All it took was one meaningless preseason game to dramatically affect two very meaningful offenses’ chances of repeating their 2014 success. You already know the Packers and Steelers were great on offense last year; DVOA, in fact, has them first and second, respectively. What you might not have noticed is how remarkably healthy they were; after years of struggling through injuries on offense, both Green Bay and Pittsburgh ranked among the three healthiest offenses in football a year ago.
It was always going to be tough to repeat that in 2015, and after Jordy Nelson and Maurkice Pouncey went down with serious injuries on Sunday, the chances of the Packers and Steelers staying among the league’s healthiest teams have fallen. Those are unquestionably the two most critical injuries of the preseason, but they’re hardly the only ones. It’s hard to find an NFL team that hasn’t already been affected as we head toward September. Let’s sort through many of those ailments team by team, starting with those two afflicted teams missing their star contributors.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers confirmed Monday that Nelson suffered a torn ACL in Sunday’s preseason loss. The noncontact injury will cost Nelson his entire 2015 campaign, just one year after his best season as a pro, when he accrued 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns as the team’s clear no. 1 option.
On its own, Nelson’s absence doesn’t sink the Packers offense. There’s only one player on the team who can do that with his disappearance, and that’s Nelson’s quarterback. Aaron Rodgers will manage to get by without his favorite target, but there’s nobody on the roster who can match Nelson’s telepathy. He’s caught 350 passes from Rodgers, more than any other player during the quarterback’s illustrious career. That’s partly a function of volume and career length, but the sort of throws Rodgers makes to Nelson speaks to their comfort level. Rodgers frequently — and purposefully — gets passes to Nelson in unlikely places and at awkward angles that are unusual for most quarterback-receiver combinations. The Packers have burners who can make big plays downfield in Nelson’s absence, but Green Bay doesn’t have a backup who can catch a pass fired at high speed to the side of his knee like Nelson can.
The Packers certainly don’t lack for talent at wide receiver; it would be an absolute disaster area if Ted Thompson had failed to re-sign Randall Cobb this offseason, but with Cobb back in the fold, Green Bay should be able to handle losing Nelson without being stuck using replacement-level wideouts for Rodgers. (See: the 2010 Chargers.) Where it will stretch the team is in expanding each receiver’s role. While Cobb has improved as a pure receiver since entering the league as a possible scatback, he still does his best work in the slot, and it would be foolish for the Packers to move him into Nelson’s role strictly because he’s next in line.
The more natural fit is second-year wideout Davante Adams, whose role was already expected to increase after he caught 38 passes as a rookie. He played just over 70 percent of the snaps last year as Green Bay’s third wideout, but Adams was really a passenger as a rookie. Rodgers threw Adams the ball on just 14.3 percent of the routes he ran last year, which placed 79th among the 82 wideouts who were thrown the ball 50 times or more. Some of that is because he had Cobb and Nelson ahead of him in line for targets, but it’s fair to point out that, including playoffs, Adams had four promising games of 75 yards or more, one 50-yard game, and 13 games with 21 yards or fewer.
Adams should improve as a result of having a year under his belt, but now he has to get better. And while he’s split out on one side when the Packers go three-wide, there will be a question mark on the other side. Rookie third-rounder Ty Montgomery is almost definitely a better fit in the slot, given his poor man’s Cobb-esque skill set and inexperience. That would leave 2014 seventh-rounder Jeff Janis, a small-school size-speed project who caught two passes in three games last year, as a likely starter. The drop-off from Nelson to Adams may be smaller than the likely drop from Adams to Montgomery or Janis.
That makes me wonder whether the Packers will be as aggressive about using three or more wideouts so frequently on offense. Green Bay went three-or-more-wide on 76.6 percent of its offensive snaps last year, the highest rate in football. You can make a case the Packers’ best five-man personnel grouping includes fullback/folk hero John Kuhn or a pair of tight ends in Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless as opposed to Janis or Montgomery. Given how effective their offensive line was at clearing holes for Eddie Lacy last season, it wouldn’t be crazy to imagine the Packers shifting more toward the run. No offense with Rodgers is about to run the wishbone, but without Nelson, the best Green Bay attack could be a more balanced offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It was less than two weeks ago that I was writing about the Steelers and how incredibly healthy they had been in 2014. Pittsburgh’s 11 expected offensive starters, the guys the Steelers wanted to roll out there on a weekly basis, missed a total of seven games. Now, with Maurkice Pouncey undergoing surgery for a fractured fibula after being rolled up on by Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, it would hardly be a surprise if Pittsburgh’s excellent center missed more than seven games in 2015 on his own.
