Mike James gets a ride on the dreaded cart
I'm sick of "next man up."
I can't tell you how many times I've heard it. Each time a player goes down, one of the talented players that we all drafted at the top of our drafts and built our hopes on for a great fantasy season, we hear it again. It's past cliche at this stage and has become destructive to the game.
The idea is right. Someone is going to have to step up and perform. The idea that there's little or no drop-off from the first string to the second string just insults our intelligence. Coaches tell us how hard they work in camp to separate and stratify the players. They agonize over roster moves, personnel packages and such, then turn around and say they're meaningless due to "next man up."
Injuries can't be prevented. In a collision sport like the NFL, there are going to be injuries. Next man up implies that not only do they not matter, but that they can't be reduced. Not prevented, but reduced. In a season of ACL injuries and Lisfranc fractures, even a small reduction could make a huge difference, and yet, teams shrug their shoulders, hold the podium and say "next man up."
It denigrates the work of the athletic trainers and doctors. It reduces the work that players put in on rehab and conditioning. It waves its hand dismissively at the cost of injuries, both in salary lost, talent on the field and the pain it sympathetically hands out to a fanbase.
Next man up is an excuse, not a motivational technique. It's time the NFL focused a lot more on keeping the next man from going down than saying next man up. For now, let's look around the league...
INJURY: sprained ankle
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 11
Peyton Manning came out of the San Diego game with a pronounced limp. An MRI says that there's no additional damage, according to the AP, but that's small consolation. Manning has been playing with a high ankle sprain for several games. The Broncos say it started with the Jacksonville game, but it became a major issue during the Indianapolis game.
Manning is hardly a mobile QB, but he does need to have some minimum level of movement to be safe and successful. Manning's neck is stable, so don't make this into an issue that involves that. This is merely about Manning being able to avoid hits and extend time in the pocket, which are two skills every QB needs in the NFL.
The Broncos medical staff will be working to keep him and the ankle stable over the next few weeks. Avoiding exacerbations like this will be tough since bracing in the area is often something that makes players, especially a creature of habit like Manning, uncomfortable. This will be a tough task for them, but it's possible. The Broncos will have to push to lock up their playoff position early in hopes of finding some rest for Manning before the playoffs.
INJURY: high ankle sprain/strained groin
OUTLOOK: out for Week 11
Save all the tough guy talk for some other column. I don't care whether Jay Cutler is "tough" and less about whether you think he is. I'm focused on the injuries here, and while pain tolerance is an issue, I'm much more interested in function.
It's impossible to say whether playing through the groin strain led to the high ankle sprain. Cascade injuries are almost always a bit of conjecture, and with any traumatic injury like the one Cutler suffered, it's a lot more speculative. While people on Twitter were speculating about Cutler's groin and how fatigued it was, the simple fact is that he was playing through a high ankle sprain, the same as Peyton Manning. Limping is limping.
The Bears will hold Cutler out for at least a week, per Tribune reports. Josh McCown gives them an option that Marc Trestman has some level of confidence in, and Cutler's simply not physically able to play right now. This could take more than just a week, depending on how Cutler heals and how hard he pushes to get back on the field.
We do know now that the groin strain was not a rupture as the Bears had intimated, but instead a mid-grade groin strain. Cutler made some adjustments, especially in his pre-snap stance, but they seemed to be reasonable accommodations. He'd be better given time to heal up, but the clock is ticking on the season.
INJURY: Lisfranc fracture
OUTLOOK: done for 2013 season
The quick news that Jake Locker was done for the season tells us what the Titans didn't spell out. Locker has suffered a Lisfranc fracture to one or more bones in his midfoot. A Lisfranc sprain could be as serious, but it would have needed an MRI exam to confirm and the chance of him returning would likely have held back the quick shift to IR.
Locker may need surgery—the results are mixed and depend on how out of place the bones are post-fracture—but regardless, the recovery time is usually measured in months, not weeks. The recovery is regular and easily monitored, so Locker should be able to come back well. His mobility should return as well, though he may have some issues with it early in his return.
The Titans have injuries all over the field, but none as key as Locker. With a short week ahead of a key division game with the Colts, the team will have to make quick adjustments. A loss puts them more or less out for the division and in a very tough spot for a playoff seed. The Titans saw their QB make strides this season, but the foot won't take him all the way.
