Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) for last season is out, and, well, the results are staggering. Adjusted Games Lost is essentially counting up all the games players missed that season, though they take actual snaps into account.
Injuries are a function of luck, and the Bucs have been perennially unlucky. It’s also important to realize that being lucky and staying healthy plays a major role in making the playoffs. Often the best teams are also among the most healthy. Don’t believe it? Well...
Not surprisingly, a high AGL is a bad thing. The correlation between AGL and DVOA was -0.398 -- good teams, generally speaking, had fewer injuries than bad teams. Three of the top four, four of the top six, and six of the top 10 teams in AGL made the playoffs. Injuries weren’t necessarily a death knell, however; the Eagles and Colts finished just ahead of the Bucs, and each of those teams still won a playoff game.
So while injuries aren’t necessarily going to ruin your chances, there’s a strong correlation between health and winning.
In 2017, the Bucs ranked 18th with 78.6 AGL. So just how bad was it in 2018? Between the offense and the defense, the Bucs lost a devastating total of 128 games to injury, the worst in the NFL.
But a closer examination reveals that the damage disproportionally affected one side of the ball.
The Bucs’ offense was good last year. They were 12th overall in DVOA, powered by a top 10 passing attack. They were also the 5th-healthiest offensive unit, losing just 17.3 games to injury.
The defense, however, lost 92 total games to injury. That’s a whopping 21 games worse than the next worst defense, the Philadelphia Eagles. For as long as Football Outsiders has been tracking AGL, the previous record for most games lost on one side of the ball was the 2014 Oakland Raiders’ defense, who lost 77.5 games.
Tampa Bay had the most injuries at linebacker, the second-most in the secondary, and were again still in the top ten in defensive line injuries. That’s just brutal. Kwon Alexander, Kendall Beckwith, Vernon Hargreaves, Chris Conte, Mitch Unrein, Vinny Curry, and so many, many more.
So does that absolve Mike Smith? The short answer is no. The longer answer is definitely not. It’s true the Bucs finished the overall season last in defensive DVOA - for the second year in a row under Smith - but over just the second half of the season after Smith was fired they did improve to 26th. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s important to remember that before Smith’s firing the Bucs were on their way to being the worst defense in the history of the NFL both in terms of historical facts and by DVOA. Going from historically bad to 26th, albeit in a season where defense was impossible to play and the four best offenses were all better than the second-best defense, is no small feat. If they had been healthy they would have still been pretty bad. In the end, they improved enough to only be 1.5 percent worse than the next-worst defense, the Atlanta Falcons.
With an improved, more modern defensive scheme and an expected natural regression in injuries back to at least average, the Bucs’ defense is poised for some kind of jump in performance. That’s exciting to think about, as the Bucs’ defense has been dragging down the team for years.