Stat of the Week
Somewhere down on the list of the little headlines from the NFL's annual fall meetings last week was the one about an 18-game regular-season schedule roaring down the tracks and headed for the 2010 or 2011 season, presumably with a corresponding drop in preseason games from four to two. I am stunned by how little discussion and debate over this issue is taking place, until I realize one thing: Playing 18 regular-season games would not make the football product better, but it would make the owners richer. In a corresponding way, yes, it would make the players richer too, because whatever new CBA is done in the coming years, it will include something like the current 60-percent-of-football-revenues take for players, so if there are more games, it means more for players. I keep hearing from owners about how they want to "grow the game.'' To what? You mean the game isn't enough of an 800-pound gorilla already? You mean you want more?
"The No. 1 driving force for this is to satisfy the fans,'' Jerry Jones said after I'd given him my spiel. "Fans are already paying for 20 games [16 regular-season plus four preseason games], and they'd be doing the same thing under an 18-game schedule. This is a way to up the quality of the games for all fans. Now [Peter], I can tell you're thinking, 'Jerry, that's a bunch of BS ...''
"That's right,'' I threw in.
"But this would be two more games that fans want,'' he said.
I don't doubt that fans would want two more weeks of football. Football's a blast. We all love it. My point: What games exactly would fans get? Who will play in them? The game is so injury-plagued already. There's no perfect stat for predicting the effect of an 18-game season on player injuries, and on starting lineups late in the season and in the playoffs.
But remember Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith's words about the sport we love to watch, from late in his career: Sundays are like a series of car crashes. It's Russian roulette with the human body.
We're not even halfway through the season, and already teams have averaged 30.6 starters used league-wide; not all of those starting positions have changed hands because of injury, but most have. To show how impactful injuries have been this season (and judging by the number of starters per team at a similar point compared to past years, the injury factor is about the same as it's been in recent season), I drew up a list of players who have missed at least one game due to injury over the first seven weeks. You may notice on this list two players who play the same position on the same team. For instance, I list both San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman and his preseason backup Jyles Tucker because once Merriman went down with knee surgery in September, Tucker took over and was the starter until straining a hamstring in Week 4.
The 2008 casualties through Week 7:
The top two players of 2007: Tom Brady (2007 Most Valuable Player, 2007 Offensive Player of the Year), Bob Sanders (2007 Defensive Player of the Year).
Starting quarterbacks (10): Brady, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Edwards, Jon Kitna, Matt Schaub, Brodie Croyle, Vince Young, Brian Griese.
Pro Bowl players in 2007 (20): Osi Umenyiora, Al Harris, Devin Hester, Brian Westbrook, Shawn Andrews, Terrance Newman, Roy Williams (safety), Josh Cribbs, Willis McGahee, Kellen Winslow, Marcus McNeill, Casey Hampton, Shawne Merriman, Willie Parker, Jason Taylor, Jeff Saturday, Joseph Addai, Brady, Bob Sanders, Aaron Schobel.
Starting offensive skill players (50): Addai, Parker, Westbrook, Hester, Cribbs, McGahee, Winslow, Anquan Boldin, Dallas Clark, Benjamin Watson, Laurence Maroney, Jeremy Shockey, Marques Colston, Ahman Green, Chris Chambers, Jerry Porter, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, James Jones, Javon Walker, Joey Galloway, Justin Fargas, L.J. Smith, Drew Bennett, Justin McCareins, David Patten, Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler, Selvin Young, Ben Utecht, Joe Jurevicius, Ernest Wilford, Michael Clayton, Rashard Mendenhall, Cadillac Williams, Nate Burleson, Randy McMichael, Billy McMullen, Brandon Lloyd, Sidney Rice, Thomas Tapeh, Mike Karney, Maurice Morris, Jeremi Johnson, George Wrighster, Brian Leonard, Dennis Northcutt, B.J. Askew.
The rest (117): Ed Reed, Samari Rolle, Orlando Pace, Antonio Pierce, Madieu Williams, Maurice Williams, Jimmy Williams, Kelly Gregg, DeWayne Robertson, Eric Steinbach, Edwin Mulitalo, Marvel Smith, Tom Nalen, Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington, Nathan Vasher, Cullen Jenkins, Dunta Robinson, Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Jeff Otah, Leonard Little, Derrick Burgess, Donnie Edwards, E.J. Henderson, Samari Rolle, Michael Boulware, Steve Neal, Willie McGinest, Jonas Jennings, Atari Bigby, Manny Lawson, Phillip Daniels, Mike McKenzie, Hollis Thomas, Scott Fujita.
Chris Naeole, Randall Gay, Roman Harper, Kevin Kaesviharn, Antwan Lake, Deshea Townsend, Patrick Surtain, Justin Gage, Sam Baker, Bertrand Berry, Tye Hill, Drayton Florence, Will Demps, Jyles Tucker, Sedrick Ellis, Tony Ugoh, Dwan Edwards, Dawan Landry, Derek Landri, Von Hutchins, Shawntae Spencer, Ray Edwards, Rob Meier, Kelvin Hayden, Terrence McGee, Cooper Carlisle, Al Johnson, Brett Keisel, Antwan Lake, Fabian Washington, Adam Terry, Grady Jackson, Napoleon Harris, Travelle Wharton, Dexter Jackson, Sean Jones, Anthony Adams, Angelo Crowell, Reed Doughty, Robaire Smith.
