Injuries are commonplace, and expected, in the NFL. 2014 has been particularly bad considering all of the new rules and safety precautions the NFL took at the beginning of the season. We will see the benefit of teaching players to tackle correctly in 10-15 years, but the more recent rash of head-to-head contact and lower body injuries (ACL/MCL/Achilles tears) might be a product of players trying to avoid penalties for hitting near the head area.
Despite the warnings and revised rules, football will never be a safe sport. An inherent risk is always present in a sport that relies on human bodies colliding at excessive speeds with brute force. Heads up certification and other programs like it are great ideas but they may have unintended consequences by forcing the impact of most hits to lower parts of the body. Yes, concussions are a big problem but what happens when a player ends up suffering a more severe injury such as a spinal injury?
Players are being flagged for hitting too low but the injuries outweigh the flags. Offensive players have been knocking defensive backs silly all season, making it one of the most injury riddled positions in the League. The NFL is very reactive in nature so until an injury occurs through a questionable tackle, block, etc. we won't know how they will approach the situation. All teams' fortunes are tied to injuries and it can affect both good and bad teams equally. Here are how some of the teams across the league have been dealing with this rash of injuries.
The Cowboys have been dealing with injuries since training camp, but have gotten by with a patchwork unit which stays off the field while Demarco Murray eats clock. The defense was dealt a deadly blow when middle linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL in training camp back in June, leading to the team trading for Rolando McClain on July 1st.
This move has created a ripple effect so far this season for the team. The Cowboys rolled to first place halfway through the season, but are now expereincing the dreaded injury bug. Tackle Doug Free, a key cog on the Cowboy’s offensive line, missed the Week 9 game against the Cardinals; coincidentally, that's also the first game Demarco Murray rushed for less than 100 yards. Backup Ronald Leary also went down with an injury leaving the duties of tackle to Mackenze Bernadeau. An offensive line’s flow is something that should not be tinkered with unless absolutely necessary and the way Free meshed with the rest of the starting O line cannot be denied. Justin Durant, whose work ethic and production has made him and up and coming defensive presence, tore his right bicep during the game against Washington, and the Cowboys are going to have a hard time replacing both Durant and the teams leading tackler. Morris Claiborne, a first round draft pick and starting cornerback who tore his ACL in a win versus the Saints.
Now with Tony Romo re-emerging back issues, the Cowboys may have hit their most formidable obstruction to the playoffs yet. Romo is questionable to face the Jaguars but participated in a light walk through this week so signs are pointing that he will play. The play of Brandon Weeden signaled a cause for concern. If the Cowboy’s want to keep winning they have to keep Romo healthy.
On a positive note Demarcus Lawrence has returned to the team after missing the first half of the season because of a broken foot. The Cowboys will face the toughest part of their schedule after the bye, giving them some time to heal up for the final leg of the season.
Washington has lost their defensive anchors in linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive back DeAngelo Hall. Orakpo suffered a torn right pectoral muscle, which might mark his final season with the Redskins; Hall has a torn achilles, another major blow to an already ailing secondary. The real injury issue has been at quarterback. RGIII has been injured for a large part of the season after dislocating his ankle.
Now that RGIII has returned so has the Redskin’s erratic offense. An offensive line that would show up for some games (Colt McCoy vs. Cowboys) faltered when facing the Vikings in the following week. Its clear that there is little cohesion on either side of the ball, so it will be interesting to see what happens now that RGIII is back, and just how long will he remain healthy.
The Eagles have faced the injury bug all season, beginning with the loss of All-Pro guard Evan Mathis early in the season. Now entering the final half of the season they will be without starting quarterback Nick Foles, who had his collarbone broken. This could be either a great comeback story for quarterback Mark Sanchez or a death rattle for an NFC East contender. In addition to Foles’ injury, the Eagles lost defensive captain and linebacker DeMeco Ryans to a torn achilles tendon. The Eagles start the rough part of their schedule without some of their key pieces intact, but if there was ever a coach prepared enough to get through such a rough injury period it would be Chip Kelly.
