Rash of injuries tax depth charts
Packers taking patient approach before writing off Jermichael Finley for season
Ben Roethlisberger's time away from team shouldn't increase risk for injury
Rex Ryan is allowing Darrelle Revis to determine return from hamstring issue
There's a tough balance in this job. First and foremost, I have to give you good information. I'm not perfect, but I hope you readers get some value out of this column. Judging from conversation on Twitter, many of you are. Second, I have to educate you. I have to explain why a specific injury is a problem, why it affects a player in a certain way, and I have to help you understand how it affects your favorite team or your fantasy team. Sometimes that's harder than others. I'll often feel like I'm repeating myself over and over -- "a sprain is a tear" comes to mind -- but with each new reader that comes in every week, they might not have heard that. So this week's theme is "injury stack." An injury stack is a series of injuries at one position or unit that taxes the depth of a unit and puts pressure on the already overtaxed medical staffs of a team. There's several of them around football and how teams deal with them can make or break seasons. Let's take a closer look:
With the increased notice of concussions, it's a bit ironic that Rodgers' happened on the last real play of an overtime game. The big hit and the cumulative effect of a defense's knocks on a QB might both be factors. Rodgers' didn't seem to lose consciousness for any significant time, but as of Thursday morning, he still hadn't passed through the necessary tests. It's still possible that he'll start on Sunday, but that assumes that everything goes well between now and then. Even then, Mike McCarthy and his team are going to have to keep a close eye on him. (One doctor told me a story yesterday about Greg McElroy, Alabama's QB this year who suffered a concussion that was not noticed by anyone until he was in the huddle calling plays that didn't exist.) Matt Flynn will be at the ready, but the fact that most people couldn't name Flynn without looking up the depth chart tells you how important it is that Rodgers plays.
This one will be a true GTD with a bias toward playing Rodgers. Look for him to be cleared Thursday and practicing as soon as Thursday afternoon. The worry then becomes second impact, and when we start getting into that, it's the point where we have to openly wonder if someone's going to die.
The Packers lost two TEs on Sunday, a real problem for a team that's made so much use of their TE on the passing tree, specifically the Coryell "20" patterns that occupy a zone defense. Finley has been the TE1 for the Packers and for many fantasy teams this year, but knee surgery this week found significant damage to his knee, necessitating a more involved surgery. In the day and age where a meniscectomy is as routine as wart removal, Finley's knee could keep him out for more than the two or three weeks we're normally seeing. Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com even reported that Finley had told teammates he could be done for the season.
What could have been found in his knee that would create such a disparity between expected and actual results? First, the medial meniscus was severely damaged, and instead of being repaired, it was able to be repaired, likely using a technique called burring. By repairing, the long term issues like bone on bone grinding can be avoided, but it does increase the healing time necessary. Even at the extreme long end, Finley would be expected back at the eight week mark, and with the Packers a possible playoff team, that's valuable to them. Since the Packers didn't immediately make a move for the IR, it's reasonable to assume that they have some expectation of a return, enough to at least watch and wait through the first week or so of rehab. If you can afford the roster spot, you should do the same.
Addai left last Sunday's game with what was described as a "neck/shoulder" injury, leaving Mike Hart to do the cleanup work on the Colts TD drive last Sunday. Addai was too stiff to get into a light practice on Monday, but reports from the Colts suggest his prognosis is good. Addai is expected to get normal work on Thursday and Friday, but make sure to follow the practice reports to make sure this happens. The Colts might also get Brown back into the mix after missing a couple weeks with a hamstring strain. Brown has been brought back "methodically", according to one source, due both to the injury and a frustration with his pass blocking that cost him some in-game reps. It's possible that both are available and go back to the expected timeshare. Expect both to be listed as "questionable" and to be GTDs.
The Browns have the very definition of injury stack at QB, sharing not only the same position, but also the same injury. Not only does Delhomme have a sprained ankle, but he was forced into last Sunday's game when Wallace sprained his ankle. Worse, Wildcat QB Josh Cribbs has -- you guessed it -- an ankle sprain. That leaves the only healthy QB on the roster as rookie Colt McCoy, who I hope is already braced. Delhomme had been out for a couple weeks and was clearly still limited when he was in the game. He needed a painkiller injection before the game and some reports had him getting another at some point during the game. The Browns refused comment on this and it could not be confirmed independently. Regardless, Delhomme's lingering sprain is problematic enough to keep him out of practice through Thursday and puts his availability at about the same point as last week. Unless there's a major change, Delhomme is more likely to be the QB2.
Wallace's high ankle sprain is more serious, being both fresher and attached to a QB that relies on mobility. There's very little chance that Wallace will be able to play this week. Moreover, this is an injury that could linger and cost Wallace a month or more.
