If you thought injuries had ravaged the Houston Texans roster enough already, you thought wrong. Yesterday, Aaron Wilson reported that second-year cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. suffered a hamstring injury during Wednesday’s practice, potentially landing him on injured reserve.
Sources: #Texans corner Derek Stingley Jr. expected to be out six to eight weeks with hamstring injury sustained on final play of Wednesday practice, could be placed on IR @KPRC2 https://t.co/RpIbPwDQ2l— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 22, 2023
This is another slug to the gut of the Texans’ roster, now starting second/third string players in more than five different positions on the team. With Stingley now hurt, this is what the injury report looked like for week 3:
- CB Derek Stingley Jr. (Out)
- CB Tavierre Thomas (Out)
- S Jalen Pitre (Out)
- S Eric Murray (Played)
- S Jimmie Ward (Played)
- MLB Denzel Perryman (Out)
- DE Jonathan Greenard (Played)
- DT Hassan Ridgeway (IR)
- QB C.J. Stroud (Played)
- OT Laremy Tunsil (Out)
- OT George Fant (Played)
- OT Tytus Howard (IR)
- OT Kilian Zierer (IR)
- OT Charlie Heck (PUP)
- OT D.J. Scaife Jr. (IR)
- G Kenyon Green (IR; Out for Season)
- C Juice Scruggs (IR)
- C Scott Quessenberry (IR; Out for Season)
- WR Tank Dell (Played)
- WR Noah Brown (IR)
- WR Jesse Matthews (IR; Out for Season)
- FB Troy Hairston II (IR)
- P Cameron Johnston (IR)
This is a comically large injury report for week 3. Every team absorbs a pile of injuries after the regular season gets underway, but Houston is looking at six starters on defense either out or questionable entering Jacksonville and seven starters on offense in the same boat.
Looking at an injury report where over half of the entire starting lineup is banged up entering just the third week of the season, you start to wonder: what is going on inside that building? What in the world could possibly be going on inside the Texans’ training facility that has caused injuries to run rampant throughout the team?
Well, many of these players absorbed significant injuries before the season even started. Throughout training camp and the preseason, the Texans lost Scott Quessenbery, Tytus Howard, Kilian Zierer, Kenyon Green, Juice Scruggs, Charlie Heck, Jesse Matthews, and Troy Hairston on offense. On defense, it’s a different story: zero injuries entering week 1 of the regular season. Most injuries are incurred through poor timing or misfortune, but this level of disparity among both sides of the ball is certainly eye-catching. But, I unfortunately have no information on how the Texans conduct training, how much they exert themselves compared to other NFL teams, or any particular details on what caused each injury besides what is reported by journalists. The most I can do is speculate…which just so happens to be my favorite thing to do! I know! What are the chances???
Part of this suffering along the offense - particularly the offensive line - could be due to the lack of professional football experience that many of the starters have. The Houston Texans had five players under 25 years old listed as starters on offense at the beginning of the preseason (Stroud, Scruggs, Green, Pierce, Collins), and three have already shown up on the injury report. The average age of all 13 offensive players currently injured is 25.15, a full 1.55 years below their 53-man average (26.7). This trend follows onto the defense’s injury report, but only loosely. Stingley, Pitre, and Greenard, all 26 or younger, highlight the list, but the rest of the report is full of veterans. The youth and inexperience throughout Houston’s offense may be contributing to a high rate of injury, but this is still just pure speculation. In fact, there could be no correlation on defense, as both Stingley and Greenard have developed a reputation for frequently appearing on the injury report; youth may have nothing to do with it.
So, what does this all mean, really? Is Houston’s training and conditioning staff to blame for this? Are some players performing at a size/weight that is putting them in more danger? Should there be a new approach to training and conditioning? Well, these are all very complicated questions to answer, but thankfully for us, Eboracum of Hogs Haven created a fantastic analysis on injuries in the NFL in 2019, where he concludes that:
- 61% of players should be expected to start 16 games.
- Upper-body injuries (pectoral, biceps, triceps) are more likely to cause players to miss several games, while lower-body injuries are less likely to cause players to miss several games - unless it is a tear or break.
- “Mobile” positions - LB, DB, WR, RB - are more likely to be injured than less mobile positions - QB, OL, and DL.
- Injury history is strongly correlated with future injury risk (bad news for Stingley and Greenard).
- Player-level factors are more important in determining injury risk than team/coach/stadium factors.