New York Giants
The Giants have easily had the worst luck with injuries this season in the NFC East. They have lost a remarkable amount of starters leaving rookies and backups to fill the void. First Victor Cruz, then Rashad Jennings, and now the Giants have lost their All-Pro cornerback Prince Amukamara to torn biceps in both arms. Add to this nagging injuries to their other starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and it's easy to see how crippled the Giants' offense and secondary have become.
The Giant’s defense also lost their captain Jon Beason to a broken foot and free agent defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins for an undetermined amount of time to a calf injury. These injuries could lead to the end of Tom Coughlin's career in NY; but, and more likely, it means no post-season for the G-Men.
San Francisco 49ers
No team has been bitten with more injuries to talented players than the 49ers. Currently 4-4 the 49ers have scratched and clawed to stay in the playoff hunt, but injuries to linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman and DT Glenn Dorsey, along with the suspension of Aldon Smith, has forced rookies into the fray on the defensive side of the ball. The 49er’s run game has proved potent at times however there is the sense that they should not lean on it to heavily since RB Kendall Hunter suffered a season ending injury. Even Marcus Lattimore retired without ever seeing live game action this week. This is definitely a team in flux, but hopes arise with the return of Willis and the emergence of Stevie Johnson in the passing game.
The Seahawk’s season has not gone according to plan as they sit in second place. The road only gets rougher for the defending Super Bowl champs. Linebacker Bobby Wagner has turf toe which means he could be out for a couple of weeks or months. Tight end Zach Miller has been out since early this season after getting ankle surgery; however if the Seahawks make the playoffs there is a chance that he will return in time for the post-season. The Seahawks will also be without cornerback Byron Maxwell for several weeks do to a calf strain. The Seahawks will need all the help they can get as they struggle to keep pace in the NFC west.
St Louis Rams
The St Louis Rams were dealt a cruel blow early in the season as starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL for the second time in two seasons. This took a team that was struggling to compete in a tough division and put them behind the 8-Ball (again). Defensive end Chris Long has also fallen victim to the injury bug after undergoing ankle surgery. Although they were able to upset the 49ers on the road last week, the rest of the season will be a tough road to travel
The Arizona Cardinals have thrived on their reserves, especially defensive highlight Tommy Kelly. In the beginning of the season they faced the season without the services of DL Darnell Dockett and LB John Abraham. Carson Palmer suffered a nerve injury that forced him out of three games, but the reserves stepped in and have helped the team secure the top spot in the League so far. The Cardinals have flourished when faced with adversity, lets see if this continues in the second half of the season.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have had problems in the secondary all season, however that all started with the loss of all pro Safety Jairus Byrd. Jimmy Graham’s nagging shoulder injury that forced him out of several contests has healed and it shows with the Saint’s offense having reagined some of its punch. The Saints are getting healthy at the right time, so expect the duo of Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks to lead the way to a playoff push.
Injuries have plagued the Lions all year at every position. Running backs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, and their back ups have been getting dinged up all season but the biggest blow comes from the loss of Calvin Johnson who has been suffering from a high ankle sprain. All of the tight ends on the Lions have been injured at one point but the offense has pressed on. The defense has had their own issues, starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch being placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL. The Lions have been rolling and Calvin Johnson is about to make his return, so we'll see if they can get healthy in the second half of the season.
The biggest injury for the Vikings came in the form of a quarterback change. When Matt Cassel went down the burden fell on rookie Teddy Bridgewater. This season will be the best test for him as a quarterback since the team is relying so heavily on his ability to get the ball down the field, especially without the services of Adrian Peterson. Although he was not lost to injury, losing him for any reason is a major blow to the team. Their success depends on his legs and Bridgewater's maturation
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have played tremendously well after a shaky start. The Pat’s have lost running back Steven Ridley for the season after tearing his ACL and MCL. His role will likely be filled with a heavy dose of Shane Vereen and the rest of the Patriot’s run game. On the defensive side of the ball the Pat’s lost their starting linebacker Jerod Mayo for the year with a torn petellar tendon. Star defensive end Chandler Jones has been dealing with nagging injuries, but the Patriots continue to roll.
So we see that while the injury bug has plagued all teams at one point or another, some have been able to plug holes and thrive, while others are struggling and being exposed. We'll see what happens health-wise now that the second half of the season is upon us.