Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jan 2011

ESPN: Starter Games Lost and the Packers

We've got an article up on ESPN covering the Bears-Packers matchup and how there's been a dramatic disparity in injuries between the two teams.

I passed along a table with the number of games lost by starters from each team, but since it didn't run, I'll drop it in here. These numbers, of course, are tentative.

Team SGL Team SGL
Colts 89 Texans 49
Packers 83 Redskins 48
Panthers 75 Chargers 47
Seahawks 69 Ravens 47
Eagles 68 Bills 42
Browns 66 Titans 42
Dolphins 62 Jets 38
Buccaneers 49 Jaguars 37
Vikings 55 Cardinals 36
Patriots 54 Saints 35
Rams 54 Raiders 28
Giants 53 Cowboys 28
Bengals 52 49ers 18
Broncos 50 Falcons 15
Lions 49 Bears 11
Steelers 49 Chiefs 11

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 19 Jan 2011

36 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2011, 11:55pm by Jerry

Comments

1
by MountainTiger (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 1:46pm

Interesting that 4 of the top 5 teams on the list made the playoffs. An outlier season as I understand other FO work, but an impressive testament to depth and quarterback stability.

3
by master_P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:37pm

I think that fact is absolutely a testament to the strength of those organizations and the effect that long term organizational stability has on a teams depth and ability to overcome injuries. When your undrafted free agents and late round draft picks have been working the same system, from the same coaches, and were all drafted by the same GM to fill that system going back a bunch of years (this is most apparent with the Colts and Eagles, but the packers certainly fit that model when you consider how preciously Ted Thompson hoards his draft picks) you have more guys on the bottom of the depth chart who are capable of stepping up. Its not necessarily that they evaluate late round talent better, though that certainly is a factor. You can even see it in the starters. Tramon Williams was an unwanted cast off, and he's the best cover corner on a great defense in the NFC championship game. That doesn't happen if he spends the last couple of seasons with multiple coaching staffs.

23
by Newjamarcus (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 7:46pm

It's an amazing testament to the Colts and Packers in particular (this year). With an eye towards the future I'd love to see something like the average player age per game missed. I don't know about the Colts, but my perception is that the Packers and Patriots (who also lost a ton of player-games) were losing a lot of young or in-their-prime players, who should strengthen their teams for years once they're back. If true, speaks to even brighter futures for those teams...

2
by Dave :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:26pm

You covered the idea that a replacement that also got hurt would be counted... but would that then be double counted?

Sanders and Bullitt, for instance. The team had a total of 15 (and 3/4) of games with an injured starting SS. Combine both Sanders and Bullitt's games missed, though, and the number is nearly double the length of the season (27). Which might not be the most accurate way to count it. (Though just leaving it at 15 understates the severity, so I'm not arguing for that.)

With the exception of the Clark/Collie combo that slowed the offense, I think the biggest issue the Colts had wasn't total games missed by starters so much as it was the time mid-season where they had so many starters and backups dinged up with non-IR injuries. For a while there it was difficult for them to have enough healthy bodies to conduct practices and get those backups ready to play. I guess that footnote is more appropriate for the "The Colts had 19 guys on IR" stat than for this SGL total.

31
by zlionsfan :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 9:05am

I don't think it's double-counting. I think the idea behind this stat is just to count possible starters * games, not presumed depth * games ... you could probably weight it if desired so that the Colts get 15*x + 12*y at SS, but that might be a little deeper than this was designed to go.

It's probably good enough if you use it in context: teams like the Packers and Colts played well despite having a number of injuries, and teams like the Panthers did not play well partly due to the number of injuries they had.

4
by Sander :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:40pm

How is the Bucs number composited? I can only get to 48:

FB Earnest Graham missed 4
RT Jeremy Trueblood missed 2
RT James Lee missed 1
RG Davin Joseph missed 5
C Jeff Faine missed 8
CB Aqib Talib missed 4
S Cody Grimm missed 5
LB Quincy Black missed 5
DT Gerald McCoy missed 3
DE Kyle Moore missed 9
WR Arrelious Benn missed 1
LG Jeremy Zuttah missed 1

Sammie Stroughter could be counted, since he missed 4 games, but only after already having lost his starting position. And the Trueblood/Lee thing may seem ambiguous since the games don't overlap, but Trueblood was injured, then got healthy but lost his job to Lee - who subsequently missed one game due to injury.