Jarvis Moss, Gerald Alexander, C.C. Brown, Ryan Lilja, Vince Manuwai, Stephen Peterman, Brandon Albert, Justin Miller, Kenechi Udeze, Tracy Porter, Scott Wells, Marcus McCauley, Mark Simoneau, Chris Gray, Rob Sims, Stephon Heyer, Ricky Manning, Mark Setterstrom, Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Domonique Foxworth, Brodney Pool, Lewis Sanders, Ryan Tucker, Reggie Nelson, Anthony Spencer, Brad Meester, Orpheus Roye, Anthony Smith, Nick Hardwick, John Thornton, Tully Banta-Cain, Ahmad Brooks, Sean Locklear, Jason Fabini, Kyle Kosier, Davin Joseph, Charles Tillman.
Non-starters but key performers: Kickers/punters (8) -- Lawrence Tynes, Mike Nugent, Josh Miller, Shayne Graham, Mat McBriar, Daniel Sepulveda, Martin Gramatica, Reggie Hodges. Weapons (3) -- Felix Jones, Roscoe Parrish, Yamon Figurs.
This was an unscientific study by me, using injured-reserve, Physically Unable to Perform and inactive lists after the first seven weeks of games. I'm sure I missed some. And in some cases, I used my judgment; for instance, I didn't put Courtney Taylor and Logan Payne, the Seattle wide receivers, on the list because even though they started a game (and Payne was put out for the season on his first series with a knee injury) they'd never have been starters had seven Seahawk receivers not been sidelined by injuries this year. Ironic: I keep a guy off the list because his team was too injury-plagued and it seemed silly to put him there, and then HE goes down for the season.
Moral of the story: Before the NFL ramrods this proposal through, it had better analyze the reams of injury data it keeps deep in the vault at 280 Park Avenue. And it had better analyze the doomsday scenarios of a bunch of practice-squadders helping decide the playoff picture one of these years. Or else it's going to be asking for the equivalent of a playoff game with Jim Sorgi throwing to Devin Aromashodu and handing the ball to Kenton Keith.
Good Guy of the Week
Dallas Clark, tight end, Indianapolis.
In this business, we in the media often rely on players and coaches to call us back. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but rarely do we get a phone call like the one I got last week from Indianapolis Pro Bowler Dallas Clark, who I tried to reach in the wake of the Colts' first vintage offensive game of the season.
"Peter, this is Dallas Clark of the Colts. I just wanted to call and let you know that I did get the message to call you after the game, and I left the locker room, and got with my family and friends, and went out to eat, and I totally forgot to call you. I apologize. I totally forgot and I'm really sorry. I just wanted to let you know I should have called you. It wasn't anybody's fault but mine, and I'm sorry. I hope you're having a good day, and if you need me, reach out to me again. I will talk to you soon. Bye bye.''
The Way We Were
Brandon Jacobs vs. Marion Motley.
A 6-foot-1, 238-pound running back would be large today. Sixty years ago, he was Paul Bunyan. That's what Marion Motley seemed like in the heyday of the All-America Football Conference, a league full of the same kind of stars the American Football League had in the 1960s.
I am making a giant leap by putting Jacobs in Motley's league. He is certainly not there yet, and chances are he never will be. But I do this because Jacobs' physical running style reminds me of Motley's, and Jacobs is so much bigger than the back of this day, as was Motley with the backs of his day.
Motley, a slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer inducted in one of the first classes, led all backs in the four-year history of the AAFC with 3,024 yards and 31 touchdowns, averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his career while never rushing more than 157 times in a season. "I always had the feeling I should have carried the ball more,'' Motley said after he retired. "But Paul Brown was a winner. He didn't need any advice from me.''
When the Browns entered the NFL in 1950, Motley was the sledgehammer who gave Brown, who had the best quarterback in the game in Otto Graham, the guts to play either aerial football or Woody Hayes football. Late in the 1950 season, when the Browns met defending NFL champ Philadelphia, Graham threw zero passes, and the Browns grounded out a 13-7 win. A big reason was the ability of Motley -- eight pounds heavier than Philly block-of-granite middle linebacker Chuck Bednarik -- to play ball-control football.
Jacobs weighs 270 pounds. Over the last two seasons, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, he's become the kind of steamrolling big back the Giants use to knock the will out of foes. Against Seattle two weeks ago, he was outweighed by only three of 11 defensive starters and barreled for 136 yards on 15 carries. The Giants -- as Brown did with Motley -- seem to be preserving Jacobs; he had only 14 touches against Cleveland, though he and the running game wore the Browns down with 25 carries for 181 yards, and he averages 17.5 carries per game since becoming the regular Giants' back beginning last season.
Motley loved the physical aspect of the game ("I never had a problem with running over people instead of around them,'' he once said), and Jacobs gets energized by it too. Now all he has to do is last about seven more effective, bruising years -- and block with a zeal that Motley had -- to be in Motley's league.