Will Carroll
Monday October 18th, 2010

The rule is, Don't write angry. It's hard to keep my temper in check on a day where #helmettohelmet became a trending topic on Twitter. Sunday might have been the clearest indication yet that while the NFL is making progress regarding head injuries, the players are not. We still celebrate the big hit, and a way has to be found that keeps the "ooh" hit active while keeping players from blending their brains week after week. First, we need a clear statement from both Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith that helmet-to-helmet hits are not going to be tolerated and they'll take the necessary steps for punishment, if warranted. Fines don't seem to be working, so maybe suspensions will. Those can be reviewed by the league each week.

Second, we need to do more about helmets. It would start with forcing players to actually snap their helmets and wear a mouthpiece, but something like an X Prize would do more. The NFL and NFLPA could go in together to give a $1 million prize and endorsement to whoever comes up with a new helmet design that can help reduce concussions. Whether it's some giant sporting goods company or some guy in his garage, a big check works to move technology forward. If we can dig 33 guys out of the ground in Chile, we can build a better helmet.

Finally, we have to take a team-controlled medical staff out of the equation. Team doctors need to be league-controlled, giving them a level of independence, changing from team physicians to game physicians. Assign them out the way the league does with officials. Once we have that, there's a simple rule change: No player that necessitates an official's timeout can come back into the game before being cleared by the Game Physician. I'm curious whether the video replay official -- the guy "in the booth" who calls for reviews in the last two minutes of each half -- could be empowered to call for reviews and possible ejections, but that seems like it would slow the game down.

These aren't new suggestions. In fact, I introduced these changes in the Football Outsiders Almanac back in 2007. The NFL has started listening to the right people, but there's a lot more to do. The hardest part is reminding people that while you might see a player like Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler back a week or two later and playing high-level football, it's those guys in their 40s and 50s -- or younger -- that have lost memory of their glory days because they played before we understood the damage concussions were doing.

Let's fast forward through Week 6:

We have a lot of possibilities, but in a year of comebacks, it's not Jeremy Maclin's big day or even Dwayne Bowe finally reminding the Chiefs why he's their best wide receiver. No, it's the return of Ben Roethlisberger, who came in with 20 points in standard leagues. He came back from a five-week suspension to put up numbers equal to Kevin Kolb and Matt Schaub -- the best fantasy QBs of Week 6 (to date). We're more used to seeing Roethlisberger (257 passing yards, 3 TDs) lead the Steelers to wins while posting pedestrian fantasy numbers. Roethlisberger was coming off several weeks of inactivity and coming into a volatile situation, but one that was working. Then again, he was facing the Browns, who were banged up enough to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger. Early on, Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, opening up the running game even more. There's no reason to think Roethlisberger can't keep doing this, easily making the Steelers among the top contenders for a trip to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. Other players worth mentioning this week are Eagles QB Kevin Kolb (+13 over expectations, earning him a start next week), Saints RB Chris Ivory (+17, showing how much the Saints offense can explode) and Kansas City's Bowe (+11 in a game that might remind Charlie Weis he's there.).

For a little more insight into Week 6, I reached out to Nik Bonaddio at numberFire, a fantasy analytics engine making some very accurate predictions that I discovered recently. Yes, I'm always looking for an edge, and when I find someone who reminds me of Nate Silver, I take note. Nik's biggest bust this week was an easy one: Falcons RB Michael Turner, who was a minus-11 (11 points under SI's expectations and worse if you used ESPN's numbers). Nik told me: "It all made so much sense: Turner got back on track last week against the hapless Browns, and the Eagles struggle against the run, conceding over 125 yards/gm. Of course, what happened was much different than the script that was written, as Turner and the Falcons struggled mightily out of the gate, allowing Kolb and the Eagles to get a huge headstart that meant Turner was used sparingly the rest of the game. His inconsistency makes him a very frustrating fantasy play (two weeks above 7.4 YPC, three weeks below 3.1 YPC) and as a likely top-10 pick at the start of the season, his on-off performance must be leaving GMs across the nation puzzled at their options from here. The recommendation: Wait it out until one his famed comeback weeks, then ship him at a value high for a player of a more consistent pedigree."

I agree with every word. Other players on the bust list were Raiders RB Michael Bush (59 total yards), who underperformed despite having the RB1 job all to himself, and Jets QB Mark Sanchez (198 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs), who had a Hyde game after last week's Jekyll.

Players often say a team "do what it do." It's not the best grammar, but fantasy winners need their top picks to put up top results -- to do what they do. This week, we're giving our weekly award for doing the do -- let's shamelessly call it "The Dew" -- to Johnson. Oh ... which one, Andre or Calvin? Both. The Johnsons both put up big numbers. It's a bit more of a surprise that Calvin Johnson (5 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD) was able to put up his best week of the year, finally meeting the expectations of a top-3 wide receiver from the 2010 fantasy drafts, despite the early-week shoulder injury. I expected that he would play, but I didn't expect him to play this well, especially with Lions QB Shaun Hill out. A couple big plays will do that. The game plan that Jim Schwartz put together worked well, with no "jump ball" plays, instead using Johnson's speed and some new routes. Andre Johnson (8 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD) and his healthy ankle were solid as well. Once again, Johnson proved that when him and Matt Schaub take the field together, big things happen.

There were plenty of injuries around the league that I'll be following through the week. My friends at The Concussion Blog had plenty to track, with Steelers LB James Harrison sure to get a call from the Commissioner this week. Harrison had separate helmet-to-helmet hits that knocked Browns receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game. The first was on a Cribbs wildcat run. Harrison came in head first, knocking Cribbs out. Cribbs went limp and dropped the ball, which is never a good sign. Later, Harrison had another shot on Massaquoi. There was a very violent hit in the Atlanta-Philly game, with DeSean Jackson nearly decapitated. Falcons CB Dunta Robinson came in with his head down and contacted Jackson on the facemask, driving his head back, then getting a second impact from whiplash, and a third when he hit the ground. Both were on the field a while and concussions have to be the diagnosis. The Texans lost DeMeco Ryans for the season after he popped his Achilles' tendon. Players can come back from this injury to their previous level, but it takes about a year. Shaun Hill left late in the first half after a low hit that initially looked like a knee injury. Instead, he somehow came out with a forearm fracture that's been described to me as "very near the wrist."

If there's any theme we can take away from this week -- aside from the helmet-to-helmet madness -- it's the utter assertion of the forward pass as the dominant weapon in the NFL. I know this isn't new, but there's a clear emphasis from the previous "run to establish the pass" to "yards are yards and I can get them in bunches with passes." That's going to create a need for new ways of looking at things. We already saw some WRs creeping into the first-round discussion this year, but I think we're going to need some advanced stats to help us go beyond throwing darts. We'll also have to get beyond "Larry Fitzgerald was good last year."

I don't mean to pick on Fitzgerald, but how much of his production from 2007-09 (293 catches/3,932 yards/35 TDs) was Fitzgerald and how much was then-Cards QB Kurt Warner? Or what about the presence of ex-Cards receiver Anquan Boldin? We're starting to understand the methodology of the passing game, but things like pass interference yards, tipped interceptions and yards after catch are going to become more than just interesting stats on the fringe of the game. Soon, these stats will become predictive tools to findin the holy grail of fantasy play: Predictability.

Tell Will Carroll what you think of Fast Forward on Twitter and be sure to read the Injury Report (Thursday) and Med Check (Sunday) each week at SI Fantasy.

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