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Injuries Really Starting To Pile Up....I Mean REALLY!

There was a lot of optimism surrounding the Broncos heading into 2007.  A new, strong-armed quarterback.  A complete make-over on defense, both on the field and on the sideline.  The growth of WR Brandon Marshall and the acquisition of Travis Henry.  Just 6 weeks into the season, however, that optimism has turned into down-right pessimism and panic.  The Broncos are 2-3 and there doesn't appear to be any relief in sight.

Reasons for the Broncos' troubles stretch across the spectrum, but one need look no further than the injuries the team has had to deal with, and more importantly the number of man-games the projected starting lineup has missed so far this year.  Andrew Mason has an excellent breakdown of the injury situation, both this season as well as the past five seasons, and it shows just how bad this season has been.  Here is an excerpt --

Among first-teamers on the depth chart, the Broncos have seen their players collectively miss 19 man-games already this season because of various injuries. (Wide receiver Rod Smith is included here because at the time of his hip-debridement procedure in February, he was the most recent starter at his position, having started all 16 games in 2006.) Smith, Ben Hamilton and Ebenezer Ekuban have each missed all five games to date, meaning they collectively have 15 man-games missed among them.

But with Ekuban, Tom Nalen and Hamilton lost for the season and on injured reserve, you can add a total of 33 games -- 11 apiece -- to create their tally of missed games at the end of the year. That means the Broncos will absorb a minimum of 52 man-games missed among first-teamers this season.

How does that compare with recent years? It's well above average -- and that's precisely the kind of "above-average" every team endeavors to avoid. Let's peel back and look at the years of numbers I have on my bookshelf here at the home office ...

  1. Broncos starters missed a total of 29 man-games to injury. Most of these belonged to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey (15 games), whose season ended on Monday Night Football in Week 1, and running back Terrell Davis, who missed games 2-7 and then sat out a pair of November games before returning for the final five games (in spite of the problematic pain in his knees, Davis nevertheless averaged 87.6 rushing yards per game and never gained fewer than 70 yards in any contest in which he played that year. Also among the starters sidelined at various points were guards Lennie Friedman and Dan Neil (one game apiece), wide receiver Rod Smith (one game), quarterback Brian Griese (one game) and defensive end Kavika Pittman (two games).
  2. Denver's starters combined for 16 man-games missed, most belonging to Nalen (nine games). Shannon Sharpe missed three games after suffering a dislocated elbow that took place when Bill Romanowski slammed him into the INVESCO Field at Mile High grass on MNF. Brian Griese sat out two games with injuries (he also did not play in Week 17 after being supplanted by Steve Beuerlein), while Mike Anderson and safety Izell Reese each missed a game apiece. Kenoy Kennedy also sat out one game owing to a league suspension.
  3. The confluence of injuries at key areas hit the Broncos hard as they absorbed 45 man-games missed during the regular season because of injuries. Eighteen of those belonged to outside linebackers Ian Gold and John Mobley, whose seasons ended in a 14-day span of October. (Mobley would never play again.) Quarterbacks Jake Plummer and his fill-in starter, Steve Beuerlein, missed four and two games, respectively, with Beuerlein going on injured reserve after fracturing a pinky finger. (For purposes of this exercise, the only man-games that count as missed starts for Beuerlein are the ones that came before Plummer returned to the lineup.) Finally, both Kelly Herndon and Nick Ferguson missed the regular-season finale with injuries suffered in the Week 16 playoff-clinching win at Indianapolis; Herndon played in the wild-card redux with the Colts two weeks later, while Ferguson was on injured reserve. (NOTE: The figures do not take into account players who were healthy scratches for the regular-season finale at Green Bay.)
  4. Broncos starters missed 21 man-games, with two-thirds of them belonging to defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, who played in the regular-season opener and finale, but never at any other time. Running back Quentin Griffin missed one game as a starter because of an ankle injury; by the time he healed, the job belonged to Reuben Droughns. Kyle Johnson, who was promoted to first-team fullback after Droughns switched to tailback, missed a pair of games, while John Lynch (one game) and Dan Neil (three games) also missed time.
  5. Remarkably, the starting XI for the offense remained healthy throughout the 13-3 season as Denver starters combined for just eight man-games missed because of injuries, all on defense. Half of the man-games missed belonged to Darrent Williams, but he still played in 12 regular-season games and in the postseason. Courtney Brown, Al Wilson and Champ Bailey also had brief injury-caused absences.
  6. Incorporating a few players who'd either worked their way to the top of the official depth chart (Adam Meadows) or just to a starter's assignment (Chad Mustard), the Broncos saw their starters combine for 43 man-games missed. Most belonged to defensive end Courtney Brown (all 16 games) and offensive tackle Matt Lepsis (10 games), while Darrent Williams, Gerard Warren, Tatum Bell, Kyle Johnson and Nick Ferguson also missed some on-field time.
So even if the Broncos remain completely healthy the rest of the season, they will see their starters miss more man-games this year than any other in the last five. This doesn't even factor in the coming loss of Walker, nor does it account for the loss of potentially valuable reserve contributors such as Hamza Abdullah (who had limited participation in practice Thursday), Stephen Alexander (now on injured reserve) and Nate Jackson (who started against San Diego).

One bit of information missing from this were the Win/Loss records that correspond to the seasons discussed.  I provide those for you below --

2001 -- 8-8(29 games missed - No Playoffs)
2002 -- 9-7(16 games missed -- No Playoffs)
2003 -- 10-6(45 games missed -- Lost in WildCard Round)
2004 -- 10-6(21 games missed -- Lost in WildCard Round)
2005 -- 13-3(8 games missed -- Lost in AFC Championship)
2006 -- 9-7(43 games missed -- No Playoffs)

What do the above numbers tell us?  Well, at first glance it appears that the number of games missed cannot be used as an indicator of a team's win/loss success.  2003 was the worst season for the Broncos in terms of games lost, but the team still won 10 games and made it to the post-season, while in 2002 the Broncos only missed 16 games and finished 9-7 and out of the postseason.  Obviously it goes deeper than that, who misses the games is just as important as how many you miss.

What stands out was the 2005 season.  The Broncos starters missed a total of 8 games, while the starting eleven on offense had a perfect attendance record.  The result?  The AFC Championship Game.

Like Andrew stated above, by including those who have already been placed on Injured Reserve, the Broncos are at 52 games missed, and that number probably doesn't include Warrick Holdman who had the inside track to be one of our starting Linebackers.  There are several reasons why the Broncos are struggling right now, just remember that during your badgering of the defensive line, or of the coaching staff, that a little luck never hurts and right now the Broncos have little.