Is it time for a penalty box in football? The cut block that felled Brian Cushing is likely to draw a fine and/or a suspension, but with Cushing done for the season, justice will be tough to come by. I don't want to suggest that Roger Goodell needs more power, but I do want to try something new to help reduce injuries and keep players on the field. Noting that greater rule enforcement and public awareness has not reduced the number of concussions, perhaps we should try taking the player off the field. Call it the "eye for an eye" rule: as long as a player is out due to injury, the player that is found to have caused that injury outside the rules of the game would be ineligible to play. A clean hit, like the one that knocked Robert Griffin III from Week 5 would not be subject to the rule. That was a textbook "lead with the shoulder" hit that the NFL is encouraging. The hit on Cushing, I believe, is clearly outside the rules of the game. The hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey as well. I'm not sure this would reduce these kinds of hits either, but it might put one more thought in the mind of the offender.
There are a lot of injuries around the league, so let's get to it:
UPGRADE: Rashard Mendenhall, Kenny Britt
DOWNGRADE: Steelers D/ST
The Steelers got Rashard Mendenhall back last week and he immediately took control of their running game, adding a dimension they had lacked in his absence. He showed everything you want to see in a running back coming back from an ACL reconstruction, aside from making hard cuts. That will come with confidence, but his burst and ability to turn the corner is a huge positive. He came out of his first game healthy, and the short week doesn't appear to be an issue for him. The same isn't true for the defense, where Troy Polamalu won't play after re-injuring his calf. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley also have leg issues, though Harrison looks likely to play in the same limited fashion he did last week. The Titans like what they've seen from Kenny Britt, and even with the short week, they've seen improvement in his mobility. Jake Locker remains out. The big game-time decision is Jordan Babineaux. His absence would help Ben Roethlisberger take on the Titans pass defense.
It's been known for a while that Robert Griffin's mobility is also a risk. Of course, there's a lot of reward that comes with that risk, whether it's Griffin or one of the other mobile quarterbacks that are invading the NFL. We'll have to see how he and the Redskins adjust to the reminder he got last Sunday. Griffin will be subject to the normal testing and clearance protocols, but early indications are that he could be back at practice quickly.
The Redskins will be cautious with his return for all the right reasons, but the bigger question is whether or not Griffin -- or any mobile quarterback -- can stay healthy? Griffin is not Vick or anyone else. If Tim Tebow, a bigger bodied "quarterback," can take hits, is there a size issue here? That's a vast oversimplification of the issue, taking it down to car-crash physics and the failures of equipment. Griffin has been a mobile player throughout his high school and college career, suffering only one major injury -- an ACL tear. ACL tears are certainly a worry, but he came back from it as most players do and it doesn't speak to the issue of being prone to injury.
The worry then is that running outside the pocket creates additional opportunities to be hit. Without data to support that contention, I have an issue with it. There are plenty of running backs that are Griffin's size or smaller that take hits like Griffin would in the open field, and yet remain healthy. Comparing Griffin to Vick is one thing, but how do we explain Darren Sproles or Wes Welker? Griffin's susceptibility to hits is something we won't know until well after the fact. He can be hurt, like any player, but I'm not sure that reducing his ability to create big plays is worth the possibly small reduction in risk. The lesson for fantasy players is one that the Redskins showed us in the draft: if you're going to have Griffin on your squad, you'd better have a good backup.
The Chiefs fans that cheered as Cassel was down should be ashamed. No one who enjoys football should ever root for an injury, on their own team or the opposition. Cassel's concussion occurred in an odd fashion. Even watching replays from multiple angles, there wasn't a clear hit to the head. This one might have been the result of two hits buffeting him quickly to one side then the other, reminding me that there are scary comparables between concussions and shaken baby syndrome. Cassel has not yet been cleared to practice and is very questionable for Sunday's game. With a bye in Week 7, the Chiefs seem to be leaning toward going with Brady Quinn and giving Cassel a full three weeks to get back to health.
Even with Benson smiling as he left the field on a cart, it appears that there is a turf monster in Indianapolis, grabbing both Benson and B.J. Raji last week. Benson's Lisfranc fracture is much more serious, costing the running back at least eight weeks and perhaps longer depending on many factors. We've seen more and more Lisfranc injuries over the past couple seasons and no one seems to have a good answer as to why. Suggestions have long focused on turf, but there are also changes to shoes and the clear increases in speed, power and forces. Lisfranc injuries don't have one mechanism that we can point to the way we can with ACL injuries, but given the increasing frequency, it's something we're going to have to figure out. I've started one study on it and hope to have results back to you sometime later this year. As for Benson, he should be dropped in all formats. While he could return by Week 13 or so, it would be difficult to trust a player coming off serious injury in the midst of the fantasy playoffs. If you're very weak at running back, he could be a speculative stash. I would rather see what Alex Green does replacing Benson, or if the Packers go out and bring in someone. Benson was placed on the IR with the "eligible to return designation."
