Is NFL experiencing injury epidemic?

Adickes downplayed theories that suggest artificial turf and even poor shoe selection as broad-based causes of NFL injuries. He did, however, endorse a circulating theory that reduced football activities in the offseason -- as mandated by the 2011 collective bargaining agreement -- are a contributing factor.

"Certainly you could say that the lack of game-speed conditioning makes you more susceptible to injuries during games," he said. "But I do think that could be eliminated with something as simple as more extensive pregame warmups."

Injuries have always been part of the NFL. In the big picture, it is routine to see backup players taking on more prominent roles during the season. So why, in 2013, has the annual transition from starters to backups created so much angst?

Defining "quality of play"

Before answering that question, let's try to understand the angst. What did Jaworski mean when he said he has seen "a lot of bad football" this season? What was fellow ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer referring to when he said this month that the "NFL product sucks?" How do you measure "quality of play?" And to what extent has it been impacted by injuries in 2013?

To be sure, "quality" is a subjective measure dependent at least in part on the observer's point of view.

"To me, that's all anecdotal," Polian said. "Typically, if you're a fan whose team is playing its third left tackle of the season, sure, you're going to bemoan the quality of the play that you're seeing. Why? Because your team is playing its third left tackle. But overall, and I have looked at this very closely for years, I really don't see much change this year.

"Look, what does everyone want?" Polian added. "You want offensive efficiency to grow. We're an offensive league. People want points and offense. That is continuing to grow."

Indeed, entering Week 12, teams are averaging 23.3 points per game in 2013, up from 22.8 points in 2012 and 22.2 in 2011. Moreover, according to STATS, the league is on pace for a single-season record of 46.7 combined points per game. If they stand, the league averages for completion percentage (61.3), passer rating (86.5) and touchdown-interception ratio (1.64) would also set records.

Many informed observers, however, see two relatively recent drop-offs: quarterback depth and defensive technique. Together, they have provided a broad canvas to criticize the aesthetics of football in 2013.

"Offensively, the game is great if you like seeing the ball thrown around," said Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst who played defensive back for six seasons in the NFL and was a director of pro personnel for two teams. "But defensively, quite honestly, there are only a few teams that I see these days that, when I watch them play, remind me of what I'm used to seeing in the NFL.

"The quality of play is down defensively," he added. "This offensive explosion in the colleges and the pros, those advances have not been met with equal and opposite resistance from the defensive side. There has been too much emphasis placed on having as much as possible in your defensive playbook to combat these schemes instead of teaching what is in the playbook. You're seeing some very, very unsound fundamental play, especially in coverage, and it's obvious to anyone who is watching it. It's more difficult to play defense now, but it's not impossible, because you're seeing some teams do it well."

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