In the Training Room: How the Colts’ Injuries Compare to the Packers’

It seems the Redskins were kryptonite for the Packers as well, as TE Jermichael Finley is carted off the field after injuring his knee in Week 5.

Tomorrow, the Green Bay Packers will be in Chicago to take on the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.  The media have highlighted the Packers’ long injury list (15 players on IR), and earlier this week Football Outsiders published a games-lost-by-starters statistic showing that the Pack lost a total of 83 starter-games in 2010.  The statistic also estimates that the Colts lost 89 starter-games – a significant number to be sure, but not significantly more than the Packers.  It’s fair to wonder why the Packers have been able to recover enough from injuries to make it to the NFCCG, while the Colts are watching the rest of the playoffs on TV.  This post offers a perspective.

I had originally wanted to compare an average depth chart estimate for each team (i.e., Colts on IR were on average at #2.5 on the depth chart versus the Packers were on average #2.8).  Unfortunately, it is difficult to know where everyone would be on the depth chart when healthy.  And while I was fairly confident in my estimates for the Colts (thanks to Greg Cowan, aka SpazMo, for his help there!), I could not get a similarly confident estimate for the Packers. Instead, I took the more traditional route of looking at the starters, and focused on those who landed on IR.  Note that this does not take into consideration those players who sat out a significant number of games (Addai, Brackett).  I estimate that the Colts eventually lost 8 starters to IR, while the Packers have lost 7… again, not a significant difference.  But then I looked closely at where those starters were lost. The Colts lost 4 starters from the secondary (Sanders, Hayden, Powers, Bullitt), 3 skill players on offense (Clark, Collie, Gonzalez), and 1 LB (Session).  By contrast, the Packers’ losses were not so concentrated – they lost 2 linebackers (Barnett, Jones), 2 offensive skill players (Finley, Grant), 1 OL (Tauscher), 1 DL (Neal) and 1 SS (Morgan).  With the concentration of players lost to two key positions in the Colts’ schemes (WR/TE on offense, and the secondary in a base Cover-2 alignment), it’s no wonder that in the end they did not have the parts to plug in and keep playing. This is not to denigrate the Packers’ accomplishments.  The loss of key players like TE Jermichael Finley and RT Mark Tauscher have certainly impacted the offense; and in a 3-4 defense they definitely miss DE Mike Neal and LB Nick Barnett.  The difference is the number of injuries to a given position and its impact on a team’s ability to develop consistency and open up the play book.  Jake Crocker wrote a fantastic analysis highlighting the relationship between injuries and consistent formations, and there’s no doubt that both the Colts and Packers have had to overcome multiple change-ups throughout the season.  However, had the Colts’ injuries been a little more distributed across the positions (as they were last year), it’s possible that they could still be playing this weekend.

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