A picture is worth a thousand words.
The Giants significantly cut down on injuries, finishing with the 7th best rate of health in the NFL last season.
You need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that something dramatic happened between 2015 and 2016. For 4 consecutive seasons from 2009-2012, the NY Giants were in the bottom half of the league in injuries. From 2013 to 2015, the NY Giants suffered the ignominy of living in the cellar of NFL injuries for 3 consecutive years. Finally, in 2016, the 7 year flood ended and the sun came out. The Giants finished in 7th out of 32 teams in Adjusted Games Lost (“AGL”) to injuries. Not so uncoincidentally, the NY Giants also made their first appearance in the playoffs since 2011.
Football Outsiders performs an exhaustive compilation of injuries by dissecting through all of the records meticulously and posting the aggregate results for each team. Every year they post that season’s AGLs the following March or April. The team injury numbers and rankings for 2016 were released this past Monday.
In 2009, we first posted about the rash of NY Giants hamstring injuries. We believed that it was unusual that so many players were getting the SAME injury at the SAME time. Our coverage of an ongoing malaise began in earnest in October 2014. This NY Giants blog sifted through Football Outsiders annual data. We assembled a picture of what was happening to the individual teams from year to year. What emerged was a declining trend in Giants injury performance, not only in absolute AGLs, but in relative rankings to its peers. Nearly everyone rejected our conclusion that there was a problem specific to the Giants. The number of injuries was deemed “bad luck” by Giants coaches and Giants management. The mainstream media, other Giants bloggers (notable exception: NYG Underground) and the vast majority of the fanbase accepted this explanation and parroted back the party line without digging into what was actually happening. We did the digging and sounded the alarms.
Nothing was done as 2015 ramped up. The injuries continued. Will Beatty tore his pectoral muscle in the weight room in the offseason, a continuation of this horrible problem. 2015 finished as yet another dismal failure for the organization, with the Giants finishing 6-10 and once again landing themselves at the bottom of the NFL for the 3rd consecutive season in AGLs. Tom Coughlin was fired. Ben McAdoo was promoted to Head Coach. While a majority of Coughlin’s staff was retained, a notable change was made when Jerry Palmieri, the Strength and Conditioning coach, was replaced by Aaron Wellman. This was tangible change.
Wellman introduced less emphasis on strength. While there were certainly some efforts made for increasing player flexibility, anecodotal reports did not confirm (or to be fair, deny) a more zealous emphasis on flexibility used by peers such as Luke Richesson of the Broncos or Shannon Turley of Stanford. Nonetheless, Wellman’s reduced agenda on strength clearly had a positive effect. In 2016, the Giants soared to #7 out of 32 teams, with AGLs plummeting to 52 lost starts in 2016 from an AVERAGE of 139 lost starts from 2013-2015. That represented a 62% reduction in injuries. For what it is worth, Denver continues to keep its injury nose clean, putting up another #10 ranking with 60 lost starts, quietly averaging 6th over Richesson’s 5 year tenure in charge of that program.
The important takeaway is making a change. The Giants should have seen the trend in poor performance years before meaningful changes were finally made. (Early responses to the problem were deemed cosmetic and mostly irrelevant by this site.) Apparently, Coughlin and Barnes were not willing to confront the brutal facts until it was obviously too late for Coughlin. That is the price of accountability. The question that Coughlin supporters need to ask is whether Palmieri would still be the head of S&C if Coughlin would have remained. Given that Palmieri had the job for Coughlin when he was in Jacksonville in the 1990’s and followed him to the Giants for the entire 12 year tenure here, it is doubtful that a change was going to be made without Coughlin being removed.
The Football Outsiders review of 2016 AGL’s contained this excerpt from author Scott Kacsmer:
“…you really didn’t expect the New York Giants to be the league’s most injured team for the fourth year in a row, did you? The AGL dynasty is over. New York finally had a healthy year, thanks in part to several new roster additions that also helped the team to its first playoff appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI.”
Whaaaat? No mention of the exit of Coughlin and Palmieri? No mention of a new Strength & Conditioning Coach? Does anyone here really think that it is a coincidence that the Giants left the injury cellar right after an S&C change was made? Even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Bringing in ANYONE NEW was going to lift the Giants out of the cellar. While it is too early to vault Wellman into the vanguard of S&C coaching elites, it is the first data point in what we will compile for his track record. YES, GOOD AND BAD LUCK ARE A PART OF ANY ONE YEAR. But it should also be noted that the Giants were fairly uniform in the Offensive and Defensive injury performance, giving us a little more confidence that Wellman will be able to contain injuries. We still saw soft tissue injuries surface in 2016, telling us that more flexibility training is needed. But the reduction in strength training (the counter of which Coughlin always pushed) clearly has helped. The bottom line is that one year does not make a good trend but it is enough to break a bad one. The Giants needed change, they got it, and it has paid off. Luck will always surface from one year to the next, so keep looking at larger multi-year periods before drawing sweeping conclusions. The eye test on that chart is a reminder that you make your own luck.