Do Players Really Get Rusty?

 19 replies

How much time off is too much? Tony considers the question.

As he has done his whole career, Andy Reid has announced that he won’t be playing the starters for the meaningless week 17 game. The majority of coaches do this, as the risk of a player getting injured is relatively high during a game, and they would have little time to recover during the playoffs, so why take the risk for a game that doesn’t matter anyway?

The counterargument is that by not playing them you’re taking a different risk, that the players will become rusty with extended time off and not play at the level they’re capable of during the playoffs. If this is true, this is a valid concern that coaches should consider when deciding whether or not to rest starters. But often lost in this discussion is one very important question.

Do players actually get rusty?

In one sense the answer is obviously yes, if the amount of time is long enough. Even ignoring the aging factor Tony Gonzalez would be nowhere near the same level of play as he would have been had he not retired. It’s a normal part of human nature, if you go long periods without doing something you’re not going to be as good at it as you were when you were in the thick of it. But is 3 weeks off for a professional football player really enough to start to show rust, especially considering they’re still practicing and studying film?

Those who answer yes will point to the playoff failures of teams who rested starters before a first round bye. Just last year the Ravens, who rested starters in week 17, lost their first playoff game while the Chiefs, who didn’t rest starters, won the Super Bowl. But I would argue that there’s no actual evidence that these losses are due to rust, instead the normal up and downs of professional football where sometimes the better team loses just because (or in the Ravens case because they faced a better team). [Editor’s note: Correlation doesn’t demonstrate causation.]

Maybe if every single team who rested starters lost there’d be something to it, but there are plenty of teams who saw playoff success after resting starters in week 17 before a bye. The Reid Eagles went to the Super Bowl the year they rested starters, and the Saints rested starters when they won the Super Bowl.

But then there’s the problem of how you count what’s rusty and what’s not. For example, in 2018 the Saints rested starters in week 17, had a bye, and then won their divisional round game before eventually losing to the Rams in the Conference Championship. Do those Saints count for or against the rust theory?

Overall, when you break it down and examine it honestly, there simply isn’t enough evidence that players see a significant decline in performance when given two consecutive games off, certainly not enough to justify playing starters given the easily proven risk of injuries.

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stjoechief
12/31/2020 8:50 pm

The question of whether a team should have rested its starters can only be answered in retrospect. If the Chiefs rest everyone they can and look bad in a divisional round loss, then obviously they should have played to avoid rust. If they play everyone, Kelce tears an ACL, and they lose in the divisional round, then they should have rested the starters. Since no one has a crystal ball, I tend to trust our Hall of Fame head coach, who is in the best position to judge.

Last edited 1 month ago by stjoechief
slackator
slackator
Reply to  stjoechief
12/31/2020 9:30 pm

we all do, nobody is saying theyre smarter than Reid and it should happen or not because we the fans say so, but we can still discuss it because theres not really much else to discuss Chiefs wise for 2 weeks

Maw423
Maw423
12/31/2020 8:02 pm

There are alot of pieces that go into whether resting starters is good or bad. I’m not as worried given that they’re still practicing and whatnot. I also have a good deal of faith in the maturity of our locker room and our coaching staff. I think those two factors may have the biggest impact in performance of teams after a long bye.

Sudden
Sudden
12/31/2020 5:24 pm

Pretty sure Tyrone definitively proved the rust hypothesis in the last 4 seasons last night. And I think it’s worth looking at how bad the chiefs looked in the first quarter of the divisional round last year after having a first round bye. Mahomes still played well but the rest of the team struggled to get going early (blown coverage, dropped passes, etc).

gonzangkc11
gonzangkc11
12/31/2020 4:22 pm
Sudden
Sudden
Reply to  gonzangkc11
12/31/2020 5:32 pm

Who needs Fitzmagic when you have Tago-voila?

Team Player
Team Player
12/31/2020 3:56 pm

It would sure be nice to have data and not just a couple examples

BleedingRedAndGold
Reply to  Team Player
12/31/2020 4:13 pm

So it would, but the sample size isn’t just small, it covers such a span of time to include teams playing under multiple configurations of NFL rules. Montana’s Niners can’t really be compared to Brady’s Pats, let alone Mahomes’ Chiefs.

But there’s also issues WRT injuries and when do the normal risks of playing a game become “too risky” to allow key players to play in a game, why, and to what extent they apply to a given player at a given position. Do they give the starting OL group another game to settle in with each other and establish their rapport with each other better, or plug in some backups to rest certain players, and trust that they’ll settle in OK after another week of practice?

I doubt that normal NFL statistics can provide the necessary data, they aren’t designed to measure that.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  Team Player
12/31/2020 4:23 pm

Tyrone searched the last 12 years or so I think. It’s pretty overwhelming that teams who rest their starters and get a first round bye are 1 and done in the playoffs.

BleedingRedAndGold
Reply to  HawaiiFiveOh
12/31/2020 5:25 pm

I didn’t keep count of that, but I doubt that was over 12 teams, and am pretty sure it’s fewer. Sample size is too small for reliable statistics, and the ’18 Saints stand as a counter-example. He also, IIRC, didn’t look beyond the W/L stats to determine if “rust” was the reason those teams lost, it was merely assumed that the correlation demonstrated causation.

In sum, there are too many problems with the sample size & analysis of that to produce statistically meaningful results. Looks great on paper, though, I have to admit that much.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
12/31/2020 6:50 pm

Okay. So I did some analysis of the last 9 years of 1 and 2 seeds in both conferences. Here’s the raw data:
36 teams had a bye in that time. 7 teams rested their starters.
6 out of 7 were 1 seeds.
4 out of 7 did not make the Championship Game.
2 out of 7 won the Super Bowl.
15 out of 36 teams did not rest their starters made it to the Super Bowl.
4 out of 36 teams did not rest their starters and did not make the CG.

It’s pretty clear just based on this that your chances of at least making it to the CG are very high by not resting starters. It’s a small sample of teams who rested starters and had a bye, but the ones who did more than likely were 1 and done.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
12/31/2020 3:16 pm

continuity has a lot of determination for team success. There’s enough evidence to justify that multiple weeks off before the first playoff game is a bad thing. Rest the injured. Play the healthy for at least a half. There’s no reason to do otherwise.

BleedingRedAndGold
12/31/2020 2:12 pm

I’m not as confident as Tony is about time off not mattering, but I’m also not confident that it’s bad to take more than a week off. Circumstances matter when making such calls, and a simple look at W/L stats doesn’t say much about the cause of each “rust related” loss. His cite of the ’18 Saints is a solid example of that, unless rust can take a game off itself, only to return after a game.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
12/31/2020 3:35 pm

Oh hey I realized I spelled Sorensen’s name wrong after I posted my comment last night.Apparently that touched a nerve. 😛

Team Player
Team Player
Reply to  HawaiiFiveOh
12/31/2020 3:55 pm

It’s D-U-R-T-Y

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  Team Player
12/31/2020 4:02 pm

Joe Dirte

rip58lovealways
rip58lovealways
Reply to  HawaiiFiveOh
12/31/2020 4:05 pm
BleedingRedAndGold
Reply to  HawaiiFiveOh
12/31/2020 4:01 pm

Not really, just one part blowing off steam and another part just having a little fun with it. 😉

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