When the Seattle Seahawks saw their 2019 season come to a conclusion in a 28-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs, many Hawks fans wrote the outcome of the season off as the result of injuries. Whether it was the injuries to the running back group that saw both Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny on injured reserve, or to the offensive line which saw the unit so depleted that the team had to call on fifth string guard Phil Haynes during the postseason after injuries left Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic and Jamarco Jones unavailable.
In any case, while fans complain about the number of injuries the members of the Seahawks suffer each season, yet another piece of research has found yet again that synthetic surfaces are more likely to lead to injuries. It was back in 2018 that research performed by Zachary Binney found Century Link Field to be the most dangerous stadium in the NFL in terms of player safety.
My new NFL injury article has SO MUCH INFO, let's go bit-by-bit:— Zachary Binney, PhD (@zbinney_NFLinj) October 4, 2018
-Excluding Mexico City, 7 most dangerous (and 14 of worst 15) all use artificial turf
-Worst grass stadium is CAR
-Seattle isn't dangerous b/c the Legion of Boom hurt peoplehttps://t.co/DnIUXNRmM6 pic.twitter.com/y1UTfwTkSL
Binney earned his PhD in Epidemology from Emory University and at the end of the summer is scheduled to take on a role as an Assistant Professor of Quantitative Theory and Methods at Oxford College of Emory University, and he’s also been a contributor on injury analysis at FootballOutsiders.com (the DVOA guys) since 2014. However, new research by Erin Psajdl has found another significant factor when it comes to non-contact, lower limb injuries for NFL players. Psajdl, who is working on a Masters in Sports Data Analytics at the University of Oklahoma while serving as a Graduate Assistant for the Sooners Women’s Basketball program and is slated to intern for the NFL this summer, found that these non-contact, lower limb injuries are more likely to occur earlier in the game.
Synthetic turf has higher rates of non-contact lower limb injuries than natural turf across most play types, per @erinpsajdl's research. Also interesting most of these injuries come earlier in the game regardless of playing surface #HANIC pic.twitter.com/jK1mgabXXo— Keegan Abdoo (@KeeganAbdoo) May 22, 2020
This may hit a sore spot for Seahawks fans who saw both Rashaad Penny and Justin Britt go down with a torn ACL on the first drive of two separate games during the 2019 season. Britt, of course, was lost for the year on the sixth play of the Week 8 game against the Atlanta Falcons, while Penny tore his ACL on the sixth play of the matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. Penny, in particular, suffered his injury on the lone snap for which he was in the game, as Chris Carson had been on the field for the first five snaps he played in the Week 14 showdown.
Further research would obviously be necessary in order to evaluate what factors might be contributing to this increased likelihood of injury early in a game, but former Field Gulls contributor Andre Forbes asked if speed played any role in this. Interestingly, Psajdl offered up the following graph of the average speed per play over the course of a game, which shows a significant decrease in the average speed for players over the course of a game.
this is just a quick graph of the average average speed per play by the play sequence in a game .. there is a pretty noticeable decline in average speed over a play through a game pic.twitter.com/fcTVU8S8bO— Erin Pšajdl (@erinpsajdl) May 22, 2020
What does that mean? It’s impossible to say for certain, but it certainly seems possible that player speed seeing a decrease of approximately fifteen percent over the course of a game, which would result in a roughly thirty percent decrease in energy exerted, which would mean far less stress placed on the muscles and joints of players. It also seems logical that players getting loosened up after getting into the flow of the game could play a role as well, but without analyzing things further, it’s obviously impossible to know.
What is known is that the Seahawks are intent on playing their physical brand of football, and they’re scheduled to play ten of their sixteen games on synthetic playing surfaces in 2020 (fourteen of twenty if the preseason games are included, all of which are slated to be played on synthetic turf). So, while Hawks fans likely don’t want to hear it, the simple fact is that injuries could once again be a bigger influence on the Seattle season than for teams which play home games on natural turf, such as the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals.