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Injuries wreak havoc at record rate

Two weeks ago, I predicted we would get a better idea whether injuries in 2014 will be more disruptive than during last year's record-setting season for missed starts.

The verdict is in. It is worse. By my count, injured starters missed 1,630 games last year. That was the first time the number of missed starts crossed the 1,600-game plateau. Thanks to rule changes and points of emphasis, the game is safer because teams are more willing to sit injured players to prevent them from making the injuries worse.

But the numbers heading into Week 7 indicate the season total of missed starts will easily surpass last year's record number. Based on the usual trends and the number of starters on or heading to the injured reserve list, this year's total projects to between 1,675 and 1,690 starts missed due to injury. Week 7 is a good indicator because that's when players can first come off the physically unable to perform list or the non-football injury list.

Injuries from this year's Week 6 will skyrocket the season total. There were 101 missed starts because of injuries in the recently completed week. Over the next couple of days, teams will load up the injured reserve lists. Victor Cruz, Stevan Ridley, Jerod Mayo, Dee Milliner, Brian Winters, Alex Mack and Knowshon Moreno suffered serious injuries that have or might have ended their seasons. The Cincinnati Bengals placed wide receiver Marvin Jones on injured reserve Tuesday after giving up hope his injured foot would heal.

Last year, only three starters went on injured reserve in Week 7.

By the end of this week, the list of starters on the injured reserve list could push 60. Figuring that 50 or more other starters will miss this week's games because of injuries, the total of missed starts should far exceed last year for the same week. Washington Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen might be the only starter to come off the PUP list.

In 2013, two starters came off the PUP list to create a Week 7 in which there were 88 missed starts because of injuries, nine fewer than the previous week. This year, that number is likely to be about 110 for Week 7.

Teams figure to lose a starter to a season-ending injury every three games. That's the nature of a hard-hitting game. The problem is replacing them.

Again, I don't study these numbers to criticize the league for not addressing safety issues. I bring them up because of the impact on teams and to try to figure out teams' breaking points.

The increasing number of missed starts suggests the need for changes in the future:

• If more starters are lost each year because of injuries, the league needs to partner up with a developmental league to create a more prepared pool of replacements.

• It would help if teams had two or three eight-game injury designations for managing their long-term injuries. Each team currently gets only one such move per season.

• If more players are injured, teams should have the luxury of activating more than 46 players a game. Too often, a team goes into a game with five or six injured players who are deactivated. Most teams have only seven active offensive linemen on their 46-man game-day roster. With more plays being produced by today's fast-paced offenses and the need to have enough players for special teams, why not let all the players who are paid be eligible to play?

From the inbox

Q: How come nobody is talking about the record Philip Rivers just set -- five consecutive games with a passer rating of 120 or higher? I understand the stat itself has lost its luster, just like wins and losses for baseball pitchers, but the efficiency and consistency has to be admired and praised. Let's just pause and take a moment and reflect on that. Out of all the great quarterbacks who have played the game, only Johnny Unitas and Kurt Warner were close -- they each had four consecutive games. So again, why is there no chatter of this accomplishment?

Joseph in Carlsbad, California

A: That probably is a big oversight. Quarterbacks are doing so well statistically, accomplishments like that are sometimes overlooked. Everyone is on the Rivers bandwagon among the analysts. We were last year when he led the Chargers' playoff run. In his second year with coach Mike McCoy, Rivers is having the best season of his career. If you wonder where I rank him, I put him as the sixth-best quarterback in the league behind Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck. I don't think I've ever had him lower than about eighth or ninth. Many of us at ESPN use the QBR stat more than the passer-rating stat. Whatever the stat, it's been a great stretch of football for Rivers.

Q: I love Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau. Todd Haley, not so much. Do you see a shakeup in the coaching staff or front office if the Steelers miss the playoffs again this year?

Dan in Blair, Nebraska

A: I do see change coming after the season, and that could lead to Haley being fired. I like how some of the short passes and screens have worked under Haley's play-calling. I like what the Steelers are getting out of the running game. It can be argued the offense isn't the problem, but the team isn't getting enough points. That's very clear. I could also see LeBeau retiring after the season if the Steelers don't make the playoffs. I thought the team had enough talent to make a playoff run, and it could still happen. Right now, though, Pittsburgh is playing like the last-place team in the AFC North.

Q: Why doesn't the NFL use the same overtime rules as college? If the concern is that teams would stretch the games out too long through multiple overtimes, then they could simply require teams to always go for two.

Ben in Tyler, Texas

A: A majority of owners and front-office execs think that would be too much of change. They like the sudden-death aspect of overtime, and they like how the same type of game is maintained in overtime. A move such as you suggest would change scoring numbers significantly, because you could have three or four scores before you have a final decision. But I'm for any system that minimizes ties. I was at the Carolina-Cincinnati game Sunday; not having a winner or a loser turned a potential classic into a downer.

Q: I have noticed this year that there are players who are not performing well, but the blame is put upon the coordinators who "don't know how to use them." Examples of this would be C.J. Spiller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kendall Wright. Is it really the coordinators, or are these players not as good as we thought?

Philip in Boulder, Colorado

A: Each of those three players has been involved with quarterback changes. The Buffalo Bills went to Kyle Orton two weeks ago. The Minnesota Vikings went to a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Tennessee's Jake Locker has been on and off the field because of his hand injury. Anytime there is instability at quarterback, it affects the other skill-position players. New quarterbacks have to get in sync with the players around them, and sometimes that takes a little time.

Q: With another rough loss for my Falcons, I feel the season slipping away and that Mr. Blank may be forced to take action at season's end or sooner. Mike Smith seems to be a good coach, but I think he's been left without enough playmakers on defense and in the running game, and the offensive line lacks depth. I would love your perspective.

Joe in Dunwoody, Georgia

A: You are right. The season seems to be heading down the same path as last year for the Falcons, and that could lead to a coaching change. When I went to Falcons camp, I saw a bigger, tougher team, but I knew a few injuries could cause them to revert to some of last year's bad ways. I question whether there are enough playmakers on defense. The offensive line injuries have clearly affected the team. The team really struggles on the road, but that loss to Chicago at home has to be a major concern. If things don't turn around quickly, owner Arthur Blank might lose his patience.

Q: I was watching the Seahawks game this weekend and I was very disappointed with the offense (like most people were). The major thing I have noticed this season has been the Seahawks moving away from the power run that they have used to set the tone in recent years to a more finesse, speed offense that seems to be sputtering at times. I get that Percy Harvin is a rare talent, but I think they have become over-enamored with him this season. Do you see them getting back to their roots and powering through teams?

Alex in Seattle

A: I couldn't agree more, and you heard Pete Carroll say that Monday. The Seahawks' philosophy is to run the ball and to be physical. The team has started to drift away from that. Starting this week, I predict Seattle will reduce its trickery and get back to basics. Part of the problem is the absence of tight end Zach Miller. The run game misses his blocking. The offensive line also is struggling. The Seahawks need to get back to the way they won football games over the past few years. They need to run the football.