What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

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Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

Data 1

However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

Some have even blamed the players themselves; with every player being a top tier physical specimen these days, some have argued that players are too tightly wound up and too muscled for their own good.  My personal opinion is that the Packers abnormally high injury rate is more to do with a very conservative medical staff that would rather keep a player out a game longer than throw him in a game early than actually having an actual higher injury rate than the league average.

Football Outsiders recently released their Adjusted Games Loss (AGL) metric that tries to quantify the amount of injuries a team sustains over a season.  Naturally, more important players are weighted more than less important players; losing a starter will net a higher AGL than a 3rd string backup.  Furthermore, players who are listed on the injury report but do end up playing also contribute to the AGL under the assumption that even if the player makes it onto the field it will be at a reduced capacity.  Interestingly, 7 out of the 10 most injured teams made it into the playoffs while only 3 of the least injured teams did the same.

My initial presumption would have been that AGL and wins would be very strongly negatively correlated; the more injured the team, the more “new” pieces have to be fit in which may not work exactly like the original and the more the team must deviate from what they do best (for instance trying to fill Aaron Rodgers shoes with Matt Flynn lead to a significant change in offensive philosophy).  To test this, I used Football Outsiders AGL data from the last 4 years and correlated it with the number of games a team won.

AGL vs. wins

In actuality, there is no correlation between the number of wins and the number of injuries over the last 4 years with the coefficient of correlation (r squared) being .04451.   To put this in perspective a r squared value of 1 means complete correlation while a score of 0 means there is no correlation.  Plenty of teams have had incredibly healthy seasons and failed miserably while other like the Packers have been hammered with injury after injury while still managing to field a competitive team.  I should mention that there is a slight negative relationship between AGL and wins, hence why the best fit line has a negative slope but the variation among teams and injuries is so wide that it ends up being not correlated.  Nevertheless, the equation for AGL and wins is AGL=-1.625*wins+77.73.  Essentially, this means that the Packers who had an AGL of about 100 in the last 4 years outside of 2011 (58.7) could have expected to win maybe 1 more game if they had a more average AGL.

There are a couple of possible explanations for why injuries don’t really effect wins.  The first might be that the “replacement parts” for successful teams are better fits than less successful teams.  One of the Packers mantras over the last couple years has been “next man up” and some of the replacements have had stunning results.  Jarrett Boykin, David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay played significant time and were significant factors in the Packers 2013 season.  This ties in back to draft since it allows Ted Thompson to pick the best players that fit his model as opposed to free agents who often became successful under a different system and thus may not be able to replicate the success that got them the big contract to start out with.

Another possibility is that the nature of the injury report causes discrepancies in the metric.  The Packers are famous for their conservatism when it comes to pulling players for injuries while the Patriots are famous for basically blowing off the injury report with instances of players being on the injury report the entire season but playing every game.  From the Packers’ perspective, they may feel like they can still win the majority of football games even without their star players and hence are protecting their investment by holding them out.  Arguably Aaron Rodgers is the red herring exception to that rule, but quarterbacks operate under their own set of realties which everyone is well aware of.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is that in actuality injuries happen to every franchise and its the teams that adapt the best who keep winning games.  Injuries have been going up steadily over the 4 years and some of that probably comes from the NFL’s new vigilance on concussions but a lot of it has to do with the game getting faster and the players getting stronger.  Nevertheless, teams on average experience and injury rate of 63 AGL, which is a lot of time players aren’t playing at their full capacity.  Obviously well run franchises (like the ones who often make the playoffs) have contingency plans in place and a stable organizational structure that allows players to get the treatment and rehabilitation they need to get back on the field while less organized teams falter in having a plan B, possibly by sending out players back on to the field too quickly or trying to hide the injury because they have no choice.

In conclusion, can Packers fans really blame injuries for why the Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have a 2nd Super Bowl ring?  Probably not, keep in mind the Packers have reached the playoffs every time in the last 4 years while fielding one of the most beat up units in the entire NFL.  I’ve always argued that fans in general have tunnel vision when it comes to injuries, while the vast majority of fans know that the Packers were a very injured team last year, do they know how injured the Kansas City Chiefs or the Indianapolis Colts were in 2013?  Does the effect of Aaron Rodgers breaking his clavicle compare to Reggie Wayne tearing his ACL?

