Injured QBs

My Lions are finally having some “luck” in the QB department (Stafford is still healthy!). The same is not true for a number of teams. A quick rundown (roughly in order of their teams’ competitiveness):

  • Matt Schaub (Texans) — out for season. He has a “Lisfranc injury” (i.e., he broke his foot). Their backup Matt (Matt Leinart) proceeded to injure his shoulder (out for the year) in his first game, but T.J. Yates has filled in decently, helped by a good defense.
  • Jay Cutler (Bears) — out since week 12, maybe back for week 17. He hurt his thumb in week 12. Caleb Hanie has been a royal disaster for the Bears, ever since, culminating in two awful pick 6s yesterday against Seattle. This injury probably cost them a playoff spot, although Matt Forte’s injury looms large as well.
  • Michael Vick (Eagles) — missed three weeks. Fractured ribs. Vince Young maintained their losing ways (took them from 3-6 to 4-8), but it looks like Vick has resurfaced just in time to give the Eagles a shot (now 6-8). Mike Kafka had to fill in twice in early season losses as well, meaning that the Eagles are 5-4 in games where Vick isn’t forced out due to injury.
  • Matt Hasselbeck (Titans) — missed one game. Old-man calf strain. He was replaced by the very able and exciting Jake Locker.
  • Tarvaris Jackson (Seahawks) — missed one game. Mild pectoral strain. Charlie Whitehurst predictably managed only 3 points against the Browns in his absence. Tarvaris is now driving for the playoffs (take that, Minnesota).
  • Jason Campbell — out for season. Broken collarbone. Kyle Boller was awful for 2 weeks but Carson Palmer arrived via trade. The Raiders could still make the playoffs.
  • Kevin Kolb (Cardinals) — likely out for season. Turf toe that cost him 4 weeks and now a concussion. John “The Skeleton” Skelton has been decent in relief.
  • Matt Cassel (Chiefs) — out for season. Hand injury. Soft-tossing Tyler Palko isn’t ready and may never be ready. However, Kyle Orton (claimed off waivers after Denver cut him) just looked pretty good knocking off Green Bay.
  • Chad Henne (Dolphins) — out for season. Non-throwing shoulder injury. The Dolphins picked up Matt Moore going into the season, and he’s been pretty good.
  • Colt McCoy (Browns) — injured in week 14, may come back in week 16 or 17. Concussion (I could have diagnosed that one, Cleveland). Seneca Wallace stepped in well in week 15, but doesn’t seem like a good long term plan.
  • Sam Bradford (Rams) — probably out for season. High ankle sprain. He played poorly anyway on a bad team. A.J. Feeley was not much better in 3 relief appearances (an upset win over New Orleans but blowout losses to Dallas and San Francisco) before injuring his thumb. Now the onus falls on Kellen Clemens.
  • Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) — missed one game. Shoulder injury. Josh Johnson started for the Buccaneers in week 13, but Freeman was right back in, playing horribly, the next week.
  • Peyton Manning (Colts) — out for the season. Lingering neck issues, probably should retire. The Colts have offered up a sloppy mess of career backup Dan Orlovsky, washed up Kerry Collins, and ineffective Curtis Painter. They haven’t had a legitimate QB to back up Manning in general, so it’s no surprise they are flailing. Orlovsky has been the best, but I know his true nature (do recall his beautiful safety for the Lions?).

A few things stand out. First, 13 teams had their starting QB miss a game for injury this year. For nine of these teams (I’m including the Eagles), the QB missed significant time. Second, the backups are a crazy mishmash of washed up vets, rookies, and career backups, with a couple legitimate guys thrown in (Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer). Looking at the rest of the list, the Raiders and Chiefs were pretty fortunate to land proven guys — it might get one of them into the playoffs.

The teams on the list are meaningful too. In general, they are not good. You are probably thinking, “That’s because their QB got injured.” It turns out that’s only partially true. Teams whose QB has not missed a game this year have a winning percentage of 57%. Teams whose QB has missed a game for injury have a winning percentage of 34% in games played primarily by a backup; this number only rises to 44% in games played by the starter.

So, yes, a QB injury tends to hurt winning percentage, but those injuries tend to happen on losing teams anyway. This makes sense — losing teams will throw the ball more and give up more sacks. The causal effect of a QB injury is probably only 10 percentage points (44%-34%). Winning percentage for all teams when their QB is healthy is 53%. If I hadn’t accounted for team quality differences, the effect of an injured QB would look more like 20 percentage points (53%-34%).

The lesson here is as follows: if your team is good, you’ll usually keep your QB healthy. Don’t go crying when he gets hurt. It’s not only bad luck — it’s also a sign that your team is bad.

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