendon and ligament damage. Worse, it's definitely a "terrible triad" for tackle Flozell Adams (MCL, ACL, meniscus). Adams was the anchor for a line that was keeping Drew Bledsoe upright, a key for him to be successful. Added together, these injuries are a one-two punch to the hopes of an America's Team that America is finally paying attention to again.

Sometimes it's not who is out of the game, but the return that makes the difference. It's an easy decision for the Steelers to start Ben Roethlisberger -- and not Tommy Maddox -- on Sunday since he's available, but he's hardly 100 percent either. Worse, Hines Ward, Big Ben's comfort receiver, is unlikely to play and even less likely to be a factor if he does. Roethlisberger's knee problem isn't a major concern given his game – he scrambles occasionally, but it's not like he's Michael Vick back there when healthy. Will it slow down his drop? No; if it does, there's no way that the Steelers staff would allow him out there. They could adjust to a quicker three- or five-step drop if it was a minor concern. That affects timing. Given Ward's injury as well as the foot problem of Antwaan Randle El, the Steelers will likely be forced to a short passing game based on timing, and even more dependence on the run. This is one of those situations where injuries – and the Steelers have a lot – force strategy. The fact that Cincinnati still has problems stopping the ground game makes that a little easier for Pittsburgh fans to take.

That momentary swing from offense to defense is often interesting to watch. For a moment, our discussion harkens back to ironman football with players going each way. You'll remember that, in those days, Chuck Bednarik was an imposing 6'3, 230. These days, that's a safety, not a Hall of Famer. Marc Bulger showed why today's platoon system is in place. Even in the Arena League, the QBs are saved from the ignominy of playing defense. Bulger tried for a moment to make up for his interception and instead got a grill full of David Thornton for his effort. Worse, the fall he took drove his throwing shoulder into the hard new surface at the RCA Dome. Bulger was listed as out with a shoulder sprain, likely signaling at least a subluxation if not a full separation. That obviously will affect his throwing for several weeks, leaving a replacement QB to run the replacement coach's team.

There's a term I remember from high school football: "medicine ball." It was that pass over the middle, just a bit high, leaving the receiver open to a crushing blow from lurking linebackers. It would get us the glare in practice and receivers hated those types of balls, knowing they had to go get them and take the hit. Some developed alligator arms and reputations from those balls, but in the NFL, where car-crash physics make open hits even more devastating, those medicine balls probably get stares I can't imagine back in the huddle. There's another phenomenon that appears to lead to more injuries than even the medicine ball, and that's the tall athletic wide receiver. Sure, we all want our teams to have a Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, or Keyshawn Johnson for their on-field skills. What they have in common – besides their penchant for trouble – is the ability to go high in the air for catches. Their height advantage over quick corners actually leads QBs to throw high, creating a "jump ball" situation where the tall WR has an advantage. Then again, Randy Moss can tell you that this effect, combined with missile-like safeties coming into the play out of cover-2 defenses, can have a downside. Gravity still works and a player going high into the air is subject to coming down. Getting hit or even just disturbed in mid-air can lead to some horrific landings. Moss found out just how bad it can be. When he landed, it was a rough equivalent to a Fosbury high-jumper coming down without the pad. Moss has bruised ribs, an injured hip, and most disturbing, a groin strain. Given the abdominal involvement, some are already speculating that Moss may have a 'sports hernia' rather than a simple muscular strain. Team sources, however, tell me that a major part of the problem was that when Moss hit the ground, his legs came together quickly catching certain unmentionables between them. Once every man reading stops cringing, they can certainly imagine why Moss would not only have pain at the time, but why he would continue having pain and nausea after trying to return. Moss is a 50-50 shot for the game, erring on the side of playing after seeing Moss try to play through his hamstring problems last season.

It's almost more interesting to watch what happens after Brian Griese goes down, the easy transfer of power within the Buccaneers nepotistic meritocracy. The son of a coach playing a pair of sons of players makes sense; simply put, growing up around the game conveys a sort of gym rat sensibility, if not actual talent. Of course, the Bucs system doesn't require too much talent from the quarterback position, and if Cadillac Williams can avoid injury over the next decade, he'll disguise the weakness at the position well. Griese is done for the season after tearing both the ACL and MCL due to a rolling hit (clean) from Zach Thomas, a player you may know from his trail of dead. Chris Simms, a player that has the same monkey as Peyton Manning, will take over. Griese will miss at least eight weeks and likely the entire season. If surgery is necessary, Griese will be back for training camp. (Then again, the Bucs might just trade for Tim Rattay and make me think about deleting the first part of this paragraph.)

Receivers make their living with their legs and their hands. When one of those things is broken, the receiver loses an immense amount of value -- and worse, chronic injuries such as strained hamstrings or bad knees tend to sap not only stats, but years from their careers. The rest of the body is more or less extraneous for football purposes. Drew Bennett has an odd career arc, but thumb surgery is actually a positive for him. He's been taking a pounding as the ace receiver on a poor team without many options, so this may take some wear off him while not being a chronic injury. The injury may mean more to Steve McNair and Ben Troupe in the short-term than it will to Bennett.