It balloons up to 63 if I include suspensions (14 games for Tanard Jackson, 1 for Aqib Talib), but that's 4 more games lost than you list here. Was Earnest Graham not counted as a starter?

5
by Chris Dizon (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:43pm

Just out of curiosity, how are depth chart changes figured into these numbers? For example, technically Kevin Kolb missed games due to injury, but obviously we all know Vick ended up being the starter.

6
by DZ (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:43pm

Pretty amazing considering that Indy ranks near the bottom in terms of injury reporting, typically underreporting injuries.

9
by Nate Dunlevy :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:59pm

Wait, was this AGL based on the injury report, or just straight counting missed games?

7
by LibraColts (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:50pm

As with other commenters, games missed by starters backups may also be very significant for the Colts... they lost NOT only "starters", they lost the backups, the backups' backups etc etc. And as DZ points out, Colts also tend to under-report injuries which of course is hard to verify or confirm. But the stats on 1st, 2nd or even 3rd string player missed games will probably tell a clearer picture of Colts injuries compared to Packers.

8
by Sander :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 3:53pm

This is a measure of starters missing games. They can't underreport inactive players.

10
by Nate Dunlevy :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 4:00pm

Yeah, sorry, I thought it was AGL at first.

25
by spade (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 8:27pm

I would say the Packers' #s would increase significantly as well. At right olb opposite Clay Matthews they are starting a street free agent they picked up in late Oct. for the last month. They started the season with Brad Jones(lost for the season), then his back-up Brady Poppinga(lost for the season), Played most of the season with Frank Zombo, a free agent rookie who made the team in training camp but has been out for the last month.

Same story on the DL and in the secondary. I'm not certain they have counted Atari Bigby with sgl for starting season on PUP and the same with Al Harris, who was later cut after coming off PUP because of the emergence of Tramon Williams. These two had been and would certainly have been starters to begin the season had they not had off-season injuries to begin with.

11
by QQ (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 4:46pm

This article definitely shows the Overall Talent Gap between

GB and Chi. GB lost an amazing 83 Games due to Injury compared to Chi's unbelievably low 11 Games lost to Injury and yet Chi is a 3 Point Underdog at Home.

12
by nuclearbdgr :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:00pm

Packers on the IR (first six were 'preferred starters' at the beginning of the season)
Grant
Finley
Tauscher
Barnett
Burnett
Jones
Smith
Martin
Chillar
Poppinga
Newhouse
Harrell
Havner
Neal
Bell

13
by ppabich :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:04pm

The assortment of deep threats in the Bears' receiving corps will challenge Peprah downfield. The game could very well change on a mistake by one of the Green Bay fill-ins. And while Bears fans will likely credit a win over the Packers to a great play or the triumph of a superior team, the reality is that health has had a huge part to play in the team's success. Fans often use injuries as an excuse for a decline in their teams' performance, but the opposite is just as true. When we look back at the NFC, the winner may very well end up being decided by who avoided injuries as much as who found them.

I love FO and their research, but this article doesn't account for some of the replacements playing better than the starters. Bishop and Peprah have both been consistent, and Bishop has been an impact player. And not to mention Shields playing for Harris. He has been the best free agent rookie i have ever seen. Finley is an impact player and a match-up nightmare, but the offense has seemed to be more efficient without him. I'm not sure it has anything to do with Finley (like rodgers just settling down) but there is no doubt the offense has been better later in the year without him.

The stat is interesting but without context i'm not sure SGL is going to matter on Sunday.

20
by Marko :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 7:01pm

I think Bears fans are well aware of the team's incredible health this entire season and the impact it has had on the team's success. Last year the Bears lost Urlacher to a season-ending injury in the first half of the first game (against Green Bay), and the defense collapsed. This year the Bears had one of the most injury-free seasons of any NFL team in history. Bears fans know this and are thankful for it.

14
by dkal (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:05pm

First - Donald Lee is 3rd String Tight End. Check your facts.

