Players often say that the injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent.
If* *they stay in the NFL long enough, players are certain to get hit with an injury that sidelines them for at least a game or two. That’s the nature of a tough, physical sport.
Some injuries are bad luck, like when an offensive lineman has an opponent fall into the side of his leg. Other injuries, like some strained muscles, can be limited or even avoided by a change in training technique.
To get a better gauge on the causes and prevention methods of injuries, the Ravens have made a significant investment of time and resources the last few years.
“It’s something that we have spent so much time and effort trying to study, trying to understand the sciences of sports injuries, of football injuries, and do everything we can to eliminate it,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week at the NFL League Meetings. “We’ve actually hired people, we’ve looked at studies, we’ve looked at every kind of technology you can look at.”
The Ravens have been one of the league’s most injured teams over the last few years. According to the website mangameslost.com, the Ravens had 306 games missed by injured players last year. That ranked as the NFL’s eighth-most injured team.
They had significant injuries to key players like guards Marshal Yanda (ankle) and Alex Lewis (shoulder), and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles) and Tavon Young (ACL). They lost starting tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and inside linebacker Zachary Orr (neck) to career-ending injuries before the season even began, and starting quarterback Joe Flacco missed the entire summer with a back injury.
Players and coaches shy away from using injuries as an excuse to explain away losses, but they certainly have an impact on performance. Of the league’s eight teams with the most injuries last season, only the New Orleans Saints made the postseason. Of the eight healthiest teams, seven made the playoffs.
Some people point to the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles as an example of overcoming injuries. They lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to an ACL injury, and had an experienced backup in Nick Foles already on the roster. Overall, the Eagles ranked as the 25th-most injured team in the league with 174 games missed by injured players.
“It’s a huge factor of success in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Those are things that really chip away at you, but I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up, the way our young guys played.”
As part of the effort to help prevent injuries, the Ravens made a major change to their offseason conditioning program last year. Steve Saunders took over the program and implemented a system that was more customized to each player and less reliant on machines.
Veterans like Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs have praised Saunders for the way his program kept them healthy throughout the season.
But the Ravens know they still have work to do to avoid season-altering injuries in 2018. The training and medical staffs have continued to research the subject to come up with strategies to minimize risk, but it’s still an evolving process for NFL teams.
“What you kind of find out after a while is that it’s not an exact science,” Harbaugh said. “Much of it is unpredictable. But what you can predict and what you can work on, we’re doing it. We have to cut those injuries down.”