It’s often said that injuries aren’t an excuse in the National Football League. However, there are some times when a particular team. . .and, more specifically, a particular unit on a team. . .gets hit so hard by the injury bug that the results are hard to ignore.
Enter the 2016 Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line.
The folks from Football Outsiders put together their breakdown of Adjusted Games Lost by unit, breaking down games lost on a position-by-position basis. Here’s how FO defines Adjusted Games Lost:
For those unfamiliar with this metric, with AGL we are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements, and important situational reserves matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is based not strictly on whether the player is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player's listed status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable, or probable).
Eric posted on Monday about how the Vikings had the third-most games lost to injury in the entire NFL this past season. The Vikings, as a team, had a total of 120.6 Adjusted Games Lost to injury in 2016, and 92.1 of those. . .a little more than three quarters. . .were on the offensive side of the ball. By FO’s calculations, that makes the 2016 Minnesota Vikings’ offense the most injured offense the NFL has seen since the year 2000. The increase that the Vikings saw from the previous year’s offensive AGL (they had 55.6 AGL in 2015) is also the biggest year-to-year increase that FO has recorded since they started tracking these things.
The offensive line was, by far, the hardest-hit unit of the group, and of any unit across the National Football League. Football Outsiders says that the Vikings’ offensive line had 57.2 Adjusted Games Lost in 2016. The next highest team on the list? The Houston Texans with an offensive line AGL of 33.2, slightly over half of Minnesota’s total. Or, to put it another way, the Vikings’ offensive line alone had a greater AGL in 2016 than the entire Vikings’ offense had in 2015.
Not only did right guard Mike Harris miss the entire season for reasons unspecified, but left tackle Matt Kalil went down after two games. The Vikings tried to replace him with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who lasted four games before his own season-ending injury (Achilles). Even right tackle Andre Smith, who only signed with the team last March, went down after four games with a triceps injury. Suddenly, that league-low 3.2 yards per carry starts to make sense.
We’ve known that the offensive line for the Vikings is the biggest hole they’ve had to fix for quite some time. Almost as important as an infusion of talent, it would appear, would be the ability for the guys at the top of the depth chart to actually remain on the field. As far as the injury situation goes, 2017 almost certainly can’t be any worse than 2016.