First off, hey everyone! Long time no speak. Like the Eagles and the rest of the NFL is about to wake from its summer slumber, here I am risen from my absence to talk about the team we all love.
I was inspired to write because of a thought I had while reading some of the stories about the start of Eagles training camp. I was reminiscing about training camps past and thinking of what I would always be looking for (other than this) as I stood there on the sidelines of Lehigh (pour one out for Lehigh!) and I finally came to a conclusion about the thing that matters more than anything through training camp and preseason...
Just don't get hurt.
We all know from the list of former Na Brown award winners that guys will pop up and look really good in camp but not amount to much after that. We've seen the Eagles look kinda messy in preseason but go on to have solid years. Looking good in camp or looking like anything in preseason often isn't a major indicator of regular season success (I will say though, that looking bad in camp is often a bad sign).
When I'm looking over the practice reports, the first thing I'm doing is skimming past the "Jordan Matthews is catching everything!" and "Nick Foles threw 3 interceptions in the afternoon!" headlines and going straight to the injury report. Because while I won't say that's all that matters, it's what matters most.
The correlation between injuries and losing in the NFL is strong. Long time readers of BGN will recognize this passage from a 2009 New York Times article on the subject that I've referenced often.
Injuries played a huge role in determining success in 2008. Of the 10 healthiest teams in the league by H.G.L. (History Adjusted Games Lost), seven made the playoffs, including the surprising seasons enjoyed by Atlanta (second-healthiest team in the league), Carolina (third), Miami (fourth), Tennessee (sixth) and Arizona (eighth). Meanwhile, only 2 of the 10 most-injured teams in the league made the playoffs: Indianapolis (sixth-most-injured team in the N.F.L.) and Baltimore (seventh).
While we attribute much of the Eagles success last season to the genius of Chip Kelly and the emergence of Foles, let's also not forget that they were among the healthiest teams in the leauge, which played no small part in that success. Kansas City also finished as one of the healthiest and guess who else had a big bounce back season last year?
When injuries do happen in preseason or camp, you'll undoubtedly see fans or journalists claim that they are better to have happened before the season while a team still has time to prepare, but in reality the opposite is true. Not only are the options for replacement basically just as limited in preseason as they are in the regular season, you're also losing more games from a superior player.
Last year, the Eagles really got lucky when Jeremy Maclin was their only notable training camp injury and Riley Cooper stepped up to have a career year (as did DeSean Jackson). With the WR corps looking more shallow in terms of NFL ready experience this season, a similar injury would be a lot tougher to take this time around.
The Eagles also benefitted from the rarest of injury related luck where they lost their starting QB to injury and got better. That almost never happens. Losing your starting QB often means game over for your season and it almost certainly would for the Eagles this time around. They won't be that lucky twice.
Finally, while we all marveled at the many articles last year on sports science, smoothies and navy seals... we also have to admit that the Eagles got pretty lucky on the injury front. As I said a few times last year, I'm willing to buy that new workout methods and sports science can play a part in preventing the kind of nagging injuries like hamstring pulls that cost games... but no smoothie is going to help you if this happens (warning - Leonard Weaver).
While DeSean Jackson's career year likely benefitted from Chip Kelly's system, it also helped that no one did this to him either. Again, sports science isn't likely to be much of a help there...
What worries me knowing how healthy the Eagles were last year are the studies that show how health often regresses to a mean in the NFL. Again, I'll reference that NY Times article based on the Football Outsiders injury study.
There is little year-to-year correlation in a team's H.G.L., and although some teams have a superior medical staff and related facilities, injuries are often traumatic, unexpected and uncontrollable. The average team records 51.7 H.G.L. in a given season; from 2001 through 2007, the 10 healthiest teams averaged 12.6 H.G.L. in their "healthy" year to 43.1 H.G.L. in the subsequent season. The 10 most-injured teams went from 98.2 H.G.L. in their lost year to 66.2 H.G.L. in the subsequent season. The 10 healthiest teams gave up an average of about one victory just by regressing to the mean, while the 10 most-injured teams gained about one win.
These are just trends for the whole league over time and no guarantee the Eagles are likely to suffer more injuries this season, it certainly gives me pause and it's my main concern about this team as we head into this new season. We have an old offensive line, a defense with little depth and a major reliance on a single offensive superstar.
It's hardly a concern unique to the Eagles, but this is what I'll be keeping my eye on over the next month. If this is a healthy camp, it will have been a successful camp. So cross fingers, click your heels together and repeat after me...
Just don't get hurt...