Mike McCarthy’s Legacy: Injuries?

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Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy

There is likely a paragraph or two of Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s legacy that has yet to be written —  just to get what is both obvious and understood out of the way. Many times the way one goes out has a lot to do with how they are remembered.

One might say that it is too early to discuss McCarthy’s final legacy. However, consider this not a prediction of what that legacy might be, which would be a inane waste of time, but rather, an analysis of where it is currently headed.

When McCarthy walked out of Jerryworld on the night of February 6th, 2011, he was the fourth head coach in Green Bay Packers’ history to have won an NFL title, and thus his place in Packers’ lore was already set. Clearly he had forever separated himself from the Mike Shermans of yore and entered into territory for which streets and buildings in Green Bay bear your name.

In fact, the comparison with the last coach to bring the trophy back to Green Bay — Mike Holmgren — was striking. When Holmgren was lifted onto the shoulders of his players during a confetti downpour on January 26th, 1997, he too was just finishing his fifth season as head coach. He too had lost an NFC championship game before winning the big prize. He too had taken over a 4-12 team and made it a consistent playoff team after just one season of righting the ship.

However, in some ways, McCarthy’s resume was better. His teams had done it with two different quarterbacks, and his championship team was younger and had overcome a mountain of adversity during its title run, including 18 players on injured reserve and a team record 328 games missed due to injury. With the youth of the team and the number of players coming back from injury, many predicted a dynasty was possible.

What virtually no one predicted was that the injuries would keep coming, but the playoff wins wouldn’t.

Here is a comprehensive list of the Packers’ injuries during Mike McCarthy’s tenure.

YEAR IR Preseason During Season Total Games Missed Total Games Missed by Starters Record
2013 17 5 12 314 108 8-7-1
2012 17 9 8 317 102 11-5
2011 6 2 4 143 60 15-1
2010 18 5 13 328 134 10-6
2009 10 3 7 209 62 11-5
2008 14 7 7 6-10
2007 11 7 4 13-3
2006 14 7 7 8-8

Perhaps because so many players were rested coming into 2011, or because the defense appeared to play specifically to avoid injury, that year was the healthiest one during McCarthy’s tenure with only 143 total games missed, 60 by starters, and six players on IR. It should be no surprise that the team posted their best record during McCarthy’s run, finishing 15-2.

However, that season, more than 2010, now appears to be the aberration. In 2012 and 2013, the Packers returned to the astronomically bad 300+ games missed due to injury mark. They had over 100 games missed by starters both seasons, and almost comically, both years had exactly 172 games missed thanks to IR.

Notice there is little correlation between the number of players on the IR and the team’s record that season. However, clearly, the number of players that have to be put on IR during the season is a more important stat than how many start the season on IR. Notice that the two seasons the Packers only had to put four players on IR during the season were the two best regular seasons during McCarthy’s tenure — 2007 and 2011.

There are a lot of ways to measure injuries, and because of that, you might have heard different media sources report different teams as being the hardest hit by injuries. Don’t believe it. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they also don’t lie.

Here are the top teams the last two years in the category of games missed due to injury.

2013 2012
Packers 314 Packers 317
Panthers 309 Colts 301
Jets 283 Patriots 295
Broncos 275 Jaguars 285
Colts 269 Ravens 272
Patriots 269 Redskins 249
49ers 258 Titans 242

As you can see, the Packers have been the grand champion of games missed due to injury for the last two years running. In fact, the Packers are not only the lone team to clear the 300 mark both seasons, but they did it with room to spare.

Of course, though this is a small sample size, this table makes it pretty clear that bad luck and coincidence aren’t the whole story here. Notice that the Packers, Colts and Patriots are listed both years. Is this partially because injuries from 2012 could have lingered on to affect 2013? Sure. That’s a small factor, but it is also undoubtably a factor how these teams handle their injuries. Are these three teams more likely to sit an injured player? Almost certainly. Are these three teams more likely to use IR to maintain the rights to a player that other teams would have cut? Almost certainly.

