Steelers bruised heading into Week 5
A battered Roethlisberger limped off the field in Week 4 and left the stadium with his injured left foot in a walking boot. Initial images were inconclusive due to the large amount of swelling in the foot. A CT scan performed Monday showed no signs of a fracture and the team is calling the injury a foot sprain. However, just because the foot isn't broken doesn't mean Big Ben is out of the woods yet. The foot is a complex structure made up of 26 bones and numerous ligaments intricately designed so it can serve a variety of functions including shock absorption, acceleration, and deceleration. The ability to adequately and efficiently carry out each of these roles is dependent primarily on the stability of the foot. If one or more of the stabilizing ligaments is sprained, the entire foot is affected. Furthermore the foot is the first link in the kinetic chain of the lower leg, meaning a foot injury directly affects the biomechanics of the ankle, knee, and hip and could lead to further injuries in these joints.
Roethlisberger is no stranger to foot injuries, playing the second half of the 2010 season with a broken foot. However the Steelers offensive line, ravaged by injuries of their own, has done a poor job this season of protecting their quarterback. He was sacked five times in Week 4 bringing his total for the season up to 14, tied for third most in the NFL. A sprained foot would obviously limit his mobility and the Steelers may be unwilling to subject Roethlisberger to any more punishment. He will likely be limited throughout the week and expect a decision on his availability late in the week or just prior to the team's Week 5 matchup against the Titans and their top-ranked defense. Even if he does suit up it's hard to put much stock in an injured player who has tossed just three touchdowns to five interceptions. Charlie Batch would likely get the start if Roethlisberger were unable to play.
The Texans suffered a scary moment of their own in Week 4 as Johnson crumpled to the field following a reception in the first half. Any noncontact injury is worrisome because it often means something, whether it is muscle, tendon, or ligament, was unable to meet the high demands placed on it. Multiple MRIs revealed a strained right hamstring, though the Texans have yet to reveal the extent of the damage. Instead they are currently seeking multiple opinions on the injury to determine how long Johnson could be out. The Houston athletic training staff is quite familiar with hamstring strains having handled Arian Foster's injury.
The root of the problem may be the surface of the field within Reliant Stadium. The field is made up of a natural, removable turf with each section of grass fitted together in large squares. However some in the NFL believe the design causes inconsistency in the field and creates slick spots that can be dangerous to players. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick openly criticized the field conditions in 2010 after receiver Wes Welker suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a noncontact play in Houston. The majority of players say it isn't an issue and ranked Reliant as the seventh best grass field out of the 18 stadiums currently using real grass. More research is needed before the field can take the full blame but playing surface is a factor not many people take into consideration when assessing the injury risk of players.
Johnson's injury was bigger news but the Steelers running back also suffered a strained hamstring in the same game. Mendenhall exited after scoring a touchdown and did not return. The injury is not believed to be serious, meaning it is likely a Grade I sprain. However we've seen multiple times this season with guys like Foster, Daniel Thomas, and Chris Wells that injuries of this type can be hard to shake and often limit the player in practice and games. Like Roethlisberger, the porous Steelers offensive line complicates the issue and makes Mendenhall a risky play in Week 5. Isaac Redmen could become the featured back in Pittsburgh as Mewelde Moore is nursing a high ankle sprain and is not expected to play in Week 5.
The Packers believe Grant will return in Week 5 after missing a game with a bruised kidney. The kidneys, a chief component in blood filtration and the urinary system, are generally well protected but can be injured by a direct blow often to the back, as was the case for Grant. Contused kidneys often cause nausea, stiffness in the back, or blood to appear in the urine (a condition known as hermaturia). Grant did exhibit signs of hermaturia following the injury but his recent urine test did not show any traces of blood. He has been cleared to return to action and should be in the backfield when the Packers take on the Falcons. It will be interesting to see how the team utilizes Grant after James Starks performed well in his absence.
Antonio Gates: 2011 is starting to mirror 2010 for Gates. The talented but often-injured tight end continues his battle with plantar fasciitis. The team continues to seek outside help from specialists but expect him to miss more time, especially with a bye week looming in Week 6.
Chad Henne: Henne will use the bye week to heal his injured left shoulder. He hopes to play in Week 6, citing a similar incident in college in which he managed to play through an injury to his non-throwing arm.
James Harrison: The hard-hitting linebacker suffered a fractured right orbital bone that will require surgery. He will miss several weeks.
Tim Hightower: Hightower is playing through an injured shoulder and could see a reduced number of carries following the team's bye, particularly after Ryan Torain's strong performance against the Rams.
Jerod Mayo: New England will be without Mayo for at least six weeks after the linebacker suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee.
Ryan Mathews: Mathews continue to perform well despite a toe injury. Expect a lighter load for him this week in practice but all signs point to him playing in Denver.
Roddy White: White remains hampered by a deep thigh bruise suffered in the preseason. However he still has 26 receptions and remains a must-start.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for RotoWire.
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