To what degree do we blame 2006 on injury?

The key to moving forward as a franchise is recognizing past mistakes and refusing to repeat them. Excuses do not admit mistakes, they simply sweep them rug-bound. I argued in January that Gregg Williams deserves anothe year to prove his salt given the career he accumulated as an astute Defensive mind both here and in Buffalo. I said that injuries wrecked the defense and much of our decline could be accounted for by that. I stand by that as I still believe that a number of injuries severely damaged our season and contributed (used modestly here) to our 10-6 decline to 5-11.

But we should remain cautious when blaming injury too much. It's an excuse. Many teams suffer injuries throughout the season, some moreso than others, yet not all of them respond uniformly. The depth of a Football team is at least a partial measure of how "good" it is, especially when injuries force those bench players into action. Much of the Redskins woes in recent years can be attributed to injuries, but we should also recognize that the Redskins were less capable of responding to adverse situations than some other franchises. Pointing out that our season might have gone differently had Shawn Springs and Pierson Prioleau not gone down to injury doesn't explain why the fate of our season so dramatically hinged on that of two players; winning teams simply do not allow one injury to derail an entire season, especially if we're talking about our former backup Safety (Prioleau).

I petitioned some of my SBN Blogging colleagues for supporting examples and was thankfully indulged with a few that I believe make this point more eloquently than I could. I present first Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle. The Bengals unquestionably regressed from '05 to '06, winning three fewer games this year than they did last. But arguably they suffered far more roster disruption than the Redskins did -- admittedly much of it conduct and not injury related -- yet still managed to remain competetive.

We lost -- in terms of starters and role players.

David Pollack, starting OLB, miss 14+ games.
Odell Thurman, starting MLB, missed entire season (conduct)
Brian Simmons, staring OLB, missed five games.
Deltha O'Neal, starting CB, missed games (unsure #) with injury and conduct.
Dexter Jackson, starting SS, missed 3-4 games to injury.

Chris Perry, backup RB, missed 13-14 games because of injury.
Chris Henry, best #3 WR in league, missed three games for suspensions.
Rich Braham, starting center, lost for 14 games.
Bobbie Williams, starting left guard, lost for about a month.
Levi Jones, starting left tackle, missed about 9 games.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, starting WR, missed 2 games.

These guys were on the team last season with an 11-5 record. One year later, with the players I just listed -- and doubling that for the total injury count -- we fell to 8-8.

With a swath of injuries and (presumably) conduct related suspensions, the Bengals were at least capable of stopping the bleeding. They were in playoff contention for much of the year, won more games than the Redskins, and dropped off less significantly than we did from '05-'06.

But two examples within our division deliver this point even more convincingly. ETVal of Big Blue View:

The Giants lost, in no particular order, LavarArrington for the season after 3-4 games, LB Carlos Emmons for much of the year, DEs Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck for most of the year, DE Osi Umenyiora for a few games, DT Fred Robbins for the final few games, Amani Toomer and Luke Petitgout for half the season, 2nd-round pick Sinorice Moss for most of the year, CB Corey Webster for several games.

I am probably leaving out a couple as well. Anyway, injuries happen to everybody. You have manage your cap well -- which I don't think the Redskins have done -- and draft well so you have depth when guys go down.

The final point he makes is worth noting, and one I've considered before as well. I don't think it's impossible to build depth via free agency but that seems to be a strategy employed effectively by other franchises. Free Agents are necessarily more expensive (and thus the amount of quality ones you can retain is cost prohibitive) and likely older. It is safe to point out, as a general rule, that the older a player is the more likely they are to sustain injury. Thus the draft is a good way to pick up young players on the cheap, and the more you have competing at training camp the higher the likelihood you are to find a quality player who can contribute either as a backup or even one day as a starter.

That the Redskins have drafted fewer players than many other teams (including the Giants) is a fact. The effect that has had on the team should be the subject of debate, though I would presume it has contributed to our record as much as anything else.

Back to the Giants, they still won 8 games (less than they had in '05, I admit) and made it to the postseason. Here was a division rival that suffered numerous injuries on both sides of the ball yet, unlike the Redskins, they didn't finish with a losing record.

Finally, per BleedGreen of Bleeding Green Nation:

The Eagles lost McNabb, which is about as massive an injury as a team can get. Your starting franchise QB.

They lost Jevon Kearse in week 3 for the year. They lost Lito Sheppard, a pro bowl corner, for 4 games and their nickel corner Rod Hood for 6 or 7 games. Their other starting DE Darren Howard had various injuries all year. LB Shawn Barber missed 4 games. They lost Donte Stallworth, their #1 WR for 5 or 6 games.

They also had 2 draft picks go on IR including their 3rd round pick that was supposed to win the strong side LB job.

I think losing your starting QB is the injury we're all most willing to grant when it comes to deciding a season. If you lose him than, in many cases, it is fair game to write off the season. That the Eagles didn't is an enormous credit to their Coaching staff and to the way they built their team.

Despite injuries, the Eagles won the division, beat the Giants in the postseason, and damn near beat the Saints after leading at the half. It's safe to say that the Eagles were designed last year to succeed in spite of adversity.

Returning to the Redskins, a Defensive fall from grace as drastic as ours in '06 deserves explanation. How does a team go from a top 10 defense to literally one of the worst in the league? Some of that should be attributed to injuries which probably harmed our defense more than most teams. But if ever your Football team is in a position to be so afflicted by losing two players in the secondary (Prioleau and Springs) than someone, somewhere has made a horrible mistake in building the team. That mistake was having Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright as our solution to injury when neither of them had done much to earn spots on the field. That mistake was having to scramble at a retired Troy Vincent, and later a perennial backup Vernon Fox, to replace Prioleau (who was only your "starter" because we wouldn't pay Ryan Clark half what we paid Adam Archuletea).

Are we better prepared heading into '07? I don't know. Omar Stoutmire may or may not be a reliable backup and I don't want to knock Prioleau until he's had a chance in the driver's seat. And ultimately I hope we aren't tested by injury, as I'd just as soon have 22 Offensive and Defensive starters go the entire season without missing a minute to injury.

But passing the buck on failure to Injury doesn't address the larger issues. Many teams suffer injuries in the league, two of them in our own division last year, and still manage to succeed in spite of it all. The Redskins do not have anymore "Bad Luck" than the rest of the league as pertaining to injuries (and if we do than it is a conditioning/medical staff problem that demands immediate correction) yet we are apparently as ill-suited to respond to them as anyone. If you cannot maintain competitiveness in the face of unfortunate circumstance than you simply cannot sustain success over multiple years. Injuries will eventually happen, and good teams plan around them by amassing deep rosters.

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