Cluster injuries are the most under-discussed determiner for an NFL team's success or failure. Well, the betting community knows plenty about cluster injuries (duh, there's money on the line) but the majority of NFL fans tend to overlook them.
Anytime a team you know is talented hits an inexplicable rough stretch, the first thing you should do is read the injury report. For example, the Lions collapsed against the Bears this past Sunday. Mitch Trubisky threw for 242 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Something smells fishy, doesn't it? Turns out, the Lions' No. 1 cornerback, Jeff Okudah, sat out the game with a hamstring injury, and their No. 2 cornerback, Desmond Trufant, left midway through the game with his own hamstring injury.
Or, take the 49ers-Cardinals game as an example. The 49ers were without Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel - their No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers - and it showed throughout the game. Jimmy Garoppolo looked lost, was sacked three times, and failed to complete a game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
Now, more cluster injuries are rolling in for the 49ers. Starting cornerback Richard Sherman was placed on three-week injured reserve with a hamstring injury today, and backup cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has a concussion. That leaves career backups Emmanuel Moseley and K'Waun Williams to handle starting duties. Oh, and George Kittle is managing a sprained knee.
The bad news - for Cardinals fans - is that the 49ers enter cupcake city over their next four games, which gives cushion for their secondary and receiver groups get healthy. San Fransisco plays the Jets, Giants, Eagles and Dolphins over their next four games before their schedule gets more challenging with the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and Packers.
The Cardinals, for what it's worth, follow a similar trajectory with Washington, Detroit, Carolina and the Jets over their next four before things get tougher with Dallas, Seattle, Miami and Buffalo.
If the 49ers stumble due to their cluster injuries, and the Cardinals continue to build on their Week 1 performance, it could have serious implications down the road in the NFC West.