However, it should be noted that none of those three teams were in the top 10 for games missed in 2011. That means that how they are handling their injuries and their use of IR isn’t the whole story either. Rather, it is a combination of those factors AND bad luck with injuries. The fact that, unlike the Patriots or Colts, the Packers also topped this dubious list in 2010 suggests that a more chronic problem exists — that there might be something underpinning this apparent bad run with injuries.

Neither I nor McCarthy obviously know what that something is, but it would behoove one of us to find out.

You may have also noticed that the Packers aren’t the only team overcoming injuries. It may seem ironic that six of the top seven in 2013 and five of the top seven in 2012 were playoff teams, but don’t make too much of that. My tabulations include playoffs, which means that the deeper a team went, the more games it played, and therefore the more opportunities to have games missed. If a team had 10 players on IR, for instance, two playoff games meant 20 more games missed. This partially explains why playoff teams top the list.

It is also possible that other successful teams are copying the Patriots/Packers model of handling injuries and IR, which would be no surprise. That is how the NFL operates.

Finally, let’s take a look at the rest of the NFC North in the last 5 seasons.

Packers Total Games Missed Bears Total Games Missed Vikings Total Games Missed Lions Total Games Missed
314 103 137 130
317 117 84 173
143 115 73 171
328 72 109 233
209 119 39 224

Looking at this, it is hard to believe that the Packers are in the same league. The stark contrast between the Packers and their NFC North rivals suggests ALL factors are in play here. It suggests the Packers handle injuries differently, handle IR differently, and have a chronic injury problem.

Remember when this was the “Black and Blue” division? Ha! Only for the Packers!

Props to the Lions, with their own poor history with injuries, for topping the Packers in games missed due to injury for 2011 and 2009. At least someone is.

We see again here that rather than comparisons with other teams, it is the comparison against yourself that is the most important. The year the Packers had their fewest games missed they went 15-1 in the regular season. The year the Bears had their fewest they went 12-4 and to the NFC championship game. And in 2009, when the Vikings went 12-4 and to the NFC championship game, they had their fewest — an unbelievably low 39 games missed due to injury.

So, though injuries can be overcome, there is a definite correlation between being healthy and getting wins.

This all leaves Mike McCarthy and the question of his legacy with a straightforward answer.

I don’t doubt that some nights he leaves his office and heads down a few floors to the Packers Hall of Fame. He goes to the room where the four Lombardi Trophies shine in their cases. He doesn’t necessarily think of his legacy, not yet, but of that one moment of glory and where we’ve gone since. He wonders — how has it all slipped away?

Mike Holmgren left town without ever having to answer the question.

But maybe if Mike McCarthy stands there in the dark and listens closely enough, he’ll hear the whisper.

Solve the problem.


About The Author

Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.

32 Comments on "Mike McCarthy’s Legacy: Injuries?"

  1. Derek

    excellent writeup. All signs to point to what all of us have been saying for a few years. something is wrong in the training room or in the weight room or on the practice field. Overtrained or undertrained, I don’t know but you can’t argue with these numbers.

  2. Phatgzus

    Good work of foot all prose, Monty or Shawn or Angeli (not sure where the author signature is with this confounded mobile version). I will say that, based on these tables that perhaps MM’s legacy is not injuries, but overcoming them (adversity).

    I would also like to formally request a mock draft and/or potential GB draft pick analysis over which we can bitch, disagree, and debase one another. Please and thank you.

    • TyKo Steamboat

      I have loved the NFL draft since I was 10 years old. My dad, brother & I literally treat it as a 3-Day national holiday.

      • Phatgzus

        Didn’t really get into it ’til 3 years ago, sorry to say. Now I love it-another excuse to pay attention to football an extra 3 months, what’s not to love? It definitely makes for a great entertainment event (not too far below the Super bowl and March Madness). That said, the next 2 months are gonna take forever.

    • Savage57

      I’m in.

      Things have gotten pretty goddamn tame around here during the dead-zone. We need some polarizing, lightning-rod stuff like free agency, draft picks and the associated second-guessing to stir the shit pot and jump start the sniping, back-biting and insults.

      Who knows, Monty might even grant PF4L a ‘pardon’.

      So, with that said – fuck off dick bag.

      Let the fun begin.

