Despite fears, replacement refs posed little extra danger to players
Injuries through three weeks likely not affected by use of replacement referees
Fred Jackson will be limited to splitting carries if he plays at all for Bills in Week 4
The fact that Matt Schaub lost helmet on big Week 3 hit prevented concussion
The NFL Players Association asked the NFL to bring back the normal referee crews, in part because they believed the replacement referees led to a deterioration in player safety. I'm not here to take sides on a labor issue, especially one just settled, but player safety is something I definitely take sides on. But I failed to see any great difference in safety with the replacement refs. Were there big hits, like the one that de-helmeted Matt Schaub or nearly decapitated Darrius Heyward-Bey? Yes, but even with the lack of a flag on the Heyward-Bey hit, I don't see how a normal ref would have stopped the hit.
Darrelle Revis and C.J. Spiller, a big star and a breakout player, hit the injury report this week, but one was a non-contact knee injury and the other was a traumatic injury on a garden-variety tackle. Having Ed Hochuli and his crew on the field wouldn't have stopped either. The scab refs were definitely affecting the quality of play on the field, but there's no evidence they might have affected safety. Perhaps we'll get that now in some sort of comparison between ref sets, but I've never seen any sort of breakdown from crew to crew, which tend to remain consistent. There's plenty of room for research here and perhaps another avenue for injury prevention and reduction.
There are plenty of injuries, whether or not the officials had anything to do with it, so let's get to it:
UPGRADE: Greg Little
DOWNGRADE: Mohamed Massaquoi
The Ravens are playing their fourth game in 19 days, so fatigue and wear likely is an issue. If so, the OIR doesn't show it. The Ravens have only three players on the list, and only Jah Reid is likely to be limited. The Browns have several key players, including Trent Richardson and Mohamed Massaquoi, on the list. Richardson should play normally, but Massaquoi is out this week. That keeps Greg Little in the starting lineup and gives him a chance to make catches. Joshua Cribbs could also pick up some looks at WR, if his calf holds up. Cribbs is a GTD+.
There was a time things looked bleak for the Bills. Spiller was down on the field, clutching his shoulder. Jackson was in street clothes, sidelined by a knee sprain. A couple days later, things are looking up. Jackson is back at practice, testing his knee, while Spiller has only a mild shoulder sprain and could be back as soon as next week. It's not ideal, and they may still be down to their RB3, Tashard Choice, in Week 4, but the long-term prognosis is decidedly better. Jackson is the one to watch as it's possible, but not probable, he could return this week. His lateral mobility will be the key and it's possible that it will be compromised even after he returns. At best, Jackson would split carries and would be limited to more straight ahead runs, making him a tough fantasy play even making a gutsy start.
The "grab test" is one of the best and simplest injury diagnostics. When a player is injured, where he grabs is almost always an accurate indicator of where the injury occurred. (The major exception is the foot and ankle, since some players cannot easily reach that area.) Bush reached down and grabbed his leg and initially appeared to be protecting an area just behind his knee. Further looks make it seem like he was stabilizing the patella, and that the team calked this a bruise further confirms that. Bush is not yet back at practice, so it's likely that the bruise is still tender and swollen. How quickly it heals up and he regains pain-free motion will determine whether he can play or if he'll be limited. The patella is relatively easy to protect with additional padding, so this shouldn't be a recurrence issue, "hot sauce" or not.
Forte has an extra day to heal this week, but indications are that won't be enough to get him back on the field. It's not just that he won't be a better option than Michael Bush at this stage, but that the Bears don't believe Forte will be ready to contribute. Putting Forte out there at this stage might also cause a setback and more missed time as well. Given their medical results and Bush's production, this is the safe, smart play and an easy decision to make for both the coaching and medical staffs. The question for fantasy players now is whether or not Forte's absence is costing him touches once he does return by virtue of Bush establishing himself. This almost never occurs in the way that most think. There's the occasional breakout of a backup -- Ryan Grant or C.J. Spiller come to mind -- but in most cases, the coaching staff has the entire off-season to make plans and tip any sort of timeshare well in advance. Bush is a semi-fragile player himself but is a suitable backup for Forte, who's had the occasional injury himself. Bush is doing exactly what the Bears wanted. Don't expect more -- or less.
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