Which is, simply stated, that the only way to guarantee that a player not get injured is to not play him, which defeats the purpose of having him on your team in the first place.
What that means in reality is that it’s a matter of risk management, primarily with how injured players are handled. While the details vary widely, down at the core of it there are basically two scenarios for any injury: Those which take the player out of the season entirely, and those in which the player can return from, be it the next snap or come playoff time. (Berry’s an exception to this but then again he wasn’t injured per se, it was a medical condition.)
Now the focus for risk management/player health for a season is primarily on players who do not hit IR, since once a player’s done for the season, there’s no risk to manage with him, team-wise; but that said, the pressure increases throughout the season to keep your team’s health maximized due to the shortening of the recovery time available. It only stands to reason that early in the season, a 4 – 6 week recovery period is one thing, but at least for the playoff-bound teams, the same time frame means something very different. There are other complicating factors, of course, such as individual healing rates and the variance between injury types that fall under the same general term, such as “sprain” and “strain”, both of which cover a wide variety of injuries within their category, but I’m covering this mainly to put it aside, because there’s no way to factor in the individualized data short of a scientific study.
Anyway, back to the main theme. As the season begins to draw to its conclusion, fans pay more and more attention to recovery times, and in two different directions. One’s the increasing worry that a player who goes down might not be able to recover in time, with its concurrent desire to limit risks for bang-up players and maximize the quality of their recovery time via a timely week off, i.e. snag a bye or rest your starters in the last game, if at all possible. The other’s the growing worry about players with legacy injuries, and when they might return – or worse, why they haven’t yet returned, as though it’s something that is their own fault. In a few cases, that can be true, but that group includes some who got re-injured accidentally, say via a slip and fall, and in any case, it’d take a very detailed look to tease out the numbers.
But all along the way, the coaches will have to deal with losing players to injury and getting them back after an injury. The fact that IR returns are limited complicates this considerably. And unlike fans, the coaches must concern themselves with both when a player can potentially return vs. what he will be when he returns vs. what do you do while he’s unavailable. That’s a complicated formula, so it’s easy for a given fan to complain about a “wasted IR return” when the player is both a veteran player and will be potentially available five games (and in actuality four) before the preferred player, who would still be a very inexperienced rookie upon his return – and with very few game left in the season.
There’s evidence during the season past that Andy’s been careful about managing his overall team’s health, and as the season has wound down, it has been even more obvious. While I don’t think Reid was trying to lose against Seattle, I’m pretty sure that of Fuller, Erving, and Ware, at least two could have played, if it was a game we needed. Instead, Reid decided he needed them healthier in the long term than he needed a win against an NFC team. Who gets rested, Watkins aside, during the Raiders game may well come down to how the game plays out, but I doubt he wanted to give
too many people two weeks in a row off, either. Letting too many develop “rust” isn’t the best idea there is to go into the playoffs. We can hope that Andy will run up the score some on Sunday, and ease players out as the outcome becomes more certain.
But the ugly truth in the NFL is that any game, no matter how meaningless, you can lose a player for the season/post-, and the only way to protect your players perfectly is to not play them, so the balancing act plays out on Sunday. And it’s a game I think the entire team wants to win, not just for the fans and the stats and the bye, but also for the sake of morale, closing the season with a win – and knowing that if they lose to a team that hasn’t done well this season, it’ll haunt them going forward. Winning breeds confidence, while doubt is the child of defeat. Anyone who’s been involved in sports knows the feeling of both.
I’m looking forward to the Big Reid Machine to get the W while minimizing injuries. Then again, it’s the Raiders, and we know how they can be, so the latter’s more faith than confidence.
But I’m still confident in the win. I hope y’all are, as well, but if not or if so, that’s what the comments section’s there for.