Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Nov 2006

FO on BSMW: Watching Trees Decompose

This week, do Patriots defensive backs get injured more often than the norm? And, if you have some spare change this week and have enjoyed these columns throughout the season (and already have purchased the requisite six copies of Pro Football Prospectus 2006), please consider donating to the Boston Sports Media Watch fall fund drive; not only is BSMW one of the best sites on the Internet, but without it, you very well might not be reading Football Outsiders.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 09 Nov 2006

12 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2006, 9:22pm by Vern


by Sam! (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:03pm

"Watching Trees Decompose"?

by karl (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:10pm

great article. but i can't give money to a site that writes about the teams i hate the most. literally the only team i hate more than the pats is the jets.

has anyone looked into weather and turf (not only at foxboro but also at their practice facility) being part of the problem?

also, i would not assume that training regimen has anything to do with it unless beliceck's previous teams have a history of dbs being significantly more injured than the average nfl team.

by karl (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:12pm

re 1: i think this is a reference to their FALL fund raise, as in the leaves falling is decomposition of trees. but that's just a guess.

by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:17pm

I wouldn't expect DB injuries to have anything to do with facing many pass attempts, I'd think DBs are if anything more likely to get injured on running plays where they may be going against considerably larger players, more bodies in small space

by NF (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:37pm

I'd bet it's the field that's responsible. Do a search of injuries to players after games at NE, and also check out injury rates to Philadelphia DBs pre-2002. The old Veteran's Stadium artificial turf is the last field I can remember that got this much attention for how bad it was.

by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 5:02pm

Well, I don't have data for the 2001 injury reports yet. Eagles DBs in 2002 were 8th in total injuries, but only 17th in weighted injuries -- so the turf wasn't a factor that year, at least.

Oh, and the title was both a dig at some of the players the Patriots have employed in their secondary over the last few years (i.e. Ty Poole, Duane Starks) as well as a reference to a similarly-named Galaxie 500 song. I don't like coming up with titles.

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 6:39pm

I've often wondered about this. I'd never considered your point 3, but you went and proved that that's an unlikely cause.

I've mainly blamed the field, but now I'm not so sure. The only worse field in the league in my mind is Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh finished middle of your list.

There's one big factor that you didn't mention that I think has a lot to do with it, but it would be easy to check out if one has the time to go through the play-by-play. The Patriots, unlike many teams, play their starters on special teams. So players that are already fatigued and maybe cramping are taking part in a part of the game that involves running at full tilt, making crazy cuts, and smashing into people at full velocity. Special teams is probably the roughest part of the game, and DB's, as the fastest and most agile players who are still able to hit people, usually are a big part of it. I wonder what percentage of patriots DB's are injured on special teams versus on ordinary plays, as compared to other teams?

One other factor is that the Pats like to have their dB's play very phsyically, chucking recievers on the line and so forth. That may increase wear and tear. Also, they have built their defense around a D-line of first round draft picks. I wonder if that means that they see a higher percentage of outside runs, where DB's and not LB's or DL's have to absorb blocks and make tackles, than most teams?

One problem with your weighting is that all DB's are not equal. Losing rookie Gus Scott for the year is not the same as losing Rodney Harrison or Ty Law. The Pats problem has been made worse not only by losing a lot of DB's, but by losing their quality ones.

by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 11:25pm

I think the Falcons could pass the Pats' five-year totals this week alone. OK, not really, but they look SHREDDED right now.

by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 11/09/2006 - 11:49pm

Looks like the Bears are trying hard to stay near the top of the list.

by Jim A (not verified) :: Fri, 11/10/2006 - 1:18pm

Excellent work. I think it's interesting to compare these results with Carl Prine's findings, which were discussed on this site a year or so ago. In particular, DBs suffer a very high rate of injuries compared to other positions, but their absence from the game due to injury did not have a significant effect on their team's record. Perhaps Bill Belichick knows this and is more likely to hold his injured DBs out of games. Also, no team (not even the Pats) was found to have a statistically significantly higher rate of injuries reported than expected, suggesting that teams generally don't fudge their injury reports.

Obviously the Pats should be concerned with the injuries their DBs are suffering, but it's not clear that the team is at fault.

by Kevin (not verified) :: Sat, 11/11/2006 - 12:10am

#1: A Galaxie 500 reference, I think.

by Vern (not verified) :: Sat, 11/11/2006 - 9:22pm

I think you have to look at the type of injuries. All the ones I can recall were broken bones and/or ligament tears/strains. That pretty much eliminates training as the source.

However, I think the other half of your reason 3 is likely. The strategy the team employs and what is asks DBs to do could be critical.

They do a lot of handing off of coverages rather than just playing man up. So, people are suddenly crossing in from other angles to take on the receiver. Also, they stress tackles and hits, leading to more collisions, and just as importantly multiple DBs crashing in towards the ball carrier/reciever (I seem to remember a fair number of times the collision was made far more dangerous due to the number of DBs involved).

As for special teams play, the only time I can recall a DB getting injured on ST was Eugene Wilson in SB 38.