According to conventional N.F.L. wisdom, there are two probable causes of any sudden injury rash: too much high-intensity practice, and not enough high-intensity practice.
Many high-profile N.F.L. stars suffered significant injuries on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the Pro Bowl defender Nick Bosa, running back Raheem Mostert and others in their victory over the Jets. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey suffered an ankle injury that is expected to sideline him four to six weeks.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley tore his anterior cruciate ligament, as did Seattle Seahawks defender Bruce Irvin, Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton and others (including Bosa). And those are just the biggest names who went down in one weekend.
In a typical year, Sunday’s injury outbreak would be partially blamed on the rigors of the off-season — grueling training camps and meaningless preseason games in which players absorb unnecessary punishment. This year, it’s tempting to blame Sunday’s injuries on the absence of preseason games and a pandemic-truncated off-season that left little time to get into shape.
It’s possible that some players were not quite game-ready in the opening weeks because of upended workout routines and the shortened training camp. It’s also irresponsible to draw conclusions based on a handful of isolated incidents. After all, conventional wisdom also suggested that N.F.L. games would look like the sloppy combination of a kindergarten fire drill and a medieval peasant revolt because of the cancellation of those all-important preseason rehearsals. In fact, play has been crisp over the first two weeks. Also, Week 1 was (by N.F.L. standards) relatively light on injuries.
Some teams have been harder hit so far than others. The Broncos, for example, lost the All-Pro defender Von Miller during camp and quarterback Drew Lock for two to six weeks to a shoulder injury on Sunday, in addition to Sutton and others.
Pointing fingers at individual coaches or organizations would be inappropriate. Team-by-team training regimens vary wildly in normal circumstances and surely varied even more as coaches and team staff adjusted on the fly. While most organizations used the best available sports science to keep players at close to football shape, a few may have told the guys to rub some dirt on the pandemic and go straight to the blocking sleds.
Some teams just have notoriously rotten injury luck, even when jogging through spring walk-throughs. The Philadelphia Eagles, for example, were fortunate this year that half of their roster didn’t electrocute themselves while logging onto Zoom meetings.
The new turf at MetLife Stadium is also a suspect in this week’s injury mystery, with 49ers players referring to it after Sunday’s game as “sticky” and “trash.” Subtle defects in a playing surface can have a major impact on elite athletes performing at peak capacity and effort, which explains why the Jets weren’t affected.
The N.F.L. is reportedly investigating the MetLife situation in advance of Sunday’s 49ers-Giants game. If the turf really does exacerbate injuries, the 49ers may have…