Second - Bishop was extended for huge money because he is playing at such a high level. He is not a backup.

Third - Burnett was a rookie therefore no indication of how well he would perform. By all account Charlie Peprah has redeemed himself this season.

Fourth - Frank Zombo had the most impressive preseason of any linebacker and therefore was due to see a lot of playing time. Nick Barnett is at the end of his career.

Senseless and irrelevant article.

17
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:44pm

Donald Lee was the #2 Tight End. Finely, Lee, Quarless, Crabtree was the depth chart.

Bishop was still a back up at the start of the season. The ILB's were Nick Barnett, and A.J. Hawk / Brandon Chillar who platooned depending on the situation. Bishop is still weak in pass coverage. That was Hawk's biggest issue as well which is why Chillar would play for him in the nickle, which the Packers play about 70% of the time. So really Hawk was already the back-up. The Packers were likely going to use Barnett / Bishop the same way. So what you see on the field now, all the time, with Bishop Hawk would have been on the field for about 30% of the snaps. The Packers weakness in the middle on pass coverage has been exploited a lot (it's were Atlanta got most of it's yards as Bishop and Hawk repeatedly got beat). But yes Bishop was slated to be a future starter. Of course it says something about the Packers that he was on the roster. Bishop was removed from his special teams duties with the promotion, as were Chillar and Poppinga, this had an effect on kick-off return coverage.

Burnett was likely to take Bigby's job on performance. Peprah was a huge surprise and really that position has played just fine with any of those 3 in there. The worry is that since they are playing the #3 safety and the #4 is on IR right now too, that Jarret Bush would be in at safety if Peprah or Collins gets hurt. The Packers had planned to have decent depth at that position. They've burned it all up.

Zombo played well and may have taken the starting job from Jones, yes. But again, like with the safeties both of them are gone so you have Eric Walden playing there and people like Briggs and Wilhelm as back-ups playing special teams (Whilhelm was the face mask on the kick-off return that helped Atlanta win instead of the game going to OT).

It's not irrelevant it might just not hit the correct points. The Packers burned through a ton of depth with injuries. There were games where Raji was the only fully healthy d-lineman active because of injuries that happened before or during games that started with 5 active linemen (Jenkins had a cast put on during a game so he could come back and give them 2 linemen for that game). They pressed TJ Lang, and offense tackle into defensive service. They started Howard Green 2 days after signing him after the Jets cut him.

Not having to deal with that, not having to have practice disrupted by injuries, makes a difference. Again I have no idea if the article touches on those points.

I still really enjoy the conversations though, and I'm still curious how the Packers and Colts injuries would stack up against each other with an in depth look. Looking forward to the AGL metric.

26
by ddb4 :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 8:59pm

18 to 88 highlighted an impressively thorough breakdown of the Colts injury problems at Coltzilla:

http://www.coltzilla.com/off-season-coverage/how-much-did-injuries-reall...

The bit about the disruption of consistency in certain units was especially good, I thought (i.e., the Colts used 9(!) different combos of starting LBs this season).

I have a close friend who's a Packers fan, and we've been arguing over who's been more injured since about week 6. I'd really love to see a similar breakdown for the Pack, who have been extremely impressive under the circumstances.

15
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:23pm

I want to know where McCarthy gets his numbers as the Packers have been reporting over 200 lost starts for a while now. The 83 seems like it's pretty good to me for starters.

I haven't tried to add them up myself. But I'll give it a go here.

Off the top of my head (not counting half games, so Matthews is only 1 not 1.5. Grant and Finley don't miss any extra time for for the 3+ quarters they missed in the games they got hurt)

Grant 15
Finley 11
Jenkins 5
Matthews 1
Barnett 12
Jones 10
Burnett 12
Pickett 2
Tauscher 10

So that gets me 78

Back-ups that started for injured people
Zombo 3
Chillar 8
Poppinga 10

That gets me another 21 (all from linebackers too, add in the 13 from Barnett and Matthews and that is 34 just from backers)

Shields 2

I want to count Shields as a starter since the Packers played like 70% of their snaps from the nickle, the Packers tend to have just 2 lineman on the field in that formation, usually Raji and Jenkins, so that would swap him with Pickett.