As is the case with many of the players in Pittsburgh’s starting offensive lineup, Pouncey is a legitimate star and one of the best players at his position. And as is the case with many of the players in Pittsburgh’s starting offensive lineup, there’s little in the way of depth behind him. The Steelers will likely turn to journeyman backup Cody Wallace, who filled in as the team’s third choice at the pivot in 2013, when Pouncey missed virtually the entire season with a torn ACL and MCL. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them go after fellow 2013 fill-in Fernando Velasco if he fails to make the Titans, and they added Doug Legursky this morning.
More than anything, what made the Steelers offensive line play so well last year is how effective they were working in lockstep. With something resembling continuity after years of injuries and false steps, they were a cohesive unit and rarely made mistakes. Pouncey was at the center of those improvements. Without him in 2013, the Steelers offense was stuffed for no gain or a loss on 21 percent of its carries, which was 24th in the league. Last year, that figure fell to 15 percent, the league’s lowest rate.
Some of that can be chalked up to the fleet feet of Le’Veon Bell, of course, but Pouncey played an important role in neutralizing pressure up the middle and allowing Bell the time to find his holes on runs like Pittsburgh’s signature power counter. His ability to chip in as an above-average blocker came in handy in a division that featured Geno Atkins and Haloti Ngata on the interior last season. Like Nelson, his absence won’t stop the Pittsburgh offense, but it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being as good as they were a year ago without Pouncey around.
Around the League
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals imported a pair of oft-injured Falcons defenders to serve as valuable pieces in an ever-evolving front seven. Sadly, it appears those injury issues have followed them to the desert. That’s certainly clear for defensive tackle Corey Peters, who tore his Achilles in practice and was placed on injured reserve. You have to feel for Peters, who tore his other Achilles in a meaningless Week 17 game just before hitting free agency in 2013. He recovered enough in 2014 to get $4 million in guarantees from the Cardinals this offseason, but the pair of Achilles tears have probably cost him $10 million, with the second one possibly ending his career. I can’t think of an NFL player who managed to return to the league after tearing both of his Achilles. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, meanwhile, has missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals have had success shopping around the veteran free-agent market during late August in years past, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them do so over the next couple of weeks.
Fellow free-agent acquisition Mike Iupati is also on the shelf, having undergone surgery for a torn meniscus that should sideline him for the first few weeks of the season. Iupati suffered a torn MCL in the same knee in 2013, which raises concerns that knee problems may be an ongoing issue for a guy who just signed a five-year, $40 million deal. Arizona also lost right tackle Bobby Massie to a three-game suspension and re-signed former center Lyle Sendlein after his replacements looked awful in camp, while first-round pick D.J. Humphries has struggled mightily during the preseason. Bruce Arians loves to throw deep, but if his line doesn’t improve in the weeks to come, he won’t be able to keep Carson Palmer upright long enough to do so.
Atlanta Falcons: Falcons wideout Roddy White tried to play through a high ankle sprain in 2013. Hell, that’s selling it short. He tried to pretend he simply didn’t have a high ankle sprain at all, with the Falcons refusing to refer to it as such and lining him up for Week 1 without any concerns. It didn’t work: White was an anonymous decoy before finally resting the ankle after five games. He averaged 26 yards per game before the injury layoff and 73 afterward.
It’s no surprise, then, that the 33-year-old White would be hesitant to enter this season at far less than 100 percent. Already having his knee drained on a regular basis, White missed this past weekend’s game with an elbow injury that will apparently require minor surgery. White should miss the remainder of the preseason and is unlikely to be 100 percent in Kyle Shanahan’s offense when he does return. Then again, to be honest, it’s hard to really believe that White will ever be 100 percent again, given how his body has given him fits over the past couple of seasons.
