Injuries helped to define and shape the 2011 season for the Houston Texans. While there was a small window during which they were the best team in the NFL, the loss of Matt Schaub killed any expectation of a Super Bowl championship in Houston.
Texans fans have been clinging to the idea that they had an unusual number of injuries, or at least, unusually important injuries.
Adjusted Games Lost is a great metric that helps to ascertain the real impact of injuries on a team. In short, it gives teams credit not only for the actual games missed by starters, but for the consequences of injuries in terms of lost practice time and diminished performance.
Anytime a starer is ruled out, a team gets credit for one game lost. The team gets partial credit for games in which a starter is ruled probable, questionable or doubtful based on averages for how often these players actually play.
The result is a list that corresponds very well with winning. Eight of the top 10 teams and 12 of the top 15 in AGL finished with at least a .500 record.
Despite enduring the losses of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and Arian Foster, the Texans were healthier overall than the average team. Their AGL was 50.1 games good for 11th in the NFL. That's actually healthier than in 2010, when they lost 55.2 games—19th in the league.
Raw AGL numbers never tell the whole story, because research shows that games lost at some positions hurt worse than others.
It makes sense that AGL has shown that quarterback injuries are the most damaging to a team's hopes. The fact that the Texans finished third worst in AGL at the quarterback spot is both unsurprising and telling. It was the injury to Schaub far more than any of the other injuries that tanked the Texans' season.
All teams lose players for periods of time. Losing Arian Foster and Andre Johnson for a few games was disappointing, but it wasn't any worse than what many teams deal with. Even the loss of Mario Williams wasn't nearly as important as losing Schaub. Essentially, the Texans had "normal" injuries, and they lost their quarterback.
Consider the secondary, for example. The Texans had the sixth-healthiest secondary in football, with only 4.6 AGL. Compare that to the Jaguars and Colts who had the fourth- and sixth-most injuries in the secondary. The Texans "injury luck" wasn't all bad.
When you list the names of hurt players, it always sounds like a plague has descended upon an NFL team. What fans should remember is that overall roster health matters greatly. All teams have big stars on the inactive list each week.
Looking forward, Schaub and Johnson are both said to be healthy and ready for the 2012 season. If both stay fit all season, there's no reason to expect the Texans to struggle.
AGL shows us the Texans don't need better injury luck in 2012. They need the same overall health level, without the injury to Schaub.
If they get it, they'll be rock solid in 2012.