Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers
By Bruce Campbell
Ask a Ram fan to predict the Rams' regular season record, and they'll guess 9-7 or 11-5 or something like that. But at some point in the conversation they hedge their bets, they add "If they can just stay healthy..." and that's where they lose me. This sort of qualified answer is on everyone's lips, and at face value it seems fair enough. But does anyone expect the Rams' top players to stay healthy all season? Is it reasonable to hope that they will?
In the dark drama Ironweed, Meryl Streep's character Helen Archer says this about her alcoholism: "Everyone talks about all the times I got drunk, but nobody ever mentions how often I didn't!"
St. Louisans talk about the times their favorite players got injured, but nobody ever mentions how often they didn't. The truth is, when compared to the rest of the NFL, the Rams have been fortunate in avoiding major injuries. Unlike most teams, the Rams have managed to keep their best players on the playing field and out of the emergency room.
Let the argument begin: Marshall Faulk has missed thirteen games in five seasons because of injury, but in the Super Bowl years of 1999 and 2001, Faulk danced with the devil and won. Kurt Warner broke fingers, his thumb was battered, and he suffered the occasional concussion. But like Faulk, Warner stayed on the field for the better part of three seasons, and was healthy enough to win two MVPs in the Super Bowl years. Sure, Warner missed half of 2002 and almost all of 2003, but by now you realize it wasn't all due to injury.
Left out of this argument, however, is the relative lack of injuries to the Rams' outstanding wide receivers. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce have played with cracked ribs, and they've missed a few games and parts of a few others. But overall, Holt and Bruce (Az Hakim and Rick Proehl) and any currant Ram wide receiver you'd care to name - have been relatively injury-free. They've managed to stay off the injured reserve list, none of them have ever been lost for the season.
And the offensive line? Before this offseason none of them have missed a start for more than a handful of games. None of them have been placed on injured reserve, except late in the year and we're not talking about that. We could disagree about a few missed games here and there, but the key thing to remember is that before this year - there has never been a season-long injury to any Ram offensive starter, not at wide receiver, not on the offensive line, not at quarterback or running back. (unless you're talking Trent Green)
And defensively, the Rams have had similar good fortune, if you compare the frequency and severity of their injuries to the rest of the NFL. In 2002 Aeneas Williams broke a leg as badly as you can break one, and other key defensive players have missed games over the years. But other than Williams' broken fibula, can you name another key player who suffered a season-ending injury? A snapping of bone? Torn tendons and ligaments? I can't remember one catastrophic injury to any key defensive player, unless we're talking about Kim Herring or Jimmy Kennedy or a marginal talent like that.
The Bad News: But that's really not the point. More pertinent to this conversation is whether this relative good fortune can continue, because the Law Of Large Numbers suggests it will not. Look around the rest of the league. Key players have major knee-reconstruction surgery almost every month. Quarterbacks get knocked unconscious and tear rotator cuffs. All-Pros, players commanding huge portions of their teams' salary cap, spend all fall and all winter in the team swimming pool, rehabbing ghastly injuries that would cripple-for-life ordinary people like you and I.
But you know already this. And surely you've noticed the frequency-of-injury in the NFL is completely out of whack. If you've followed pro football from the 1960s, you know there's never been this many broken bones. We've never seen so many knees explode - in the open field, with no contact - the player just planted his foot and pow, the tendons and ligaments ruptured. This huge increase in major injuries has everyone's attention, from head coaches and team trainers, to the Players Association and Paul Tagliabue. The number one topic of conversation around the NFL right now, is the frequency and severity of major injuries to major stars.
But not in St. Louis, at least not yet. Everywhere else, important skill-position players miss entire seasons, but in St. Louis the major concern has been what? Kurt Warner's hand problems? Marshall Faulk's tricky knee? Kyle Turley and Dave Wohlabaugh? It could be so much worse, but that's not the scary part. What's truly frightening is the likelihood the Rams may be running out of luck.
Why the gloom and doom? Why should we expect more injuries?
