Don't Play the Blame Game With Injuries
The Packers are dealing with a flood of early season injuries right now. This, obviously, is a bad thing and it contributed in a big way to their loss at Atlanta last week.
People respond to this fact in very different ways. For most, it’s considered an unfortunate reality of the game of professional football, rightly described by Vince Lombardi as a “collision sport.”
For others, it’s evidence that the Packers are much closer to the NFL’s elite teams than their performance on Sunday would indicate.
For still others, it’s evidence that Mike McCarthy’s practice schedule is ineffective, the training staff is incompetent, and everyone should be fired as a result.
Two of these are reasonable reactions. One of them is not.
Two of these can be supported with evidence. One of them cannot.
Data shows the Packers aren’t hurt much more than anyone else
Football Outsiders tracks a metric called Adjusted Games Lost, which accounts for every game in which a player’s services are lost due to injury. The metric takes into account the significance of a player’s role in the team; the loss of a starter to injury is weighted more heavily than the loss of a backup. It’s a simple yet elegant way to measure the impact of injuries on a particular roster.
Here is how the Packers have ranked in Adjusted Games Lost dating back to 2008. A smaller number indicates fewer injuries, while a higher number indicates more.
- 2016 - 15
- 2015 - 9
- 2014 - 3
- 2013 - 31
- 2012 - 32
- 2011 - 16
- 2010 - 30
- 2009 - 25
- 2008 - 17
Over the past eight years, the Packers have an average ranking of 19.78, meaning they have slightly more injuries than the average team, but not by much. According to the numbers from Football Outsiders, knocking just a few injuries off the Packers’ total dramatically changes their ranking. For instance, in 2011, when the Packers were in the exact middle of the league, subtracting just ten adjusted games lost would have pushed them all they way up to 9th in the league, a huge improvement.
This is not an exception to the rule, either. In almost any season, adding or subtracting just a couple games dramatically changes a team’s ranking. There really isn’t that much difference from team to team in terms of how many injuries they can expect to see. Injuries are more or less just bad luck.
The Packers have one of the best strength and conditioning staffs in the NFL
“But surely,” I can hear people typing “these injuries wouldn’t be happening at all if the Packers had better trainers! Their strength and conditioning coaches have to be better!”
If there was a better strength and conditioning coach, trainer, or team doctor out there, the Packers already would have hired them. This team has worked aggressively to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to training, treatment, and prevention.
Strength and conditioning coach Mark Lovat, who’s been in his position since 2010, has repeatedly been recognized as one of the best in his field. He was named the NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2011.
Trainer Pepper Burruss (whose full title is Director of Sports Medicine Administration), is also one of the top performers in his area of expertise. He was given the NFL Physicians Society’s Outstanding NFL Athletic Trainer award after the 2012 season, following up a 2011 season where the entire training staff was recognized as the best in the NFL.
It gets better from there! Pat McKenzie, who serves as the team doctor, was recognized as the top practitioner in his field in 2011 and was voted president of the NFL Physicians Society. Clearly he’s thought of highly by his peers.
His level of prestige may not even touch that of his new colleague, Dr. Robert Anderson, who joined the Packers earlier this year. Dr. Anderson is considered the best working foot and ankle surgeon in professional sports today. His list of clients includes Cam Newton, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Derek Jeter, and many others, including quite a few Packers.
So who’s to blame?
The reality is, injuries are just a part of the game. Sometimes the Packers will have more. Sometimes they’ll have less. By and large, there’s very little else (if anything!) the team could be doing to prevent the injuries currently badgering the team.
Just look at the kind of things the team is dealing with right now:
Bryan Bulaga sprained an ankle during a 9-on-7 drill in August. The CBA basically bubble wraps players already, so it would have been hard for him to avoid this kind of contact.
Montravius Adams is recovering from a stress fracture he developed during non-contact portions of practice early in training camp. He couldn’t really be any safer.
Ahmad Brooks has a concussion. Concussions are pretty much endemic to football. He was already wearing a helmet.
Meanwhile, David Bakhtiari, Mike Daniels, Jordy Nelson, Jahri Evans, Jason Spriggs, Kentrell Brice, and a few others are all dealing with some variety of soft tissue injury, generally a groin, quad, or hamstring strain. By and large, these injuries are perfectly representative of the sort of wear and tear you’d expect from a sport that features a lot of sudden starts, quick stops, and heavy lifting. Preventing them mostly involves maintaining a high level of physical fitness, and given what we know about the Packers’ training staff, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that they’re already doing everything they can to prevent these kinds of injuries?
Yes, the Packers are dealing with a lot of injuries, and yes, it’s making life difficult for the team right now. But blaming someone will get you nowhere, especially if the people you’re trying to blame are considered among the best in the business.