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Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers

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  • 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.

  • #2
    Re: Injuries and the Law of Large Numbers

    Originally posted by RamWraith(By Bruce Campbell)
    - it will be the youngest of Rams that ultimately decide the fortunes of this, the 2004 season. ... 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.
    Isn't this true every year?


    • #3
      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.

      Adm. William "Bull" Halsey


      • #4
        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.
        The Breakfast Club. You want cheese with that?


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        • r8rh8rmike
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          by r8rh8rmike
          Rams Looking into Injury Bug
          Wednesday, January 6, 2010

          By Nick Wagoner
          Senior Writer

          To win in the NFL requires a lot of things working simultaneously in concert toward the achievement of the ultimate goal.

          Having the right players for the right scheme with the right coaches is a big part of that. But for as much as the big stuff matters, a certain amount of luck is always right at the center of the mix.

          Luck can be a bounce of the ball in your direction or a timely penalty flag from the officials. But more than anything, luck comes in the form of a blessing from the Football Gods; those unseen spirits that determine which teams get hit by injury and which teams have relative health.

          Rare is the team in the NFL that has success without having the majority of its key players healthy for the majority of the season.

          And for the better part of the past three years, the Rams have been ravaged by injuries that have severely lessened the already small margin for error between winning and losing.

          That’s why, as this offseason takes flight, one of the top priorities for the team will be to research and find out what it is that could be causing the injuries and to see if there are any way to prevent them other than prayer and positive thinking.

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          Ideally, the Rams would be able to find a solution for the injury bug that has seemingly made a home in St. Louis since the 2007 season.

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          That year, the Rams only sent six players to injured reserve with only three of those players regular starters.

          It’s no coincidence that the team finished 8-8 that year, the best record the team has posted in the past four years.

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          In 2008, another dozen went to injured reserve, four of whom were starters and again 27 players missed time for a total of 156 games missed.

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        • RamWraith
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          The Rams enter the season with serious questions on the offensive line. Andy McCollum, newly switched back to center, and Timmerman are the only sure things. Left tackle Orlando Pace has been staging his annual holdout; right tackle Kyle Turley is lost for the year with back problems; and center Dave Wohlabaugh was released after flunking a physical.

          Those woes are compounded by the fact Warner no longer is around as a security blanket for Bulger. Warner was released for salary cap reasons and landed with the Giants. So the backup quarterback is 38-year-old Chris Chandler, who could rarely stay healthy when he was young.

          The line problems also could cause trouble for star RB Marshall Faulk, who is 31 and hasn't played a full season in any of the past four years. First-round pick Steven Jackson has been very good in preseason.

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        • RamsFanSam
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          Today I had the opportunity of being home when the NFL network played a show on the 1999 Rams season.

          Man...what a difference.

          I don't mean our current record, or the names of the players, or the uniforms.

          I mean the attitude.
          I mean the performance.
          I mean the execution.

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          3. INCENTIVES!!! (a.k.a. bribery) Most tackles (not running into someone then bouncing off, but real tackles), most forced fumbles, most sacks, most pressures, etc, means more money. Restructure the contracts of the players so they would only get a pittance if they didn't bust their ass to do more. I'd be willing to bet that if any of the current players wanted to leave, there would be a bunch more who would line up to get the chance to be in the NFL...on a performance based contract.
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        • evil disco man
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          With the Rams' first preseason game only days away, I thought it a good time to take a look at what the Rams put on the table this season - from two perspectives. Feel free to add your opinions and even new categories while trying to include both the possible positive and negative aspects of each.

          GOOD: Marc Bulger can relax now, knowing that the job is his. He's had a full offseason to prepare with the team as the sure-fire starter, and will therefore show more confidence and production with the team behind him. Chris Chandler is the perfect backup; not durable enough to challenge for the starting job, but is an accurate, smart, veteran passer. Jeff Smoker is young, talented, is over his past troubles and could be the quarterback of the future.

          BAD: Marc Bulger was too inconsistent last year to prove he is really worthy of leading the Rams' passing attack. His decision-making and read progressions are questionable, and his long ball is awful. The team is on his shoulders now, and it will be too much for him to handle. Chris Chandler is old and entering a new offense, and he's known for being a statue in the pocket - something that isn't encouraging knowing that he's been severely injury-prone. Jeff Smoker is too young and unproven right now, and with his legal history in mind, he could only have a negative impact.

          Running Backs
          GOOD: Doctors found something previously undiscovered in Marshall Faulk's knee, fixed it, and he'll now be able to play like the old Marshall instead of an old Marshall. He provides the team with great leadership and knowledge and can carry this offense. Steven Jackson was considered the best back in the NFL Draft. He can run over, around, and through would-be tacklers and is a great receiver. He will be a workhorse in the near future for the Rams, and will be able to give Faulk a rest every now and then this season. Lamar Gordon and Arlen Harris provide great depth, as both are experienced in this offense. Joey Goodspeed emerged from the plethora of fullbacks the Rams brought in last season and will be a dependable lead blocker. Arlen Harris could even see time at fullback as the Robert Holcombe-type.

          BAD: Marshall Faulk isn't getting any younger, and he showed that last season. He had to have surgery on that knee again and could be even more prone to injuries after losing weight this offseason. Steven Jackson is too young to step into this offense right now as an unproven rookie, and his head will be swimming trying to learn Martz's playbook. Lamar Gordon is injury prone and inconsistent as a backup; there's no way the team could rely on him if injuries occur. The only thing Arlen Harris can give the team is three yards and a cloud of dust. Martz as usual ignores the fullbacks, and as a result the Rams really have none worth noting.

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          -08-09-2004, 01:53 PM