When their offseason begins next month, the Ravens are going to invest some time and energy in trying to figure out why they've experienced so many serious injuries in 2015. Head Coach John Harbaugh said as much earlier this week.
I don't blame them for trying, but I'm not sure it's a problem you can just tackle and solve, like drafting a cornerback and safety to fix a leaky secondary. Seeking a broad explanation for multiple injuries is like trying to catch the wind and put it in a bottle. Injuries occur for a variety of reasons, and seldom, if ever, is there an obvious consensus.
It should be noted that the Ravens aren't alone, as NFL injuries are significantly up across the board since 2009. I've read and heard all sorts of rationales for this, pointing to everything from bigger players to shoddier tackling to more Thursday night games – all of which probably plays a part.
My own explanation – one that seldom gets aired – is there's far less hitting in practices now because of the enhanced safety rules included in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, so the players' bodies aren't as prepared for Sunday's extreme rigors, resulting in more injuries.
If that's true, it's an ironic development, to say the least. The CBA, signed in 2011, constituted a palpable attempt by the owners and players to decrease head injuries, and indeed, those are down, but players' bodies may have been left more vulnerable in the process. I'm not sure what any team can do about that.
But even in an injury-prone environment, the Ravens have experienced more problems than other teams, putting a league-high 18 players on injured reserve so far this year, with three games still to go. Noticing a media horde standing in the Ravens' near-empty locker room after Thursday's practice earlier this week, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith playfully said, "Hey, it's just me in here. Everyone else is on IR."
Why is this happening? I dare you to go back and second-guess anything the Ravens have done to cause such widespread damage. Their players are as well-trained and well-conditioned as any.
I'm tempted just to chalk it up to the football fates. The Ravens couldn't have done anything to prevent a teammate from rolling into Joe Flacco's knee, causing major ligament damage. They couldn't have done anything to prevent a Rams defensive lineman from picking up Justin Forsett and hurling him to the ground, breaking his arm in the process.
The truth is there's no explanation for most injuries other than, well, it's a rough game and stuff happens.
Any attempt to codify the Ravens' injury bug eventually devolves into guesswork. Yes, they had one of the NFL's oldest rosters at the start of the 2015 season, and almost half of their thirtysomethings (5 of 11) are now on injured reserve, so maybe they would stay healthier if they were younger. But do we really know for sure? We do not.
The pending switch to a grass field at M&T Bank Stadium should help, but again, do we really know? The Ravens have said they don't believe the stadium's artificial-turf field produced the season-ending injuries. They're making the switch because a grass field improves their players' quality of life.
But hey, if the Ravens pore over the situation long enough, they might come up with an explanation that makes sense and change their training methods accordingly. Given how injuries have derailed their season, I don't blame them for attempting anything and everything.
But most of all, I think they just need to get luckier.
I couldn't let this pass.
Asked earlier this week if he's worried about losing his job, Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano gave a classic response.
"They can fire you but they can't eat you," he said.
A former Ravens assistant with many friends in the Under Armour Performance Center, Pagano explained that his dubious job security in the wake of the Colts' struggles is "nothing" compared to his cancer fight in 2012, and that if he's forced to spend more time with his grandkids, he'll "be fine."
Great perspective, Chuck. You're no one's holiday meal.