The debate over playing surfaces is resurfacing in the NFL.
Last Wednesday, the NFL released a chart showing how the rate of lower-extremity injuries on natural grass versus synthetic turf fields has a "statistically insignificant" difference. Essentially, there are hardly more lower-extremity injuries on turf than grass.
On Saturday, the NFL Players Association went on the offensive. Union president JC Tretter called on the league to immediately remove and ban slit film turf in the six NFL stadiums that have it installed.
Wrote Tretter: "The slit film playing surface has statistically higher in-game injury rates compared to all other surfaces for each of the following: non-contact injuries, missed time injuries, lower extremity injuries and foot and ankle injuries."
While the NFL admits that lower-extremity injuries are up on slit film surfaces, there's more to it. There are two to three more lower-extremity injuries per year per surface on slit film, which means that across MetLife Stadium, Ford Field, Lucas Oil Stadium, Paycor Stadium, Caesars Superdome and U.S. Bank Stadium there are between 12 to 18 lower extremity injuries.
The data shows those are mostly lateral ankle sprains. Meanwhile, the ACL injuries are actually down on slit film turf versus other surfaces. That makes the data somewhat confounding.
"As a result," NFL EVP Jeff Miller said in a statement, "the league and NFLPA's joint experts did not recommend any changes to surfaces at the meeting but agreed more study is needed."
How many ankle injuries equal one ACL tear? How can anyone answer that and who would want to, anyway?
A joint committee of experts met with representatives from the NFL and NFLPA via Zoom on Nov. 1 and gave them this data. Though the committee didn't give a recommendation on what to do with slit film turf, that didn't mean the union couldn't take its own stand.
Synthetic surfaces have a lifespan in the NFL between two to three years. These turf fields have grown more popular as NFL stadiums have transformed over the years from football-only (or football-mostly) event spaces to concert venues and uses for other sporting events. Essentially, it is much cheaper to install a synthetic field once every two to three years than maintaining and replacing natural grass while keeping the same volume of events.
Ask just about any NFL player past or present and they'll tell you they prefer to play on natural grass. For decades there was no question that natural grass was the safer playing surface. This past season the data showed almost no difference between grass versus turf, and I'm told those numbers remained steady during this year's preseason.
But there are different types of turf, and slit film is the one the NFLPA is taking aim at. The union had asked for — and the NFL is working with the union on — player surveys for more information on playing surfaces. The idea would be to merge what the players have to say about specific playing surfaces with the objective data for a fuller picture.
The type of cleats players wear depending upon the surface is also important, and cleat characteristics factor into lower extremity injuries as well.
"The players are frustrated," Tretter wrote. "We simply want a safer workplace. The NFL has an obligation to provide the safest work environment possible. They are not living up to that standard."
It is difficult to imagine the owners of the six stadiums will rip out their slit film turf today and install a new turf (or natural grass) immediately after. But the union is hoping to see some eventual change from the league on this debate that players have long wished for.
What's going on with Josh Allen?
We need to talk about Josh Allen's red-zone regression this season.
After one of the most thrilling games of the year between the Bills and Vikings, I found myself wondering what's going on with Allen once the Bills get into the red area.
So far this year at or inside the 20, Allen has thrown 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's on track for his fewest passing touchdowns in that area since 2019. And prior to this season, Allen had thrown just two interceptions in the red zone his entire career in 331 dropbacks. He's thrown a pick in the red zone in each of the past three games.
Allen is completing just 51 percent of his red-zone throws, down from 53.7% last year and 63.1% in his MVP runner-up season in 2020. His 75.4 passer rating in the red area is the lowest of his career — by far.
In fact, Allen has the fourth-lowest passer rating among all qualified quarterbacks this season. Only Trevor Lawrence (72.2), Joe Flacco (68.7) and Russell Wilson (58.9) have a lower passer rating in 2022.
His red-zone interception Sunday against the Vikings came on fourth down when he wanted to give a pass-catcher a chance, but it continues a pattern of leaving points on the field.
"It comes down to the guys on the field making the right plays," Allen said Sunday after the game. "We were horrendous in the red zone and that's again on my shoulders. We've got to clean it up for sure."
A sleeper team in OBJ sweepstakes
I wrote Sunday morning about the likely sleeper team or teams that would be lurking for Odell Beckham Jr.'s services. Talking with folks around the league on Sunday afternoon, the final undefeated team in the NFL came to my head.
I'm not sourcing anything here, to be clear. But wouldn't OBJ to the Philadelphia Eagles make a ton of sense?
You have a team in a major market like Philly. You have a young, ascending quarterback in Jalen Hurts who just about anyone in the league would want to play with. The 8-0 Eagles are obviously contending now and very likely will in the coming years. And similar to the "get in where you fit in" scheme he enjoyed with the Rams last year, the Eagles would offer something similar with A.J. Brown as the established No. 1, a great tight end in Dallas Goedert and a fantastic second-year player in DeVonta Smith.
Most importantly, a team is going to have to figure out a contract for Beckham. Eagles GM Howie Roseman absolutely crushed the offseason by getting James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and he continued last month with acquiring Robert Quinn and having the Bears pay the majority of his remaining salary for 2022.
The Eagles will always compete for top free agents. They check all the boxes OBJ would seemingly want. And getting him to Philly would also keep him away from the Cowboys or the Giants.
Commanders growing hardened to controversy
The Commanders have a chance to get back to .500 tonight with a win against the aforementioned Eagles. If they do it, it'll be because they didn't let the outside noise distract them this past week.
After a bizarre statement Wednesday night from the team that has been ascribed to anonymous lawyers, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera spoke to the team Thursday morning where he told them they have to focus on what they can control. He stressed to keep the focus on themselves.
Rookie running back Brian Robinson seemed unbothered by being unnecessarily included in the statement when he met with the media last week. The Commanders spoke with Robinson in an effort to smooth things over and he seemed to respond well to it.
I don't get the sense right now that players are growing some hardened resentment to the controversies. The strongest word I heard used this past week related to player feelings was "irked."
And speaking of irked, those who wish for Dan Snyder to sell the team may have reason to be miffed at the D.C. attorney general following his civil lawsuit filed last week. One source I spoke with made the point that the lawsuit — which has Snyder, the Commanders, the NFL and Roger Goodell as defendants — realigns the NFL with Snyder, once again making the league defend the Washington owner whether it wants to or not.
Snyder has seemingly been on an island the last few months. In defending itself in this sort of lawsuit, the NFL will also have to defend the Commanders and Snyder to a degree.