Baltimore Ravens: First-round pick Breshad Perriman was expected to fill Torrey Smith’s shoes as the designated deep threat in Baltimore’s offense, but that may not be the case right away. Perriman has missed virtually all of training camp with a sprained PCL in his knee, a relatively rare injury relative to how frequently players injure other knee ligaments. Training camp is doubly important for a raw project like Perriman, who needs the reps of playing at NFL speed while avoiding the drops that plagued him at Central Florida.
At this point, the bigger worry for Baltimore isn’t even the idea that Perriman might not be ready for Week 1; it’s that he won’t be able to correct the mistakes he’s making once he’s back on the field. There’s also precious little at wideout behind Steve Smith; Perriman’s reps have been going to journeyman Kamar Aiken, a 6-foot-2 target who bounced around the back of rosters in years past. Slot receiver Michael Campanaro has been promising and deserves a larger role in the offense, but his skill set is roughly the polar opposite of Perriman’s.
Buffalo Bills: Who needs running backs? At one point recently, the Bills were down each of their top five halfbacks, with LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, and rookie fifth-rounder Karlos Williams all out with various maladies. Williams’s injury is the most concerning; he had reportedly looked very good in practice and posted a 114.2 Speed Score heading into the draft, but a mystery illness reportedly forced Williams into surgery and should sideline him for the remainder of the preseason. Their most notable injury on defense is backup linebacker Ty Powell, who tore his ACL and is done for the year.
Carolina Panthers: You could make a case the Panthers have been harmed by injuries more than anybody else in the league this preseason. The big one is second-year wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who tore his ACL in a joint practice with Miami and will miss the entire 2015 season. Benjamin had an up-and-down 2014, combining moments of staggering brilliance (like that catch over Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman) with frustrating drop-heavy stretches. Like Perriman, the thing Benjamin needs more than anything else is reps, so it’s a huge disappointment to the Panthers that he’ll miss 2015, both in the short term and for his long-term development.
I panned Dave Gettleman’s move to trade up and nab Devin Funchess at the time by arguing that the Panthers needed to hold on to all of their draft picks, but given that Funchess just became Carolina’s no. 1 wideout by default, it certainly looks smart now. As was the case with Benjamin last year, the Panthers will be piecing together a makeshift group of no. 2s and no. 3s around him; Corey Brown should see more time, and it might very well be worth noting that Jarrett Boykin was targeted 12 times against the Dolphins after Benjamin’s injury, six times more than any other player.
Benjamin isn’t the only one injured for Carolina. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, the team’s surest (and possibly only) source of above-average play on the offensive line, has a sprained knee that could sideline him for some of September. And defensive end Frank Alexander, who was expected to compete for the starting job across from Charles Johnson after missing 15 games in 2014 through suspension, is out for the year after tearing his Achilles on the opening drive of that Dolphins game. That should open up more time for 2014 second-rounder Kony Ealy.
Chicago Bears: The one saving grace for Jay Cutler was that he could expect to enter the season with an above-average group of receivers; now, that may not be the case. The good news is that Alshon Jeffery should be around. The sight of a walking boot and crutches must have terrified Bears fans, but Jeffery’s calf strain shouldn’t keep him out for any regular-season action.
First-rounder Kevin White, however, may not get to play with Cutler until 2016. The West Virginia product had been day-to-day with what the team characterized as shin splints, an injury that didn’t seem to fit the chatter about him missing serious regular-season time. Despite denials from White, the pain he experienced after trying to return revealed that White had a stress fracture in his shin, an injury that could very well cost him the season. He had a rod inserted into his left leg for stability on Saturday. It’s a rare injury, and the specific nature of the fracture is unclear, but other players have come back from the ailment; late-’90s Seahawks running back Lamar Smith had a long career after his own stress fracture. Regardless, White’s 2015 season will be abbreviated at best.
Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals fans’ hopes may have been wounded after that ugly performance against the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. Otherwise, the Bengals have stayed relatively healthy; their only notable new preseason injury is defensive end Michael Johnson, who sprained his MCL during the first week of August. He should be back in time for the regular season, and given how familiar Johnson is with Marvin Lewis from his previous run in Cincinnati, he shouldn’t miss very much by sitting out.
