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The Price They’re Paying (Week 2 Game Review)
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On September 22, 2011 @ 8:47 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled
One of my goals in preparing this week’s article was to piece together information regarding the frequency of certain types of injuries. I started on this journey toward the end of preseason when it became blatantly obvious that players were dropping like flies. In the modern era, where Google is simultaneously our best friend and worst enemy (see: Rule 34), I naturally assumed that the data I was seeking, much like an obscure Spookey Ruben video from the mid ’90s, would be no more than a few keystrokes away.
I was wrong.
It’s not that the information isn’t being collected. It is. Since 1980, the NFL Injury Surveillance System has acquired unfathomable quantities of raw information on virtually every injury to every player. Team doctors are mandated to provide details on the nature and timing of the injury. The league compiles the information and hands it over on a limited basis to third party research firms, who in turn organize it into meaningful statistics.
And that’s where it ends. Much of the data is kept private. Yes, some of it is released (notably recent reports on concussions and older reports on artificial turf), but most of it isn’t. Google “NFL Injury Surveillance System” and the first thing you’ll come across is a doctor’s complaint from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. If they’re not allowed to see it, guess how badly the NFL wants to turn it over to a part time writer whose mouth frequently writes checks his ass can’t cash?
I’ve spent God knows how many hours of attempting to craftily manipulate the search engine to yield the results I was seeking. To date, I’ve found only a handful of useful studies. There is, of course, the Edgewood Economics report for the NFLPA that I cited last week, but their focus is shifted more toward the long term impact of concussions. What I needed was good, solid data on lower body ligament and tendon failure, particularly the ACL and Achilles. My next idea was simply to go through four or five years of roster moves for each of the 32 teams, isolating the injuries pertinent to my query. Time consuming, but easy enough, right?
Nope. That approach had a metaphorical Achilles heel of its own–the undisclosed injury. Sometimes teams report the general location of the injury (elbow, hand, etc.) but not the nature of it. Other times they disclose nothing at all. Teams also occasionally clutter their IR with borderline players with whom they’d like to retain exclusive rights for the following season, so a fully undisclosed injury may actually mean no injury at all.
So with the goal of a month-by-month analysis of tissue tears more or less an impossibility, I decided I would settle for the absolute most basic data from which I could draw some sort of conclusion. Simply put, I wanted to know how many ACL tears and Achilles ruptures could be anticipated in a normal season. The answer to the latter had already been established; on average, there are 10 Achilles ruptures over the course of an NFL season (preseason and postseason included). The ACL data, however, was eluding me.
Given the sheer volume of reports I downloaded, I couldn’t tell you at this juncture what phrase I Googled that finally yielded the one that worked. If I didn’t know the name of the study and the doctor who authored it, I can’t guarantee I’d ever find it again. The report, however, is, as far as I’m concerned, as close to scripture as I’ll ever find on the subject. The report is titled ACL Reconstruction: An NFL Perspective. Okay, it’s not exceptionally auspicious as titles go, but here’s the important part: the author is Christopher C. Annunziata, M.D., team physician for the Washington Redskins and D.C. United. This guy has access to the NFL Injury Surveillance System. Googling his name brought to light a couple of other things. First, he spells orthopedics the Olde English way (orthopaedics). Second, he introduces himself to patients not as Doctor Annunziata, but rather as Chris. Furthermore, smack in the middle of his report, next to a chart demonstrating that the double bundle reconstruction method is never used on football players, he superfluously photoshopped in a picture of an inquisitive Asian man with the caption “Freddie wondering why???????”. Why? Who knows, but I like him. He clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously.
The answer, by the way, is 53 ACL injuries a year, which is up significantly from the 17 year average of 35-40.
As it stands, at the end of week 2 there were 17 confirmed season-ending injuries of the ACL. The Chiefs, Giants, and Panthers account for nine of those (three each). One player has fallen to each of the following similar injuries as well: MCL tear, meniscus tear, and patellar tendon tear (one of the ACL injuries is actually a combined ACL and patellar tendon injury, which presents a major complication for that player, as the patellar tendon is usually the harvest site for ACL reconstruction). Several other players have been placed on IR with unspecified knee injuries, which, given how early it is in the season, is probably an indication that at least a few of them are of a similar nature.
If we take the confirmed cases alone, that’s one third of the expected ACL injuries for the season already, with fifteen weeks to go. That’s not as bad as I expected, but again, I’d bet there are another ten or so out there that haven’t been reported. Remember, Dr. Annunziata’s figure of 53 is coming from the full complement of data entered in the Surveillance System, not the number of cases publicly reported on team websites.
