There’s a ton of injuries around the league, so let’s get right to them, staring with the Thursday night game:
Green Bay vs. Chicago
The Packers come into the game with a real issue at running back. Eddie Lacy is out for at least this week (but likely longer if he elects to have surgery) while he deals with a foot/ankle issue. James Starks is out for at least a month with a knee sprain. That leaves new acquisition Knile Davis as really the only available tailback, but he’s not up to speed yet on the playbook. That appears to mean that the Packers will pull Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery into the backfield more. We’ll also likely see Aaron Rodgers with a lot of five-wide packages, which could have the third and fourth receivers getting more targets than normal.
The Bears come into Week 7 decimated by injuries. Jay Cutler remains out, but that’s becoming less about his injury and more about his imminent exit from Chicago. Eddie Royal is out with his toe injury, leaving Cameron Meredith in the WR2 role across from Alshon Jeffrey, who seemed less affected by his hamstring strain last week than he has all year. Meredith is getting more targets, so it’s something to keep an eye on. Fill-in running back Jordan Howard has made the most of his chance, putting up record totals through his first few starts. That should continue even beyond Jeremy Langford’s return.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (torn meniscus)
Another 24 hours of information has clarified more about Roethlisberger’s situation. Roethlisberger himself has said that he’s already in rehab and that the first week will be done “at home.” This is a bit unusual, but not a drastic negative. Once he was ruled out for this week, the bye throws off the rest of the schedule. There’s no need for him to be in the complex, and in all likelihood his rehab will be handled by medical staff that will be in regular communication with the team.
Roethlisberger’s timeline is slightly extended on the long end, but if the low end expectation is really two weeks, as suggested by Art Rooney II, the bye week again seems to be driving this. There is no “two weeks” in this scenario, even if he were able to go, so once one is gone, the next target becomes three. Our first key will be whether Roethlisberger is with the team for this week’s game against New England. I can’t imagine he won’t be there and expect him to be moving pretty well.
The injury history with the bone bruise from last season is a complication, but much like any articular issue, it tends to be more of a long term issue. Think Myles Jack’s situation. In the draft, there were questions about how long Jack might be able to play, in terms of years, not whether he would be able to play in the short term. Jack has shown that’s no issue. Roethlisberger’s created a bit more work for the surgeon to do inside the knee, adding to the inflammation and pain. Once those are controlled, Roethlisberger should be back, so I continue to think the low end of the timeline is more likely, three to four weeks.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore (undefined shoulder injury)
“Right shoulder issue.” That’s about as much as we really know about Flacco right now, aside from the fact that he missed both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice. The Ravens are keeping any specifics very tight, so Flacco’s Friday practice status will be one of the only guides. Right now, the expectation is that he will play on Sunday, but there’s a question of whether the shoulder is sore or damaged. Sore can be handled with time and treatment, but if there’s any sort of actual injury — a bruise, a sprain, or an instability — that is going to affect his performance. That could affect touch and accuracy as much as strength and velocity, so it’s impossible to say who it will most affect. I’d lay off most of the Ravens offense anyway, but make sure Flacco is active if you’re starting him or any of his receivers. The team does have a Week 8 bye, which could factor in.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay (strained hamstring)
Martin has been working to come back from a hamstring strain, but as he did, he had a significant setback. Martin had worked up to full speed running, indicating he was getting close to a return, when the hamstring let go again. Sources tell me it was in the same spot, indicating that the healing simply didn’t hold up under load. This not only sets him back by weeks, it could indicate a major structural issue for Martin.
The hamstrings tend to be redundant, but Martin’s strain is significant and severe. There’s no new timeline for his return, but the medical staff will have to be cautious to make sure that the defect fully heals before bringing him back. In the meantime, Jacquizz Rogers is going to have to continue to handle the RB1 role.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo (strained hamstring)
Given how last season’s hamstring strain really derailed McCoy’s season, making sure that he heals well and heals as quickly as possible are going to be competing goals. The team is likely to have to err on the side of caution, especially in the early stage. While the Grade II strain isn’t, as Rex Ryan said, “full blown,” it’s still significant and his history makes it even more so. The Bills will make a decision on this week’s game Friday, but it’s trending that he’ll miss it.
