Maybe the problem isn't the helmet. That's an interesting tack to take in regards to concussions, but one that Dr. Todd Aaron has taken. Dr. Aaron first came to the problem of head injuries when his daughter fell off her mount in an equestrian competition. Having seen the damage firsthand, Dr. Aaron started thinking about possible solutions. Instead of going to the helmet, which he feels is "as good as we can get right now," he started looking at the actual cause.
Aaron's take on the problem starts with the theory that has been the dominant one in concussions for years, what is called the "coup/contracoup" model. In essence, someone is hit in the head and the brain sloshes to the other side, slamming into the skull and bruising the brain. It is a theory confirmed by gross anatomy, but Dr. Aaron points out that it's a theory that's over 200 years old. "If someone died from a head injury, it's reasonable to think it was severe," he told me by phone. "It's what we're calling sub-concussive or cumulative impacts that are part of the problem."
What Dr. Aaron is seeing with cumulative and chronic brain injuries like CTE is that they have a diffuse pattern that doesn't fit the contracoup model. Instead, he compares it to one of the most tragic of modern health diagnoses: shaken baby syndrome. "It's the same. The brain is jostled violently and we see damage through all seven layers," he said. Dr. Aaron invented a system that on first look might remind many of Batman's cowl. His patented system connects the helmet to the shoulder pads with an elastic connector. "The head is slowed, reducing the impact. It's very simple physics," Dr. Aaron said. He has tested the system with solid results, but as yet, he hasn't had much interest in producing the system from the entrenched manufacturers, though he is at work on a new prototype. It's one of the most unique things I've seen and hope that someone will take a closer look.
In the meantime, let's look at the injuries around the league:
UPGRADE:Brandon Marshall, Ronnie BrownDOWNGRADE: none
One quarter and a win doesn't tell us much about Tyler Thigpen. People get excited about backup QBs for exactly the wrong reasons. They do something in-game, over a short period, and sometimes,things break right. Over a period of weeks, however, we find out why they were third on the depth charts. That's not to say third isn't "good" -- that shows they have an NFL talent level and at that point, you're looking for a bit of help, a bit of luck, and someone who can swallow their fear enough to make something happen. What we do know about backups is that they simplify things and look for open WRs, especially if their WR1 is the kind of guy who can get open. That means very good things for Brandon Marshall. I'd also expect to see more Wildcat as the Dolphins try to buy a bit of protection for their QB. The big worry for the Dolphins is that Jake Long is going to try and play through a torn labrum in his shoulder. Watch for the Bears to test him early and often. The Bears don't have any significant injuries. Devin Hester is listed as probable with a shoulder issue, but he'll play and is a must-start in any league with return yardage points.
The Panthers made it official, pushing DeAngelo Williams to the IR. (Someone asked this week why I use the term "push" for going on the IR. It comes from how it was explained to me once by an NFL personnel guy. He'd push the magnetic nameplate from one place on the board over to the IR list, so it's a literal thing. It doesn't mean that a player didn't want to go and needed a shove. In most cases, a team will not consult with a player before making a move, though they are often involved in the process leading up to it. It's a roster decision, not a medical decision, though there does have to be some underlying medical issue.) Williams' foot wasn't coming back quickly enough, plus Mike Goodson had a nice enough week to let the Panthers know they had an option. Given the state of their season, there really was no reason to push for a return. The Panthers do think they'll get Jonathan Stewart back to take on the RB1 role, but as of Wednesday, Stewart hadn't been cleared to practice. If he's back out on the field by Friday, he'll likely take a split of the carries, but most likely get his normal split, with Goodson taking on the Williams role.
One consequence of playing your starters in a blowout is that something like a sprained shoulder can happen. LeSean McCoy has played through a broken rib, so will a shoulder slow him up? To answer that, all you have to do is see how a running back runs. Getting hit is inevitable, but the shoulders take a lot more abuse than the ribs. If McCoy is in pain when he drops down, he won't be effective and that will leave some carries for the backups -- or more runs and passes for Michael Vick, which might be a bit more palatable for the Eagles' offense. The worry isn't that McCoy won't play, but that he won't be comfortable and will get pulled early, putting up a fantasy zero in a key week. This one comes down to pain tolerance, so we have to take something away from how well McCoy played with the rib injury. If you don't have a clearly better option, leave McCoy in.
It's one thing to be limited at practice, but entirely another one to be hospitalized. That's what happened to Matt Schaub on Wednesday as he fought off a bursa sac issue. The bursas are small, fluid-filled sacs throughout the body that provide cushioning but can become inflamed when traumatized. If they burst, they can become infected. The worst case, aside from infection, is the surgical removal of the sac. This is the kind of problem Peyton Manning had a couple seasons back, with the infection lengthening his recovery period by twice as long as normal. There's a lot of ways this could go with Schaub, but if he's not back out on the practice field by Friday, it's unlikely he'll be ready to play. The options are going to make him a true really-hope-he-can-go GTD, but this is the kind of issue where pushing someone could create a significantly longer absence. Dan Orlovsky is getting the reps, so if you're desperate for a pickup in case Schaub doesn't go, look there.
