In the world of NFL media, almost all of the discussion revolves around the players on the field and the coaches on the sidelines or in the press box. What were the play calls, how did they execute, did the quarterback make the right decision, was it a catch, whom should they draft, and how much should they pay player X? These questions occupy most of our attention and dialogue.
This makes sense considering these are the things most easily evident to interested observers, but they are not the only aspects that affect the success of the team on the field. Let’s look at a problem that plagued the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 in a very significant way.
Posterior Chain Conditioning
For several years, going back to Miles Austin and Matt Johnson, the Cowboys seemed to always have multiple players, including extremely important players, dealing with hamstring injuries. In more recent years that phenomenon has also included back injuries.
In the 2017 season, Sean Lee, Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and James Hanna dealt with varying degrees of hamstring injuries which cost them significant time in training camp or landed them on the injury report, while Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Brian Price, Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Benson Mayowa dealt with back injuries that landed them on the injury report during the season.
That’s 11 players, over 20 percent of a 53-man roster, which dealt with either back or hamstring injuries in one season. Three of those players, Lee, Smith and Lawrence, play premium positions for the Cowboys, and have All-Pro seasons on their resumes as among the best in the NFL at their positions when healthy. Others, like Awuzie, Woods, Lewis and Collins, were valuable contributors to the team who are considered up-and-coming impact players at important positions.
This is important because this grouping of injuries signifies a specific hole in the Cowboys’ current strength and conditioning program that must be addressed by coach Mike Woicik, along with trainers Jim Maurer, Britt Brown, and their staff.
— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) February 22, 2018
The hamstring and the back are two of largest muscles in the group known as the posterior chain. As its name suggests, this is a chain of muscles that runs down the back of the body from the neck to the legs. This is an extremely important group for some very important parts of the game of football. First is the ability to generate explosive power.
For virtually every player on the football field, creating sudden explosive power is extremely important, and the hamstrings and glutes are major players in firing the lower body to create that power. Additionally, the ability to decelerate quickly, which requires strong hamstrings and being able to control an opponent at the line of scrimmage, whether slowing down a bull rusher or moving a defender out of a gap in the run game, requires a significant amount of power from the glutes and lower back.
There could be a number of causes for the injury plague in this area for the Cowboys. One possibility: a lack of symmetry in their training with too much emphasis on the anterior chain (chest, quads etc.) through exercises like bench press and squats without incorporating enough compound posterior work through moves like dead lifts, pull ups, and rows.
Another possibility: poor running form, reaching the front leg too far in front of the body, causing the hamstring to overextend, which can lead to injury if the muscle isn’t strong enough to take the strain.
Or: perhaps not enough concentrated stretching and maintenance work on this grouping. There is clearly a problem, and a preventable one. With the technology and information available to the team, there is no reason it shouldn’t be able to fix it.