So I'm only at 78 with what I think they are classing as starters add in some of the replacement starters and you get to 99. So I guess I"m not sure where the 83 is coming from either. I'm under it or over it. I must be missing another day 1 starter injury. Oh Driver missed a game, but that is still just 79.

I just wonder where McCarthy gets his 206 (I think that was the number).

Of course regardless of where the 83 comes from when I think about Packers vs Bears, I wonder how the Bears would have done without Forte for 15 games, Olsen for 11 and Urlacher for 12 (though that is 4-3 backers vs 3-4 backers but you could have it be Briggs or Tinoisomao if you like). Then take away at least one, probably 2 back-up line backers for a few games too. I think Major Wright was hurt enough to equate to Burnett. I haven't read the insider piece but yeah when you think about the injury differences those are the big ones that come to mind for me with those two teams. I'm not saying the Bears wouldn't have done just fine, it's just something I do wonder about. I've stated before that a few of the Packers injuries may have helped them (Tauscher the clearest example). The Bears may have had similar luck with a few if they had happened too.

16
by ppabich :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:29pm

Bigby and Harris? They were both at least slated as starters on last years depth chart. Mike Neal might count for a few, at least while Jenkins was injured, and I believe that Korey Hall started the year as the starting FB. I'm not sure of the numbers, but I'm sure there are some there.

18
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 5:52pm

Harris maybe. I don't count Bigby. I really think Burnett was going to win the starting job coming out of camp and Peprah was in place to take over when Burnett went down. I count Bigby as a lost back-up.

Harris I could count, though I think he would be like losing Tauscher, while it's scary to think and undrafted rookie is better, Shields was better and Williams and Woodson were both better too. Harris was a known issue going into the season though. It was just expected that Blackmon or Lee was going to step in, instead it was Shields. Blackmon also got hurt and was let go.

Neal did start one game for Jenkins, but he would be under the back-ups that lost starts I would think. But Neal only played in two games. It counts in the effect it has on practices and stuff, but it's like Justin Harrell. Even though he was playing well, finally, he was always hurt, I just can't factor it in much.

I'm guessing those guys are being counted for the 200+ lost starts that McCarthy has brought out a few times though.

Hall was slated as the starting fullback, yeah, that might add some, his loss is felt more on special teams (which is a factor for the Packers, but I think the bigger factor is the coach Slocum) so I like to discount that total too. :)

21
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 7:03pm

Two hundred lost starts!? That means that, on average, twelve and a half starters miss a game each week. That's over half the starters, and quite an exaggeration to make. McCarthy must be double-counting.

24
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 8:15pm

Yeah, it's a bit nuts which is why I was trying to figure it out (as well as trying to reverse engineer Bill's 83 that I thought was pretty good and which I've mostly managed to do).

I can get over 100 if I count the back-ups that became starters, If I add in 10 for Harris before they released him, and another 12 for Bigby, some for Neal, and Harrell, maybe I can see where McCarthy is getting his number, but it's not a good number, fully agree, hence why I like the discussion and I jump in on these on here a lot.

I've been poking around at some metrics, trying to find one that I like, and some of it has been spurred by wanting to know the real impact of the losses Green Bay, Indy, and New England had this year, since all of them had 15 or so players on IR by the end of the season.

That and it's just a subject I like to discuss. :) I finally got a deal on ESPN the magazine ($5 for a year) which should finally allow me to get EPSN insider for a price I can stomach. FO Premium may be an option for me in the near future too.

27
by Dave :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 10:59pm

I think McCarthy's number is all games total, including those by guys who wouldn't have played. So if roster spot 44 and 45 were down, that'd still count, even if they weren't going to play except maybe on Special Teams.

22
by brandle (not verified) :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 7:12pm

Rodgers missed a game too! New England loss.

19
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 01/19/2011 - 6:08pm

Folks --

Remember, these are preliminary numbers compiled by me. During the book-writing process, I go through and have chapter authors take a look at the starter/reserve designations to see where I (inevitably) screwed up.

