Season-ending injuries are up slightly in the NFL this season.
The contenders feeling the most pain from injuries are Green Bay, Cincinnati and New England.
Green Bay probably is going to be without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for about a month, although no timetable has been given for his return from a broken collarbone. The Packers’ offense already has lost star tight end Jermichael Finley and wideout Randall Cobb for the season. Green Bay is locked in a three-way tie with Detroit and Chicago at 5-3 and already has 10 players on the injured reserve list. The Lions and Bears have a great chance to unseat the two-time defending NFC North champs.
Cincinnati has lost its best defensive player, tackle Geno Atkins, and starting cornerback Leon Hall for the year. Linebacker Rey Maualuga missed the loss in Miami and is out the next two weeks with a knee injury. The Bengals have some cushion because their AFC North competition is struggling. But the injuries put a ding in their Super Bowl hopes.
In New England, coach Bill Belichick and his staff has been doing it with mirrors on defense after the loss of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly for the season. Cornerback Aqib Talib has missed three games with a bad hip and may miss more. Yet the Pats have allowed the eighth fewest points in the league. Can this defense hold up in the playoffs? It’s very questionable.
Overall there are 221 players on the injured-reserve list, up from 190 at this point last season.
Is this an especially bad season for injuries? Hard to make that statement yet. There were 337 players on IR for all of last season. There were 318 on IR in 2011, 343 in 2010, 297 in 2009 and 305 in 2008.
However, it does appear that torn anterior cruciate ligament injuries are up significantly. ESPN reported two weeks ago that 30 players had gone on IR with confirmed torn ACLs. In all of 2011 there were 25 players on IR with ACLs, and it was 32 for all of 2012, the network reported.
One injury trend that’s the same as usual is that contenders often benefit from low injury totals.
Undefeated Kansas City has just one player on IR. Seattle has just five and San Francisco six.
Seattle and San Francisco led the healthy list last year, too. All of last season, the Niners put just one player on IR and they lost a league-low eight games by starters to injury. Seattle was second with just 11 games by starters lost to injury.
The Bills are in the lower middle of the IR pack right now, with six players on the list in the wake of the release of Brad Smith.
Carolina has 14 players on the IR, but the Panthers have not lost key starters. Six teams have 10 players on IR. They are: Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, the Giants, Pittsburgh and Tampa.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his flowing gray locks likely will get even more on-camera time than Dallas owner Jerry Jones tonight when the Saints host the Cowboys.
Ryan was the scapegoat for Dallas’ failure to make the playoffs last season. His Dallas defense finished 19th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed but it was ravaged by injury. He was canned, after which he famously proclaimed, “I’ll be out of work for, like, five minutes.”
Entering tonight’s game, Ryan’s Saints defense ranks ninth in yards allowed. Dallas’ defense has slumped to 31st.
You have to be rooting for Ryan’s D to play great tonight.
“Whatever people suggest, it doesn’t make a crap to me, because I know I’m a great coach,” Ryan told New Orleans reporters. “So whatever it is, it is. But I said in Dallas on my way out, hey, there’s a couple better coaches than me that have been fired. Not many, but there’s a couple. So that’s just the way it is.”
In an interview during training camp, Ryan said of his canning: “Anybody who has followed me, we were No. 3 in the league for 10 weeks of the season until every single player on the team was hurt and then I got fired. We should have been No. 1. But that’s OK.”
Jones explained on his weekly radio show this week he was looking for a less complex scheme in replacing Ryan. (Dave Wannstedt would have fit that criteria well.)
“I think so highly of Rob Ryan as a coach, frankly, as an imaginative coach and how he imaginatively approaches the game,” Jones told KRLD in Dallas. “He can have a lot going on, and we wanted less going on, but that doesn’t make it right or wrong.”
Dallas replaced Ryan with 73-year-old Monte Kiffin, a great coach in his own right and father of the “Tampa Cover 2” scheme. But the Cowboys’ front seven isn’t as good as it once was.
Dallas already is the first NFL team ever to allow four 400-yard passers in a season. Look for Drew Brees to make it five.
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay: No. 54 for the Bucs is a player to watch in Monday night’s game against Miami. David has blossomed into one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL in just his second season. He’s a product of Miami’s Northwestern High, which produced former NFL stars like Marvin Jones and Brett Perriman, along with Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, the possible No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft. David was a sideline to sideline tackling machine at Nebraska, and that’s exactly what he has become for Tampa. The only question on him entering the draft was his lack of elite size, at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds. He has been in on seven sacks this season and has five passes defensed.
Hughes vs. Shep
The Bills are getting a lot more out of Jerry Hughes than the Colts are getting out of Kelvin Sheppard. Hughes has averaged 45.5 snaps a game, or 62 percent of the defensive plays for Buffalo. He has four sacks and 27 tackles.
Sheppard has averaged 19 snaps a game, or 28 percent of the Colts’ snaps. But Sheppard played only three plays the last two games. He has 16 tackles. Fans in Indy aren’t lamenting the absence of Hughes. The Colts rank 12th in sacks. However, Hughes is outplaying the man who replaced him on the edge of the Colt defense opposite Robert Mathis. Erik Walden has one sack and hasn’t created nearly as much pressure overall as Hughes.
Given his backup status, it’s unlikely Sheppard figures into the plans of the Colts beyond this year. The Bills likely are going to try to keep Hughes, presuming he keeps up his level of play.
• Keep an eye on turf conditions today at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The footing is notoriously bad there, although it has not been a problem so far this season. (The Steelers are playing only their fourth home game.) However, Saturday night’s game between Notre Dame and Pitt at Heinz Field could mess up the turf.
• In every year since 1987, a team with a .500 or worse record after eight games has made the playoffs. It probably will happen in the race for the sixth spot in the AFC this season. The Jets (5-4) were 4-4 before upsetting the Saints last week. Somebody at or below .500 easily could catch the Jets.
• The league-wide passer rating (86.5) is also on pace for an all-time high (85.6 in 2012), and the average number of touchdown passes per game (3.12) is on pace to be the highest since 1963 (3.21). Games are averaging 485 passing yards this year, well ahead of last year’s record pace of 462 a game.
• Calvin Johnson needs 24 receiving yards today to surpass Randy Moss and have the second most receiving yards over the first 100 games of a career in NFL history. Johnson has 8,657. Lance Alworth tops the list, with 9,019 yards in his first 100 games.
• The Texans have relegated 35-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed to a reserve role each of the last two games. He’s not hurt. Shiloh Keo has started at free safety. Reed got 30 snaps last week. “I’m a team player,” Reed said. “I want what’s best for the team. I’ll do whatever I can to help the team.”