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Damage Control Week 5: New Orleans Saints vs. San Diego Chargers
Written by Mackie Shilstone   

Think back for a moment and picture a World War II submarine action movie. Remember the scene after the enemy destroyer passes above the submarine with a depth charge run. While the sub's captain is lining up a torpedo shot from the bow torpedo tubes, he calls for damage control to give him an assessment of any and all damage to the submarine. That is, if he survives the attack.

In other words, the battle rages despite damage to the sub or crew. It's about staying alive. While the weekly NFL battle is anything but heroic, it does have some striking parallels to this wartime analogy.

Each week the NFL posts on Wednesday and Thursday the player injury status for its respective teams, so everyone (I mean everyone) can see which player on his respective team is going to be listed as questionable, probable, or doubtful for the next game. Based on previous statistics from footballoutsiders.com, "historically those (players) listed as probable play 89.4 percent of the time, those listed as questionable play 54.0 percent of the time, and those listed as doubtful play 7.7 percent of the time."

Based on statistics from the NFL injury surveillance system reported in The New York Times in May, 2009, the average damage control for the NFL regular season was 2.7 players per team missing a game each week, and 1.2 players per team missing postseason games.

In addition, the research demonstrated that the high point of players missing games was in week 10, when just over three players per team per game were missing in action - some down and some out.

The implication is while the game was taking a toll on players, eventually, as a team was in contention for the playoffs, more players chose to play hurt or may have been, let's say, motivated to play hurt. By the way, the study noted that the low point for man games missed due to injury was at week 17, the final season game, when just over one player per team was out.

Here is where I come in and where I will take you with respect to my column evaluating the Saints' weekly injury reports and that of their upcoming opponent. Having spent 30-plus years working with more than 3,000 pro athletes encompassing both team and individual players, I created a field or discipline called Sports Performance Management - the science of managing all aspects of the physical, physiological, psychological, and medical components of the professional athlete - of which damage control always plays a major role.

Keep in mind, injuries are not only part of the game, but also can be an important part of the game, if used as any aggressor force should, to hinder their opponent(s) ability to succeed. Injuries can have a dramatic effect on a team's success or failure.

Case in point: A number of years ago, in a world heavyweight championship fight , I used the published reports that my fighter's current opponent, the heavyweight champion, had sustained a broken nose in his preceding fight to set an attack strategy in place as part of our fight plan.

Using that knowledge and the fact that a boxer gains power by biting down on his mouth piece, I specifically helped to prepare my fighter, the challenger, to once again attack the champion's nose - all legal since fighters gain points for not only quality but also the quantity of head and body shots. If you cannot breathe through the nose because it is injured, then you must breathe through the mouth. Thus, you negate a vital aspect of the boxer's power- the ability to bite down. In the sixth round, the champion's nose was injured and my boxer went on to take the champion's title.

In a team sport like football, targeting a player's previous injury is a distraction from the game plan and at best problematic , as we have recently witnessed with Saints' personnel suspensions.

Nevertheless, the injury can be a vulnerability for a player if identified by the coaches in the press box much like the CIA uses the drones- those aerial unmanned planes above the battlefield that can survey enemy positions, communicate enemy positions to friendly ground forces to avoid harm or attack with precision missile strikes. The so called "eye in the sky" in the press box will identify similar opposition movement patterns, especially of a previously injured opponent and set him up for an offensive attack.

So let's move forward with this week's published NFL injury reports for the Saints and the Chargers, along with the impact to both teams. By the way, as a Saints season-ticket holder and a lifelong New Orleanian, I will not aid nor provide comfort to the enemy along the way. However, I will state the facts as they are laid out with input from independent experts as needed.

As of last Monday, it was reported in the media that the Saints sustained no injuries in the loss to the Packers. Sometimes injuries have a way of showing up later in the week, such as certain types of stress fractures . Also, you must assume that some players are playing with light to moderate pain and may withhold this information if they are concerned about being replaced due to poor game performance. Pain is just part of being an athlete.

In week 4, the Saints were without weakside linebackers David Hawthorne (hamstring) and Jonathan Casillas (neck).

The hamstring injury tends to keep players on the bench much longer than you might expect and can be one of the more feared injuries by athletes because the injured hamstring can be difficult to treat and returning to sprinting activity too soon may result in a re-injury rate of 50 percent. The hamstring, located on the back side of the leg, is made up of three synergistic muscles. They create movement by causing the individual to extend the hip and flex the knee.

The main purpose of the hamstring is to function as a decelerator which is often ignored in sports. This type of injury to a football player can be physically and mentally challenging.

During a first degree type hamstring injury, the player feels a "pull" in the back of the thigh when sprinting, causing him to be sore the next day. For a second degree injury, the same athlete would feel a "twang," and usually must stop activity. Bruising may occur 3-6 days later.

A third degree strain can cause severe hamstring pain. Walking is impossible. Crutches are usually required.

According to Tim Finney, orthopedic surgeon and former 16-year team physician with the Saints, "recovery time from a grade 1 and 2 hamstring injury depends as much on the player's position as it does on his genetic make up - the ability to heal from a soft tissue injury." In other words, some heal faster than others.

When Hawthorne eventually returns to action look to the opposition to test him early with change of direction plays, such as the draw play, to see how he handles the initial back peddle into coverage as the quarterback drops back followed by acceleration forward to take on the oncoming ball carrier.

Joining Hawthorne on the week 4 injury list was fellow linebacker Jonathan Casillas with a non descript neck injury (cervical spine). Acute injuries to the neck include sprains, fractures, contusions, and strains - any of these injuries can result in serious injury to the spinal cord.

Dr. Finney says once the player is cleared to return to the game from a neck injury, he must have the ability to turn his head and have symmetrical neck strength, especially true for a linebacker who must cover a tight end or a running back on a pass route.

Look for the opposition to see how he reacts to a swing route with a running back coming out of the backfield.

As of Wednesday, the Saints' website reported that wide receiver Lance Moore did not practice due to a hamstring injury, so this situation needs to be watched closely for all the reasons I noted with David Hawthorne.

In addition, defensive end Turk McBride sat out of practice with an ankle injury. Let's keep an eye on his status ,since in certain cases, ankle injuries can also predispose the injured party to potential for knee cap tracking issues down the line, if not addressed in the treatment regime.

Safety Roman Harper was bothered by a hip problem, which typically can involve the hip flexor, a necessary component for lifting the leg, which might impact his ability to run full speed. Or, it may just be a hip contusion due to impact with the ground.

On the other side of the line, the Chargers have a big decision on their hands when it comes with a status decision on kicker Nate Kaeding, who sustained a groin injury. It was reported that he experienced tightness in the groin .

Having worked for the St. Louis Blues hockey team for 10 years along with providing assistance to over 15 NFL kickers, the groin is just the tip of the iceberg when you evaluate this injury. Just standing upright magnifies the adductor (groin muscle) with 2.5 times body weight.

It appears that Kaeding went for a second opinion this week. I speculate he visited with a hip surgeon looking to see if he has a labral tear, which can be masked by the groin irritation. I might also suspect he is being checked to rule out a sports hernia, as well. Let's see if he is placed on the season-ending injury list.

The Saints may have an advantage against Chargers cornerbacks because Chris Carr is looking at a "probable status." By the way Carr was brought in to assist cornerback Shareece Wright, whose status is also questionable.

As the season progresses, we need to see if we notice pattern of injuries developing with the Saints and their respective opponents. Time and the physical aspects of pro football will tell the story.