Stop me if you've heard this one before: Team fakes injury to slow down Colts no-huddle offense.
Most of the time, it's pure speculation, or completely done by the player, so you can't say with certainty that he was faking. However, on Sunday you can thank the Jacksonville coaching staff for showing everyone inside Lucas Oil Stadium plain as day that they wanted a player to go down to the ground with an "injury".
The Colts ran their first 6 plays at blazing speed, with no substitutions, covering 26 yards on multiple quick strike plays. Then Donald Brown goes up the middle, through the defense for a 47 yard blast, getting down to the Jacksonville 7. Peyton Manning had the Colts racing down the field, trying to keep the up-tempo pace going. The Colts are close to the line, when the whistle blows. Jaguars injury.
Thankfully, my seats in Section 313 (midfield, Jaguars sideline) gave me a great view of the "injured" player, who was straight down from me. I'm going to categorize everything in two sections, so everything is clear: Things I'm Assuming and Things I Know.
Things That I Know:
- The Jaguars had already started running out a replacement for Don Carey, the player that was "injured". No other player ran off the field, as I was looking for that the second the replacement came on the field, as I love the Colts getting free plays from 12-Men on the field penalties.
- In my scan of the field, I see Carey way back at the Jaguars 45 or so. He was upright and jogging in the direction of the sideline.
- As I see him jogging, I also see 3 different Jaguar coaches start motioning to him to get to the ground. You want a visual? Picture a Third-Base coach in baseball telling a runner to slide into third. Both arms, palms down, pushing down towards the ground. Two of them were in teal shirts, so they weren't Jack Del Rio. The third one I cannot verify as Del Rio, so I won't say it was him.
- In mid-jog, Carey hits the deck after seeing the sidelines. To his credit, he didn't writhe around in pain, but he just fell and laid there. Whistle blown.
- Carey was waiting with his coaches on the sideline ready to re-enter the game after the next play.
Things I'm Assuming:
- Carey was not actually injured. I base this on the hit that he took (from his own guy), and how he doesn't react while he's laying on the ground (Brown goes by him at :27 mark of the video linked above). I also base this on when Carey finally got up, when everyone else was inside the 15 yard line, he was jogging off the field. He was also doing some side stepping on the sidelines, with very little urgency, for about 5 seconds.
- Carey wouldn't have done this on his own, as he was actually trying to get off the field. I obviously don't know what is going through his head, but he didn't hit the deck until his coaches told him to.
- Carey would have gone in on the next play. Manning found Austin Collie on the first play after the injury, so Carey had no chance to immediately re-enter the game.
OK, now that I've laid out what happened, and what I think happened, what can the league do to stop this? In previous instances, the player who was "injured" didn't get help from his sideline, so it's extremely tough to determine whether a player is actually injured. Football is a violent game, and injuries obviously happen all the time. However, when it is made super-obvious to anyone watching that the player went down because his coaches wanted him to, something needs to be done. At a minimum, the team should lose a timeout, as that is what they are given 3 per half for. It wouldn't have hurt the Jaguars one bit, as they didn't use a TO in the first half.
We can certainly debate whether anything more should happen, and I can see both sides. Losing the timeout is what should happen, so that's fair enough. However, I also see the side where they should be punished more for trying to circumvent the rules. You could also argue that the injured player can't return until the next series, but you'd have to do that for all injuries, and even some legitimate ones can see a player return after one play.
I fully understand the Jaguars didn't break any "rules", as currently written by the NFL, and ultimately it mattered very little. Well, Collie did score on Carey's replacement in the corner of the end zone, and he was wide open, so maybe it did help the Colts. However, the replacement was already inside the 20 yard line, and he was going to be in the game regardless.
This has happened way too many times to the Colts for it to go unpunished going forward. Teams get three timeouts per half for those exact reasons. If you're players are dead tired, give them 3 minutes to catch their breath. Teams shouldn't get "free" timeouts, like the Jaguars took on Sunday.