As a Packers fan I can say I don’t know much or care much about the Chiefs or the Colts and while I knew about Wayne’s injury due to playing fantasy football, it’s not like I felt much when hearing the news.  Compare that to the mass panic and outrage when Aaron Rodgers or Randall Cobb were injured.  I think the most important thing to remember is that injuries affect every team, some greater than others, but it’s those that can rise above their injuries that keep their chances for a Super Bowl alive.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.


39 thoughts on “What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

  1. Great data analyzing the entire NFL as it relates to the injury effect on competitiveness. However, it doesn’t isolate other, influencing ‘suckiness factors’ that impact teams that are perennial losers and skews any conclusions you might be able to gather from the data.


    Take the injury data and apply it in a more granular level exclusively to the playoff teams over a range of years and see how the injury factor affects competitiveness against a base (having made the playoffs) and how teams fare each subsequent game in relation to the delta on +/- AGL as the post-season progresses.

    It might reveal that there is a health-related component among the teams that consistently qualify for post-season play and who ultimately carries the season.

    1. Obviously “suckiness” factors do play a role, and arguably consistently terrible teams like the Browns have had terrible seasons regardless of AGL. This kind of highlights my point that AGL is probably not all that important in the grand scheme of things.

      The one issue I have is that the amount of data you would be looking at if you restricted it to only playoff games, especially when you consider that half of the teams don’t play the next week. For instance, if a player gets hurt and their team loses, no real observations can be made, you’d also probably have to take out the Super Bowl as well since there is a bigger gap where players can get healthy compared to other games (not to mention 1st round byes as well)

  2. Good job Thomas. The nature of many of our injuries seemed to escape many of the fans. I am not sure how you train against the broken bones and torn muscle injuries that took down the majority of our lost game casualties. Complaining about the strength and conditioning staff is both unfair and fruitless.

    My biggest injury concern is our O-line. The lost time has been significant and forced us cobble together O-lines for the past three years. It would be nice to get a full season out of Bulaga, Sherrod, Tretter and the guards. 16 games together would make a big difference and yield a pretty special unit.

    1. I would say player’s physicality has definitely past the ability of doctors and coaches to really prevent injuries; just looking at the offensive line, Jerry Kramer, maybe the best guard to play for the Packers or anyone else only weight 245lbs and spent the offseason basically getting fat and lazy (football was not a year long job back then). At this point, Kramer probably wouldn’t have been drafted based on weight alone.

      As for the offensive line continuity, I’d actually say last year was pretty good, especially if you exclude Bulaga’s injury (and you might as well considering it happened so early).

  3. According to the wonderful metric provided by football outsiders, the only year the Packers aren’t in the last three spots (30-32) for injuries in the past 5 years is the 2011-2012 season when they went 15-1 ranking 16th in AGL. Maybe there isn’t a correlation as a whole but you can’t say this doesn’t raise an eyebrow or two. The year they finish middle of the league in injuries, the Pack go 15-1.
    How about the 2012-2013 year? The Packers (32) lost in the playoffs to San Fran (1).
    The thing to keep in mind is that this is an attempt to quantify stardom in players. No one has any idea how players could have performed if they were healthy. But we all know what how the backups performed with injuries of their own (See Mulumba with an injured leg walking after Kaep.)
    This doesn’t take into account teams doing different things against an opponent because they’re minus a star.
    This doesn’t take into account leadership lost when a player can’t take the field.
    It’s an ok metric, but there is so much that goes into a player being injured in the NFL you can’t just look at the individual being lost in a game of 11 on 11.

    1. While it’s easy to make the assumption that the reason why the Packers went 15-1 is because they weren’t injured, it’s only one data point and when taken in context of the league it’s highly unlikely that this was the major factor. Also when you think about it, 15-1 and 11-5 are identical when it comes to getting into the playoffs, the 15-1 Packers lost in the first round to the Giants just like they did to the 49ers the year after.

      I would argue that this metric is better than just quantifying stardom since it incorporates DYAR values into their metric, basically weighing players with higher DYAR and who are listed as starters as opposed to players who typically post lower DYAR and have more of a backup role.

  4. Some injuries are to be expected but the large amount of Ham string injuries would indicate conditioning. I noticed that in the preseason last year MM did not play the starter much. Did that save them or hurt them? Basic stretching before a game seems to be a thing of the past. I remember seeing entire teams on the field stretching. Also I think too much guarantied money can lead to players not playing through injuries like they did in the past it would be like calling in sick when you aren’t feeling 100 percent.

