In Part 1, I advocated for the Packers to pay heed to the past health histories of all players they might want to acquire. In Part 2, I listed three more factors to consider when acquiring or utilizing players. In this segment, I’m providing several additional tips that should aid in reducing the number of injuries that Green Bay has been experiencing.
Quick Pass Game
Back in February, I wrote that Aaron Rodgers had one of slower release times among current NFL quarterbacks – he throws his passes on average 2.95 seconds after he gets the snap – that’s 35th in the league. Here are some other well-known names: Ben Roethlisberger, 2.55 (2nd); Drew Brees, 2.59 (4th), and Tom Brady, 2.61 (7th).
These three players prove that you can win by being a quick-release passer. There’s also evidence it can be good for a QB’s health. In his 11 years as a starter, Aaron has missed 18 games due to injury. In 17 such years, Brees has missed only nine starts.
In 18 such years, Brady has missed 23 starts – but 15 of those came in the season opener in 2008, when he tore both his ACL and MCL. By my timing, Brady held the ball for six seconds on the play, allowing Chiefs’ safety Bernard Pollard to get back on his feet after being flattened, and lunge low into Brady.
In 15 years, Big Ben has missed 24 starts, and most of these came earlier in his career when he was more reckless and more often strayed from the pocket.
The Packers quarterbacks (mostly Rodgers) took 102 QB hits in 2018. Drew Brees and the Saints incurred 52 hits. By his style of play, Rodgers exposed himself to just about twice as many hazards as has Brees. More hazards = more injuries = more missed games = fewer wins.
Proper Tackling Technique
I’ve long advocated that Packers coaches teach their defensive players, and particularly the defensive backs, the best and safest way to make tackles. Defenders who tackle haphazardly often get concussed when they lead with their head. Players who try to tackle bigger players up high often get injured when struck by the other player’s helmet or shoulders. Tackling right at the knee also invites injury.
The best – and safest – places to tackle a person are around the thighs, the waist, or below the knees.
Not knowing what I’d find, I looked up stats on Willie Wood, the soundest tackler I’ve ever witnessed. Willie was 5’10” and weighed 190. He played exclusively for the Packers, from 1960 to 1971, and is in the Packers’ Hall of Fame. Drum roll please: in his 11 years as a starter, he never missed a game. He tackled by the book, and in doing so he avoided injuries – despite his small stature.
As of December 14 last season, Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner led the league in solo tackles – and he had just one missed tackle on the year. The next closest defender had seven misses. Watch this 6’ 245-pound linebacker if you want to see great tackling technique. Wager has only missed two games in the last four years – one was for a pectoral strain and the other for a hamstring strain.
Throwing into coverage
Some quarterbacks get a reputation for leading receivers right into defenders with their passes- an extreme health hazard for receivers. Though it’s illegal to hit such a defenseless player, that doesn’t hold back many defenders.
Aaron Rodgers gets an A+ on this. In his whole career, I can count the times on one hand that he’s put a receiver is such jeopardy.
Coming Back Too Soon from an Injury
Over the past decade, I recollect any number of times that a Green Bay player was sent back out on the field without properly healing from an injury. Many of these players of course re-injured themselves, and some turned a minor ailment into a serious injury. Below are just a few recent examples.
Eddie Lacy, who had a history of ankle sprains, rib contusions, and groin strains, was continually allowed back onto the field when injured – and it only made his injuries worse, and recovery more prolonged.
In 2017, Ty Montgomery broke his ribs in Week 4. He returned in Week 6 as a backup. In Week 10 he came in when Aaron Jones injured his knee. Guess what – he re-injured his ribs, eventually was placed on IR, and while on IR he underwent surgery on his wrist.
In Week 5 of 2013, Clay Matthews broke his right thumb. After missing four games, he returned in November wearing a protective “club” cast. He wore a smaller glove-type protector as the season went on, until he fractured the thumb again in the next to the last game of the season.
In 2018, Trevor Davis almost immediately went on IR with a hamstring injury. He was re-activated on November 15. On December 1 he was placed back on IR after suffering another hamstring injury.
Too many Packers players to mention have returned from hamstring injuries only to re-injure themselves and worsen their conditions.
For many years, the Packers have followed a custom of having all five of its offensive linemen play every offensive snap of the season if possible. At the least, they ought to give these heavyweights an occasional blow, especially when the outcome of the game is decided.
Should a player be injured in the final minutes of a game that has been decided, wouldn’t it be preferable to have it be a sub, not a starter?
I’ll be watching to see if the Packers’ mostly new coaching and front office people will adopt injury-reduction strategies, such as the ones I’ve presented. If they have the attitude that injuries are inevitable and unavoidable, then nothing will change. There needs to be a belief – and a commitment – to reducing accident probabilities or Packers fans can expect more high injury rates going forward.
The team already has a huge head start on having a low-injury season in 2019. The four new free agents all have favorable health histories. Also, the Packers no longer have several players who have troubling health histories, including Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Nick Perry, Ty Montgomery, Jake Ryan, and (likely) Davon House.
We’ll see how the Packers rank as to average age when the final roster is announced. Many older players have left the team in the last two years, including Jahri Evans, Brett Goode, Jordy Nelson, Ricky Jean Francois, Morgan Burnett, Muhammad Wilkerson, Martellus Bennett, and Ahmad Brooks. Green Bay should once again rank among the league’s youngest teams this season.
The only players currently on the team’s roster Including some free agents) who are likely to receive much playing time are: Jimmy Graham (32) and Aaron Rodgers (35). Other guys who are 30 or older aren’t key players or are hanging on by a thread: Bryan Bulaga and Eddie Pleasant (30), Lance Kendricks (31), Marcedes Lewis and Mason Crosby (34), and Tramon Williams (36).
I’m optimistic that 2019 will be a better than average year, health-wise, for the Packers. How much better will depend on how dedicated the team is to keeping its players out of unsafe situations.
Good news: this series is at an end.