I do think that when you talk to a lot of different people, you talk to our coaching staff, you talk to (Director/Sports Medicine and Performance) Reggie (Scott) and (Head of Strength and Conditioning) Ted (Rath) who we’ve relied on all year – being locked into that third or fourth seed, every single game is important, but I think it will provide an opportunity for us to potentially get some guys healthier, rest them, give some other guys a chance to step up. How that affects the guys that are healthy that we want to be smart with is going to be determined as the week progresses. But, it is one of those deals where I think you might see us rest some guys and use this week where, you don’t ever take anything for granted, but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy unless it’s one of those games where you had to go play to win the division this week. So, that’s a luxury that we want to try to take advantage of and everything that we did is what we think is best for our football team and while we do want to give ourselves a chance to compete to go win this football game against a tough 49ers team that’s rolling, we also know that we have a chance to play for a championship and get into the playoffs and that’s something that we’re also very mindful of as well.
Really, there’s a bit of a domino effect going on. All year, the Rams have rested three starters on Wednesdays during the first practice of the week: LT Andrew Whitworth, C John Sullivan and OLB Connor Barwin, the three players on the roster older than 30-years old. I’d think it fair to start with those three as three starters you’d rest out of a primary concern for wellness with the playoffs looming. Then you also have LB Mark Barron who is dealing with an Achilles injury that flared up causing him to miss Week 16 as well as OL Rodger Saffold who injured his oblique mid-game.
The question then is if all of those guys sit who you hold out because of those absences, something McVay also alluded to in terms of potentially sitting QB Jared Goff and/or RB Todd Gurley:
The thing that is unique about it though, different than the preseason – you still have 53 guys on your active roster – how do you get to those 46? Now, fortunately for us we are fairly healthy, but how we determine as far as getting to that 46 and then if you do go with a Whitworth and a (C John) Sullivan then how does that affect Jared or Todd? Those things are all definitely connected and those will be things that we’re going to continue to discuss as the week progresses, but the most important thing is for those guys that are banged up right now – the (LB) Alec Ogletree’s, Mark Barron’s, that’s where you feel pretty good about maybe saying, ‘Alright, these are guys that are definite candidates to rest them and get them as healthy as possible for that first playoff game.’
Now it’s easy enough to sit into the logic of resting guys either (a) to rehabilitate nagging injuries or (b) prevent anything disastrous from happening in the final game especially as it has a relatively minimal effect on the Rams’ playoff standings. There are two aspects to the difficult balance at play that Misone and I discussed on Turf Show Radio last night.
For one, you’ve got an issue of momentum. Of tempo. Of rhythm. For the last four months, nearly every player on the Rams has gotten into a weekly rhythm punctuated by Sundays. Yes, there was a final preseason game on a Thursday, a Week 3 game on Thursday Night Football as well and the bye week in late October. But on the whole, those guys named above and their core teammates have aligned their bodies and minds to come off of a high on Sunday night and slowly reset the buildup for the next Sunday. As many players around the league have often mentioned (Gurley included), Thursday night games and bye weeks often interrupt that rhythm in very noticeable and undesirable ways. So resting guys in Week 17 can really upset that rhythm in a similar way. With a playoff game looming a week later, finding out how to upset that rhythm to as benign a degree as possible is the kind of challenge for the coaching staff that they’ll ultimately be judged upon. There is no right answer. It’s just about managing the process to get to the right outcome. Ends define means.
For the second aspect that tempers the rush to rest guys, you’ve got some relatively arbitrary markers that guys like Goff and Gurley would love to hold on to that might galvanize the rest of the team. Goff needs just 196 passing yards to hit 4,000 on the season. He needs to throw just two touchdowns to hit 30. And while Gurley might not have any of those kind of markers to hit with 1,305 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, 788 receiving yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns making for 2,093 yards from scrimmage with 19 TDs, he could certainly bolster his MVP candidacy with a Week 17 resume-capper. The New England Patriots might need to win on Sunday to preserve the #1 seed in the AFC, so it’s fair to expect QB Tom Brady to play this weekend. Should Gurley sit in Week 17 and Brady have a good performance against a New York Jets team that doesn’t have anything to play for in terms of the postseason, it could easily finalize the MVP debate. And it’s worth pointing to how vocal Gurley’s teammates were in response to his MVP candidacy after his award-winning performance in Week 16.
So yes, the Rams would be wise to rest guys in Week 17. We’re in the luxury position of knowing we’re locked in to either the 3rd or 4th seed in the playoffs knowing we’ll have home field in the wild card round. But it’s not as simple as just keeping guys off the field.
How McVay and the rest of the staff manage the balance will be just as important as getting the team to maximum health for the playoffs.