    1. Great article and great responses. I’m not sure however that injuries have no impact on winning. First, you suggest that the Packers may have had one more win if their AGL were more normal. One more win would get them farther into the playoff or into the playoffs in a bad year. Also, the injuries hinder the development of units. Playing as a unit e.g., O-line or DBs,develops trust and awareness. For example, one of the biggest knocks on our defensive backfield is communication, but having to substitute for injured players hinders the development of communication. Same with the O-line.

      1. This possibilities are all true, the issue is that every other team is also experiencing the same issues based on injury. Yes, other teams aren’t seeing as many injuries as the Packers but are still seeing injuries nevertheless.

    2. I’d argue that it’s the other way around, with so much money being thrown at players, everyone is under pressure to play hurt. Also when you factor in how many players file for bankruptcy within 3 years of playing in the NFL only proves that players want more money, and the only way to get that is to play more.

      As for stretching, I still think that’s a common practice among teams and for holding starters out of preseason I would assume that it’s mostly two-fold, one is protecting your investment and the other is also to see what kind of backup and developmental players you have.

    3. Actually, scientific studies have shown that stretching has absolutely no effect whatsoever on preventing muscle injuries. That’s a commonly held myth.

      Stretch before athletic activity if it makes you feel more limber, but it won’t prevent your pulling a hamstring.

  5. I would love to see a healthy Packer team. Our offensive line is the area that we have had to scramble and I believe that we have done an admirable job dealing with the injuries. A healthy and confident O line is intimidating, especially with an elite quarterback and running back. If we can score 35 points per game, we can give up a bunch on defense.

    1. I think this is a common problem for all NFL teams; there’s no other position on the football field that is so linked with the players around them. If a wide receiver gets hurt the effect on the other wide receivers is minimal compared to the effect of losing a offensive linemen.

  6. As far as the Packers are concerned, we won’t know how much injuries have an impact on the team (except for losing AR) until we see them make it through an injury free season. The fact that the Packers have been successful in spite of all of their injuries speaks to their coaches, their drafting and their weekly preparation process for each game. As for preventing or reducing injuries I am not sure what can be done other than returning to real grass fields and players who play at 1960’s speed. Those days and games are long gone. Injury free in 2014! Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    1. There’s basically no way that the Packers or any other team for that matter will every play a season injury free. A team may have more or less injuries compared to previous seasons or compared to the league as a whole, but every team has injuries. It’s really how teams overcome their injuries that probably plays a significant factor in how well that team performs.

      1. Thomas – I agree that it is unlikely that a team will have an injury free season. But what I am saying is that if the Packers can have a season where a few players miss just a few games (instead of 6, 8, 10 or the season) along the way we will have a better chance to evaluate or measure what this team can accomplish if they stay on the field. That extra win that you mentioned might mean a first round bye. What would a first round bye mean to this team if they were healthy rather than the walking wounded that they have been in the playoffs the last few years? Be nice to find out. Maybe the defense gets some consistency in their play if they remain relatively healthy for the season. Be nice to find out. Maybe the special teams get some consistency and help win the field position battle. Be nice to find out. The last few seasons we suffer through ridiculous injuries and hope the team can find a way to hang on and make the playoffs, and of course beat the Bears. Injuries impact consistency, lack of consistency results in mistakes, mistakes lose games and get more people hurt. The Packers need to stop that cycle. When and if they do, Look Out NFL! Thanks, Since ’61

        1. Based on the data, it would appear that fielding a healthier team would likely have a minimal effect. For instance, the Packers had their healthiest season in 2011 (and went 15-1) but keep in mind the defense (which was also relatively healthy) produced the statistically worst season in the history of the NFL (only to be broken the year after by the Saints). Then in 2012, injuries again plagued the Packers but the defense rose up to be ranked 8th according to football outsiders.

          1. You point would have more impact if 2011 hadn’t been the year Nick Collins went down in Week 2.

            Its not how may players get hurt, its who (exactly) gets hurt. Rodgers, Matthews, Collins are/were more important to success than others.

            1. This metric does take this into account, more important players are weighted more when counting AGL, I’d argue that outside of maybe the quarterback this will account for the issue that you stated. It still needs to be said that the 2011 team was very healthy even with the loss of Collins.

