One of the signature tenets of the Colts as an organization is the degree in which they set aside time for 'rest' for their players during the off-season. Their off-season conditioning program is not known as a 'grind.' In fact, players can skip the program all together, even the sessions that are mandatory, and still show up Week One as a starter without any repercussions whatsoever.
Just ask Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis.
Yet, despite this program that promotes resting a player's body for the long haul, the Colts have easily been one of the most injured teams since 2006. Sure, lots of team battle injuries, but it seems every year the Colts have to contend with some series of devastating injuries. The injury situation has made the team so paranoid that they quit on an undefeated season last year due in large part to fear that certain key players would get hurt in 'meaningless games.'
The irony is Dwight Freeney was injured during a fairly routine play in the AFC Championship Game last season, and that injury (more than anything else) affected the overall outcome of Super Bowl 44.
Recently, FOX Sports' Alex Marvez discussed the current string of injuries seemingly crippling the NFL. Some of his findings are very eye-opening:
Goodell has preached player safety during his push for an 18-game regular-season schedule beginning in 2012. The NFL commissioner hopes a reduction in offseason workouts and preseason games can help prevent and/or offset some of the injuries inherent in expansion.
But as it stands now, a 16-game docket seems rough enough. Dating back to the offseason, NFL teams have already placed 34 more players on injured reserve through 10 weeks (311) than at this point last year (277). The final numbers will assuredly be the highest since the NFL began playing with 32 teams in 2002.
After the jump, check out what Marvez has to say about the Colts this year. To put it mildly, the injury docket for Indy is damn near depressing, and a potential reason the Colts have more players on IR than any other team in the league is how they handle their off-season conditioning.
For starters, Marvez breaks down the league's teams into four categories: Fit As A Fiddle, Stable Condition, Intensive Care, and Life Support. A team like the Kansas City Chiefs, who are still fighting to stay relevant in the AFC West, is listed as Fit As A Fiddle. The reason:
Head coach Todd Haley’s heavy offseason conditioning push is paying dividends. The Chiefs head into the second half of the season with only five players on injured reserve.
Haley's off-season program was discussed regularly prior to the season, and though his Chiefs are 4-5, the reasons for this record are not injuries.
Now, contrast this with the Indianapolis Colts, who Marvez describes as On Life Support.
A relatively anonymous roster outside of QB Peyton Manning has become even more unrecognizable with an NFL-high 20 players sent to the IR list since the preseason. That doesn’t include Bob Sanders, who may not play again this year after tearing his biceps in the season-opener. It would be understandable if Manning didn’t even know the names of the players he was throwing to lately. The Colts (6-3) have managed to take the AFC South lead, but it’s hard to imagine a second straight Super Bowl appearance with so many players sidelined.
Marvez is correct. The Colts are not a Super Bowl team as currently constructed. Not with these many injuries, and not without Bob Sanders. Indy ain't winning a ring in 2010 with Aaron Francisco as a starting safety.
The key stat in Marvez's Colts section is the 20 players on Indy's IR.
That's over 1/3 of a 53-man roster.
Now, some could say that the Colts being 6-3 and the Chiefs being 4-5 is proof that the Colts off-season conditioning program works better. For me, I'd argue that the Colts having a better record has more to do with Peyton Manning being Indy's QB and Matt Cassell being KC's QB. If you took Peyton Manning and put him on KC's roster, they'd be undefeated right now. Peyton Manning on a depleted and decimated Colts roster is 6-3. Put Cassell on this Indy roster. Do they even win one game?
The injury situation is so bad that we have Colts president Bill Polian going on a radio show like 1070's Dan Dakich Show back on November 4th to seemingly discuss just how injuries have crippled this Colts team. Here's what Polian discussed on the show:
We're really two teams. When we're healthy, assuming at some point that we will get healthy, I think that's a reasonable assumption, I think we're a pretty good team. Right now, we really don't know what we are because we don't know who is going to play from day to day. It's a tribute to our coaching staff that they've gotten this team to play as well as it has for as long as it has. But, if this epidemic of injuries, and that's exactly what it is. It's an epidemic. [If it] continues we can only stretch the rubber band so far. We're on the brink of succumbing to this injury epidemic.
Polian said this three days before medical staff cleaned Austin Collie off the turf at Lincoln Financial Field during a 26-24 loss to the Eagles. Blair White was also injured in that game. So, if this team was 'on the brink' prior to Collie getting knocking into thinking his name is 'Batman,' where is this team now?
In the interview with Dakich, Polian also said that if the team get get as close to being healthy by the Week Twelve match-up with the Chargers, the Colts should be in good shape and would 'have a chance.' So, there is our barometer. If this team is healthy by Nov. 28th, we're OK.
If not, we're screwed. All according to the president of the team.
So, what has caused this 'epidemic' of injuries? Never did I think I'd see anything worse than the injury list the Colts had to contend with in 2007. 2010 has eclipsed it, and then some. Even last year, injuries to Bob Sanders, Anthony Gonzalez, Tyjuan Hagler, and Marlin Jackson limited what this team could do. That's five starters who were not part of the team's playoff roster. This year, entering our annual November meeting with the Patriots, it is possible that eight starters from the opening day roster will not play.
The situation is so bad, some of emailed me asking if Bill Polian is already conceding the game with the Patriots. Read this quote from Polian and tell me how you take it (from this past Monday's The Bill Polian Show broadcast on 1070 and HANK FM):
There is a long way to go in this season. The winner of this game is not guaranteed to go to the Super Bowl, and the loser is not guaranteed to miss the playoffs. It's one game and it's interesting and exciting, but it's only one game with seven to go.
So, we return to the same question: Why are devastating injuries to key players a norm for the Colts year after year? Why does it seem this team is more injured than everyone else?
One NFL employee told me privately that the fault might be with their conditioning program and their training staff. Marvez seems to suggest this in his article. Both Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez participated thoroughly in the program. Both were, essentially, knocked out for the season in Week One. Meanwhile, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne skipped all the off-season activities, and they have yet to miss a game.
Makes you think.
For me, I really can't put my finger on what exactly the problem is, but I do know that there is a problem. In 2007, this team lost starters Anthony McFarland, Dwight Freeney, and Marvin Harrison for either the entire season or for significant chunks of the season. In 2008, Bob Sanders, Kelvin Hayden, Marlin Jackson, Joseph Addai, and Tony Ugoh are just some of many player either knocked out for the season or for several games. Last year, Sanders, Gonzalez, Hagler, and Jackson were all done for the year by November. Prior to the Eagles game, Polian claimed 11 starters would be out.
Is it conditioning? Is it the medical staff? Is Bill Polian simply drafting too many players with a history of injury, like Gonzo, Sanders, and the newly drafted Kevin Thomas?
I personally don't know, but it is something. A team like the Lions (2-7) have 15 people on IR. They might have 16 if Matthew Stafford's shoulder injury ends his 2010 season. The fact that Indy has managed to go 6-3 with 20 players on IR is indeed a tribute to the coaching staff and to Peyton Manning.
But, at some point, someone has to start asking WHY all of these players are spending more time rehabbing and less time helping the team win football games.
Going back to Marvez's article, of the teams listed as Fit As A Fiddle, five of the nine teams listed currently lead their divisions. The other four include the Bills and 49ers, both coached by incompetent idiots. The Cardinals are also tossed in there, but their record is more a result of Kurt Warner retiring than anything else.
Bottom line: The healthy teams win more often than not. Right now, our team isn't healthy and at some point we need to start asking why that is. I'm not one of these people who thinks it is simple 'bad luck' that 20 players land on IR. But, that's just me.