The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have the same huge problem: they’re missing their star quarterback for a big chunk of the season. Both teams have already felt the pain: the Cowboys lost last week’s game to the Atlanta Falcons and last night’s to the Saints, and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a heartbreaker in the Thursday night game after failing to convert two fourth downs.
The two injuries are arguably the most devastating losses in the league. But which team is hurt more by the absence of their quarterback? Let’s break it down.
Who’s the Better Quarterback?
Both Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are excellent quarterbacks, so this is a tough one to answer. Romo led the league in passer rating last season and yards per pass attempt last season, but Roethlisberger led it in passing yards and long passes. Romo has a statistical edge in most categories over the past few years, but he also plays more games in domes and favorable conditions. Observers generally peg Roethlisberger as the better QB (they dislike Romo’s interceptions, which always seem to be thrown at the worst possible time), but we’re going to call it a wash – both are consistently excellent guys, arguably top-five QBs in most seasons.
How Bad Are the Injuries?
Both of these injuries are brutal, but one will take longer to recover from than the other will. Ben Roethlisberger, despite taking a hit that looked like a season-ender, only took damage to his MCL (his ACL was spared). He should be back in 4-6 weeks, though the Steelers aren’t being very clear about that timetable. Tony Romo’s broken clavicle requires a longer rehabbing period: he’s out until at least late November. That’s eight weeks. Thanks to the Cowboys’ bye week, Romo will only miss seven games, but that’s still at least one more than Roethsliberger will miss. Romo’s injury is a repeat of one earlier in his career, and it’s an upper-body injury. We’ll give Romo the dubious honor of winning this round.
Backing Things Up
Brandon Weeden is a solid backup for the Cowboys, but we’re going to give the Steelers the edge at the position. It’s worth remembering that Brandon Weeden was older than the average draft pick when he was nabbed by the Browns in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He’s not a raw talent anymore – he’s 31 years old, and this may be as good as he gets. Vick may be past his prime at 35, but at least he had one.
Both backups will have some support. A great offensive line helped Romo have a career year last year; this year, they’ll help give Weeden some time to figure things out. The Steelers have incredible offensive weapons, including RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, which will make things a bit easier on Vick.
Margin for Error
Brandon Weeden and Michael Vick are not going to lead their teams to Super Bowls. Their jobs are the same: limit the damage until the superstar comes back. We’ve already mentioned that Weeden has a longer period to weather. But does that mean that his team is more at risk?
Michael Vick is expected to start only 4-6 games for the Steelers, but those 4-6 may be more crucial than the 7 games that Weeden has to start. That’s because the Steelers have two problems that Dallas doesn’t: a tough division race, and a brutal schedule.
The Cowboys, at 2-1 at the time of this writing, lead their division. The Giants keep beating themselves, the new-look Eagles aren’t working out, and the Redskins – well, they’re the Redskins. The Steelers were 2-1 prior to their Thursday night loss, but they weren’t in first even before the Ravens beat them: the Bengals, at 3-0, had that locked up. The Bengals are much better than any of the Cowboys’ NFC East competition, and they’ll get a crack at the Steelers on November 1, a game that Roethlisberger is likely to miss.
On top of that, the Cowboys have a chance to make up ground fast once Romo is back: the Cowboys have games against the Panthers, Redskins (twice), and Jets. The Steelers have no such luck: Ben will deal with the Seahawks, Colts, Bengals, Broncos, and Ravens (again) when he gets back. At least he gets the Browns twice, too.
Romo may be out longer, but Roethlisberger is a bigger loss. Without Big Ben, the Steelers are likely to slide out of contention entirely. Both quarterbacks will return, but in all likelihood, only Tony Romo will play into the postseason.
