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2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Danny Tuccitto

Today, we present some additional details about adjusted games lost (AGL) for the 2011 NFL season. Last week, we presented the overall team totals, so click over if you didn't get a chance to read it or if you're unfamiliar with how AGL works.

In this article, we're going to focus our attention on AGLs for specific team units. Intuition tells us that injuries at certain positions -- say quarterback -- are harder to overcome than others. What you'll come to find out as you read this article, however, is that our intuition needs a bit of nuanced revision, at least in the context of last season. Some teams were healthy at positions of relative importance, but it didn't matter in terms of wins and losses. Others had a slew of injuries at those same positions, and it clearly mattered a lot. (Indianapolis, anyone?)

Two teams in particular were among the least healthy in the league (also among the least healthy in AGL history), and saw most of their injuries pile up at the same positions (to a record-breaking extent), but a key AGL difference helps explain why one lost four more games than the other. I'll leave it to your intuition to figure it out. Or, just keep reading.

Before we get into specific positions, though, here are last season's AGLs for offenses and defenses:

Top 8 Bottom 8
Offense AGL Defense AGL Offense AGL Defense AGL
BAL 8.0 NO 7.2 STL 66.6 CAR 61.5
NYJ 9.2 SF 8.8 WAS 54.3 NE 57.5
PHI 10.5 MIA 9.6 SEA 53.4 NYG 53.1
DET 13.3 BAL 10.9 CAR 47.6 JAC 52.8
DEN 15.0 PHI 11.4 ARI 46.3 IND 47.2
TB 17.1 CHI 12.4 CLE 45.5 STL 43.5
NO 17.4 WAS 13.2 KC 43.8 OAK 41.4
TEN 20.0 DET 14.8 DAL 43.5 ARI 40.5

The Ravens ended last season with the healthiest offense in the league after finishing 15th in 2010. Most of the improvement came along the offensive line, which dropped from 17.4 to 6.0 in 2011. That decrease at least partially explains, then, why Baltimore's offensive line improved from ninth to sixth in ALY and from 25th to 12th in ASR.

New Orleans was the least injured defense in 2011, having improved by 18.0 AGL compared to the previous season. What's especially peculiar about this stat, though, is that a healthier unit actually corresponded with an across-the-board collapse in DVOA: from ninth to 28th overall, ninth to 26th against the pass, and ninth to 21st against the run.

Another curious case of health changes being unrelated to efficiency changes is the 49ers defense, which improved from 13th to third in overall DVOA, and 24th to eighth against the pass, despite an almost identical level of unit health (6.8 AGL in 2010, ranked second). The additions of cornerback Carlos Rogers, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, Ted linebacker Navorro Bowman, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio seem to have made more of a difference in their 2011 results.

It's often good to remind ourselves that regression towards the mean is a probabilistic phenomenon, not an absolute one. If a team finishes first one season, it doesn't mean that they will finish lower the following season; just that they're more likely to. Today's reminder is the 2011 St. Louis Rams offense, which repeated as "most injured offense in the NFL," and actually had a worse AGL than in 2010 (47.1). To boot, their AGL last season was the highest of any offense since 2002. Judging by that 66.6 value, you could say (puts on sunglasses) they were cursed.

Finally, the Panthers had the highest defensive AGL in 2011. Theirs was also the second-highest since 2002: only the 2009 Buffalo Bills were more injured (62.1). Coupled with Carolina's 29th place finish in offensive AGL, it makes you wonder how big of a win improvement they could have enjoyed if not for bad injury luck.

Also of note here, which I briefly alluded to last week, is that last year's Super Bowl participants finished 30th and 31st in defensive AGL. Generally speaking, the correlation between defensive AGL and wins (or DVOA) is half as large as the one for offensive AGL. Nevertheless, it's a testament to the coaching staffs of both clubs that they were able to find a way to overcome what amounts to the fourth- and seventh-worst injury luck on defense since 2002.

From here, we'll take a look at the best and worst AGLs for team subunits. It's a lot of information, so I'm going to limit my commentary somewhat, and leave the more nuanced discussions to anything readers bring up in the comments.


Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
11 Tied 0.0 IND 16.2
CIN 0.1 MIA 12.5
CAR 0.1 HOU 11.3
WAS 0.1 OAK 10.2
NYJ 0.1 KC 8.0
DET 0.5 CHI 5.9
TEN 0.5 STL 5.6
MIN 0.6 ARI 3.2

In 2011, it was more so the case that teams had their seasons derailed by quarterback injury than helped by quarterback health. What I mean here is that, although seven of the 11 teams tied at 0.0 quarterback AGL (Falcons, Ravens, Bills, Broncos, Packers, Jaguars, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Chargers, and 49ers) made the playoffs, six were already presumptive playoff teams, and San Francisco's improved quarterback play owed more to coaching than Alex Smith experiencing some kind of newfound health.