INJURY: herniated lumbar disc
OUTLOOK: done for 2013 season
We can close the book on a disappointing season for Arian Foster. He was always risky, as I warned everyone, but usually there is more production among the risk. (Actually, there may be more risk at the top of drafts than we've ever seen before, something that may necessitate a huge change in draft boards. I'm working on this now, and from early research, I can tell you that you shouldn't be drafting a RB first overall next season.)
The Texans and Foster had struggled through injuries all season, including a back injury in camp. It turns out, that may have been the root cause of the problems he suffered. Now, Foster will have surgery, likely a microdiscectomy, to take pressure off the nerves coming from his lumbar spine. Those nerves' issues could have led to leg problems or small gait issues that led to the muscular issues, as well as the localized back pain.
Foster should be able to come back from this. Microdiscectomies and similar procedures are relatively common in the NFL. Foster has plenty of time, and with Ben Tate unlikely to return next season, a team in transition will hope that Foster can return to some measure of his previous production. Watch to see how the Texans use Dennis Johnson to get some indication of whether this season is turning into a bit of a tryout camp.
INJURY: high ankle sprain
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 11
The Bills sat C.J. Spiller a couple of weeks back, a tough decision intended to let the medical staff get ahead of his lingering high ankle sprain. It worked, kind of. Spiller was able to get back on the field and showed more lateral movement, but he wasn't near full-go.
Worse, he had a setback in Week 10, and while it's not all the way back to square one, it's not good. The Bills have struggled to stay healthy all around this season, meaning Doug Marrone has barely gotten a look at what appears to be an improving offense in whole. Marrone insisted to the Bills official site that it wasn't the ankle that kept him from working Spiller more, but that would imply he doesn't know how to deploy his best asset. I'll stay positive.
Spiller is going to be a risky play if he's back in Week 11. There's the question of how many touches he'll get on top of how healthy he is. His function was the problem when he returned to quickly, so it's hard to do more than wait and see. Practice may not give us much more clarity, so Fred Jackson becomes a decent flex option and Tashard Choice could be a deeper option.
INJURY: sprained ankle
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 11 (Thursday)
"Play" and "start" get overused in NFL analysis. We have better data now than just who was on the field at the start of the game. We have snap counts, participation, All-22 and, soon, sensor output like location and speed. So saying that Trent Richardson is likely to play Thursday isn't that instructive.
Richardson played on Sunday, but not much. He took a handful of carries, showed nothing and was relegated to the bench for much of the game. Some of that may well have been his ankle holding him back. While the Colts continue to try to distract from their own report of a sprain, sources tell me that Richardson wasn't as sure he could play on Sunday as he'd let on.
With a short week leading up to a division game, Richardson won't have as much time to heal. Pair that with an offense that seems ill-suited for him and that has made no adjustments to him, and Richardson is a tough start in any format. Until the Colts fix their line issues, Richardson just has no shot. The long week after Thursday's game might be their last hope.
Mike James: Late word from Tampa is that Mike James has an ankle fracture. Unless later tests show it is a simple fibula fracture, James' season is done. That pushes the Bucs even further down their depth chart, perhaps to Brian Leonard. If you believe some of James' success was system—and Leonard's decent night on Monday indicates maybe it was—then Leonard isn't a bad pickup.
Dez Bryant: Bryant's back issue isn't a disc, but a facet joint. Without getting into technicalities, that's neither better nor worse, but knowing the specific problem allows for specific management. The key now is maintenance for function, and the Cowboys have been good at that with Bryant and others.
Randall Cobb: Cobb can't practice for a couple of more weeks, but sources tell me all signs point to Cobb returning as planned at the eight-week mark. That's a bit late for most fantasy leagues, but I'm sure Aaron Rodgers (or Scott Tolzien!) will be happy to see him back.
Roddy White: White was on the field for almost every offensive snap. Better, there's no reports of any issues with swelling or pain after the game. The medical staff will keep a close eye on this, but it appears that he's healed up from both the hamstring and ankle issues. The downside now is the lack of targets that came his way in his first week back.
Kenny Vaccaro: Vaccaro showed why the NFL was adamant about knee pads. It's not just to protect knees, but the knee-to-helmet hits like what Vaccaro suffered are dulled somewhat. Vaccaro's concussion was clear, but there was a great response. The official on the sidelines immediately called for the medical staff and made some gesture. I'd be very curious to see who or what he was signaling. The Saints are being cautious and say Vaccaro will miss at least the next game.