One of the least understood injuries that can ruin a season is the high ankle sprain. The term itself is confusing and the anatomy is even garbled. Ask most people where their ankle is and they'll point to the malleolus, the two bony protuberances at each side of their lower leg. It'd be nice to think of the ankle as a simple hinge running through the line of the malleloli, but the structure is extremely complex. Saying high ankle sprain saves us from saying ‘syndesmosis ligament injury.' The syndesmostic ligament runs between the tibia and fibula, the bones of the lower leg. When this is strained, there's extreme pain and possibly instability. It's the unstable ones that take the longest to heal, often requiring surgery. Stable takes about six weeks to fully heal, but remember that athletes are worried about return to function rather than full healing. If Fred Taylor is dealing with a high ankle sprain, it's stable, but since we don't have a point of injury, it's difficult to say when he'll be back. If he's running, however, cross high ankle off the list and worry about Taylor's laundry list of other maladies.

Jason Taylor has a streak of 87 straight games played, but it's likely to end after a foot injury in Sunday's game forced him to the sideline. Ironman streaks are meaningless, trivial oddities and relics of our puritanical, hard-working roots. It's a very New England, Cotton Mather concept and certainly not something that a laid-back, late-night party town like Miami needs. Sure, we all call in sick once in a while and the day off makes us feel a little bit better about things. Taylor went through the hard times, the Wannstedt years, and now that Nick Saban is cleaning things up, Taylor can just soak it in. Now, you don't want to carry this to a Ricky Williams extreme either. One game off or so, then Taylor's back in there with his brother-in-law terrorizing opposing passers.

The Jets took another major blow when Kevin Mawae fell to the ground on Sunday. Unfortunately, big Sam Adams fell on his arm while he was down, causing an odd motion – a 350 pound guy will cause those – and ending with Mawae's left triceps tearing. It's not a complete tear and Mawae was able to return, but his function was gone. The triceps is a major "pushing" muscle and Mawae was essentially one-armed after the injury. Mawae will have surgery once the swelling goes down to re-attach the muscle. He's expected to have a full recovery, returning on roughly the same schedule as Chad Pennington.

Bumps and Bruises

The story on Ken Hamlin is off the field, but the injuries he suffered – a fractured skull as the most serious – left him in ICU. Sometimes, football is the least of a player's concerns … It's too easy to cite some studies done connecting marijuana use and bone density loss to Ricky Williams' hip bruise. There's no connection … Kurt Warner is back at practice, if not back on the first string. His injury may cost him next week's start … Expect Ahman Green to play on Sunday … Calvin Pace fell through a window at his home, cutting his arm and ending his season. There's a lot more to this story, but he's a backup D-Lineman in Arizona … Joe Horn's hamstrings are heading for RBC area. For you non-medheads, that's ‘recurring, becoming chronic' and yes, it's as bad as it sounds … Is there ever a point where an owner looks in the mirror and says “Maybe the reason we're not winning is me.� What does he do then?

Posted by: Will Carroll on 19 Oct 2005

23 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2005, 5:47pm by rjh


by Steve K (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:38am

Re: Hamlin
Do any of y'all know what a magnetic street sign is?

by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:46am

Jerry Jones doesn't show up in mirrors.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:09pm

The modern Chevette would be the Chevy Aveo: cheap, ugly, feul-efficent.

by Mike M (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 2:01pm

This article every week is like the print version of an injury replay they show over... and over... and over... and over. I cringe and squirm, but I keep on a-readin'.

Keep up the good work.

by Daniel (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 2:08pm

Any word on what's going on with Julius Jones's syndesmosis ligament injury?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 2:32pm

Although the Vikings may not have gotten much for him (wait until the end of next year before grading Troy Williamson), I do think they traded Moss on the downward slope of his career arc. He is likely to become a player plagued by nagging injuries which limit his explosiveness in the future, even assuming he avoids a major injury. A Randy Moss with limited explosiveness is a pretty ordinary player, given his inconsistent effort. I was actually surprised that he avoided major injury with the Vikings, given his build, and I was never among those who ciriticized him for not being a great route runner over the middle. A man has to know his limitations, to quote Clint Eastwood.

by seamus (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 2:43pm

"Zach Thomas, a player you may know from his trail of dead."

Great line. Thomas has never really been a dirty or noisy player on the field; just a solid MLB who makes a lot of big plays. Sort of the anti-Ray Lewis.

But I do wish they kept stats on injuries caused.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:23pm

About Bruschi: it's often said that a player that misses camp is far more likely to get injured because he never got his body slowly acclimated to the hits he was about to take. Is it possible that it'll be even worse for Bruschi? I just think jumping in during the middle of the season is a bad idea, not because it increases his chances of another stroke, but because it increases his chances of another completely unrelated injury. Maybe Carl has some stats on players who miss camp and come in during the middle of the season, and how frequently they get injured.

Chris Simms, a player that has the same monkey as Peyton Manning, will take over.

Wait, wait, so Chris Simms can't win the big one? I thought his daddy was Phil Simms, not Bill Bellichick.

by Purds (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:33pm

Re: Bulger.