  7. It’s gotten to the point that I just expect the Packers to never field there entire preferred starters for a game. The injury problem has been so bad lately that I have become immune to the frustration of losing starters on a weekly basis, I now actually expect it. The injury problem has been ridiculous, what happened? Just think how awesome it would be if the Packers had a relatively injury free season. It just seems that’s a pipe dream. But, as long as Rodgers can stay healthy, all is good.

    1. Keep in mind every team gets injured, yes the Packers have been injured more than any other team over the past couple of years, but the league as a whole averages 63 AGL, so it works both ways. Imagine how much worse the season would have been for the Packers if say the Falcons or Cowboys hadn’t been injured as well.

  8. By the way , even though your matrix correlates injuries to not losing, i can’t help but to think that the Packers would have won the playoff game against the niners last year if Matthews, Shields, Hayward, Jolly, Neal, Bulaga and Finley would have all been healthy for the game.

    1. It’s possible, but I can’t think of any way to accurately predict this. To be honest, the Packers were basically a last second field goal away from winning that game anyways, so there are a multitude of plays or players that might have made a difference.

      1. What you (or someone) would need to do is measure the AGL for playoff teams as it applied to the playoffs. That would seem to be easy enough numbers to crunch, though getting a big enough sample size might be an issue unless you did it for, say, a 10-year period.

        Of course, that wouldn’t answer the question about differing approaches — if the Packers are more conservative in holding injured players out of games, their results still might not be that much different from teams that allow injured players to return earlier but with somewhat degraded individual performance.

        But since the conventional wisdom is that teams that are healthy late in the season *should* do better in the playoffs, the AGL for playoff games would still be worth checking.

        1. I would say this might be next to impossible for the reasons you stated (not enough N). The reason is that the NFL did change their rules/guidelines for injury reporting a couple years back that made it more stringent on what types of injuries were reported. Also, the types of injuries themselves would also change, for instance concussions were almost never reported 10 years ago as opposed to now.

          I would expect that if you narrowed down the analysis to just playoff teams you’d likely see the same result, keep in mind 7 out of the 10 most injured teams this year made it to the playoffs as opposed to 3 out of 10 for the most healthy. There are too many factors (likely more important than injury) that affect a teams performance.

      2. What you (or someone) would need to do is measure the AGL for playoff teams as it applied to the playoffs. That would seem to be easy enough numbers to crunch, though getting a big enough sample size might be an issue unless you did it for, say, a 10-year period.

        Of course, that wouldn’t answer the question about differing approaches — if the Packers are more conservative in holding injured players out of games, their results still might not be that much different from teams that allow injured players to return earlier but with somewhat degraded individual performance.

        But since the conventional wisdom is that teams that are healthy late in the season *should* do better in the playoffs, the AGL for playoff games would still be worth checking.

  9. The only injury that harms the Packers to any real detriment is Rodgers as has been witnessed last season.

    Even when Nelson,Jennings,Cobb and the mighty Finley have been lost,the sinkhole that opened was no where near the size of the loss of Rodgers.

    I’m not saying anything about the metrics in the article since I haven’t a clue what its about but,when it comes to the defensive side of the ball,the sinkhole of poor play is as vast no matter the player injured,half healthy or lost for the season,which proves there is no Rodgers on that side to keep it afloat to expected level and that includes Matthews especially.

    Whether other teams file bogus reports of injury or have special yoga gurus aiding their stretching behind closed doors,the fact is they have back up talent that doesn’t need a 40′ ladder to get to playing level of the field.

    As Since’61 says,real proof of effect injuries have on the team via certain players or any of them,would be more beneficial if any of these guys can play a full season or close to it, and if they can give us more than the once in a while ooh and aah play and then not disappear again to the sideline for weeks under what ever injury offered for it.

    Injuries are a concern for all teams but it appears perhaps that the Packers place players on the injury list more often and for longer periods than many other teams and that may be due to the regretful equal quality of talent between team A and team B…which is deemed low on the defensive side.

    1. I’d would argue while obviously having healthy players would likely be a positive effect in terms of winning games, it doesn’t seem to have a very strong correlation, especially when you consider that other teams are getting injured as well. The data seems to support that a winning games and fielding a healthy team aren’t very related and the Packers echo that statement, as they have been one of the most beaten up units in the NFL but have fielded a competitive team through out that time. Would they be even more competitive if they were more healthy? Yes but the effects appear to be minimal at best.