In contrast, the disappointing finishes of Indianapolis, Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis can be attributed in large part to franchise quarterback injuries. Furthermore, given how close the AFC West was last season, as well as the standings when Jason Campbell and Matt Cassel got injured, either Oakland or Kansas City would have had a much better shot at making the playoffs had their quarterbacks not gotten hurt in midseason.

Running Back

Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
2 Tied 0.0 ARI 19.3
SEA 0.1 KC 15.1
JAC 0.2 DAL 12.9
PIT 0.5 WAS 12.4
PHI 0.8 DET 11.2
STL 0.9 OAK 11.0
GB 1.1 TB 10.9
TEN 1.6 DEN 9.9

Like quarterback, lack of running back health seemed to have the primary effect. Only three of the nine healthiest backfields made the playoffs, and two of those three were on pass-heavy offenses.

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The eight least healthy backfields, however, included only one playoff team, Detroit, that might have challenged Green Bay for the NFC North title if not for Jahvid Best's latest concussion. Yes, simple math tells us that it would have required an undefeated season to overtake a 15-1 Packers team, but lest we forget that the Lions were 5-0 at the time of Best's injury, and leading the 49ers 19-15 in the fourth quarter of their Week 6 "Handshake Game." Simple math also says flipping Detroit's two Best-less, late-season losses against Green Bay would have made things a lot more interesting.

Wide Receiver and Tight End

Just a quick note. Tight end AGL was minimal for all but three teams this year (Kansas City, Washington, and Seattle), and tight ends are being used more and more like wide receivers leaguewide, so I combined wide receiver AGL with tight end AGL in the table.

Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
DET 1.2 STL 35.7
BAL 1.9 SEA 27.8
TB 1.9 WAS 25.0
MIA 2.0 SF 20.0
NYJ 3.2 KC 19.2
PHI 3.2 CAR 18.5
GB 3.4 CIN 18.4
ARI 3.9 TEN 15.8

At least the injury gods balanced out Detroit's misfortune at running back with immaculate receiver health. Nate Burleson and Titus Young didn't show up on the injury report all season. Furthermore, seven out of the nine times Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew appeared, they were listed as probable.

I already mentioned how the Rams offense finished last in AGL for the second straight season. Well, let's add a couple more feathers to their horns (for the cryptozoologists out there). To begin with, St. Louis' 32nd-ranked combined receiver AGL (i.e., the one in the table) was also a repeat performance (29.0 in 2010). But that's not all: These were the two highest AGLs since 2002, and the fourth-highest in that timespan was -- wait for it -- the 2008 St. Louis Rams.

For those wondering, the same basic conclusion holds even if we ignore tight ends. St. Louis' wide receiver corps in 2011 finished dead last in AGL for the second straight season, and their AGL (26.4) was the second-highest since 2002, behind only -- wait for it -- the 2010 Rams (29.0).

Offensive Line

Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
DEN 0.2 NE 30.9
DET 0.3 CAR 29.0
SF 0.9 PIT 26.6
OAK 1.1 CLE 25.6
KC 1.5 STL 24.3
TEN 2.0 SEA 23.7
TB 3.3 CHI 22.3
MIA 3.4 SD 21.9

Denver was the only team in the league last season to have the same five offensive linemen start all 16 games. That's an accomplishment in its own right, but what makes their good fortune even more amazing is that those five guys made only five total injury report appearances between them, and all were of the probable variety. This came on the heels of having the fifth-healthiest line in 2010, mind you.

Except for the Patriots, who we've already established had magical injury-defying powers last season, and the Rams, who were obviously cursed, the high-AGL offensive line that strikes me is Pittsburgh's. The Steelers used nine different starting combinations last season, including seven in the first seven weeks. Not coincidentally, their ASR dropped from 7.9 percent in their first seven games to 7.0 percent in their final nine games. That may not seem like much of an improvement, but it should if you consider the following: Over Pittsburgh's last four games, Ben Roethlisberger had all the agility of Shawn Chambers circa NHLPA '93, and 37-year-old Charlie Batch actually played meaningful snaps.

Defensive Front Seven

Note: I'm combining the AGLs for defensive linemen and linebackers like I did for receivers and tight ends. This time, however, it's because 3-4 defenses almost by definition will have lower defensive line AGLs than 4-3 defenses, and vice versa for linebacker AGLs. Also, links with ALY, and ASR are better thought of in the defensive-front-seven sense anyway. Feel free to ask about specific defensive line or linebacker AGLs in the comments, though.

Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
KC 0.8 CAR 55.4
SEA 2.0 NYG 36.1
WAS 2.2 DEN 36.0
MIN 2.5 NE 29.9
PHI 2.9 JAC 27.5
BAL 3.7 PIT 26.6
MIA 4.0 SD 25.0
SF 4.3 BUF 24.2

For the second straight season, Kansas City (third in 2010), Minnesota (first), Baltimore (second), and San Francisco (fourth) were incredibly healthy in their defensive front sevens. Amazingly, consistency in AGL corresponded almost perfectly with consistency in ALY for these four teams. The Chiefs went from 25th in 2010 ALY to 24th in 2011, the Vikings went from sixth to eighth, the Ravens went from 12th to 13th, and the 49ers went from third to fourth.

The same can also be said for the other side of the ledger, where Carolina (31st in 2010), Denver (27th), and Buffalo (28th) were repeat members of this year's bottom eight.

The Panthers' defensive front seven AGL in 2011 was particularly ignominious in that it was the highest since 2002, almost eight games worse than the 2010 Cleveland Browns. (Phil Taylor's recent pectoral injury was supposed to happen six months ago.) The rash of injuries for this unit was pretty breathtaking. Prized free agent defensive tackle Ron Edwards, starting Will linebacker (Thomas Davis), and starting Mike linebacker (Jon Beason) were lost for the year by Week 3, and two other linebackers who saw significant snaps (James Anderson and Dan Connor) made five appearances on the injury report.

Defensive Back

Top 8 AGL Bottom 8 AGL
PIT 0.8 STL 36.6
NO 2.3 NE 27.5
NYJ 4.1 MIN 25.8
DEN 4.4 JAC 25.4
SF 4.4 ARI 24.5
HOU 4.6 IND 24.0
MIA 5.5 OAK 23.6
TEN 5.8 SEA 23.2

From the healthiest secondaries of 2010, only Tennessee repeated in 2011. Sorry for not talking about the Titans today even though they've appeared on the low-AGL side of several tables. It's just that they're one of the healthiest teams every year, and they're seemingly in that seven-to-nine-win range every year; practically the definition of mediocrity, really -- but I digress.

As I've mentioned in my Four Downs contributions over the past week (here and here), the Steelers and 49ers seem in the mood for pyromania heading into 2012. Although certainly talented, backups in the secondaries for both teams are as inexperienced as a 16-year-old McDonald's applicant. But as their low AGLs suggest, it's more likely than not that those backups will be forced into major burger-flipping roles at some point next season.

Finally, other than Carolina's defensive front seven, the least-surprising unit atop an AGL table today is the Rams' secondary. I think it's fitting that we end with the Rams, actually. If we've learned anything today, it's that no recounting of St. Louis' 2011 season can omit the fact that injuries made a mockery of their depth chart. Not since a staph infection swept through one NFL locker room in 2003 -- guess which one -- has a plague affected a team this badly.

And yet, what about the Panthers? Didn't they have to deal with a similar plight last season? Why were they able to win four more games than the Rams, against a significantly harder schedule no less? Well, if I had to offer an answer, it would be this. Both teams had tons of injuries at wide receiver, along the offensive line, and on defense. At quarterback, however, one young franchise passer had 5.7 AGL higher than the other. You do the math.


37 comments, Last at 30 May 2012, 12:44am

1 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Are we getting close to the point where it's likely that the Rams aren't just super super unlucky, and their training/medical staff sucks?

4 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Well, as I mentioned in the piece last week, teams' year-to-year AGL consistency has increased over the past few years, to the point where it's getting harder to ignore. But that's just a descriptive stat. Determining the underlying cause of consistency, though, is another matter. Yeah, one theory is differences in medical staffs. Unfortunately, there are two problems with testing that:

1. Each injury has a specific medical diagnosis, which is related to an expected recovery time, but teams are all over the board in terms of reporting details of the actual diagnosis. For example, "broken foot" can mean a million things. Heck, there are five different levels of shoulder separation (I only know because I just separated mine), and teams usually just report "separated shoulder," or worse, "shoulder injury."

2. Even if we focused only on injuries reported with very specific diagnoses, and find that players treated by certain medical staffs take longer than expected to recover, is it really the place of a football stats website to call out a bunch of doctors? I mean, who am I to basically call out an MD or ATC as incompetent?

