The 2013 Oakland Raiders were bitten badly by the injury bug. Every single week key players missed games or were limited on the field. Fans could only watch in disgust as untested rookies and cast-offs mostly struggled to play at the NFL level as emergency starters. But look at the facts: every NFL team gets hit by the injury bug
It's not a result of McKenzie's drafting. It's not a result of our "soft" team culture. It's not Menelik Watson's lack of heart. Football players get hurt, have always gotten hurt, and will always get hurt. And the really bad news? Injuries are on the rise league wide.
MMQB's Jenny Vrentas broke down each team's use of the Season Ending IR--the special 53-man exception list for players unable to come back the same year. The research only goes back five years, but the results may surprise you.
The Raiders have been one of the NFL's healthiest teams in terms of season ending injuries. We had only five IR-tags in 2013, second fewest in the NFL. In the past five years we've averaged less than five tags per season with a five-year high of seven in 2012. Compare that to the Redskins, who have had 13 IR tags each of the past two years (more than we've had in five years combined!).
Want to feel really sick to your stomach? Try playing Russian roulette with our active 2013 roster and picking eight additional players at random to place on the IR every other week of the season. Things get ugly quick-fast.
The IR is hardly an end-all-be-all for injuries, but it helps to paint the picture of NFL injuries. If you want more detail, take a look at our season-long injury report. I'll save you a lot of trouble: the Oakland Raiders listed players on the injury report 146 times during the regular season--excluding players injured in the pre-season and off-season. 93 (63.7%) of those injury listings came in the second half of the season. Not all of the players listed missed games, but the impact was felt in the won-loss column as the season wore on.
The ever-increasing size of players has combined with the increased scrutiny over concussions to create a sharp rise in injuries across the league, and this trend is unlikely to change in the near term.
In 2013, we were forced to replace guys like Tyvon Branch with Brandian Ross, and guys like Jared Veldheer with Matt McCants. On one hand, many of those Raiders starters are quality players who deserve to play in the NFL. The problem is that the drop off from those starters to our backups is so severe we're often left with a roster that isn't even NFL-worthy. That's why our team keeps falling off in the second half--we have no depth to survive a season, creating big holes in our lineup that our opponents readily exploit.
As you look at the different position groups on the field this off-season--picking and choosing who you want to see on the team and who you don't--keep in mind two things:
1. Even if we have some quality players in a position group (tight end and running back come to mind), we have to plan on losing those players at some point in the season. Ask yourself: can our 53-man roster survive a single loss to that position group?
2. In free agency, don't be shocked and disappointed when we don't make big splashy signings. We need NFL-players two and three deep on our depth chart, and that means our $62 million in cap space isn't quite as much as it seems like. We still need to hunt for bargains and we still need to be patient.
We may have more money than everyone else, but we also need more players than everyone else. You may not see dramatic results in week 2, but you'll notice the difference in week 14. The NFL season is a battle of attrition, and you can't win a battle of attrition by upgrading one or two soldiers.