I think most of us agree that luck plays a major role in football. We want to quantify everything in this great sport, but there is no way to know about luck's role in things, so we hold our breath and hope for the best.
Luck has many machinations and forms, of course. The bounce of a football after a fumble would often have to fall in this category - and you may recall that occurred a few different times in the playoff game in Green Bay. A replay review getting called correctly could also fall under the umbrella of luck. A referee seeing something correctly could as well.
But, today, let's simply visit the "luck" component of staying healthy. In a salary cap era where you put more eggs in fewer baskets - because those eggs cost so much of your cap - it is beyond vital that we keep those precious eggs on the field and not on the injured reserve. These days more than ever, there is no depth that can replace or replicate your All-Pro performers if they should happen to be hurt. This is why the preseason games often turn into consumer shams, since no team wants to lose a precious egg in a game with no real importance. The fans are ripped off by being forced to buy tickets as part of the season ticket offering, but even they understand and almost seldom complain about this dance.
So, as we look at health, I thought we should consider the fine work of last week's study released by FootballPerspective.com on the Cowboys leading the NFL in health in 2014. Their methodology is interesting and debatable, but by their findings, the Cowboys boasted an average of 14.5 starts per starter or 318 starts overall. This was determined by taking the top 22 most common starters and adding them up.
Offensively, with the exception of Tony Romo and Ron Leary both missing the Arizona game, and Doug Free missing seven of the 18 games (NYG, Wash, Arizona, Indy, Wash, and both playoff games - Det, GB), the Cowboys offense was healthy the entire year. That is pretty difficult to fathom, but it happened. Basically, while they did have some guys play with bumps and bruises, nobody considered a starter missed extended time but Doug Free. That is beyond remarkable, and frankly, one of those items that seems impossible to duplicate.
We spend a lot of time talking about the training staff methods and strength coaches with regards to injuries, but this is football. I am always leery of a new trainer keeping a team from ever losing games to injuries. Sometimes with football, I would argue that avoiding injuries is nothing more complex than playing Texas Hold Em and hoping you get the cards you need and avoid the ones that kill you. However, it is worth discussion that the physical, forward bull-dozing style of the Cowboys offensive line from 2014 would seem to inflict more pain than it would sustain, but that is highly subjective and difficult to prove to any real degree.
Now, the defense is a different story and that is where the methodology of this study comes into question. Here is from their findings:
Things were only slightly hairier on defense. In the secondary, safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox started every game, while cornerback Brandon Carr also played the full slate. Orlando Scandrick started the final 14 games of the year at corner after being suspended for the first two games of the year.On the defensive line, Jeremy Mincey and Nick Hayden started 16 games, Tyrone Crawford started 15, and George Selvie started 13 games (but played in all 16). The most serious injuries came at linebacker: Rolando McClain started 12 games, Anthony Hitchens started 11, and Bruce Carter started 8 games. Of course, Sean Lee also missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in May.
Now, as you can see, their methodology doesn't really consider Sean Lee's entire missed year (they acknowledge it, but it isn't in their numbers at all), DeMarcus Lawrence's missed 10 weeks or so, and Morris Claiborne not playing a snap after September. We can debate the relative merits of all 3 players, but they were certainly all heavy enough investments that we must consider them major heath blows. But, in this study (and I realize there is no way to account for this perfectly), the only defensive injuries that are considered in the math are McClain, Carter, and Durant (due to Hitchens' playing time).
By the perspective of this study, the Cowboys had nearly a flawless health year in 2014 - and it is highly possible that many will find this unsustainable and dubious to their fortunes for 2015. But, as I see it, when you properly weight for Lee and Lawrence, in particular, you can see that having both back in 2015 is part of the reason that you can believe the Cowboys should be one of the heavyweights in the NFC this fall.
I wanted to broaden this out a bit and while using the methodology of FP.com, I wanted to see if there is any correlation between a healthy year and a playoff year. It sounds obvious, but the reason it isn't is because not all rosters are created equal. Some years, even a fully healthy roster would not compete for much because of talent. Other years, we would argue that it certainly isn't based on how many games are missed due to injury, but who the players are who are missing them. Also, because their methodology is only adding up the starts of common starters, we are also considering guys losing their jobs for ineffective play and not just health. This seems dubious, as well.
But, what if I took the last 10 seasons of Cowboys football, added up the total starts of the 22 most common starters and see if there is any connection? Well, here you go:
Isn't that interesting. For all of the flaws in logic, we see that in the last 10 seasons, the Cowboys have made the playoffs 4 times and those are #1, #2, #3, and Tied for #4 seasons in health of the Top 22.
It seems obvious to conclude that the healthy Cowboys teams make the playoffs. And the Cowboys were, by this definition, the #1 healthiest team in the league. It doesn't account for Lee, Lawrence, or Claiborne, but there does seem to be a connection to success. They could depend on the idea that the guy next to them each week would be there the following game. I think we all remember 2012 was quite the opposite, and that graphic confirms that as well. The only year they did not make the playoffs, but did stay healthy was 2010, when that single injury was to Tony Romo. Surely QB1 should be weighted differently, as most teams will drop off the map if they lose THAT guy.
Anyway, it is an interesting study that you should check out over at FootballPerspective.com.