Injuries. The St. Louis Rams have been synonymous with injured player season after season, an epidemic that spans coaching staffs and trainers. Last season marked a new high, or low as it were, for injuries. The 2012 edition of the Football Outsiders Almanac puts the numbers in shocking perspective and offers a few thoughts on the season ahead.
The Rams had a total of 110 Adjusted Games Lost last season, the second-highest mark since FO has been keeping score. Injury distribution was uneven, despite an overall number that signals more than enough misery to go around.
The offense suffered 66.6 AGL, with only the running backs being spared on alarming rates of injury. Only four offensive lines lost more games to injury last season. That was nothing compared to what happened to the receivers, who suffered 35.7 AGL last season, the highest mark in the NFL for the second year in a row.
On defense, the Rams had a 43.5 AGL, only five teams had a higher number in 2011. Recall that most of those injuries happened in the secondary, where the team was forced to use street free agents by year's end.
Injury numbers look ever starker when mapped out across the 2011 scheduled, which was also the most difficult in the league. In their first nine games, the Rams had 0.9 AGL on average. During their 0-7 streak to end the season, the Rams averaged 5.7 AGL per game, which as FO puts it is kind of like "playing 22-on-16."
A freakish number of injuries last year should signal a return to the mean in 2012, right? Not so fast. The Rams have a long precedent of freakishly high rates of injuries. Over the last five years, the Rams have topped 400 AGL, a record. From FO:
Even more troubling is the fact that St. Louis's five-year run of injuries has persisted through personnel changes of all sorts, including two head coaches, two general managers, and two head trainers. After averaging 78.2 AGL in the final three years with longtime head athletic trainer Jim Anderson, they've averaged 83.4 AGL in two years with Reggie Scott in that role. For their two most-injured position groups, maintaining health over the past five seasons has been like playing a marathon game of Whac-A-Mole; seven different linemen and eight different pass catchers have finished the season on IR. Injury totals generally regress towards the mean, but there's no doubt that some teams have a better record of health than other teams, and with a profile like this, the Rams simply can't count on a large health-powered rebound.
Well, that's not encouraging. As someone who has chronicled the Rams during that woeful stretch, I have a couple of thoughts on the matter.
The 2007 Rams were an aging roster, and through 2009, the team was dependent on players who consistently were injured. On the offensive line, names like Mark Setterstrom come to mind. Then you have Marc Bulger a mediocre player to begin with who was battered because of a poor offensive line that was often injured itself.
In 2009, the Rams started a rebuilding process, leaving them with a high number of fringe players being counted on to fill the depth chart and even work as starters. That kind of thing becomes part of a cycle, injuries beget injuries.
A front office that will never be remembered for its personnel acumen brought in players that contributed to the problem. Look at Jason Smith, who has mostly been a reminder for why the NFL needed a rookie wage scale. He missed half his rookie season and plenty more in the years since, not to mention the fact that he isn't a very good player. Unfortunately, he's one tasked with blocking, and when he is doing a poor job, it exposes the rest of the team. When he's off the field with an injury, the Rams have to use the cheaper depth they've acquired with the same poor eye for talent. Add Danario Alexander to the list. The continued failure find a receiver forced the Rams to lean on a talented guy with five knee surgeries.
Will all of this change in 2012? Hopefully, but the roster is still filled with a number of players who have suffered injury issues in the past.