6 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Obviously valid points. I just know that many NBA analysts have no trouble spewing analysis of various franchise staffs (for example, OKC's is pretty much universally regarded as excellent while Portland's is seen as awful) and I was wondering if there was any reason that that seems to happen much less with football.

19 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Portland's medical staff took a lot of heat for the way they handled Brandon Roy's knee injuries. Greg Oden saw his career get ruined by injuries but I don't know how much of that is Portland's fault.

I know for a couple years people were here saying the Cowboys had an excellent medical staff because they had low injury rates, but it looks like that hasn't been the case the last few years.

2 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

This lends a little support to my belief that the Bears starting 5 linemen might actually be decent, but their depth sucks. Although, I think they've done some things to correct that just by shuffling people around if Chris Williams does indeed move back to tackle.

11 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Well we all thought that losing 16 games coached by Ron Turner would help too.

That said, I think Tice is actually a good hire. Bates was the Bears original choice for OC anyways, so having him at QB coach should help things.

This is the most excited I've been for a Bears season since 07.

12 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

That's a different issue with losing Turner. No one thought that hiring Martz would be good with respect to protecting the QB. And everyone was right.

I agree with everything else you said. I am so looking forward to this Bears season, especially since there's nothing else for Chicago sports fans to be excited about right now.

14 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Another thing to note: Starting QBs missing more than a full game's worth of action is unusual with at least 18 teams having less. I'm not quite sure what to do with this information though. A lot of it is due to bad QBs getting benched before they could get injured. Still it means a lot QBs didn't miss a whole game.

3 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Steve Spagnulo needs to keep a copy of this column handy when he goes out on interviews. He did practically everything right except win.

5 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Nevertheless, it's a testament to the coaching staffs of both clubs that they were able to find a way to overcome what amounts to the fourth- and seventh-worst injury luck on defense since 2002.

Of course, the Giants and New England overcame those injuries in different ways. The Giants overcame their defensive injuries by having a lot of depth in their defensive front seven and getting healthy at the right time. The Patriots overcame their defensive injuries by having a lot of depth at tight end (and to some extent wide receiver).

37 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Either the Patriots backups were better than their starters

There's actually a pretty good argument for this statement, at least in the case of Anderson vs Carter, and McCourty (at Safety)/Moore (at CB) vs whoever they had starting in those positions earlier in the year.

After Carter got hurt, they stopped messing around with some of the cute deception stuff that Belichick likes to do, because Anderson was more one dimensional, and just tried to rush the passer. And hey! It worked! (To a degree).

7 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

I quickly re-read last week's article, but I'm not still sure of the details of the AGL calculation. If a team loses an assumed starter to the IR in preseason, is that an automatic +16 to AGL? Looking at the Giants, the team I follow, I'd have to assume no -- they lost 2 clear defensive starters in preseason, which itself would count for 32.0 if this assumption is right. Given that they lost 3-4 other reserve defensive players in preseason and had others miss several games during the season, I'd think their total would be much greater than 53.1.

9 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Below are the guys on NYG D who counted towards AGL (i.e., original starters, important situational reserves, and season-ending injury replacements). Number of injury-affected games is in parentheses.

DE Justin Tuck (11)
DE Osi Umenyiora (16)
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (1)
DT Linval Joseph (0)
DT Chris Canty (0)
WLB Michael Boley (8)
MLB Jonathan Goff (16)
MLB Greg Jones, who replaced injured Goff (0)
MLB Mark Herzlich, who was promoted above Jones in Wk 11 (5)
MLB Chase Blackburn, who replaced injured Herzlich (0)
SLB Mathias Kiwanuka (0)
CB Corey Webster (0)
CB Terell Thomas (16)
CB Aaron Ross, who replaced injured Thomas (1)
SS Kenny Phillips (2)
FS Antrel Rolle (1)
NS Deon Grant (0)

That's 77 total games affected by injuries to major contributors. The reason why AGL ends up being only 53.1 is because we weight each of the games by participation status (i.e., probable, questionable, doubtful, out, IR, and PUP). For instance, IR is weighted as a total loss, so yeah, Goff and Thomas contributed 32 AGL. But they were the only ones in the group to go on IR, so the entire difference between 32 and 53.1 is the sum of weighted (you could even call them "adjusted") games for the other guys.

Hope that clears things up.

34 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

That's because Austin was never atop the depth chart at LDT or RDT before his injury, and backup rotational DTs don't count towards AGL. We have to draw the "important situational reserve" line somewhere. Nickel corners? OK, they're "important situational reserves" in today's NFL. 3rd WRs? OK for the same reason. 2nd TEs? Approaching the line, but OK if they're on teams that do a lot of that. We even count 3 DEs for some teams -- like, say NYG -- because of the importance of pass rush these days.