While these are useful statistics to know, Eboracum also states that “true injury rates” had increased 10% from from 2007 to 2015. This is a rather significant jump in just a span of eight years, and could potentially mean injuries are even more prevalent in 2023. Alan Blinder of the New York Times states:
The 2021 season saw 71 A.C.L. tears, part of a troubling trend in a league that has seen the number of regular-season A.C.L. tears more than double since 2017. And while M.C.L. injuries have fallen from their high in 2015, when there were 160, the N.F.L. has seen increases in each of the last three seasons. In 2021, there were 129, according to the league, including 93 during regular-season games.
Of course, the NFL will espouse that increased attention to minor injuries and concussions has stymied the rate of major injuries from growing - a statement that likely carries a kernel of truth. But, it’s clear we still have a long way to go in eradicating serious injuries from wreaking havoc among the faculty of the most watched sport in the United States. Searching for a utopia of athletic conditioning in sport, full of athletes perfectly nourished and in sync with their corporeal being, may sound like dreamcasting, but Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr may have discovered a branch to the future in 2021: Phil Wagner’s Sparta Science. Sparta Science is a complex technology and force plate system that analyzes user’s movements and actions, giving them detailed information about their body. This technology is already in use in a handful of NFL facilities, and that number stands to increase very soon.
Players jump on square plates connected to a centralized data hub and are instantly provided with scores that measure their load force (bending down to begin the jump), explode force (converting from the bended-knee stage into the jump) and their drive (the force with which they can come through the jump and into the air). From those scores, it can be determined if the user is exerting too much of a certain muscle, is weak at another or, inevitably, if they are at a heightened risk of injury in a certain area.
None other than Texans general manager Nick Caserio is referenced in Orr’s piece about the technology:
While he did not mention Sparta specifically, Texans general manager Nick Caserio said at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year that force plate technology, like the kind Wagner’s company wields, represents the most significant room for organizational growth on the analytical front over the next five years. Wagner says that one of their clients, the Colorado Rockies, once hid their Sparta system from a camera crew working on an all-access documentary in fear that other teams would find out about it (a Rockies spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment).
On top of force plate technology, sports teams across the country are also employing the abilities of advanced wearable technology and RFID technology that provides real-time statistics. Both of these technologies are utilized to collect as much data about individual players as possible, offering a gaze into a new frontier of coaching where data and personalized conditioning can combine to form an omnipotent eye over every player. The NFL also seeks the consultancy of third-party organizations, such as the IQVIA featured in Dave Campbell’s piece in the Stamford Advocate:
Informed by the data harvested and analyzed by IQVIA, the league last year tightened up preseason practice time limits for the first four days on the field and again for the first four days of padded workouts. Players were required to wear biomechanical sensors during the ramp-up periods for further analysis during that critical window. What resulted was a 26% decrease from 2021 in leg muscle injuries reported during the first two weeks of training camp and a 16% drop for the entire preseason.
The NFL has infamously toyed with the idea of embracing “big data,” or, fully taking advantage of what state-of-the-art technology can provide in a sporting contest. Now, it appears that the moment of indecision has passed, and several teams are actively boarding the sports-science bandwagon. Such technology has already made a difference to the rules of the game, leading to changes in kickoff rules in 2019, and in 2022, leading to mandatory guardian cap usage during the preseason. These guardian caps successfully reduce the force of impact when helmets collide, and were so successful in 2022 their mandatory usage was expanded to all regular and postseason practices in 2023.
Even though all this information won’t bring Derek Stingley Jr. or one of the very many injured linemen back from IR any sooner, they represent the first steps towards a future where they may never end up on injured reserve to begin with. These emerging technologies represent a horizon of opportunities, just beginning to crest into a sky’s worth of innovations in sports science and medicine.
I highly recommend Eboracum’s three-part series Understanding Injuries in the NFL on Hogs Haven, which largely inspired this article, as well as Alan Blinder’s What the N.F.L. Says, and What It Doesn’t, About Injuries in the New York Times, and Conor Orr’s 2021 piece The NFL’s Next Step in Injury Prevention in Sports Illustrated. I also recommend reading Dave Campbell’s The NFL is making data-driven progress on leg muscle injury prediction and prevention in the Stamford Advocate, Meira Gabel’s The NFL wants to predict injuries before they happen. Here’s how on Digital Trends, and Steve Reed’s NFL hopes to reduce head injuries with helmet experiment on AP news.
Judging on Nick Caserio’s previous interest in force plate technology, the Texans may be closer to shrinking their injury report than we suspect. But, for now, the injured Derek Stingley Jr. will be replaced by former Jaguar Shaquill Griffin. Griffin, a former pro-bowler, seeks to rebound from his injury-shortened 2022 campaign by giving Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence all kinds of problems. In 2021, Griffin’s last full season, he had flashes of being a great coverage corner and reliable tackler, finishing with a PFF season grade of 71.1. We’ll see what happens tomorrow!
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