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Looking Ahead: DeMeco Ryans In 2011

I made a vow after the Ravens game that I wouldn't watch a single additional Texans game this season. That didn't work out at all, much to the dismay of my poor heart. I'll summarize the games and this season with an appropriate quote from my English teacher right before my final, the day after the most recent Monday Night disaster:  "I stayed up all night to watch that crap." Well said, teacher, well said.

With that, let's take a peek into the not-so-near 2011 season (because really, what else can we do at this point?). There is a major concern I have regarding the team that I feel has been somewhat ignored or overlooked by Texans' nation since the untimely event occurred: the injury of DeMeco Ryans. Now that you know (because I wasn't expecting you to figure it out from the title) what the subject of the post is, you have two options. Option 1 is to jump. Option 2 is to jump.

We all know that a fully healthy Ryans is one of the best linebackers in the league, probably just behind Jesus Jr., Patrick Willis (who is second overall only to Jesus himself, Timothy Tebow). But just how healthy will Captain Meco be next season? Chris alluded to the possibility of Ryans never being the same in a post over at HDH. An Achilles tendon tear is no easy thing to come back from and is almost sure to rob him of some of his speed and strength next season. Few athletes ever come back at full strength from such an injury.

I had/have limited knowledge on how threatening the injury is to the long term health of an athlete, so I did some research into the matter and came across an interesting and relevant article that cites studies of NFL athletes who have suffered the injury. For those of you too lazy to read a short article, here are a few points to take away from it.

According to the study, a whopping 32% of NFL players who have suffered the same or similar injury to Ryans' never played another down. That's pretty scary. However, I have no fear that Ryans will do everything in his power to be on the field in 2011 and will make it back. It's more of a gut feeling than anything else, because the statistics are pretty rough. Assuming he can step on the field again, the question then becomes how effective can he be when he does? This is what's extremely worrisome.

The study concludes that on average, NFL players suffer a 50% loss in what these orthopedic surgeons measured as a player's "power rating" after the injury. This rating was taken using the stats from both before and after the injury of the 31 NFL players who suffered the same injury as Meco from 1997 to 2002, also taking into account age, position, and years as a pro before the setback. What's even more depressing and daunting than the 50% average is that the power rating decline for linebackers in that time period was an unbelievable 95%. Ninety. Five. Crazy. There is slight hope, though. The study at this point in time isn't perfect. Even though it was released in late 2009, it doesn't taken into account the injury and its effect on players in the past eight years, so it doesn't factor in new technology and methods that might have come about to combat the problem.

Assuming these numbers are fairly accurate, just how much (or little) can we expect from Ryans next season? The sad thing is, Ryans at even 5% is better than almost every single "defensive player" we claim to have. Still, the Texans have to prepare as if they won't get as much out of Ryans as they've come to expect, probably for the rest of his career. It's terrible timing, considering the massive contract he signed (and deserved) just before this season, but that's the kind of luck this team has.

The front office can't do much, if anything, to solve this problem. With all the money guaranteed to Ryans, it's not as if they can draft the future at the position given the amount of holes that exist elsewhere on the defense. Darryl Sharpton isn't the answer, because he'll hopefully be taking over for Zac Diles full time at WLB next year. An intriguing solution could be to move Ryans over to WLB, where his responsibilities would be decreased, while at the same time weeding out Diles and allowing Sharpton to stay on the field. I have to ask though:  Is it a guarantee that Ryans is even better than Diles next year?

All the team can do at this point is hope that DeMeco recovers most of his strength and comes back a similar player to the one he was pre-injury. Sadly, with this study on my mind, I can't see that happening at all. It's scary to think that there could be another guaranteed liability in both facets of the defense next season, but in all likelihood that's the situation we're facing.

What do you think, BRBers? Given the almost certain, dramatic drop-off statistically that DeMeco is set to face, should the team prepare for it and if so, how?