This is where it gets hairy. The number of Achilles ruptures is not nearly as conservative a figure. As previously stated, there are an average of 10 a year. For 2011, as of the end of week 2, the number of reported cases is 15. Again, “reported” is an important word here, because there are at least a dozen other players on IR whose injuries are stated simply as “Ankle”. Some of those are probably broken ankles or severe sprains, but I’d bet at least one or two of those are Achilles ruptures.
That was a long setup for a relatively short story, but the short story is important. Were we fans of one of the handful of teams that hasn’t suffered a significant injury so far this season, it probably wouldn’t have crossed our plane of consciousness. Our team has, however, suffered these significant injuries, and as much as Eric Berry’s loss short circuited the next four months of defensive scheming, Jamaal Charles’s loss short circuits the offensive game plan far more significantly. Matt Cassel is a waste of space whose erratic passes will probably get a few people killed and a few more fired. Dexter McCluster has a severe case of the dropsies (Charles had it too when he was DMC’s age, and so did Tony Gonzalez–it’s fixable, but it takes a lot of work). Thomas Jones is old and ineffective, the tight ends are primarily blockers, and half the receivers on the roster are scrubs.
Still, this roster isn’t fully void of talent. Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston are solid receivers. That’s irrelevant, however, because Cassel is targeting running backs with nearly half of his passes (27 targets on 58 attempts, with 17 completions). The backs are averaging 2.5 yards per completion, or 0.75 yards per attempt. Generally speaking, when a QB is dumping off that many passes, it’s an indication that he’s not getting enough protection. While I can clearly see deficiencies and inefficiencies in the offensive line, the stats don’t lie. Cassel isn’t getting beaten up. He’s been sacked only four times (tied for ninth least in the league) and hit only six (the league least).
So what does it mean when a QB is dumping passes but not getting pressured? It means he’s slow, scared, or blind, or some combination of the three.
None of this is new information. Cassel played a couple of good games toward the end of last season. After the season concluded he went to the Pro Bowl, then made a funny video with Danny McBride. All of this earned him a wellspring of support in the Chiefs fanbase. It’s safe to say now that the well is dry. Jamaal Charles and Charlie Weis were propping him up, just like Wes Welker was in New England.
Now, is his current catastrophe of a passer rating (50.4 and falling, putting him behind every QB in the league except Jacksonville’s Luke McCown) reflective of his true ability? I doubt it. He’s not quite that bad. I think the 69.9 he posted in 2009 is probably closer to accurate. When Cassel is released at the end of the season and is deemed unemployable by most (if not all) of the league, I think he has grounds for a lawsuit against Bill Muir for defamation of character. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Does Muir have a case against Cassel? Muir didn’t singlehandedly turn over the ball to Detroit four times.
To be honest, I don’t care whom sues who. I just want them both gone. Every year I pick a member of the organization and petition for their dismissal. This year I’m picking two. Fire Bill Muir. Fire Matt Cassel. Neither one of them is earning their paycheck.
There’s an old cliché that states that two things in life are guaranteed: death and taxes. In the 2011 football season, there are also two things that are guaranteed: Matt Cassel and Bill Muir will drag the entire Chiefs organization to the ground, and a lot of players are gonna get hurt real bad. The former will be corrected by a couple of hasty mid-winter transactions in the front office. The latter will have a ripple effect through the next decade of football and beyond. Players, some of them very good, will have their career trajectories altered drastically, maybe even irreparably. Coaches will be fired over circumstances well beyond their control. They’ll be fired by executives whose actions, in part, shaped those circumstances. There’s irony in there somewhere, but I’m sure it’ll be lost on them.
I’ve written before about Czech author Milan Kundera’s concept of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and occasionally referenced his book by the same name. The underlying concept is that mankind is doomed to repeat history because it is unable to see that it is perpetually in the process of repeating history. I hope that’s not the case. The mechanisms that are creating these career altering circumstances are already in motion, and they cannot be reversed. I can assure you that players, coaches, and owners are all keenly aware of what’s happening here, but they too are powerless to stop it. The season will not be canceled, and thus, the injuries will continue.
This can, however, serve for a model in all sports of how not to handle a strike. When the work stoppage infringes so closely upon preparations for the coming season, the season should be shortened or delayed. It’s the only way to keep the athletes safe (relatively speaking–football is a violent sport and injuries cannot wholly be prevented). I know I’d take a 12 game season and a healthy Eric Berry in a heartbeat over the mess we have now. Wouldn’t you?
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