Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.
by Danny Tuccitto
With the mad dash to finish Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 (on sale now in both electronic and paperback form!), some regular features were left on the cutting room floor. One of those was our yearly look at adjusted games lost (AGL) under the guise of ranking the 32 medical staffs.
Statistically speaking, injuries have always been a tough nut to crack. Yes, having a 300-pound human roll into your lower leg is a random event, but some players seem to consistently avoid that fate year in and year out. Yes, the head athletic trainer's an important cog in the organizational wheel, but what about the dozens of others who work behind the scenes to get players game-ready? Going forward, we're hoping to separate the luck aspect of injuries (as measured by AGL), and the skill aspect of surgical and therapeutic intervention (as of yet unmeasured). For now, though, we'll present each team's AGL for 2010, and highlight a few whose win totals seemed to benefit or suffer the most from injuries.
As in past years and in the book, AGL here considers starters, important situational players, and "replacement starters" (Matt Cassel in 2008, for example).
2010 AGL: 12.3
2010 Record: 11-5
2009 AGL : 50.9
2009 Record : 7-9
Almost all of the Bears' improved health last season came at the linebacker position. In 2009, Chicago's defense was without two projected starters for effectively the entire season: Brian Urlacher missed 15 games after he dislocated his wrist in their opening game, and Pisa Tinoisamoa missed 14 games due to multiple right knee injuries. Worse yet, the strongside starter, Lance Briggs, was on the injury report six times, and Urlacher's replacement, Hunter Hillenmeyer, showed up four times. In total, the Bears' linebacker AGL in 2009 was 32.5.
In 2010, Hillenmeyer missed almost the entire season because of a concussion, but the three starters only missed five games combined. Although Briggs and Tinoisamoa showed up on the injury report frequently, it was as probable the majority of the time. And, of course, the important thing was that Urlacher started all 16 games.
2010 AGL: 30.5
2010 Record: 8-8
2009 AGL : 51.3
2009 Record : 5-11
In our injury manifesto, my esteemed predecessor, Bill Barnwell, pointed out that offensive injuries hurt a team more than defensive injuries. Therefore, logic dictates that fewer injuries on offense from one season to the next helps fuel a team turnaround more so than fewer injuries on defense. And so, I introduce to you the 2010 Oakland Raiders.
Last season, Oakland's offensive AGL alone improved by 17.3, which is over 80 percent of the overall improvement. In 2009, starters Bruce Gradkowski, Darius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens, Robert Gallery, and Cornell Green missed a combined 29 games due to injury. In 2010, the number of games missed by starting quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive linemen plummeted to eight.
2010 AGL: 51.7
2010 Record: 4-12
2009 AGL : 19.8
2009 Record : 8-8
Last season, Denver did their best Pig Pen impression, suffering through a cloud of dirt and dust wherever they went. I know I said earlier that offensive injuries hurt more than defensive injuries, but when a team suffers defensive injuries to the extent that the Broncos did in 2010, all bets are off. As I detailed in their FOA 2011 chapter, no team in the free agency era has ever had to deal with the complete loss of a reigning sack champion's pass-rushing productivity. If only that was the end of it.
Injuries forced Denver to play musical chairs all season at linebacker and in the secondary. Between Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers, Joe Mays, Brian Dawkins, Andre' Goodman, and Perrish Cox, planned or elevated starting defenders missed 39 games, and were listed on the injury report for 15 more. The nadir of the season came in Weeks 6 and 7, when the Broncos' defense gave up 83 points in two losses with Dumervil, Ayers, Dawkins, and Goodman inactive.
2010 AGL: 55.4
2010 Record: 6-10
2009 AGL : 22.5
2009 Record : 12-4
Perhaps no team got a kick to the junk -- and went on the 15-day disabled list a la Josias Manzanillo -- harder than the Vikings did last season. They had the second-largest increase in AGL from 2009, and the vast majority of their injuries were on offense.
Obviously, there was a distinct difference between 2009 and 2010 in the health of a Wranglers-wearing Mississippian who shall remain nameless. Aside from John Madden's BFF, though, starters Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, and John Sullivan missed a combined 25 games, and played hurt in 32 others. Throw in the ACL that Cedric Griffin tore in training camp, and it's no wonder Minnesota collapsed like the Metrodome's roof last season.
Below is the table of AGLs for 2010, as well each team's average AGL over the past three years. For convenience, I've sorted it by 2010 AGL:
|Team||2010 AGL||2010 Rk||08-10 AGL||08-10 Rk|
|Team||2010 AGL||2010 Rk||08-10 AGL||08-10 Rk|