The Bills have their bye in Week 10, just far enough off to get involved but not close enough to be a lifeline. The normal two to four weeks for this kind of injury would put it in play at the long end. The Bills didn’t seem to step down when Mike Gilislee came in last week, so the hope is that he can hold things together in the running game in the short term. While Gilislee will get the touches, it’s equally likely that we’ll see Tyrod Taylor run a bit more and look in the short passing game for Charles Clay, but Clay has an ankle sprain that may hold him out as well.
Tony Romo, Dallas (fractured back)
Dez Bryant, Dallas (fractured knee)
The Cowboys have been looking towards this Week 7 bye for a while. While Jerry Jones gives his weekly smoke and rainbows about injuries, behind the scenes, this has always been the goal — get to the bye and have Romo and Bryant ready to go. Well, from a medical perspective, they’re going to be close. Both should be cleared to practice next week and their response in practice is going to determine whether they play. Or at least it should. Bryant is dealing with a minor cut on his hand, the result of a mishap chopping carrots.
Romo’s is much more complicated, and in Week 8 it’s unlikely the team will turn away from Dak Prescott. After that, assuming that Romo’s back handles the workload, it will be almost a week-to-week decision based on how Prescott is playing. That’s going to turn into a major issue, especially given the volatility of players like Bryant. A “that’s my quarterback” moment would be a challenge for this team, so look for some uncertainty about Romo’s ability to take a hit to be raised to give cover.
Latavius Murray, Oakland (sprained toe)
Turf toe lingers, but it does heal eventually. Chalk one up for Murray and the Raiders medical staff. Murray has been able to practice this week and is showing no deficits, able to burst and cut without the obvious pain. There’s some suggestion that Murray has something in his shoe — a shank or orthotic is likely — but regardless, it’s helping and not causing any sort of problem for him on the field or off.
Murray should be back in his starting role, but how much of a split there will be with what has become a committee with a cast of thousands. The biggest worry is that Murray might not get the red zone touches, regardless of health, but again, there’s no clarity on who will get those, even with Jamize Olawale doing well in that role.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati (post-surgical ankle/back spasms)
The Bengals could add Eifert back into their offense this week, giving Andy Dalton almost all his weapons back for the first time this season. Eifert’s return from ankle surgery was delayed by a cascade back issue. The spasms are gone and Eifert is running well in practice. Assuming no setback on Friday, Eifert is set to play, though the team is going to be conservative with his play count.
The TE position has been almost a zero for the Bengals this season, so any production from Eifert is going to be a big leap for them. The extra time should have helped his ankle heal up and this isn’t an issue that tends to recur, but we have seen that Eifert’s gait has led to other issues. The team is watching closely for a recurrence of any back symptoms as well as watching for something muscular in his legs to get out of whack.
Bumps & bruises:
Josh McCown hasn’t been cleared to play yet, but he has been cleared for full practice. If he goes through one on Friday, he could play this week over Cody Kessler … Theo Riddick isn’t making progress fast enough for Week 7. It looks like the Lions will be without him and maybe Dwayne Washington again this week. Washington is also a big question mark, but is slightly ahead in his own rehab … Carlos Hyde says his shoulder sprain is a “short-term injury” but it’s very hard to read at this stage. He’s out for this week, leaving the touches to Mike Davis and Shaun Draughn … Stefon Diggs is being eased back in. His full participation on Friday would be a good sign for him and the Vikings … Vincent Jackson doesn’t have a ruptured ACL. He does have a lower-grade sprain, along with an MCL sprain, so the IR move doesn’t mean that he’s definitely done for the season. Just probably … With the bye coming up, it looks like the Ravens will sit Steve Smith and let him fully heal up his ankle … John Brown has a minor hamstring strain, but the Cardinals tend to be conservative. Make sure he’s active on Sunday … Jordan Reed practiced on a non-contact basis Wednesday, but not Thursday. That could indicate some return of symptoms with activity, which would be a negative. He could still be cleared from the protocol by Sunday, but that’s looking less likely right now. Hearing that Reed hid his concussion during the game shows that the players are as big a part of the issue as anyone.