Coming out of Louisiana Tech is a senior running back by the name of Kenneth Dixon. Dixon is a talented running back, but he has a lot of wear and tear. He plays in a pass-first offense. Still, amazingly, he has quite the stat line over the past few years. Here are his careers stats so far. (as of 10/3/15)
• 699 carries with an average of 5.7 yards per carry
• 3,993 rushing yards and 59 touchdowns
• 69 receptions with 653 receiving yards
• 10 receiving touchdowns
Games scouted: Illinois (2014), Oklahoma (2014), and Western Kentucky (2014)
First, I would like to look at some concerns I have with Kenneth Dixon. Dixon does have a lot mileage on his tires, which is something that could hurt his draft stock. Soon, he will be breaking the barrier of 700 career carries and over 4,000 rushing yards. When you stop and think, that is over 700 hits he has taken in the stretch of only 4 years. I feel it is highly doubtful a team would spend a high draft pick on him because of that alone. Likely, he will not be averaging about 200 carries per year in the NFL, which is something that does stand in his favor.
Second, Dixon has a tendency to run upright, which causes him to take some rather big hits. I can recall several instances of him running down the sideline and getting hit very hard. His running upright not only leads to big hits, but it also decreases his ability to push piles. I feel his inside running is not as effective because he stands a little too tall when he hits a pile. Instead of being able to push a pile forward, he either gets driven back or has no gain.
But the good outweighs the bad. First, you have to look at the production. It is clear that, in his college career, Dixon has put up some great numbers. Has he faced the best of the best defenses on a consistent basis? No, but when has that played a factor in how great backs are in the NFL? It didn’t matter in the case of Doug Martin, Lesean McCoy, or Matt Forte, who all played for schools that played less than stellar teams on a consistent basis. If Dixon has the skill level mixed with the desire to win, the level of competition will not matter.
Dixon has great athletic ability to play the running back position. He will not be a power back, but will be used likely as a scat back. He is a very slippery runner who lives and breathes on runs off the tackle. He is extremely dangerous when he is allowed to cut the corner. Often, it will be a first down run or longer when he is allowed to do so. He can make quick cuts in the open field to make defenders miss and he can also make some crazy moves showcasing his agility and elusiveness.
I like how he is active in the passing game. He has shown on film that he can make catches and get yards after the catch without dropping passes or making errors. I even saw him line up in the slot some in the Louisiana Tech offense. This could add some draft stock to him as a lot of running backs are rarely involved in the passing game and are not three down backs. As of now, as we are reaching the start of conference play in the NCAA, I have Dixon listed as a third to fourth round pick in next year’s draft.
After four weeks of the NFL season, we can begin to get a better feel for the direction teams are headed for the 2015 season. As with every season, there are clubs that play better than expected as well as clubs that disappoint. Here is a quick look at the division races at the quarter pole.
The New England Patriots are still the class of the AFC East with a 3-0 record. Tom Brady is on a mission and is off to one of his best starts ever.
The New York Jets are the surprise team with a 3-1 record. Their only loss was at the hands of the Patriots. New Head Coach, Todd Bowles, is making a strong case for being Coach of the Year with his role in the turnaround.
Buffalo is talented, but inconsistent. They look like great one week, and then poor the next. They still have a shot at a wild card spot.
Miami is in trouble. They are 1-3 and lethargic looking. The poor start brought about the season’s first coaching change, as Joe Philbin was fired Monday morning. Tight end coach Dan Campbell is expected to be the interim coach. My feeling is there will be more changes once the season ends.
Cincinnati is at the top with a perfect 4-0 record. Fans like to say that the Bengals win despite quarterback Andy Dalton. Sorry guys, but not this year. Through four games, Dalton has a 123 passing grade and has thrown nine touchdowns to only one interception.
Pittsburgh at 2-2 will be in trouble until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns from a knee injury.
Baltimore at 1-3 has been a disappointment. Joe Flacco doesn’t look like his usual self. Playing for his third offensive coordinator in three years will do that to a player.
Cleveland is well….Cleveland.
Many thought the Colts would walk away with the division but they have struggled and sit at 2-2. If the rest of the division wasn’t so weak they could be in trouble but as of now they are still favored to win division.
Tennessee is a 1-2 and has shown they may be able to contend. Rookie Marcus Mariota is off to a fairly good start.