Cleveland Browns: Amid the very real Josh McCown–Johnny Manziel quarterback battle, the Browns have kept most of their players on the field. Their biggest concern is probably pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo, who is entering a critical point in his career after accruing just seven sacks across his first two seasons. He had his knee scoped earlier this month to address a partially torn meniscus, and while he has missed the preseason, Mingo should be back in time for Week 1. The Browns have turned to Scott Solomon as their preseason starter, he of the four teams in two years, but they’ll naturally hope to see second-rounder Nate Orchard play a bigger role if Mingo can’t stay on the field.
Dallas Cowboys: Minor injuries to cornerback Brandon Carr and guard Ronald Leary have been the only concerns in camp for the Cowboys. The Leary injury might very well have been a plus, given that it’s opened the door for rookie guard La’el Collins, who beat up overmanned Chargers backups two weeks ago.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos, too, are mostly healthy. Star-crossed returner Kyle Williams is done for the year after tearing his Achilles, while longtime project defensive tackle Marvin Austin is on injured reserve with a groin injury and likely to be released.
Detroit Lions: Our run of healthy teams ends in the Motor City, as the Lions have serious concerns on each side of the line of scrimmage. Already thinner after losing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions are still waiting to see star acquisition Haloti Ngata on the field. A lingering hamstring injury has kept Ngata out for the entirety of the preseason, and while that wouldn’t be quite as big of a deal in more familiar surroundings, the Lions desperately need Ngata to be healthy and effective in 2015.
They’re also having concerns across from Ngata. Guard Larry Warford suffered a high ankle sprain on Thursday night, an injury that tends to be a three-to-five-week problem. Offensive linemen play through it more regularly than skill-position players, but even if Warford plays, it should limit his effectiveness. And starting halfback Joique Bell, already in danger of losing his job to promising second-rounder Ameer Abdullah, hasn’t practiced after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Houston Texans: I covered the Arian Foster injury earlier this month; the good news is that Foster may avoid the half-season IR and be able to return after missing the first month of the regular season.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have no new injuries to report. Guard Donald Thomas remains a question mark, having failed to return from last year’s torn quadriceps and torn biceps, and appears unlikely to make the team. Former Bears starter Lance Louis seems to be the favorite to start at left guard as a result.
Jacksonville Jaguars: If you have a spare hand, the Jags could use a couple. Star tight end Julius Thomas and critical third-year safety Johnathan Cyprien each broke a bone in one of their hands in Jacksonville’s first preseason game. Both should be back for the regular season, but the obvious difference between the two is that Cyprien could play with a cast, while Thomas could not. The hand could bother Thomas throughout the season if it doesn’t heal properly. Sophomore wideout Marqise Lee, who already appears to have fallen behind Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in the hearts of the organization, has missed most of August with a strained hamstring. The good news is that offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, signed to a one-year prove-it deal, has shown enough in his recovery from shoulder surgery to win the center job from incumbent Luke Bowanko.
Kansas City Chiefs: Like the Lions, the Chiefs have major concerns around the line of scrimmage. They’re already down two starting offensive linemen, and while Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen should be back in time for the regular season, Fisher’s high ankle sprain should cost him effectiveness he can’t afford to lose. This is a hugely important year for the 2013 first overall pick, who wasn’t an above-average left tackle in his first season at the helm last year. Alex Smith threw his average pass just 5.6 yards in the air last season, the lowest figure in the league by more than 20 percent. Much of that was because Andy Reid couldn’t trust his offensive line to protect for very long.
The much better news for Chiefs fans revolves around nose tackle Dontari Poe, who suffered a herniated disk in his back at home in July and underwent surgery. The Chiefs don’t have anybody who can replace Poe and the 89 percent of defensive snaps he lined up on last year, but they may not be without him for very long. While reports suggested he could miss most of the season, the organization is now implying that Poe could be back in the first month. With top cornerback Sean Smith already suspended for the first three games, the Chiefs need all the help they can get.
Miami Dolphins: While the Panthers lost Benjamin to a torn ACL when they practiced with the Dolphins, Miami lost its own critical starter to the ACL scourge. Safety Louis Delmas went down with a season-ending knee injury, and as I wrote about in previewing the Dolphins, there isn’t an obvious replacement on the roster. First up will be Walt Aikens, a 2014 fourth-rounder who played cornerback at Liberty and started the subsequent preseason game between the Dolphins and Panthers. The top-heavy Dolphins can’t afford many injuries.