That leaves Cribbs, who was limited last week by a sprain and a lack of passing, who could see more time in the Wildcat, to protect McCoy some, and who would be a nice target in the short game for McCoy, assuming his ankle sprain clears up. We'll have to watch the practice reports closely on Cribbs, but facing the Steelers is no easy assignment for any team, let alone one so banged up.
The injuries aren't just at QB for the Browns. They're also dealing with a quad strain to their RB1, Hillis. The initial strain happened last week during a Thursday practice. The Grade I strain wasn't a big deal, described by Hillis as a "tightness," but during Sunday's game, the strain was aggravated and Hillis had to come out. The Browns seem to be thinking that Hillis will be in much the same situation this week, and given the timeline, that's reasonable. Hillis went from Thursday to Sunday able to play, so a full week of treatment should help. The team did make a deal for Mike Bell, a similar power back, but that is thought to be as much about dissatisfaction with Jerome Harrison as it is with anything else. Bell would complement Hillis either way, especially if the Browns go power-run heavy in hopes of protecting McCoy and slowing down the game against the Steelers.
There's some interesting data regarding players who miss training camp and injuries. This week, while calling about something else, an NFL FOT (front office type) whom I speak with regularly asked whether anyone had ever looked at the injury rate for players coming off suspension. Did missing time with the team raise the risk? It was an interesting question, but not one I had (or have) a good answer for. It makes sense on one level, but even the old-school "have to get used to being hit" mantra still doesn't hold water with me. Maybe 20 years ago, but in today's NFL, players have personal trainers, personal chefs, workout facilities and all the powers of sports science on their side. Why would all that that create a level of risk that being around a team and taking hits wouldn't? One of the problems with facts is that they don't come with an instruction manual. We just don't know. I'm not saying that Roethlisberger or any of the players that come back are more risky, but there's also no reason not to at least consider it.
Johnson has a shoulder injury that's limiting his ability to reach out and raise his right arm. The Lions aren't saying exactly what the injury is, but something on the AC sprain spectrum is the reasonable suspect given how he landed on it. Padding, strength and a little luck saved him from a more significant injury. Johnson's ability to reach has a pretty big impact on his ability to effectively play WR and the Lions have a bye week coming in Week 7, so they could be a bit more conservative than normal. Still, we're seeing a bias to playing at all levels and Johnson has been practicing. If he's effectively "one handed" but can't do more damage, he could be used as a decoy at worst. Whether it's Randy Moss or Alshon Jeffery, there's also a SportsCenter-influenced shift toward the one-handed catch. It seems like Lester Hayes won, after all.
The most interesting part of this week's story on Revis' injury has been the dialogue Rex Ryan has had about putting the decision on Revis. It speaks to respect and being a "player's coach" on one level, but Ryan also took the decision out of the field and medical staffs' hands, which could hurt them going forward. Clearly, the team has a massive investment in Revis and it's very unlikely that a recommendation from the medical staff wasn't involved. Yet the final decision was on Revis, and when he played and aggravated the injury on a windy, rainy night at the Meadowlands, that decision became one that could be problematic beyond the time missed. Revis did not practice on Wednesday and looks to be headed toward a GTD on Sunday. The fantasy viability of Kyle Orton hinges on Revis' availability.
I couldn't let this pass, not this week. Karma ... The Bears are trying to sell that Jay Cutler was cleared to practice, but not to play last Sunday. I'm not buying it. He remains cleared, a good sign, and should be under center on Sunday. The National Football Post reported that this is Cutler's fifth concussion ... Matthew Stafford made it interesting, but he'll be out this week as well. The Lions are hoping he'll be back in Week 8 after the bye ... Michael Vick is back throwing, but his ribs have not healed to a point where he's going to play in Week 6. Getting back out on the field in a non-contact manner helps him keep his claim on the starting job ... Despite some early week optimism, Knowshon Moreno wasn't back at practice on Wednesday ... Maurice Jones-Drew got a little lucky with his wrist sprain. It was painful, but there's no lasting damage ... Pierre Thomas is out again for the Saints this week. ... If Darren McFadden is able to go this week, he'll be Michael Bush's backup, not a timeshare ... Andre Johnson made it through last week without an apparent setback, but sources say he was very sore on Monday, making it through the game due to the work of the medical staff ... Yes, Mark Clayton is done for the season after rupturing his patellar tendon. People often ask me why I don't cover season-ending injuries like this more closely. Because they're season ending ... Legedu Naanee left Sunday's game with a hamstring strain and is still having issues mid-week. Watch this one closely ... The Packers lose Nick Barnett for six to eight weeks after wrist surgery. Clay Matthews will be a GTD with a hamstring strain. Yes, the Packers medical staff should be stocking up on Red Bull ... In addition to the Injury Report and the Med Check, I'll be starting a Sunday evening fantasy column here called "Fast Forward" that will start your fantasy week. We'll get the early word on injuries, role changes, and observations from around the league. Hope you'll join me starting this Sunday.