Because in his book Building A Champion, Bill Walsh wrote "The early signs of a player coming to the end of his career are chronic minor injuries. This shows up primarily in his lack of practice time. At first he misses Monday and Saturday. Then, it becomes a matter of giving him light workouts on Wednesday and Friday, working him hard only on Thursday. Finally, the player is hardly practicing at all, he plays effectively for only part of the game, or even every other week." - Bill Walsh
Sound familiar? If you've followed the Rams for the last five years, you know it does. And unfortunately, this work-related-injury scenario will get worse in the coming years, if Bill Walsh's first-hand experience means anything at all.
So do yourself and the rest of us a favor. When analyzing a pro football team's Super Bowl potential, don't begin with "If they can stay healthy..." - that simply isn't useful because it simply isn't likely. Injuries will happen, both acute and chronic, and unfortunately the Rams are due. So any serious discussion of the Rams 2004 season must at least address the 'what if' scenario of injuries to key players.
And here it is:
Any NFL team with serious hope of winning a Super Bowl, must have quality depth at the skill positions. In the Rams case this depth begins with the fragile physicality of Chris Chandler at QB, and the untested talents of RB Steven Jackson. If either Bruce or Holt miss significant playing time, can the Rams get by with second-year wide receivers Shaun McDonald or Kevin Curtis, or will possession receivers Dane Looker or Mike Furrey surprise us with quickness and smarts? If the secondary has problems with ineffectiveness or injury, will cornerbacks DeJuan Groce and Kevin Garrett help or hurt? The Rams' season might be bolstered by their unusual depth at the linebacker position, but the lack-of-depth in their offensive and defensive lines will be crippling if injuries occur in bunches.
But beyond that, there is a certain attitude that the Rams must develop, if someone like Bulger or Faulk or Bruce or Holt is lost for the season. A great example of this comes from Baltimore Raven head coach Brian Billick, the day after the Ravens lost star running back Jamal Lewis during their 2001 training camp:
"Fellas, I can tolerate arrogance, conceit, greed.." Billick said "..but self-pity is the one thing that just chaps my ass. We've experienced difficulty, but I will not tolerate, nor be part of, anything resembling self-pity. If you're starting to feel sorry for yourself because we've lost a great player, then fellas we've got no chance. Let's focus on what we do have, not what we don't. There are young people is this room that are going to have to grow up fast. Have compassion for Jamal, just don't fall into that self-pity ####, because there's just no room for it. From this point on - and I mean starting right now - I don't want to hear any more discussion about injuries, there's absolutely no reason..." - Brian Billick
So unless the Rams relative good fortune continues - which is unlikely - it will be the youngest of Rams that ultimately decide the fortunes of this, the 2004 season. If Bulger or Faulk or Bruce or Holt or Williams or Pace or Archuleta or Little miss ten or more games, we'll find out if the talent-evaluating skills of Mike Martz and G.M. Charley Armey are as good as advertised. And while we've heard nothing but high praise for the entire Ram coaching staff, no one's been fitted for sainthood quite like their offensive and defensive line coaches.
It's so obvious. The Rams have 8 rookies and 9 second-year men on their roster, and chances are they'll need to grow up quickly. The time for coaching is now, right now. Now is the time for the younger athletes to wriggle free and blossom, because opportunity and change comes quicker than we think. 'Sweeter are the uses of adversity', Shakespeare wrote, and here's hoping the old boy knew his stuff.
Re: Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers
Isn't this true every year?
Originally Posted by RamWraith(By Bruce Campbell)
Re: Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers
They did a good job of dealing with major injuries last year, so why would this year be any different.
Re: Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers
Mr campbell seems to get the fans point across, faulk uninjured in 1999 and 2001, 2 superbowl appearances, kurt out in 2000 no sb appearance, kurt banged up (argue it if you wish) no sb last 2 years. Yes all dont stay healthy but those 2 stats at the start show the pairing, that when healthy made gigantic contributions to our sb runs.