I am almost certain (could check, it's on TiVo) that Bulger was hit by Thorton directly in the right shoulder, that the injury occured on the hit, not the drive into the ground, though as a long-time Colt fan who watched the ground end Bert Jones' career, I understand the point being reiterated about domed surfaces. A minor clarification, but worth noting in that the surface didn't make the difference; it was a dumb move by Bulger to get in front of a running herd of liniebackers, dome or no dome.

by MilkmanDan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:45pm

Ah, yes, Tim Rattay. I'm a Bucs fan, and when I heard the news that they'd traded for him I said, "Whew, good that they got Rattay".

Then I broke out in a cold sweat for thinking that's a good thing. Why do I get the feeling that 35 carries a game for Cadillac is going to be an easy day from now on?

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:01pm

"it’s often said that a player that misses camp is far more likely to get injured because he never got his body slowly acclimated to the hits he was about to take"
I've never heard that before, but it doesn't sound true to me. Football injuries, espically for defensive players, tend to happen when a collision causes a body part to bend in a way it's not supposed to bend. So I'd think players who go through training camp are more likely to be hurt, because they have that many extra plays where an injury could happen. One thing he might have to worry about would be Brusci over-exerting himself, trying to make a play that he was in shape for last year, but isn't capable of now.

by Nate (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:21pm

Re: #7

Also, "And you will know us by the trail of dead" is a pretty solid band. Or, at least source tages & codes was a good album.

by jonnyboy (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:30pm

didn't last year's defensive player of the year get injured too?

by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:37pm

Last I checked, Flozell Adams appears to just have a torn ACL. Not the "terrible triad."

Got a link for this?

by WCE (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:10pm

I don't know about Bruschi, but I have two loved ones in my life who have suffered a stroke at a young age. One was comparatively minor, the other, horribly severe.

The damage from even a mild stroke is more profound than most can imagine. I hope that Bruschi is able to perform at an NFL level, but I doubt he will be able to do so. I believe a split second of reaction time lost, a slight dip in coordination, or reaction to information is enough, at NFL levels, to reduce a player from great to below adequate.

I admire Bruschi's determination and drive - I fear that won't be enough. And despite clearance, I have to worry about him playing what is probably the most suddenly traumatic and physically punishing sport in existence today. NO doctor can assure Bruschi that he won't have another stroke, and a more damaging one. All they can offer is a probability. And no one can say that football won't do anything but exacerbate the chance that he will have another.

As much as I admire his courage, I think his return is, at best, ill-advised.

by Ferg (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:36pm

Re #8: Wait, wait, so Chris Simms can’t win the big one?

I don't know if Will was referring to that or to following in the footsteps of his father. But that *was* a knock on Simms in college (with Oklahoma playing the role of the Pats).

by Fnor (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:53pm

re: Randy Moss
Will, I once read some commentator talking about Moss' injuries (last year, I believe), saying that he was going to be falling apart from here on out because the type of injury he had could be chronic if not "worked on" and Moss' questionable work ethic made permanent rehab unlikely.
Is there any truth to that, or was it just people hatin' on Moss?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:58pm

Fnor, Moss has always been so secretive that it is difficult to assess his personal habits. Given his inconsistent effort on the field, however, I suspect that he is also inconsistent in his training regimen. He kinda reninds me of Ken Griffey Jr.: Hall of Fame talent with enough work ethic to actually get to the Hall, but without enough to extend his production to the maximum amount of years.

by Harris (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 10:53pm

"Chris Simms, a player that has the same monkey as Peyton Manning . . ."

Nah, Simms has it worse. His father was a GOOD pro quarterback.

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 10:14pm

I'm among those who feel the Patrick Crayton injury is also a big deal for Dallas. But it could have even more of an impact than I thought: he's 26th in DPAR, and 7th in DVOA. I know it's a small sample size and all, but add those stats to his excellent hands and the ability he was starting to show to make plays after the catch, and oh man, it's bad, bad news... unless Bledsoe can restore the Peerless one to his old form.

by seamus (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 1:41am

Yes, Source Tags was a great album, but they totally jumped the shark on their last CD. Damn shame.

Still an excellent band name to say the least.

by TMK (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 3:34pm

I'm surprised there's no mention of the Ed Reed injury here -- it's being called a high sprain, which means it will have some long term effect, right?

Also, I submit that the modern equivalent of the blue Chevette is the red Dodge Caravan. We bought one back in 2002, and I have completely lost track of how many I have seen since. I'm not sure if they make it in any other color, even.

by rjh (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 5:47pm

re: bruschi. the only issue is whether the hole in his heart muscle has been successfully healed by surgical means or not. after all, that is what caused the "minor" stroke in the first place. and if i understand the medical explanation, said surgery is accomplished either by stitching up the hole or using some kind of plug material. given the typical mayhem inflicted on players on a regular basis (see the first part of this article), telling whether a wound is healed should be almost easy.
it's kind of ironic: no one ever questioned bruschi's heart but that's what let him down. now that it's fixed, aside from conditioning, he should be the new and improved tedy. watch out afc east!