Colts fans are stuck in limbo. The Super Bowl is still two weeks away, so talking about the off-season seems premature. Before fans get to that point, it is worthwhile to take a look back at 2010 to gauge where the Colts franchise will be when the draft and summer activities roll around. One of the biggest impacts on Indianapolis in 2010 was the unprecedented number of injuries the team had to play through. The Colts placed 18 players on Injured Reserve, and two others on the injured/waived list -- including Taj Smith, who rejoined the Colts. This number does not include injured players who missed multiple games throughout the year, but still managed to hold onto a roster spot. Below are three ways to examine Indy's injuries in 2010. 1) How many games did "starters" miss? Rather than simply taking 22 -- the number of total offensive and defensive starting positions -- and multiplying by 16 -- the number of regular season games -- to calculate the number of games lost, the following list includes some non-starters. Teams do not utilize one formation or personnel set throughout the entire game for starting offensive and defensive plays. The Colts, specifically, utilize a two-player rotation at running back, two different types of tight ends, and a slot receiver at various times with the first team offense. While all of these players cannot be on the field at once, losing one of those players significantly alters the team's ability to compete. On the defensive side of the ball, a nickel back is not included in the starting roster but he will spend a significant portion of the game on the field. The alterations bring the total number of games for starters to 416. The figures below use the starting roster prior to Week 1.
(Addai: 8, Brown: 3, Collie: 7, Garcon: 2, Clark: 8, Eldridge: 2, Johnson: 1, Richard: 2, Muir: 2, Brackett: 4, Session: 11, Hayden: 5, Powers: 6, Lacey: 4, Sanders: 15, Moore: 12)
Colts starters missed 92 of 416 total games games (22.1%).
If the lens is zoomed out to include the Colts primary backups -- Justin Tryon, Anthony Gonzalez, Mike Hart, Melvin Bullitt, Antonio Johnson, and Kavell Conner -- the number gets worse. Tryon missed 4 games, Gonzalez 14, Hart 9, Bullitt 12, Mookie 2, and Conner 4. Those players missed 45 of 96 games. Including them, the Colts starters and primary backups missed a combined 137 out of 512 games (26.8%).
For comparison, many Colts fans considered 2009 a dreadful year for team injuries -- starters missed 81 of 416 games (19.5%). Including the same primary backup positions, the number rises to only 90 of 512 games (17.5%). In 2008, Colts starters missed 47 games (11.3%) -- 67 including primary backups (13.1%).
In 2010, Colts starters and backups missed 52% more games than they did during an injury-riddled 2009 season -- 104% more than in 2008. While Indianapolis tends to suffer injuries at a rate higher than the league average every year, 2009 and 2010 were exceptionally bad. Consider that the Chicago Bears starters, who are playing in the NFC Championship Game, missed 11 games this season. The Bears total is tied for the fewest missed games in the league -- with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 2010 average, according to Football Outsiders, was 47.5 missed games by team starters across the league. The Colts nearly doubled that number.
2) How did Colts starters and primary backups miss games in 2010?
Including only those players placed IR, or those who missed at least four games, one could nearly fill an entire starting lineup for an NFL team. This team would not be composed of sub-par players, it would likely be very competitive.
CB1: Jerraud Powers (IR'd)
CB2: Kelvin Hayden (IR'd)
CB3: Jacob Lacey (4 games)
Safety1: Bob Sanders (IR'd)
Safety2: Melvin Bullitt (IR'd)
WLB: Clint Session (11 games)
MLB: Gary Brackett (4 games)
SLB: Kavell Conner (4 games)
While no defensive linemen are on the list, the secondary and linebacker talent lost is significant.
WR1: Anthony Gonzalez (IR'd)
WR2: Austin Collie (IR'd)
TE1: Dallas Clark (IR'd)
TE2: Tom Santi (IR'd)
RB1: Joseph Addai (8 games)
RB2: Mike Hart (9 games)
KR: Devin Moore (IR'd)
K: Brett Swenson (IR'd)
The offensive line also dodged the injury bullet, but the receivers, tight ends, and running backs would be very competitive starting for any team -- one that could contend for a Super Bowl with decent lines and a franchise quarterback.
3) How did injuries affect the Colts continuity?
Football experts often discuss that teams can overcome roster talent shortfalls if they have personnel continuity. To examine this phenomenon, take a look at the Colts, Chargers, and Patriots.
The Patriots fielded a team full of rookies -- along with a number of players who could step in and contribute. These players had the majority of the season to work at their role. New England knew who would be on the field each week. The Patriots enjoyed success in 2010 -- with a number of dominant wins, and a highly productive offense.
The Chargers were unhealthy to start the year, forcing them to rely heavily on depth. While San Diego steadily picked up key contributors, and maintained a high level of offensive and defensive production, they struggled to win. The final blow came after many of the players who spent much of the year getting the Chargers in position to potentially win their division started to get hurt. When the key players had to take over on their own, the highly productive offense and defense began to struggle.
Unlike the Patriots, the Colts did not have a consistent group for much of the season. Unlike the Chargers, the Colts failed to return many of their key players late in the season. This combination caused problems on both sides of the ball -- the offensive and defensive units did not have a chance to find a groove and start picking up momentum. To illustrate the Colts lack of continuity, the list below includes the number of different combinations of players in starting rotations at running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, linebacker, safety, and cornerback.
RBs: 8 combinations
WRs: 3 combinations
TEs: 3 combinations
O-line: 5 combinations
LBs: 9 combinations
Safeties: 3 combinations
CBs: 9 combinations
In 2010, the Colts biggest weaknesses were preventing catches, inconsistent play from linebackers stopping the run by controlling gaps, tackling, and running the ball. These areas of weakness coincided with the positions that went through year-long changes. The running backs, linebackers, and secondary averaged two to three weeks playing with the same combination of players at any time during the year.
While a lack of continuity is not to blame for all of the Colts shortcomings in 2010, it certainly did not help.
Did injuries really affect the 2010 Colts?
The numbers make clear that the 2010 Colts roster was depleted. The primary starters and backups were not able to contribute to the team on a normal basis. With injuries at every position, Indianapolis struggled. At positions that were not riddled with players on the Injured Reserve, there was an ever-revolving door between starters and backups, which served as a major blow to the team's continuity, cohesion, and effectiveness.
Despite all of this, the Colts were one first down away from running out the clock and moving on to the divisional round of the playoffs. One bad pass kept them from upsetting the #1 AFC playoff seed on the road. Indy was within a couple of plays of winning most of the games they lost. So, while injuries may have played a major factor in the Colts being in some tight situations, additional factors kept them from winning.
For Colts fans, there is one thing that should provide some kind of optimism as a new year is about to begin. Regression to the mean suggests that the Colts are due for a healthy season.