  3. Cheese

    Holmgren went to the Super Bowl twice after winning it in 96, once with the Seahawks. Lets see if McCarthy can one up him and win another ring or three.

  4. E. Wolf

    Res ipsa loquitor, motherfuckers. This is prima facie evidence that someone in Green Bay is doing something wrong. For fuck’s sake it is high time, far beyond high time, to retain a third-party, independent review to figure out why our Packers are a mash unit every god damn year. I said it last year, and I say it now. Until someone from the outside listens and revamps things, it will continue.
    Consider coaching the same way you consider a student who must master all areas of disciplines. A coach, like a student, can be the very best in several or even most disciplines, but struggle in others. The student (or coach) can try harder, but after a certain period of sustained poor performance, you get a god damn tutor. This is what McCarthy needs to do–he needs to get an expert, or preferably a panel of third party, independent experts to review and investigate EVERYTHING. The training and medical staff, the workout regimens, the training and play surfaces, and whatever else I cannot think of at the moment. THe same pairs of eyes have tried as they might, and it seems things just get worse. Enough.

    • Disposable Hero

      Unfortunately, the team has not made any key changes to the medical or training staff. I will consider the upcoming season in the same shit different day category.

      • Phatgzus

        Well they did fire the assistant strength and conditioning coach, that’s something, right? Dear Father please let that be something.

    • Abe Frohman

      Not only are we hit with injuries, teams like the 49’ers are consistently NOT so plagued. The practices are of the same length and quantity due to the CBA. They play the same number of games. This is as close to a controlled experiment as you’re going to get in real life.

      • E. Wolf

        Yes, and it is happening year after year. One year-ok. Two years, a little less likely that it is just coincidence. THree out of four or four out of five years, the odds become flat out improbable. Perhaps astronomical. It just would not happen, could not happen.
        And that is why they need to bring an independent third-party group of experts to look into this. Our bid to capture more Lombardi trophies during Rodgers may depend on it

    • DJ

      lol. I zoomed in my browser like 10x so I could sit back at my desk and read from afar, was scrolling this thread at Evelyn Wood pace, enjoying the substance, & bypassing the names of the posters….then I get to this one and say to myself “This has got to be E. Wolf!” And sure enough. lol!

      Good stuff, as usual. I totally agree. The problem has passed the boundaries of chance. It is systemic. Get it fucking fixed! Independent review, Independent prosecutor, Congressional inquiry, I dont care. Whatever it takes. There’s a good legacy goal for MM to aspire to right there: Whatever it takes!!

  5. ay hombre

    Well done Shawn as usual. A lot of detail there. Interesting stuff for conversation.

    When it comes right down to it, sometimes I wonder if these guys aren’t more coddled than any other team in the league. There’s no owner coming into the dressing room looking guys in the eye after signing their massive checks in Green Bay. The Packers are almost like government employees…livin’ off the taxpayers.

    Can there be a point when the a Packers do-good, community, family first, “we’re all about the health of our players”, etc. can become a detriment to being a tough team?

    “Oh I hurt my anus but maybe I can play.”
    “No. You shouldn’t risk it. Let’s play it safe and sit you down.”

    It’s a culture created because it is one of the most unique teams in sports. Mike McCarthy didn’t create the problem, but he needs to fix it.

    Maybe the Packers just need someone to go in there and challenge these guys’ manhood more often instead of kissing the booboo and spraying Bactine on it.

    What’s Robert Loggia up to these days?

  6. TyKo Steamboat

    Sons Of McCarthy

    This guy is a top coach in the NFL & with a ring too yet he flies under the radar when “best coaches in the league” are mentioned with only 32 of these positions. There are too many greedy, entitled fans that call for this guy’s head year after year. I will not leave his corner especially knowing all the hurdles he has faced in the face of injury.

    • Phatgzus

      Could not agree more-we’re in the same boat and I’m not worried as long as MM and TT are steering it.