Houston at 1-3 doesn’t have a quarterback and will struggle to reach .500.
Many had hoped that second-year quarterback Blake Bortles would take a step in his second year. He hasn’t and the Jags are 1-3.
Denver sits on top of the division with a 4-0 record. It hasn’t been the play of Peyton Manning who got them there, it’s been a very strong defense led by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Oakland Raiders are at 2-2 and look as if they are finally about to turn the corner. They have a brilliant young quarterback in Derek Carr and an ace receiver in rookie Amari Cooper.
San Diego is at 2-2 and that has to be a disappointment for them. Sunday they just got by a poor Cleveland team 30-27.
After four weeks, there is no clear-cut favorite in the NFC East. The Giants are tied at the top with a 2-2 record. After a slow start, the G-Men have won two in a row and Eli Manning is starting to play like the Manning of old.
Dallas, also at 2-2 will struggle until they get quarterback Tony Romo back and by then it may be too late. What was supposed to be a strong defense has been inconsistent at best.
Washington at 2-2 is a surprise. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has flashed and those flashes have gotten the Redskins to that 2-2 start. Defensive lineman Chris Baker has come on and had two sacks Sunday against Philly.
The Eagles have been one of the biggest disappointments of the young season. They sit at 1-3 and are struggling. If they don’t show a quick turnaround, Head Coach Chip Kelly will be in trouble. If you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t been watching what has gone on in Philly the last nine months.
Green Bay as usual sits on top the NFC North division with a 4-0 record. Right now, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football and as long as he is in Green Bay they could rule the division.
Minnesota sits in second with a 2-2 record and they have been inconsistent to say the least. They were horrible in their opener at San Francisco but then came back with strong games against Detroit and San Diego. Sunday they lost a close game at Denver 23-20. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is improving but still not there yet and Adrian Peterson still isn’t quite back to his old self.
Chicago lacks top talent and has had an abundance of injuries. They lost top draft choice Kevin White before the season began and leading receiver Alshon Jeffery has missed three of four games with calf and hamstring problems. The defense is better but doesn’t have enough players who fit the new 3-4 scheme.
As I write this I don’t have the result of the Lions- Seahawks game, but up until now Detroit has been the disappointment of the NFC North having not won a game yet.
On paper, Carolina doesn’t have the best talent in the division but they are the best coached team. They have overcome a number of injuries since spring to start out at 4-0.
Atlanta brought in highly regarded Dan Quinn to be their new Head Coach and the move has made a huge difference. The overall play of the Falcons is much improved and they are tied with Carolina at 4-0. Don’t overlook the playoff running back Devonta Freeman who has been outstanding.
I thought New Orleans would come back from the disastrous 2014 but they haven’t. Drew Brees isn’t what he used to be despite his game winning TD pass Sunday night against Dallas.
Tampa Bay is going with a rookie quarterback who is playing like a rookie. Number one overall draft choice Jameis Winston has completed only 55% of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions. You can’t win in the NFL with turnovers.
Arizona looked like the team to beat after three weeks but then struggled at home versus St. Louis in week four. I still think they are the class 0f the division, but let’s see how they come back from the loss.
St. Louis has been inconsistent but played their best game at Arizona on Sunday beating the Cardinals 24 -22. First round pick Todd Gurley finally looked fully recovered from a severe knee injury suffered a year ago – while he was at Georgia – running for 146 yards. If Gurley can remain healthy he will give the Rams a huge boost going forward.
Seattle got off to a slow start losing their first two games. They came back last week to beat up Chicago. As I write this I don’t have the results of the Seahawks – Lions matchup on Monday Night Football. Going forward, I feel Seattle and Arizona will fight it out for the division crown with the loser being a wild card team.
San Francisco at 1-3 will regret their divorce from Jim Harbaugh and will struggle to be a .500 team in 2015.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
Kiko Alonso, Victor Cruz and Breshad Perriman all were in the news for receiving the latest medical treatments. Does this mean they will be ready to go soon?
