Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter Hibernation

15 weeks of concussions, squeaky joints, bad hammy's and torn muscles. Turf toe, broken hands, high ankle sprains. Hot summers with 3 a days to full pads in the winter. It all adds up and it leaves teams like the Texans and Steelers reeling in pivotal games and teams like the Colts, 'Phins and Rams out of it before they can even get off the starting block. Wanna see what that looks like over 15 weeks? The chart below shows how many players were affected by injuries sustained over the first 15 weeks of the season:

Of the 59 players listed as out this past week, 25 were starters. A multitude of players that did in fact play were hampered by the injuries that had them listed as so. Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Woodley, Willis McGahee to name a few. For playoff teams, the difference between, say a 12-4 number 2 or 3 seed that backs into the playoffs racked with injuries compared to rested, healthy and physically uninhibited 11-5 or 10-6 3 seed team can be monumental (Here's looking at you Texans). Its a common practice among teams already locked up in a playoff spot weeks before the first postseason game, but, I contest, if your guaranteed a playoff spot, why not take the chance let your starters get healthy and let your backups carry the load for the final game or two. Especially if the last two games are winnable without starters (here's looking at you Pittsburgh). 
Teams wanna see the Andre's Johnsons,
Ray Lewis' and Patrick Willis' on the field
and not on the sideline in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, teams aren't always afforded such a luxury so early in the season. Teams that could benefit include a Raven's team who need to get healthy up the middle to generate the anchor for a defense dependent on it (Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata), the 49er's who will need Frank Gore 100% to control games against the NFC's offensively daunting playoff bunch and the Atlanta Falcons whose walking wounded include a Michael Turner, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Jasn Babineaux, Tony Gonzalez, two starting CB's and pass rushers. But, alas these teams will have to rough it in the next to weeks to maintain or gain ground on the plethora of teams in the playoff hunt.
However, and ironically enough, the two teams that can actually employ this tactic RIGHT NOW, are the last two participants in the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here's how and why they must take the opportunity to get healthy and get healthy now.

Pittsburgh Steelers

I doubt that I need to explain the importance of health to Steelers Nation after yesterday's nationally televised whooping.The walking wounded looked so bad the light man at Candlestick decided the game would be easier to watch in the dark for Steeler fans. Big Ben could barely walk. His two early interception's were his fault and his fault alone, the product of his inability to step in to throws to give his receivers a chance at the ball. Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers All-Pro Center and best lineman couldn't play. Lamar Woodley exited with more hamstring problems and Troy Polamalu was a touch slowed by a hammy of his only, leaving Vernon Davis to be guarded by the Steelers lesser talents which resulted in Davis tearing apart the Steelers D and scoring a game-breaking TD. If you didn't notice, all of those players are of all pro caliber, all but one made last year's pro bowl. That hurts.
The Steelers have a very winnable remaining schedule at the Bradford-less Rams and the concussed Cleveland Browns. But they need help to get higher seeding. New England would have to lose to Buffalo and Miami. Baltimore would have to lose one or both of their final games (Cincinnati and Cleveland) for Pittsburgh to have a shot at the division or number one seed. Houston, missing a Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, get a bit of a reprieve in the Colts and the Titans to help secure their seeding. Why not let the starters, grab the sideline, get healthy, get a chip on their shoulders and get to the playoffs. a Number 5 seed would have them play a weak first round matchup against and AFC West opponent or a the Texans, sans Matt Schaub, in the number 6. And though they would have a away schedule for the rest of the year, I think the Pittsburgh community would feel much more confident going through the playoffs with a Healthy Ben and healthy playmakers, rather than what was on the field last night. 

Green Bay Packers

The Pack were exposed. Sort of.
Missing burner and best wideout Greg Jennings, starting tackle Chad Clifton and starting G Josh Sitton,  the Packers were seemingly caught off guard by the athleticism and fire of the Kansas City Chiefs who made the line work and the receivers work harder. Amid a myriad of mind boggling drops by the Packers receivers that left Aaron Rodger's on the wrong side of 50% completion percentage at half, the Green Bay Packers took two more blows, losing Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derrek Sherrod to leg injuries. To boot, a defense that finally seem to show up through the first 3 quarters ultimately showed further why the Packers health is paramount as the Chiefs were able to score the games first touchdown, a game breaker that made the Packers first touchdown nice but a bit late.
Greg Jennings is only one of a bunch of downed Packers.
This game thoroughly showed the importance of getting the ENTIRE team on the field and playing without crutches, at full speed, full tilt, full confidence. If the line can't get healthy players like Jean Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and John Abraham will make Rodger's life much more difficult than it needs to be to return to the promised land.  Not to mention playing the starters the next to weeks against the Bears and the Lions severely puts Aaron Rodger's in danger of not finishing the season undinged, with the likes of Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Nick Fairley, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers all licking their chops to knock off the their rival's golden boy in Rodger's and deal the number one team in the league a debilitating blow that the Pack can't not afford to take.

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