To field some really quick questions since I'm in the middle of working on the NFC preview:

- I don't think it's unreasonable to give Indy 27 games for that safety spot. It's a big dropoff from Sanders to Bullitt, and it's also a pretty big dropoff to go from Bullitt to a third-stringer.

- The Bucs total had Brian Price included as a starter, which is incorrect. Otherwise, we're in the same ballpark.

- The Packers aren't the first team to have some reserves outplay some starters. There are also quite a few players whose injuries have given way to far inferior talent (Grant and Finley, for one). We have a measure that adjusts the injury "hit" for a player's status (HGL, which incorporates recent Pro Bowl appearances).

- That 206 number or anywhere close is, I'm sure, if he put every single player who had any prayer of starting into the mix. I didn't have Poppinga and Chillar listed as replacement starters, which may change.

28
by Purds :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 8:38am

This confirms how impressed I am with what the Packers have done this post season. I can't say that I have followed them closely in terms of injury, but I have followed the Colts, and the injuries for Indy were disheartening for us fans. And, to think the Pack has suffered similar losses all year, and here they are playing for a SB berth. Kudos to the Pack.

29
by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 2:38pm

Does anyone else believe that the win-loss after injury is more due to coaching than talent level? I look at the coaches to coach up the younger or non-starting players to play at a high level and keep the team from dropping off in productivity. Packers defense has seemingly gotten better as the year went on which is even more of a testament to their coaching. I wonder if this can translate into a metric for evaluating quality of coaching for a given team?

30
by Arkaein :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 4:58pm

Coaching probably plays a role, but with GB at least there are a large number of factors.

Depth is a big one, and a testament to Ted Thompson (GB's GM). GB had excellent depth at the ILB and safety positions. Everyone knew that Desmond Bishop had starter level talent, it only remained to be seen whether he could achieve starter level consistency (he has). At the safety position where Peprah took over and there was essentially no decline from Burnett. Peprah's been in the league a few years, so I don't think coaching him up in this particular season had a huge impact on getting him up to speed.

Another is the quality of lost players. GB is on it's 4th ROLB, but fortunately none of the previous three were all that great. The dropoff from 1 to 4 has been close to flat, at least once Walden was able to settle in to the job. Obviously it caused some problems mid-season when the player at that position was largely in flux.

Another thing has been late season stability. Most of the big injuries happened fairly early in the season. Now that the replacements have settled into their roles and formed some chemistry they've performed better than they might have with greater talent but more week-to-week turnover in personnel.

Finally, there's a the fact that GB is still only in the second year of the Capers 3-4, and the two biggest player additions (Matthews and Raji) are also only in their second years. Throw in Sam Shields who started camp as a very raw rookie CB (only started one year at Miami). The defense is getting more experienced at the system as a whole.

33
by Sander :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 10:30am

Coaching can make up for things, but at some point you're going to run into talent deficiency.

32
by MaineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 10:15am

Nice "start". However, if there's a sincere desire to measure the potential "injury handicap" (potential productivity lost) for a team, it's certainly more accurate to use snaps as the basic unit of measurement. Figuring out a way to factor in practice time lost might also be useful.

In any case, in order to measure "loss", you'd need to establish a baseline to measure against - perhaps snaps played in the previous 2-3 seasons. By that measure, the "loss" of Bob Sanders to the Colts might be heavily discounted, but also probably more realistic.

To increase accuracy, it might also be necessary to use some sort of "productivity per snap played" measure.

Bottom line for me is that "starter" games lost doesn't really reveal much if for no other reason than the fact that, for many positions these days, tactical platooning is so rampant that the term "starter" no longer has any meaning.

34
by Jerry :: Fri, 01/21/2011 - 9:19pm

-Measuring snaps requires knowing who's in on every play, which isn't currently available.

-The list is what it says it is. It doesn't claim to provide a definitive look at who's been hurt most by injuries.

35
by JonD (not verified) :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 4:54pm

Um, snap participation charts are available buddy. You heard of profootballfocus?

36
by Jerry :: Sun, 01/23/2011 - 11:55pm

I've heard of them, Skippy. Do you think their participation data is accurate? I know FO's game charters have talked about how they can't pull that data from telecasts.