Le Boo NFL Coaching Move Of The Week, Week 12

Before we get started for this inaugural edition of the Le Boo Award, an honorable mention is well worth noting.

— Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has done a decent job with the Lions this season, winning two games this season after the monumental fail that was the 2008 0-16 season.  There’s no doubt he’s gotten a team that’s undermanned weekly from a talent standpoint to play hard, and the Lions have been far more competitive in 2009 than many would have suspected they’d be.

But there were more than a couple of people scratching their heads on Thanksgiving when Stafford took the field to face the Packers, especially from those who’d watched the rookie stagger off of the field only four days earlier, the victim of a dislocated left shoulder (not his throwing arm) on the next-to-last play of the team’s thrilling victory over the Browns the previous Sunday.

While doctors had said that Stafford would not be risking any further damage to the shoulder by playing with the injury, the general consensus was that Stafford would sit — at least for the game against Green Bay, on a short week.  At 2-8, the Lions aren’t going anywhere except home when the playoffs begin, and the rookie is a cornerstone of what you’re trying to build in Detroit — so why risk him in any way?

Yet that’s exactly what Schwartz did.  It was evident early on in the game that Stafford wasn’t anywhere near 100%, and that the Lions were going to have an awful time protecting their rookie QB from taking a pounding.  For most of the day, Stafford was being chased around the field like a shopper holding the last $49 Blu-Ray player by an angry mob on Black Friday.  Stafford may have only been sacked twice, but he still took an unnecessary pounding.  Even when the game was well out of hand, the rookie was still in running for his life.  Courageous on Stafford’s part.  Yes.  Stupid on Scwartz’s part?  Doubly so.

— But on to our winner loser for the week — and if the Stafford story above didn’t let on as to who’s getting the honors, then you’ll easily make the connection when we’re done.

It’s no secret that playing in the NFL isn’t for the faint of heart.  Injuries — and pain — are more a part of football than either of the other major American team sports, baseball and basketball.  Every player plays in pain at some point, or with an injury, or both at some point in their careers.  If anyone has any doubts as to how much physical pain takes its effect to those who take the field every Sunday, watch the struggles of many players who spent double-digit seasons in the NFL to even get around.

Any football player worth their salt is going to want to play, even when they shouldn’t.  That’s why it’s up to the coaches and trainers of any NFL team to protect their players when there’s doubt, particularly their most important assets, lest they end up missing large parts of the season.  Often, it’s better to sit a key player for a week or two — particularly in a game that the team might be able to win anyway without them — rather than to take a chance that might result in an injury not healing properly or worsening and costing a team that key player when it really matters.

That concept was in full view this past weekend, where several key stars suffering from injuries sat:  Kurt Warner, Cedric Benson, and Ben Roethlisberger were three examples.  All of them wanted to play, all of them might have been able to play and emerge from their contests unscathed, but none of them did.  None of their respective head coaches wanted to risk losing key players for expended amounts of time, and all may return in Week 13.  In addition, against an easy opponent, Cincinnati won anyway, with a solid effort from Bernard Scott and Larry Johnson in Benson’s absence.

So who didn’t get the memo about protecting their stars?  That would be Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, who rushed Falcons running back Michael Turner back into the lineup after only one week off following the dreaded high ankle sprain.  That type of injury is incredibly damaging to a football player’s effectiveness, and no more so than to a running back that relies on speed and explosiveness to be effective.  Since most high ankle sprains take several weeks to heal properly, and since Atlanta already had Jason Snelling (who was effective in Turner’s place against the Giants last week) and a returning-from-injury Jerious Norwood to shoulder the load, and since the Falcons were playing a pretty inept team (the 1-9 Bucs) at home, there wasn’t any reason to rush Turner back onto the field and risk a further injury, especially since Atlanta needs him at full strength if they have any hope of working their way into the playoffs against a tougher schedule (Philly and New Orleans on the slate for the next two weeks).   There’s no way Smith wouldn’t realize that, right?

You didn’t need a crystal ball to see where this was headed.  Turner was ineffective when he played (12 carries for only 33 yards) — and to no one’s great surprise, Turner exited the game after re-injuring his ankle.  Atlanta barely won, but considering Turner’s limited contributions — and the absence of starting QB Matt Ryan for most of the game — the argument that he wasn’t needed at all stands confirmed.  And now, instead of being healthier for the next two huge games, Turner may again be sidelined.

This was so unsurprising, I predicted it to my friend Steven the moment Turner was confirmed as active Sunday morning.  And if it was that obvious a possibility to me — and I’m not being paid to run an NFL team — it should have been doubly so to Smith.  And that makes his utterly bad decision to play Turner worthy of our initial Le Boo Coaching Move of the Week.

Le Boo, Coach Smith.  Le Boo.

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