Eagles star LB Alonso had surgery and stem cells were injected into his damaged ACL. Giants standout WR Cruz had PRP injected into his ailing calf muscle. Ravens first-round pick Perriman had his knee scoped for his PCL injury and stem cells were injected. Despite the cutting-edge care, don’t look for any of them to be ready in the next week or two.
Neither stem cells nor PRP are quick fixes. Although both show promise, they are not yet completely proven. In addition, both processes take time to work. There may be an early anti-inflammatory effect, but true healing takes much longer. PRP typically takes 2-6 weeks to see any change. For stem cells to grow into ligaments or cartilage, it takes much longer than that.˛
Stem cells are baseline cells that can in theory grow to become new tissue like cartilage, ligaments and tendons. Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is concentrated blood that is high in platelets and growth factors. Only stem cells taken from the bone marrow or fat of the same patient may be re-injected. Blood is taken from the player, spun down and PRP is re-injected into the injured area. This is not blood doping and is permitted in sports. Only same patient procedures, where tissue or cells are not modified, are legal in the United States. Of note, these procedures are costly and not covered by standard insurances.
PRP is widely used in the NFL. Some teams have a centrifuge in the training room to facilitate the injection process. I would not be surprised if it is revealed that Ben Roethlisberger had PRP for his recent MCL tear. The Steelers famously used it to treat Hines Ward and others prior to the 2009 Super Bowl. Around the league, it is widely used for muscle injuries and tendinopathies.
Stem cells are less common and require an operating room as harvesting is a painful process. It is usually performed in conjunction with a surgical procedure and anesthesia.
The good news is these players are doing everything they can to return to play. The bad news is if there was a tried and true procedure that worked, it would have been used already and long return timelines avoided. Stem cells and PRP show promise, but they are not magical and it still takes time.
MMMD 1: Big Ben likely back sooner
Despite losing to the division rival Ravens, the game provided some very positive news. The Steelers have a “no crutches” rule to be on the sideline and Big Ben was there to support his team and help with communications.
Tony Romo on the Cowboys sideline with a sling indicates his clavicle is at least one month away from healing. Ben Roethlisberger sans crutches indicates he is under a month away from playing.
The Pittsburgh QB was reported to have a grade 2 MCL (typically 2-4 weeks recovery) and a bone bruise. Media reported a 4-6 week or longer return, as bone bruises need time to heal.
A significant bone bruise in or near a joint requires non-weight bearing status. The fact that Roethlisberger was allowed to walk around without crutches indicates the bone bruise is minor or not in a significant area. I know the quality Steelers medical staff. There is no way they would have allowed full-weight bearing if it was not safe or might delay healing.
A CBS report confirms a late October return at four weeks. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were sooner with a knee brace.
MMMD 2: Steve Smith breaks back
It takes a lot for the Ravens star WR to exit a game. Now we know why he didn’t finish. Reports surfaced of four broken bones in his back. By video, the hit would not cause any risk to the spinal cord or nerves. It is likely a non-structural portion of the spine like the transverse processes.
Tony Romo and Cam Newton had similar injuries last year and both only missed one game. Certainly it will be harder at WR to return that quickly, but the point is that Smith will be back sooner than later. Whether ribs also involved or not, the prognosis is the same. This is a very painful injury, but there is no need for surgery, no risk of paralysis and no need to wait for bone healing. It is a matter of function and pain tolerance.
MMMD 3: Unfortunate injury on last play of the game
No one wants to see a player injured, especially when it occurs on a meaningless last play with the team down by three touchdowns. To make matters worse, Cecil Shorts’ shoulder injury may end his season.
By video, the Texans WR appeared to dislocate his left shoulder. Typically, the labrum is torn and needs surgery. Seattle safety Earl Thomas finished the season and played in the Super Bowl with a brace before offseason surgery. The brace required to keep the shoulder from re-dislocating restricts motion, which makes it very difficult to play for a WR.
MMMD 4: High ankle injury spectrum
Not all high ankle injuries have a player out 4-6 weeks. They tend to take longer than tradition low sprains and are very hard to support with tape or a brace, but severity varies greatly.