It was bad day for running backs on both sides of the field in last week's game in Indy (and defenses as well, with Raji and Robert Mathis also injured.) Brown ended up on a surgeon's table to have torn cartilage cleaned up in his knee. He will miss a couple weeks while it heals up and should be back around Week 8 or 9, depending on how Vick Ballard plays in Brown's absence. This is a fairly simple injury with a clear timeline and high success rate for a return. Brown's scope removed the damaged meniscus and will have him back at practice in about 10 days. The Colts can take some extra time if things go well in the meantime, but having Brown back in a limited role for Week 7 is not impossible.
Amendola came within a couple inches of death. His clavicle dislocation was posterior, moving underneath the sternum and toward his heart. If the bone had created a laceration, even a small one, Amendola could have bled out before he even had the chance to throw his helmet. Rams GM Thomas Demoff fainted at the thought and hearing the explanation of the injury from doctors left me feeling a bit woozy as well. This is a fluke. It is very uncommon to dislocate the clavicle at the sternoclavicular joint in the first place. It is very strong and inflexible for a reason. For it to move the way it did is even more rare, but Amendola had the right (wrong?) combination of forces and position to create it. It will take him several weeks to heal, but the rare combination is unlikely to recur once he returns.
Williams is kind of the opposite of Amendola on this injury. Williams sprained his AC joint, which is the opposite connection and articulation of the clavicle from the SC joint that Amendola injured. Williams took a hard hit, one that left him flat on the turf. My initial thought on the hit was that he had been knocked unconscious, but sources tell me that he was instead paralyzed by the initial pain. (I'll admit, looking at the play again, I remain unconvinced that some of the force didn't go into his head.) Williams will need surgery to repair the damage, but like last season, he should be able to return. The window Williams had to establish himself while Beanie Wells is out is now slammed shut, while the window opens for LaRod Stephens-Howling to show he's more than just a role player.
Cushing is going to pay the price for what was a cheap hit and a reputation by his own team for cut blocks. Many have suggested that the cut on Cushing was payback for a cut by someone on the Texans. I can't speak to that, but the block that took out Cushing's knee is clearly outside the rules. Cushing should be able to return by the start of next season after surgery to repair the ligament. Given what we've seen from other players this season, it's reasonable to think that Cushing will be back to level immediately. That doesn't help the Texans now, though one source I spoke with pointed out that the Texans played well through Cushing's suspension and arguably have more depth on their defense now.
Alex Smith has a sprained finger, but it shouldn't affect him this week any more than it did in the second half of last week ... Marshawn Lynch continues to have issues with his back. The crazy thing is that he has showed no real effects of this, but it remains possible we're not seeing him at full-go ... Bernard Scott made it back only to blow out his ACL. He's done for the season ... Javon Ringer had a particularly nasty ACL injury, one that reminded me a bit too much of Napoleon McCallum, the single worst knee injury I've ever seen ... Andre Brown has not yet been cleared to practice due to his concussion. David Wilson was able to show something in his absence, so the Giants may not rush Brown back ... Greg Jennings is still not back at practice as of Wednesday. The Packers aren't sure yet if he'll be able to go, leaving him a GTD- ... Jerome Simpson has a nerve issue in his lower back that is causing weakness in his legs. This is a bad one until the Vikings staff can get it under control ... There are varying reports on what Hakeem Nicks is able to do. My best source tells me that Nicks can run and cut, but that he still gets significant swelling after any significant activity. The Giants are working on controlling that at this point ... There's a lot of rumors pointing to Julian Edelman's hand injury being a fractured hand. If so, he's very unlikely to play this week or the next couple ... Alshon Jeffery will miss several weeks with a broken bone in his hand. His return will depend on the healing and which bone is broken. The Bears are being very locked down on that piece of info ... Aaron Hernandez was back at practice and looks solid to play on Sunday. That could mean that Rob Gronkowski can stand down a bit to try to get his hip healed up ... With the Saints on bye, Jimmy Graham has extra time to get over his sprained ankle. Sources tell me if the team were playing this week, Graham wouldn't be ... Jermichael Finley did not practice on Wednesday, but is expected to play in some capacity. Call him a GTD+ and watch closely on Sunday morning ... Martellus Bennett played through a hyperextended knee last week. He's lost some range of motion and is GTD+ right now as the Giants continue to work on it ... Losing Ryan Kalil for the season is likely to be something that will affect the entire offense, especially Cam Newton. A foot injury has pushed him to the IR ... Nick Mangold is said to have a significant ankle sprain, but he barely missed any plays after it occurred. Keep your eye on this for it's possible effects on the Jets offense ... Mentioned above, B.J. Raji's sprained ankle is likely to be an issue for him. The weight on the ankle is a real problem when the stability is compromised ... The Colts got Dwight Freeney back, but lost Robert Mathis. He'll miss a couple weeks with a sprained knee.