NFL punt injuries are up by 50% — What’s the problem? What is the solution?

The alarm sounded out of nowhere. In the days preceding Super Bowl LVI on February 13, the NFL's safety, health, and security team worked tirelessly. issued a call to action In response to an increase in punt-related injuries on special teams, this was done. According to league data, the rate of punt-related injuries missed time has increased by approximately 50% in the past two seasons. This information was not widely available until then.

“Before you go back there I will say that I don't care about your life.” Every time.” Indianapolis Colts Return man Nyheim Hines said. “It takes someone special to look up into the air and have a lot of people trying rip your head off.”

Dr. Allen Sills was the chief medical officer for the NFL and stated in a series interviews that the increase in injuries to special teams required “attention immediately” by league decision-makers. However, the NFL's owners and executives, as well as coaches, failed to reach a consensus when they met in March for their annual league meetings. Despite indecision by the competition committee, and some pushback from coaches, the NFL mostly ignored the concerns. Some suggested that the spike in soft-tissue and ACL injuries was due to roster changes related to the pandemic. Even though they make up only 17% of NFL games, special teams plays were responsible for 30% of ACL tear and 29% of lower extremity muscle injuries.

Calls to action in the past, especially regarding concussions, raised awareness about a high-priority issue, which led to immediate protocol and rule changes. According to league data, concussions reported have fallen by 25% since 2018. However, one in six concussions occurred in special teams in 2021. This was according to data released by the league in February. The NFL will play the 2022 season with no concern for special team injuries. This is despite the fact that the league's medical staff has declared it urgent.

Sills stated recently that “it turns out,” it is a complex process.

There are several coaches available, including the Pittsburgh SteelersMike Tomlin and The Baltimore RavensJohn Harbaugh suggests that the injury spike could be temporary due to the unique roster management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tomlin stated that while we do not like the injury rate, it does not necessarily mean that structural or schematic changes to the punt play need to be made. All of these discussions should start with looking at the injuries themselves. I believe it is important to look at the tape and the injuries that occurred on the play in order to understand why.

During the pandemic, NFL teams created rosters at an unprecedented rate as they attempted to maintain 53-man squads amid positive testing. There were 2,372 players who appeared in at most one game in the 2021 season. This is more than any other NFL season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 2020 had 2,286, which was second.

Harbaugh claimed that soft-tissue injuries like pulled hamstrings can be reduced by better conditioning. He said that a rule change based only on current data would be “overreach” and that he didn't believe it was that serious.

Rich McKay, chairman for the league's Competition Committee, stated that they were caught in the middle of the discussion and decided to wait and “go one year more and see where the injuries data is.” The 2018 concussion response that included the so-called helmet rule — an attempt to reduce contact between lowered heads and the brain — is likely to have helped with this patience. This was so hard to officiate that league instructed referees just to call it “unnecessary coarseness” when flagging it.

However, punts were still the most dangerous game in the NFL even before the pandemic. League data shows that punt injuries have been responsible for the most missed games since 2015. Sills says that the most difficult-hit are returners and gunners. They are expected to run 40 yards at full speed, or more, for their respective roles.

Dr. Scott Rodeo is a Sports Medicine surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery who also serves as the team physician. New York Giants. They run at high speeds with a fast plant and cut, accelerations in the open field and sometimes recklessly. It's possible to run at extremely high speeds and cause collisions at high speeds. That's a good working theory.

Sills and Rodeo are both optimistic about the league's ability to reduce the ACL-injury rates on punts. Rodeo is currently analyzing research that could identify players at high risk of knee ligament tear. These factors include abnormal geometry, balance, coordination, and neuromuscular control in core and hip areas. Rodeo expressed optimism about the possibility of using this research to help solve the problem. He suggested that Rodeo would use various conditioning techniques, protective gear, and “subtle rule modifications” to make it easier.

The USFL made a rule change in its inaugural season. This is being monitored by the competition committee. Gunners are required by the USFL to align themselves within the numbers. This makes it easier for them to block their line of scrimmage, and may make it more difficult to reach maximum speed. Sills stated that there are other ways gunners could cover less space and speed up their work, but that ultimately they need to address the problem.

Not everyone agrees that there is an issue at this point. For unrelated reasons, NFL games already have fewer punts. The number of punts has fallen to an all-time low as coaches tend to go for it on fourth downs less often. According to NFL data, the rates of punts per match in 2019 (8.4) 2020 (7.4) 2021 (7.6) were the lowest since 1981.

The injury trend is actually becoming more pronounced with each passing year. The NFL will have to make 2023 decisions if the 2022 injury rate holds steady.

Sills said, “It is a complex play but those types of injuries are where we're seeing them.” “And we're going on to continue [working] You can watch that play. We won't stop trying to solve it, even though it is difficult.

Contributing: ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells

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