  7. Old Man At The Gym

    On 10/10/2010 I was sitting at Stadium View bar (across the street from Lambeau) After a 16-13 Loss to the Redskins some kid (seeing how pissed off I was) put his arm around me and said, “C’mon bud, we’re gonna play football team”

    Basically its this game where they keep a digital hockey sign score board and every time Mike McCarthy is doing a post game presser and says the word “Football Team” you have to take a shot. Every time he smacks his lips, you have to take a drink of beer. Well he smacks his lips before every damn sentence and he says “Football Team” at least 5 times after every game. I got wasted. Gotta love Big Mike.

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  9. Savage57

    Huzzah, Shawn. Really nice framing of this nettlesome issue for the faithful. Question is, now what will the Packer braintrust do with this information? Because we have to have some modicum of faith that they have this same empirical evidence, but at a 100X granular level.

    Or, has this reached such a point of continuing frustration for MM that he’s reduced to extreme measures?

    I can’t get the picture out of my head of MM showing up for the start of OTA’s, and the players being surprised when they walk into his office and they see a ‘Cerrano-like’ shrine to some rendition of Jobu, with offerings of beer and cheese to keep the bad injury juju at bay this season.

  10. The Money Mike

    Can’t get over the awesome quality of the analysis articles lately. Please tell me the Packers employee somebody to figure this shit out by making nice charts and graphs and data tables and shit lol. If not, and if this is being ignored (it probably is), we’re in deep shit. They should be seeing this and be doing exactly what E. Wolf said. The numbers don’t lie.

  11. rebelgb

    The quality of articles on this site since Shawn has contributed more has surpassed ESPN, CBS SPorts etc… Shawn is better by a long shot than most of the sub par writes on those sites. Props to Monty for giving Shawn more page time.

    This article is phenomenal and one I plan on printing off so I can use it in future discussions with my fellow Packer fans (since this topic comes up very frequently).

    There is definitely an issue in Green Bay and this article clearly points to it. I doubt even the Packers have had this kind of analysis to look at, maybe someone should email this to them.

    My two cents is that Green Bay, starting with Rhodes, has fostered an attitude of “if you dont feel well you dont have to play.” When players are drafted here, or come via free agency I think they learn very quickly that our coaching staff, organization really, is so player friendly that the players can feel comfortable pulling themselves from practice, games, plays, etc..with no push back from management. Basically if you feel your job is safe from the guy behind you, why not take some time off here and there and prolong your career?

    • The Money Mike

      If you have no authority figure to report to that intimidates you and your job/money isn’t on the line and you can get by, why change? (coaches and players alike) It’s human nature to not like change and embrace comfort. Shit flows downhill.

  12. Pastordad

    I think the term used above was undertrained…I am not sure if that is the best way to describe it but given the other comments it looks as if the Packer locker room is getting hit with the wusifcation issues to be sure. In this day and age a Lombardi would not be able to lead his men…we have to coddle these guys or they go to the union or media and scream ” abuse” or some other fallacious claim. Football is what it is…people get hurt…but you must be prepared for getting hit…it is almost as bad as the Marine Corps lowering their standards so that women and others who can’t make the grade can now make the grade. We are so afraid of telling someone they are not good enough that we keep the dead weight and don’t push the others to their full potential. Read the books about Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi…they were loved and hated because they sought to get the full potential…something true leaders do without giving into pressure from the outside.

  13. George "Coco the Monkey" Costanza

    Remember that 2011, the only year we were relatively healthy, was the year with NO OFFSEASON STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PROGRAM. Hmmmmm….
    Hey coach, hey Ted, might there be something to this?

  14. lars

    Injuries and a crappy defense because both he and TT are too damn stubborn to cut bait on Capers, find a replacement for Nick Collins and let go the stiff in the middle of it all at ILB.

  15. DocRon

    Same training and conditioning staff = same poor results. The training and conditioning staff does not have enough diversity in their backgrounds. Need an injury prevention staff with chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, nutritionists, etc. expensive, not really. How many dollars of injured assets are watching from the sidelines? Keep em healthy and win games. Early in my career I was the chiropractor to a semi-pro team. Had phenomenal success. The orthopedic MD woulndn’t even talk to me. Thought I was trying to “show him up”…Just doing my job, and he had an ego issue. MD’s with ego issues are common.

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