If you were to have asked me, "How injured were the Steelers this season?" I would've said, "Very. Among the most injured teams in the league," without any hesitation.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News compiled his own data on the most injured teams in the NFL, with it framed as "Can Cowboys use health as an excuse?" With No. 1 being the least injured team and 32 the most injured, his data has the Steelers checking in at No. 21 - not exactly healthy, but not even bottom ten in the league (which is an assessment I would've felt safe making before this without feeling the need to dig up numbers to back it up).
Gosselin does have numbers though, and the teams that seem to have been more injured than the Steelers are:
32. Green Bay Packers - 83 total games missed by injured starters
31. Washington Redskins - 75
30. Dallas Cowboys - 71
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - 69
28. Detroit Lions - 69
27. Indianapolis Colts - 66
26. Carolina Panthers - 65
25. Philadelphia Eagles - 63
24. Kansas City Chiefs - 56
23. Cincinnati Bengals - 56
22. Buffalo Bills - 55
His numbers say that the Steelers lost 52 games due to injured starters, five of whom were placed on injured reserve, that Troy Polamalu was the "key starter" that missed the most time with nine games, and that the Steelers had just eight 16-game starters in 2012.
Before I dig in, I just want to say that I've come across Gosselin's work before and that I do have a positive opinion of him. I'm not coming into this with prejudice against him.
With that clear - I wish I knew exactly what data he's working with, because now that I need numbers to back up my previously unfounded assertions, I'm having trouble reconciling them with his.
Gosselin counts five Steelers starters that were placed on IR. I'm not at all clear on what he's defining as a "starter", but I can try to figure it out myself. I count at least four notable guys on IR right now that I'd say were "starters", including Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert, Heath Miller, and Ike Taylor -- plus David DeCastro earlier in the season. That means he's probably not counting Mike Adams at all, and I would definitely count him somehow since he did become the "starting RT" after Gilbert went on IR, was included in the fan vote for the Pro Bowl (I believe, for whatever that's worth), and Adams' injury forced the formerly 3rd string Kelvin Beachum into starting more than a quarter of the season.
But even excluding Adams, I keep getting at least 54 games missed by Steelers starters, to Gosselin's 52.
David DeCastro -- 12 games (according to Steelers.com, DeCastro only started in three games but played in four)
Marcus Gilbert -- 11
Troy Polamalu -- 9
Willie Colon -- 5
Ike Taylor -- 4
Ben Roethlisberger -- 3
James Harrison -- 3
LaMarr Woodley -- 3
Antonio Brown -- 3
Heath Miller -- 1
The only adjustments I can think of that could make the numbers match up are if Gosselin did not count AB's three missed games (he apparently wasn't a "starter" in every game he played this season, which could cloud things) and then did count Mike Wallace missing Week 17. However, Wallace was placed on IR for that, and I do believe I've already filled up the five spots that Gosselin has for Steelers starters placed on IR. Should it be six instead? I'm not sure, because there are a couple other options with understandable logic and comparable math: (1) the difference between DeCastro's games played vs. started, or (2) if he's counting Ryan Clark missing the opener at Denver on account of his sickle cell.
I'm definitely including AB (it's not negotiable when he's the highest paid receiver on the team), and if Gosselin wants to count Clark, I would like to as well (hadn't been originally since it wasn't an actual injury that held him out, but a chance of going from healthy to mortal danger in the space of a day). I'm ambivalent about counting Wallace, since the hip or hamstring or whatever injury that put him on IR for the last game of the season wasn't in the same ballpark as Heath's knee reconstruction that led to a similar move, and there's a chance that Wallace could've been held out of the game even if he was healthy. Assuming that I'm right about AB being the main discrepancy, whatever Gosselin's extra missed game is would bring my count to 55 - though it could be as high as 60 depending on whether or not you want to count Adams (the five lost games for him would be the five starts that Beachum had to close out the season).
Now, this is all completely ignoring the RB carousel: Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman all missed games due to injury in 2012. But with no one being the properly declared "starter", I'm not sure how many "lost games" I can fairly count from the group. Right now, it's none.
So my revised final estimate is around 60 lost games give or take, which would put the Steelers around No. 24 on Gosselin's list - and among the 10 "most injured" teams in the league.
However, this is all with a grain of salt because I still don't know what data Gosselin actually used in his assessments for all 32 teams, or how accurate it was. Moreover, someone that actually knows the Bills, Bengals, or Chiefs could see what he had for their team, also decide to come up with their own assessment, and their revised estimate could well be more than the ~60 that I came up with. And I'd be hard-pressed to disprove it.
At the end of the day, these kinds of objective comparisons are very difficult to put together and base judgments on.
Were the 2012 Steelers affected by injuries? Absolutely.
Were there a lot of them? Most definitely.
Were they limited to starters and did they all result in games that were completely missed? Not at all.
And to get back to the premise that the Dallas Morning News had when publishing the table of can [fill in your NFL team] use health as an excuse for missing the playoffs - did the Steelers still have chances to win in most of the games that they lost, in spite of their injury situation?