Commentary

Receiver injuries piling up early

Onus on passing has helped pass-catchers put up big numbers, but there is a downside

Originally Published: September 21, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Statistically, pass-catchers have been living the fantasy life during the first two weeks of the season.

Passing yardage is up 62.3 yards a game (teams are averaging 492.8 passing yards per game) compared to last season. The average length of a completion is up 1.1 yards to a staggering 12.3 yards. Touchdown receptions are up 20.4 percent with 108 passing touchdowns in two weeks. The run-to-pass ratio is 41.2 to 58.8.

But the reality to this fantasy show is receivers are going down with injuries at a fast pace, too. In Week 2, a dozen wide receivers, including Dez Bryant, Jacoby Ford, Brandon Lloyd, Roy Williams and Michael Crabtree, were inactive because of injuries. The list is building this week.

Slot receivers have taken the hardest injury hits. For example, Danny Amendola, Sammie Stroughter, Marques Colston, Jordan Shipley and Roscoe Parrish have suffered injuries. Shipley and Parrish are done for the season.

Working the middle of the field to catch passes is proving to be dangerous. An offense almost can't survive unless it has a good slot receiver. That's bad news for the many teams that are already hurting at the position.

From the inbox

Q: This has been bugging me for a while. I'm still wondering how Michael Vick won the Comeback Player of the Year award last year. Wasn't he already back? This award should be for guys who have extended leaves due to injury or other circumstances. I would understand if he won the 2009 award when he first signed the Eagles. But he was on the roster and played a few snaps before taking over last year. The comeback is officially over after the first year, isn't it?

Mike P in Richmond, Va.

A: Vick was given a pass for not playing much in his first season with the Eagles. There are no technicalities and limitations for us voting for comeback player of the year. Because of that, Vick could easily win the award. He deserved it.

Q: Why does no one put any trust in Ryan Fitzpatrick being a good QB? I am a huge Buffalo Bills fan and do not expect playoffs or anything crazy, but I believe if Fitz has a good line in front of him (which he doesn't in Buffalo) he can put up numbers with the best of them. Why the lack of respect?

Tim in Syracuse, N.Y.

A: Fitzpatrick is winning over a lot of people. If he continues to win games, he'll continue to win respect. A big game for him will be Sunday against the New England Patriots. It's been a long time for people in Buffalo to be excited about their team. Everyone was thinking the Bills were leading the Andrew Luck derby. Now, we'll see whether they are fighting for a playoff spot. They have shown a lot of confidence and tenacity in their first two games.

Q: Why do some players have such jarring drop-offs in production as compared to other sports? In baseball or basketball, I typically observe a veteran going from all-star to regular starter to role player, a steady decline (barring injury). But in football it seems that a player can go from playing in the Pro Bowl to being cut the next season or being completely ineffective.

Zubin in Stamford, Conn.

A: That's a great question. The answer is injuries and age. The older the player, the harder it is to recover from injuries. The older the player, the quicker the drop-off when injuries start to catch up to a player. I remember when the league and trainers started to understand Lisfranc injuries. Those are the foot injuries in which a crack appears in the middle of the foot. Players who suffered those types of injuries found themselves slowing down within a year or two of the injury and not knowing what happened. Unless you have surgery to fix the problem or rest it for several months, the injury worsens and the player loses all of his speed and explosiveness. Players take a lot of hits in practices and in games. It's harder to fight Father Time in football than it is in other sports.

Q: People continue to harp on Albert Haynesworth and how he wasn't very effective in the Patriots' first game against Miami. But I saw a lot of potential and heart in Haynesworth when he was lining up in that 4-3 alongside Vince Wilfork and even when Wilfork wasn't in. I think he is going back to his old form and he has a lot of motivation to succeed. Could he be the comeback player of the year, or is this always going to be an offensive award?

Steve in Raleigh, N.C.

A: I'm with you. I think the Haynesworth signing will pay great dividends. I wouldn't go as far to say he'll be in the running for a comeback award. I just think he'll help the defense improve and win some of the battles at the line of scrimmage.

Q: Why does Ben Roethlisberger get in the hurry-up offense and take so long to call the play? He waits until the defense gets set and the play clock has just about expired.

Eric in Jamestown, N.C.

A: I wouldn't question the way he runs the no-huddle because he does it well. Most quarterbacks in no-huddle situations have to wait until the final seconds because defenses don't declare what they might do until five or six seconds before the snap. Waiting allows Roethlisberger to make an audible and get the offense out of a bad play. It's a chess match, and he usually does well in those situations.

Q: People have been talking about Giants coach Tom Coughlin being on the hot seat but why isn't GM Jerry Reese's job also in jeopardy?

Joe in New York

A: Like the Rooney family in Pittsburgh, the Mara family isn't big on making wholesale changes. The Giants' owners prefer stability. Although it might be flashy to bring in a Bill Cowher, the Maras and the Tisches will give everyone on the coaching staff and in management a chance to keep his job. If the season spirals out of control, they might fire Coughlin, even though they really have no desire to let a great coach go. The owners love how controlled and professional the team is under Coughlin. But this is the NFL, and you're judged by your record.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAlex Smith is likely just keeping the seat warm for Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.

Q: If Alex Smith takes the 49ers to the playoffs by winning the NFC West, which is clearly up for grabs, do you see him as a long-term answer for the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh's supervision? Statistically, when he is healthy and starts all 16 games, he's a pretty good QB, especially against NFC West teams.

Alex in San Francisco

A: Smith was brought back as a one-year fix to get to Colin Kaepernick. I would believe that they wouldn't re-sign him even if they made the playoffs. You can see how conservative Harbaugh is with the play calling. The 49ers are managing games for Smith not to lose. Although Smith has done well, Harbaugh will need more big plays from this offense next season. Kaepernick most likely will be the starter next season if he's ready, and Harbaugh probably will bring in another veteran.

Q: With the return of no-huddle offenses this season, defenses are responding (possibly Chargers, definitely Giants) by having defenders fake injuries. What can the league do to prevent this?

Steve in Pasadena, Calif.

A: Don't expect to see a repeat of these tactics. The NFL is warning of disciplinary action for faking injuries. Officials will flag these actions, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are fines. I don't see the league doing anything to the Giants, but watch for it to come down on the next team that tries it.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN

John Clayton

NFL senior writer