By video Sunday, Michael Crabtree had a mild version and was able to return in the second half. Davante Adams’ Week 2 high ankle had him out this week but with a chance for limited action next week. Antrel Rolle was carted off with a much more significant sprain and will miss several weeks or more depending on swelling.
The most severe varieties of high ankle injuries are surgical. Bears center Will Montgomery walked off the field with his but was reported to have a fibula fracture. Rams LB Alec Ogletree will need surgery for his ligament tear/fracture. Although hope is being held out for a return later in the year, both are likely headed to season-ending IR.
MMMD 5: Same injury, different affect
Both Jay Cutler and DeMarco Murray played through hamstring injuries on Sunday. As expected, the lower extremity muscle strain had little effect on the strong-armed QB who led the Bears to victory with two TDs. In the 2014 playoffs, Aaron Rodgers had the arm strength to compensate for his calf strain, while Peyton Manning did not have enough to make up for his quad injury.
A hamstring is much harder for a RB. Murray did break one 30-yard run but otherwise was held to six yards on seven carries.
MMMD 6: Field conditions matter
The NFL has experienced a lot of turf issues recently. The Rams game last week was delayed by a fireworks burn, the Texans changed their grass field to turf, the Raiders played their first two games on part of the dirt baseball diamond and the Steelers still curse the Hall of Fame game grass that may have contributed to losing Shaun Suisham (whose clutch FGs were sorely missed Thursday night) to an ACL tear.
On a slick FedEx field, four Eagles were injured during the Redskins game. Muscle injuries are more common when there is poor footing. Byron Maxwell (quad), Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), Brandon Bair (groin) and Jason Peters (quad), all left with muscle strains and did not return.
MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc scorecard
This week marks my two-year anniversary on twitter. The story of how I stumbled into social media has been documented. I have now written over 120 articles and give special thanks to my 30k+ followers. I have especially enjoyed the interactions with media and fans.
The Cardinals announced a four-week absence for Michael Floyd after finger surgery on August 5th. I felt 6-8 weeks was more realistic. In the first three weeks of the season, he played but had only two catches for 30 yards. Now at eight weeks from injury, he doubled his season output with five receptions for 59 yards and should be back to full form.
By video, Cowboys’ Lance Dunbar suffered an ACL and MCL tear, Rams’ Alec Ogletree will need high ankle surgery, Bears’ Will Montgomery broke his fibula and Texans’ Cecil Shorts dislocated his shoulder. Unfortunately, all four will likely land on IR.
Steve Smith, Sr. thankfully will not have long-term issues from his back fractures. Antrel Rolle will miss time with a high ankle. Both Randall Cobb and Sam Bradford survived momentary scares to finish the game.
Last week we ended with a 37-3 injury prediction record. Adding the above correct to the scorecard, makes the 2015 tally 46-3 to date.
Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc
Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.
Five weeks of the 2015 college football season are in the books, and the first weekend of October was memorable for a plethora of reasons.
Let’s take a look at the National Football Post’s newest Top 25.
1. Ohio State (5-0) 
2. TCU (5-0) 
3. Michigan State (5-0) 
4. Baylor (4-0) 
5. Florida State (4-0) 
6. LSU (4-0) 
7. Oklahoma (4-0) 
8. Alabama (4-1) 
9. Clemson (4-0) 
10. Utah (4-0) 
11. Texas A&M (5-0) 
12. Northwestern (5-0) 
13. Notre Dame (4-1) 
14. Stanford (4-1) 
15. Florida (5-0) 
16. USC (3-1) 
17. Ole Miss (4-1) 
18. Georgia (4-1) 
19. Oklahoma State (5-0) 
20. UCLA (4-1) 
21. Cal (5-0) 
22. Iowa (5-0) [NR]
23. Michigan (4-1) [NR]
24. Temple (4-0) 
25. Memphis (5-0) 
The next five: Toledo (4-0), Boise State (4-1), Duke (4-1), Houston (4-0) and Navy (4-0).
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.