Minnesota Vikings: A brutal under-the-radar injury for the Vikings was right tackle Phil Loadholt, who suffered a torn Achilles in Minnesota’s preseason opener that will cost him the entirety of the 2015 season. The mammoth Loadholt is an above-average run-blocker, and with the Vikes already trying to find a right guard, that side of the line looms as a huge problem. Rookie fourth-rounder T.J. Clemmings is now the favorite to start at tackle.
New England Patriots: The Super Bowl champs made headlines on Monday by signing longtime Colts wideout Reggie Wayne to a one-year deal. These sort of contracts for Hall of Fame–caliber players at the end of their career rarely end up having a meaningful impact on the team — remember the brief Patriots tenures of Torry Holt and John Lynch — but the Patriots do need wideout depth. Brandon Gibson is done for the year with a torn ACL, 2014 preseason star Brian Tyms is likely done for the season with a serious foot injury, and disappointing 2013 second-rounder Aaron Dobson has been struggling with a hamstring issue. Wayne clearly isn’t the player he once was, but as a healthy, warm body, he could very well be an upgrade on what the Patriots currently have.
New Orleans Saints: As the Saints attempt to rebuild their offense on the fly in 2015, they need as many healthy players as possible. Two meaningful contributors to that offense may not be ready for Week 1. C.J. Spiller had his knee scoped on August 14, which could cost him the first week or two of the regular season. And third wideout Nick Toon suffered a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for a month, which would be just long enough for fantasy sl– (don’t say that word) Brandon Coleman to emerge as the team’s replacement for Kenny Stills.
New York Giants: The Giants came into the season with the league’s worst collection of safeties, a group that boiled down to rookie second-rounder Landon Collins and a whole lot of praying. And since then, six safeties have gone down with injuries. Six! Fifth-rounder Mykkele Thompson tore his Achilles. Reserves Bennett Jackson and Justin Currie are done for the year with a torn ACL and broken ankle, respectively. The other three should be ready for Week 1, with the most important one, Collins, recovering from a sprained MCL. If you were already worried about the Giants’ safeties, imagine what they’ll look like without preseason reps!
They’re not the only hurt players, which is no surprise for the league’s most-injured team. Oft-injured middle linebacker Jon Beason sprained his knee Saturday and is doubtful for Week 1. Guard Geoff Schwartz has been struggling to practice with an ankle injury. Wideout Rueben Randle has knee tendinitis. And, yes, Jason Pierre-Paul is down one finger. Not a great start.
New York Jets: You may have heard about Geno Smith’s broken jaw. Behind him, there are injury concerns about other John Idzik draftees. Tight end Jace Amaro has a sprained shoulder that’s prevented him from winning the starting job. Safety Antonio Allen was waived after tearing his Achilles, and 2013 first-round cornerback Dee Milliner, coming off a ruptured Achilles, will be out for most of September after tearing a tendon in his wrist. The Jets are sufficiently deep in the secondary that they won’t miss either, but it would have been nice to see Milliner stay on the field, even if it was just as a dime corner.
Oakland Raiders: Good news, Raiders fans — you are likely the most healthy team in football as we approach September. Oakland’s injury concerns are minor hamstring problems for running back Roy Helu and rookie tight end Clive Walford. Trent Richardson has recovered from his bout with pneumonia, thankfully.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Zach Ertz breakout train hit yet another snag this month; he suffered a groin injury early in August that required surgery, and it’s unclear whether Ertz will be ready for the opener. The other concern for Philly is ostracized 2014 first-rounder Marcus Smith, who has a hamstring complaint that could keep the reserve linebacker out for the first couple of weeks of the regular season. The good news is that Sam Bradford looks to be healthy, despite Terrell Suggs’s best (legal) efforts.
San Diego Chargers: The most serious Chargers injury belongs to reserve guard Johnnie Troutman, who is out indefinitely with a broken arm. First-rounder Melvin Gordon missed Saturday’s preseason win over the Cardinals with an ankle injury, but all reports seem to suggest it shouldn’t affect his availability going forward.
