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Packers' new approach to sports medicine pays off in lower injury numbers

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A few NFL teams' attitudes and track records suggest that the Packers are on to something with their recent focus on modern sports medicine concepts.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

From 2010 through 2013, the Green Bay Packers endured a rough four-year stretch as far as injuries were concerned. We broke this down in detail last offseason - to summarize, Green Bay had the third-most Adjusted Games Lost due to injury over that stretch. Furthermore, they finished 30th or worse in three of the four years individually.

Now, fast-forward to the 2015 offseason. We are coming off a year in which the Packers' injury rate completely has turned on its head. If we look at Football Outsiders' AGL metric once again for 2014, we find instead that the Packers lost the third-fewest games to injury of any NFL team that season. They dropped from 101 games lost in 2013, second-most in the league, to just 41.9.

Sure, it's possible that the Packers got lucky, but it's also very likely that Mike McCarthy's increased focus on modern sports medicine and his new practice schedule (both of which were implemented in the spring of 2014) had a significant impact. One particular NFL player's comments, combined with a look at some other teams' injury numbers, back up this argument.

One team which does not buy into the types of concepts that McCarthy recently implemented, however, is the New York Giants. Specifically, it starts with head coach Tom Coughlin. In an interview with ESPN this week, former Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond called out Coughlin for avoiding this new school of thought. Thurmond had this to say about his former coach:

He doesn't believe in the sport-science aspect like Coach (Pete) Carroll or Coach (Chip) Kelly and the newfound technology for the players. His style takes a hit, because he doesn't believe in this aspect. He believes in winning, but he doesn't believe in the modern medicine to progress the players to that next level.

Now, it's no coincidence that Thurmond brought up the head coaches of the Seahawks and Eagles in his comments; he played in Seattle before signing with the Giants last season, and after one season in New York (spent mostly on injured reserve) he is now in Philadelphia. Still, with McCarthy's all-in approach to new hydration and diet regimens and different practice and rehab schedules, you could easily substitute in his name for Carroll's or Kelly's here.

What makes this comment most interesting is that the Giants, historically, have been one of the most frequently-injured teams in the NFL. Over the same 2010-2013 time span we looked at last offseason, only two teams lost more games to injury than the Packers: the Colts and...you guessed it...the Giants. Last season, they finished with the most AGL in the league for the second straight season, and they had 18 more games lost than the next team, the Chargers.

By contrast, the Packers, Eagles, and Seahawks finished 3rd, 5th, and 18th in terms of fewest games lost, while the Eagles have been among the league's best each year since Kelly took over as head coach. And though the Seahawks finished around the middle of the NFL in 2014, they were 13th the year before and 4th in 2012.

Sure, it's possible that the Packers' remarkable turnaround in 2014 was due to dumb luck and a small sample size. However, based on Thurmond's comments and the track records of the teams that implement modern sports medicine concepts, it seems to be a strong possibility that it was directly related to McCarthy's new strategies.