Welcome to Tuesday following the third week of NFL football.
Running backs took a beating this week, with many ending up on the injury report. This is the time of year when teams start to get banged up and players attempt to fight through injuries. The majority of injuries to key fantasy players this past weekend were not necessarily season-threatening, but these injuries might become productivity-threatening if they linger. The question for fantasy owners becomes not only whether a player will be active or not, but also how effective will he be if he is on the field? Isn't it better for a player to rest and recover (presuming the team gives everyone enough notice to seek a substitute) rather than rush to return and flounder? It seems that NFL teams are asking this same question.
Recently, it appears that teams have taken a more conservative approach in managing injuries, particularly early in the season. While I have no specific evidence of this, it seems that teams are resting players during the week following an injury in the hope that it allows them a better chance to play (and play well) on Sunday. The old adage -- "If you don't practice, you don't play" -- doesn't seem to be a hard-and-fast line anymore, particularly when it comes to star players. Just look at Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, who missed the bulk of the preseason as well as in-season practice time because of illness (migraines) and injury (hip). He continues to play a featured role in the Vikings' offense and they have already shown they will work around his ailments.
In some cases, teams appear to be holding players out from a week (or more) of competition if there is concern that the injury could worsen. In other words, the big picture of the overall season is taking precedent over any given week. San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews perhaps could have gutted it out this past week, but there was clearly concern about his injury worsening, so the team rested him Sunday. That rest appears to have paid off. As of Monday, Mathews was already reporting positive news following a workout. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mathews, who had already begun treadmill work last week, did his most significant workout since the injury and stated, "I felt like my normal self." That's a good omen for fantasy owners for this weekend.
Here's the early injury watch list coming off Week 3.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens: Rice took a hard fall to the ground square on the front of his right knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, and the ground left its mark. That mark came in the form of a big bruise, called a "significant contusion" by coach John Harbaugh. According to the Baltimore Sun, Rice has not been definitively ruled out for Sunday's contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the team will assess his progress throughout the week. The most positive aspect of Rice's injury news is that an MRI showed no ligament or cartilage damage.
For those who might be wondering why a bruise would be enough to keep a player sidelined for a week, it's important to remember that a bruise is the result of bleeding. A "significant" contusion, as Rice's injury was described by his coach, suggests there was significant bleeding and swelling around the front of his knee. Not only does the swelling have to decrease in order for the muscles around the knee to fire properly, but activity too soon after bleeding can lead to other, more serious complications. Week 4 is certainly in question at this point and fantasy owners should prepare accordingly.
Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: After having his legs stretched apart like a wishbone Sunday, Jackson is fortunate that his groin strain appears to be relatively mild. In the offseason, during his recovery from back surgery, Johnson worked diligently on his strength in an effort to ensure that he would stay healthy. It's pretty tough to train for the scenario he encountered Sunday, though, when defenders forced him into an awkward split-like position.
While Jackson has been tweeting that he's moving around fine and while the Rams are breathing a sigh of relief because the injury does not appear serious, the team is still likely to be cautious, especially during practice. According to the Rams' website, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "What you don't want to do is get him out there too soon and set him back, because the whole goal will be to get him to the game on Sunday." Fantasy owners should bear in mind that Jackson has endured a groin injury before, so he will know to be cautious.
Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions: Best suffered a Grade II turf toe injury in his right big toe Sunday according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, an injury that could turn into a chronic issue if not managed properly. Turf toe involves spraining the ligaments that support the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. The critical demand placed on this joint during push-off cannot be underestimated. Not only does the joint demand mobility, it must be simultaneously stable enough to support the full body weight at that final moment of pushing forward off the foot. Severe turf toe injuries can be career-threatening and minor turf toe injuries can become major ones if not attended to properly.
Given that Best could not put pressure on his toe after Sunday's game, according to the Detroit Free Press, it seems like a stretch that he would be ready for Week 4. Despite reports that he is day-to-day, it would not be surprising if Best rests this week. After all, the Lions often refrain from offering up timetables on their injured players, referring to them as day-to-day or week-to-week (quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has been out since Week 1 with an AC sprain, has been described as week-to-week all along). Best, who also injured his left big toe in Week 1 (although that sounded minor in comparison to this latest injury) would be facing the Green Bay Packers. While a healthy Best would be desirable, an injured Best most certainly is not. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith, who has been recovering from ACL surgery, appears to be almost ready for prime time. Coach Jim Schwartz told the Detroit Free Press that Smith is "a lot closer now than he was in preseason." Fantasy owners should begin making insurance plans now.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Johnson was already on the list for his sprained right ankle but played Sunday, as expected, and then aggravated the injury. According to the Texans' website, Johnson told reporters after the game, "We're just going to take the same approach as we did last week as far as the treatment." Johnson noted that he felt great on the ankle until the moment when it was aggravated. His attitude would suggest that his goal is to be back in the lineup in Week 4.
While you love to see a player take that approach, fantasy owners should consider coach Gary Kubiak's assessment of the situation. Kubiak projected, "He will be day-to-day and we will be smart with Andre Johnson." In other words, the Texans face the Oakland Raiders this week in what could be a difficult matchup for Johnson. While Johnson is known to be a tough player who will do everything he can to be on the field, Kubiak reminded people that there is a long way to go, another reminder that the value for the season has to be measured against the value of any given week.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: Last week, Witten made the Tuesday column because of a concussion he suffered during the Week 2 contest that forced him out early. This week, Witten sustained a different injury, a sprained MCL in his right knee.
According to ESPNDallas.com, Witten says he's fine. Anyone who knows Witten knows his willingness to play through injury and pain, so his assessment of the situation is hardly surprising. The bye week comes at a perfect time, giving him some forced rest for the knee. At this point, there's no particular reason to think he will not be available in Week 5, but practice reports over the next two weeks should provide clues.
Other quick hits
• Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to resume light throwing this week, according to the Detroit Free Press. He would still be very unlikely to play in Week 4. Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson is hoping to return this week from his ankle injury, however.
• Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas experienced some tingling after an awkward landing Sunday, according to the Denver Post, but it appears that he escaped serious injury. Whenever you hear "tingling," you think nerve, but the fact that the symptoms cleared quickly is a good sign.
• With the Minnesota Vikings on bye this week, they are not obligated to provide an injury report, so we won't be hearing about tight end Visanthe Shiancoe until next week. It appeared that Shiancoe was having his right hamstring attended to on the sidelines during Sunday's game. The hope naturally is that he'll be available when the Vikings return for a Monday night game against the New York Jets on Oct. 11.
We will continue to update these injuries and others as the week progresses.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday and Friday 3-4 p.m.) and we'll have more injury reports in the Thursday and Saturday blogs.