Seattle Seahawks: Big questions still lurk around star safety Earl Thomas, whose recovery from shoulder surgery has apparently been topsy-turvy. The most recent report from Pete Carroll suggests that Thomas should be ready for Week 1; Thomas isn’t so sure himself. Otherwise, the Seahawks are mostly healthy.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have avoided serious injuries to the few starters they still have left from 2014. Michael Wilhoite is expected to start at inside linebacker after the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, but he’s yet to participate at camp while dealing with a hamstring injury. He should be back this week, while fellow starter NaVorro Bowman finally returned to action after the devastating knee injury he suffered during the 2013 NFC Championship Game by playing the opening series against the Cowboys on Sunday. He was credited with tackles on each of his three snaps.
St. Louis Rams: As discussed previously, starting cornerback E.J. Gaines is done for the season with a Lisfranc injury. Otherwise, the Rams have mostly managed to avoid injuries; their biggest news is good news, with rookie running back Todd Gurley cleared to participate in team drills yesterday. He’s still weeks away from participating in live action, but Gurley should be on the field in a rotation with Tre Mason by the end of September.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Star wide receiver Mike Evans is dealing with a hamstring issue, his third over the past two seasons. He went down in OTAs in 2014 and 2015 with hamstring complaints, and he appeared to strain his hamstring again last night. The injury appears to be minor, but as is always the case with hamstring problems, they’re worth monitoring. With a short week before Sunday’s game against the Browns and the tradition of sitting starters for the final preseason matchup, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Bucs sit Evans for the remainder of the preseason.
Safety Chris Conte has also missed virtually all of training camp after suffering a hamstring injury on its opening day. He’s quickly falling behind in Tampa Bay’s safety competition. The most serious injury, though, is to right tackle Demar Dotson, who will miss a minimum of six weeks after spraining his MCL in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener. The Bucs signed Gosder Cherilus to replace him, but given that the Colts waived Cherilus in July after he struggled to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, it’s hard to see Cherilus being much more than a stopgap.
Tennessee Titans: One of the few players the Titans could count on as an asset heading into 2015 will be missing to start the season. Cornerback Jason McCourty sat out two weeks of camp with a groin injury while hoping it would heal, but when there were no signs of improvement, McCourty was forced to undergo surgery Monday. While Ken Whisenhunt has suggested McCourty might be able to return for the season opener against Tampa Bay on September 13, a more likely outcome is that McCourty misses the first three games and returns after Tennessee’s Week 4 bye. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who would be in the running to replace McCourty after an ugly 2014 campaign, is himself already out with a high ankle sprain and is also in doubt for the season opener.
Washington: Let’s finish up with another attention-maker from the weekend. While Washington is perilously thin at tight end after losing Logan Paulsen (severe turf toe) and Niles Paul (dislocated ankle) for the season, the louder concerns are surrounding its embattled quarterback. Robert Griffin III was beat up by the Detroit pass rush on Thursday night, taking six hits on 10 dropbacks before being forced from the game with a concussion.
Because this is Griffin and the Washington organization, we’ve already seen conspiracy theories popping up regarding the disastrous performance. One side says Griffin never suffered a concussion and that Washington reported he had one to keep him away from the media. The other says the organization stuck Griffin out there too long behind a clearly overmatched offensive line in an attempt to get him injured.
Both reports seem silly. I can’t speak to Griffin’s medical condition, but the idea that Washington would keep him away from the media for a weekend after three years of almost constant drama doesn’t make much sense. How could it really get much worse?
As for the injury theory, beyond the fact it would be borderline criminal to try to get a player deliberately injured, nothing about how Washington used Griffin says he was being hung out to dry. He was playing with the first-team offense for the first quarter of the second preseason game, which is a totally normal usage pattern. His offensive line didn’t play well, with first-rounder Brandon Scherff looking lost at guard, but they were also without star left tackle Trent Williams. And, as former Stanford left tackle Ben Muth noted on Twitter, Griffin took his biggest hit on a delayed blitz where the protection wasn’t designed to account for an extra rusher and Griffin was supposed to get the ball out of his hand more quickly. The evidence suggests it was a combination of factors influencing the ugly night and not one party’s fault, but if the past three seasons have taught us anything, it’s impossible to analyze any aspect of the RG3 situation with even that modest level of nuance.