To me, counting a backup rotational DT would be like counting that mostly anonymous blocker who comes in on short yardage, and plays the 3rd TE/6th OL role. Their importance to the team -- in stats speak, not football speak -- is really only at the margin of winning and losing.

I imagine people could cite Austin's potential, and then retrofit the breakout season they were expecting into a judgment of how important his injury was. We can't do it that way, though. We have no clue how important (or good) he would have been; only how important he was at the time of the injury (as indicated by NYG's depth chart).

13 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Except for the Patriots, who we've already established had magical injury-defying powers last season

I don't think your own numbers back this idea up. They were hit the second hardest on defense last year, according to your table. And on offense, they got lucky (until they encounterd Bernard Pollard) at the skill positions, but were hit the hardest out of any team on the O-line, which, after QB, is probably the most important offensive position.

Being most second most injured on defense, and most injured at the most numerous and second most important offensive position doesn't seem to be "magical injury-defying powers"... It sounds about average, or maybe a bit worse than average, to me.

18 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Any chance that we can get a table of AGL against or AGL differential? It would be cool to see what teams lucked into a lot of games against back ups and which teams repeatedly ran into opponents at full strength.

21 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

I second this. However, I doubt it would be easy to calculate. You couldn't just take 1/16 (or 1/8 with teams within the division) and just add the totals. However, you could (with a lot of time) prob. calculate how many guys were on IR/PUP, plus on the reported injury list, for that weeks' game, and then sum the totals. Doubt it would be super informative. For example, against the Saints, if you've got 3 DB's out or limited for the game, you're probably in trouble. If it's 1 WR, 1 OL, and 1 DL, you probably won't notice it--unless it negatively affects your team.

23 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

"Well, if I had to offer an answer, it would be this. Both teams had tons of injuries at wide receiver, along the offensive line, and on defense. At quarterback, however, one young franchise passer had 5.7 AGL higher than the other. You do the math"

I don't buy this explanation. Carolina's QB put up a +7% Dvoa whereas STL's put up a -18.5% DVOA. Yes he missed some games and Feeley had a far worse DVOA, but it is very debatable if a team with as many injuries and lack of players as the Rams would have won any more games with such abysmal QB play.

I would suspect that the difference in wins more derives from the fact that 1 team possesses a potential Superstar QB whereas the other team is QBed by a likely Bust/Below Average QB

24 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Reasonable points, for sure, but the whole underlying idea of AGL is that "abysmal QB play" was a direct byproduct of Bradford's injury, both in the games he played hurt, and in STL having to play AJ Feeley (and Kellen Clemens) in his place. The proof is in the pudding: Bradford's DVOA was 8% worse than in 2010, and the team's pass O was 17% worse. I don't see how one could deny -- not that you are -- that Bradford's injury played a major role in that.

A good alternate example I suppose is Pittsburgh having abysmal QB play in the 2 late-season games where Big Ben was trying to hero his way through a high-ankle sprain. Big Ben will never be confused for a "Bust/Below Average QB" overall, but he sure approached that level of play at the end of the year (even after adjusting for opponent strength).

26 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Actually I live in STL and get every Rams game and can see that Bradford brings nothing special to the table.

Best case scenario he becomes Matt Ryan (unlikely)

Most likely Bradford is simply just a slightly better version of Colt McCoy. Bradford's arm isn't anything special, he lacks athleticism, and despite his high completion % has nowhere near the accuracy of the league's Top QBs.

There is simply nothing special about his game, he is like a very poor man's version of Matt Ryan

30 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

By chance is Oklahoma your favorite College Football team?

You say you "could not disagree with me more." Are you saying that Bradford has exceptional athleticism, arm strength, and accuracy (since I said he was not particularly great at any of them)? Do you have any highlights or box scores for this Brees/Vick/Rodgers hybrid?

In all seriousness, Bradford has no chance of being a Top 14 QB:

Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Romo, 2x Manning, Ben, Rivers, Stafford, Cutler, Shaub, Vick, Newton, Ryan

Bradford will be lucky to ever be a Top 20 QB considering that all of the following likely are either better now or have better career prospects going forward (maybe he could bypass Matt Moore for #20)

Flacco, Flynn, Luck, RG3, Fitzpatrick, Moore

33 Re: 2011 Adjusted Games Lost for Team Units

Well obviously Brady is better than Bradford, I didn't imply otherwise. However, he's never possessed even above average arm strength or mobility for an NFL QB, and has made a HoF career out of it.

I'm reserving judgement on Bradford until I see him play with at least 2 receivers who belong in the NFL.