The Chargers come off the bye week rested, but are they any healthier? Early signs are very positive. Both Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee were back at practice, and with Vincent Jackson back in Week 12, Philip Rivers is finally going to have someone you've heard of to throw to. It didn't slow him down much, and many believe the return of all these WRs is going to push the Chargers to new heights. I don't buy it. Better, sure, but looking at the performance of the WRs who filled in, they didn't seem to lose much. Whether that's because of deep talent at WR or Rivers is an unknown, but the key is the guy we haven't talked about yet, Antonio Gates. Gates is making some progress, but early week reports aren't going to tell us much. Gates is going to be a GTD, which coming off of a couple weeks of rest isn't the best sign. Gates said on Wednesday he was "50/50" to go against Denver, but that seems optimistic given his injury -- a torn plantar fascia on his right foot and also a sprained left ankle and toe. It seems like the Chargers are headed toward hoping one more week has Gates ready to go for the stretch run.
It's not just the WRs in San Diego who are having issues. Ryan Mathews is back on the OIR again with the recurrent ankle sprain that's plagued his rookie campaign. Mathews wasn't back on the field for Wednesday's practice, making him very questionable for Sunday. At best, he's going to be in a time share with Mike Tolbert, which will limit his fantasy value. The lack of carries has meant more throws for Rivers, and makes Tolbert a vulture play, with the potential to pick up some short TDs in his 10-15 carries. Mathews' sprain is severe enough and unstable enough that it hasn't cleared up with a couple weeks of rest, which speaks to the idea that he may be at less than 100 percent the rest of the season. With the Chargers in position for the playoffs, that means they may be a bit more conservative with him.
It's impossible to know what Mike Shanahan is going to do at RB, but the last couple of weeks, that longstanding issue has spread to every part of his game. Last week, Shanahan didn't make the decision not to play Torain. Instead, it was Torain who re-injured his hamstring in warmups, leaving the carries for Keiland Williams, who proved himself capable of carrying the ball in a blowout. Torain was still "tight" as of Wednesday and did not practice, so he's likely to be a GTD again this week, though Shanahan and the Skins might be a bit gun shy with that again. They'll be without Clinton Portis again this week unless there's a miracle. Portis' groin is not responding well as he transitions back to full-speed running, let alone the cuts and stops he'd need to be effective. Portis is unlikely to play, though the splits might still tip to Williams.
So Brad Childress wants Sidney Rice to be "excited" when he plays and told the media that Rice's activation is up to Rice. That's another nice passive-aggressive move by Childress, putting the pressure on Rice to say that he's ready. Rice is still not fully recovered from the hip surgery he had at the start of the season and there are open questions from medical personnel about how the hip might respond to heavy contact. It's not just the hits, but if he's flipped in the air and lands on the hip. We saw a couple weeks back how Rice's running mate, Percy Harvin, re-injured his hip when his leg got whipped around on a tackle. It wasn't dirty or even intentional, just one of those things that can happen on a football field. We'll have a better indication if Rice will play this week by Friday's practice, but he's still too big a gamble to rely on him as a fantasy starter in Week 11. The payoff for patience on Rice is still a bit away, if then.
Word from the Colts is that they think Joseph Addai will try out the shoulder in practice on Friday. If he can go at all, he's likely to be active ... Beanie Wells says his knee feels "the best it has all season." Let's see some performance before we buy that cliche ... C.J. Spiller is out this week with his hamstring strain, but sources tell me "it's as much about protecting him as it is about the injury" ... The Saints say Reggie Bush is ready to go against the Seahawks and his old college coach on Sunday, but he's still not at 100 percent with his leg. He's very tentative on cuts, say observers, which will limit his effectiveness and likely his role. Pierre Thomas was also back on the practice field, in pads, but is very unlikely to play this week ... Dexter McCluster practiced a bit on Wednesday, but was slowed by a lingering ankle sprain ... Kenny Britt still isn't walking normally after his hamstring strain. If you want to call that "doubtful" go right ahead. He's still at least three weeks away from a return, if then ... Steve Smith (NYG version) is out again this week with a strained pectoral. He could be back next week however ... Hines Ward cleared his concussion screens, we assume, and was back on the practice field Wednesday without limitations ... Austin Collie was back at practice on Wednesday. To know how much the Colts will push all their injured players this week, all you have to do is look at the schedule ... Jerricho Cotchery made a gutsy play in overtime after injuring his groin. Though the injury couldn't take him out of the play, it looks like it will take him out of Week 11 ... The bye week helped Donald Driver, but he's not back to 100 percent either. The quad strain is going to make him a GTD this week, but one that I wouldn't risk ... There's growing sentiment inside the Cowboys to push Tony Romo to IR. It's not clear whether that's from the medical info or from seeing Jon Kitna handle the offense ... Matthew Stafford won't have surgery on his shoulder, he's decided after consultation with Dr. James Andrews. The bigger question on this is prevention, since we know that Stafford's shoulders are prone to this ... Jimmy Claussen is out this week, leaving the Panthers QB job to Brian St. Pierre ... Kevin Smith is out this week after thumb surgery. That leaves the carries to Jahvid Best, who'll get 80 percent of the work instead of 60 percent ... Zach Miller will feel the passion and spirit of the Raiders this week (right, Barnwell?) but it's unclear whether his foot injury will be healed enough by Sunday to feel that in a game. He was limping noticeably after practice this week ... Jacob Tamme played through last week's game with his back seizing up. He's getting a lot of targets, but taking a lot of hits as well. The Colts look to be trying to spread the targets, but Peyton Manning was doing that last week and still seeing an open Tamme ... Joe Nedney is out this week with a bruised leg ... Don't forget to join me Friday and Sunday morning for my new video chat. A lot of you did that last week and I hope it helped. The new format lets me get to a lot of questions and, on Sunday, you'll get the information as fast as I do by watching.