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San Diego Chargers injuries: Most valuable missed games

Which offensive weapon’s absence most hurt the team’s offensive capability?

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

When writing my last piece on the various QBs the top Chargers receivers played with, a few seasons wherein the player missed a significant number of games (especially Keenan Allen’s 2015, 8 game season), inspired me to take a look at other such seasons and see which players were most missed by their team (reflected by a drop in performance).

In this exercise, I looked at seasons of RBs, TEs, and WRs where the player participated in between 7 and 12 games from 1978 onwards. (I find 12 to be a little high, leaving only four absent games for comparison, but including it allowed me to include more seasons by notable players). I then calculated various metrics of offensive performance** when the player was present, and then when they were absent. It should be noted that these seasons are not limited to players missing due to injury. Some are players that were acquired mid-season. The main goal is to see how the offense functioned with & without the player in question.

**If you are unfamiliar with RANY/A or ACY, you should read HERE and HERE respectively. ARY (Adjusted Rushing Yards) is just adding a 20-yard bonus for rushing TDs to rushing yards. Adjusted Scrimmage Yards are just ACY + ARY.

First, let’s take a quick look at the entire data table, each group (receivers/rushers) sorted by descending year (larger more readable version, HERE)

(TEs are in green, RBs yellow, and WRs blank/white. Tgt = target, available since 1992)

Because we are looking at a variety of measurements, both passing & rushing metrics, the intent isn’t to rank 1 season above all others but rather highlight those that stand out from the group.

Among the receivers, two seasons stand out to me as ranking highly in both passing metrics & difference in scrimmage yards. First, we have Kellen Winslow’s 1984 season. He played in only seven games, but it was his best season on a per-game basis. The team’s passing efficiency was slightly above league-average in his absence, but with Winslow suited up they were exceptionally efficient. The other season, perhaps the most noticeable if we must declare 1 MVMG (Most Valuable Missed Games), would be Keenan Allen’s 2015 season. Allen played in exactly one half the season and boy was the offensive production different in his absence. The passing game was almost two whole ANY more efficient with Allen in the line-up (performing below average when he was absent), and passed for roughly 154 adjusted yards less (per game) when he was missing. Far & away the biggest total-yard value on the table.

Now, you may notice that some teams were much LESS efficient when a player was present, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad (especially if both values were very good). One such example is Antonio Gates’ 2010 season. This year was one of Gates’ best on a per-game basis. Gates’ performances were not bad, and the team was not bad with Gates in the line-up, but I’m sure many of you remember how…odd that season was when it came to the passing game – but I will elaborate on that later when I shine a spotlight on 4 different seasons that feature multiple players in this table.

In the group of rushers (including two whose rush-yard/rec-yard ratio had me include them as hybrid/scrimmage-yard players), I think Ryan Mathews’ 2 seasons stand out – especially his 2010 season. I think Mathews’ injuries were overblown (both seasons he only missed four games, barely making it into this study), but it was clear this team could not rush the ball as well when he wasn’t on the field (almost a full ARY less). Those late Turner-era offensive lines were not built to make things easy for back-up rushers. They relied on a big-bodied back (Mathews) to consistently plow forward for 4 or so yards. Gary Anderson’s 1985 is odd in that that, while he was a "double threat" the team was "worse" at passing with him, but rushed for considerably more yards per game. Perhaps they made up for his lost rushing yards by passing more, but his yards/carry mark was only 3.7, not exactly jumping off the page. Lastly, the increased rushing efficiency in the presence of both Chuck Muncie & Mike Thomas, to the same degree as Mathews’ 2 featured seasons. I will give a brief profile of that….

Now! In 1980 Muncie & Thomas’ availability actually overlapped for nine games. Below are the # of games, RANY/A, and ARY/A for each "pairing". (It adds up to 15 games because Thomas alone only accounts for one game, too small a sample).

· Both (9), 1.5, 4.7

· Muncie only (2), 1.0, 4.1

· Neither (4), 1.3, 3.8

I think the numbers make it clear that the offense was much more efficient (especially when rushing) when both players were on the field. This is quite the compliment given the other offensive players on the roster.

In 1998, the presence/absence of Natrone Means & Terrell Fletcher was less overlapping so we can examine them a bit more on an individual basis. The (games), ARY/A, ARY/G split is as follows:

· Both (6), 4.5, 126.2

· Means (4), 3.9, 121.3

· Fletcher (6), 4.2, 117.7

On his own Means was able to shoulder more of a load than Fletcher, but at a slightly less efficient clip. As with our last duo, it’s pretty clear the team was at its best when both were available (perhaps due to their complimenting player profiles), rushing more efficiently & for more yards.

Next, we arrive at the 2010 season. 2010 featured two seasons from the table – Gates & Floyd, as well Vincent Jackson (who wasn’t profiled, only playing five games). 2010 will forever be known as the season where Rivers excelled without most of his receiving weapons, so naturally, his game with the highest ANY/A occurred in the one game none of these three played in (and the one game with only Floyd was his 4th best). This week nine game in Houston featured the heroics of Seyi Ajirotutu & passing stat line of 12.6 YPA & 4TD, with only 1 INT & 1 sack. The (games), ANY/A breakdown for 2010 is as follows:

· Only Gates: (2), 6.7

· VJ & M80: (2), 6.6

· Gates & M80: (7), 7.6

· Only VJ: (2), 8.2

While there are many small sample sizes, it’s pretty clear that….things aren’t so clear. No combination of these players were the clear lynch-pin to the passing game in 2010.

Lastly, let’s take a look at 2015. In addition to Keenan Allen’s half-season, Gates & Stevie Johnson both missed considerable time (only 29 games between them, 60.4% of the possible 48). The (games), ANY/A breakdown is as follows:

· KA & SJ: (5), 7.1

· KA & AG:      (2), 7.4

· AG & SJ: (4), 5.5

· Gates only: (4), 5.5

(The one game all 3 were present (wk8 @ BAL) was the 2nd most efficient passing performance of the season)

It should be no surprise, given what we examined earlier, that the pairings that include Keenan Allen were by far the most efficient. Gates & Johnson are without question valuable players, but it is Allen who has firmly taken his spot as the prime driving force of the Chargers’ passing game (especially when they’ve also struggled to protect Rivers and run the ball). I don’t think his small sample of 8 games is an aberration, and that we will continue to see such dominance in the future.

I hope you all enjoyed reading this, and that we all see far, far less of these missed games in the future.

Hey, I want to know what YOU all want to read (in the statistical realm). I’d love if you left suggestions of things you’d be interested in seeing (whether it’s a profile of some sort, or perhaps a "putting a myth to the statistical test" type post, like that McCoy one) in the comments section (or if you read this "long after" it was posted, feel free to tweet it to me (link in profile) – really, feel free to whenever). Ideally, something not overly in depth, as we want to keep as many people in the discussion as possible – but bottom line, something you’re interested in learning or exploring.