  10. More important than the number of injuries is who the injuries happen to. If they happen to a premier player at an important position obviously it affects the team a lot more than if a few marginal starters are lost.

    We all saw what happened w/ Rodgers out, same might be said for losing Matthews or Jordy.

    But how much would it really affect the team if Hawk, Tramon and Bahktiari were lost. That wouldn’t hurt nearly as much as a playmaker would, especially on at a position that might lack depth.

    1. This idea is incorporated into their metric, the specifics as far as I know have never been elucidated but football outsiders uses their own performance metrics as well as playing time to measure AGL, so losing Rodgers will result in a higher AGL than losing Davon House for instance. I believe your argument about the level of replacement players is valid and I did mention this in the article.

  11. There’re probably too many variables to really determine correlation. I’d like to see how Football Oustiders (FO) determine who qualifies for AGL. How do they decide which non-starters are important enough to qualify, and do they ensure there is equal amount of qualified players per team. For instance, if successful teams tend to have more guys that FO considers to be key reserves, then it would stand to reason that they would be more likely to have a higher AGL number. It’s also be nice if they developed a weighting system depending on the position that was injured (perhaps using average position salary for NFL starters, not counting guys on their rookie deal). Obviously, an injury to the QB affects a team alot more than an injury to a Guard yet the metric used treats them as the same.

    The other problem is that injury reporting and caution has increased during the span of the 4-year sample size. League average AGL has risen by 38% between 2010 and 2013. So 1 AGL in 2010 might be worth 1.4 AGL in 2013 if things were reported the same. The sample is kind of nonhomogenous.

    1. I believe that footballoutsiders explains their mnethodology in the articles on their website, http://www.footballoutsiders.com.

      (Sorry, I can’t post a direct link from the compputer I am using, but maybe someone else can. In any case, this year’s article should still be available from their home page.)

      1. They don’t go into detail, unless it’s on one of the old/original AGL articles. all they say is:

        “With Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric, we are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles:
        1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements and important situational reserves matter more than injuries to bench warmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why Adjusted Games Lost is based not strictly on whether the player is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player’s listed status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable or probable).”

        I would need more specifics to determine how exactly they arrive at their numbers.

        1. I would argue that while they haven’t released the how they make the metric, you can still assess the accuracy of the metric. If you feel like overall the metric does a decent job of portraying injuries per team compared to others then I think you can use the metric. Personally, I do feel like the metric is fairly accurate. 2010 and 2013 have similar AGLs for the Packers but there were more injuries in 2010 but more significant injuries (i.e. Rodgers) in 2013.

    2. I believe they do include their DYAR metric in AGL scoring, obviously there will always be observational bias (if a player is on the field, how hurt is he really and how do you score AGL then) but assuming that the observer is not biased towards a particular team this should be the same for all teams. Also just be looking at the AGL table, I would agree that its a pretty accurate assessment, the Packers and the Giants were injured all year while Kansas City had barely any injuries.

  12. Strength and Conditioning Coaches… what would be included in their job description? Obviously you cannot blame All injuries on conditioning, however, I would be willing to bet that the extra injuries the Packers sustain over any other team falls on the strength and conditioning coaches. I would also be willing to bet that no one in the organization would have the ballsack to fire any of those coaches. At some point maybe the coaches themselves will do the noble thing and just step down and let someone more competent take over. Wonder what Vince would do…

    1. Vince would let his players smoke and drink in the locker room before a game.

      As for what exactly strength and conditioning coaches do, I would tell you to bother Stroh as he probably knows more about it than I do. But generally, strength and conditioning coaches are there to make sure players get optimal training while also making sure players are in a position to recover quickly from injuries. I however would not blame strength and conditioning coaches for injuries on the field (maybe injuries in the weight room). For instance, what could a strength and conditioning coach done to prevent Aaron Rodgers from breaking his clavicle? Or the concussion that Eddie Lacy or Jermichael Finley sustained. Or the broken leg that Randall Cobb suffered? Or Clay Matthews’ broken hand?

      1. I agree there is nothing they could do about the broken bones. It’s the hamstrings, groins, etc. As far as Vince, I bet he would have no problem firing a coach that wasn’t doing his job.

        1. But if the major injuries of the past season weren’t hamstrings and groins but broken bones and concussions, can you really say a strength and conditioning coach wasn’t doing his job? His job can’t help players in that regard so why should he be penalized for it?

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