In the third preseason game of the 1999 preseason, the St. Louis Rams lost starting QB Trent Green to a season-ending ACL injury as San Diego Chargers S Rodney Harrison hit him from behind in what many perceived to be a dirty play. Fifteen years later, Rams QB Sam Bradford went down in that fateful third preseason game against the Cleveland Browns re-injuring his ACL.
The perils of playing your key starters in what are essentially engaged practice sessions have always been apparent, and the two instances are certainly remembered well (as in starkly not fondly) as evidence thereof.
Which is why it’s perhaps interesting to see so many fans flippantly endorsing Rams Head Coach Sean McVay’s decision to sit his starting offense throughout the entire 2018 preseason not because it lacks merit but because, well, it’s so novel.
When the Rams hit the field for their first offensive snap in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders, the starting 11 players on offense will collectively have taken zero preseason snaps.
As far as I could find, the Rams have literally never done this. In franchise history.
And while we can all understand the justification for this kind of cautiousness both historically as I alluded to but also from across the NFL this preseason alone, shouldn’t we be making more of the uniqueness of this decision? It’s lack of precedent?
This isn’t a gradual shift. This isn’t a 50% decrease in snaps or two less drives over four games. This is an absolute sea change that presents us with the most extreme absolute to deal with.
There’s always been grumbling throughout the league of shortening or cancelling the preseason outright. And there have been the occasional superstars who sat out the full preseason. But on the whole, teams play their starting offenses and defenses, albeit sparingly.
So perhaps what’s strangest about it is how easily so many Rams fans have seemed to accept this decision without recognizing how wildly radical it is. Rams fans who have been around for decades. Who were here last year. Who were here last year just like McVay himself who played his starters often just a year ago.
When TE Temarrick Hemingway broke his leg in the third preseason game last year, there were no calls to sit the entire starting offense. There was no immediate suggestion to completely shut things down in the preseason for fear of further injury.
Because part of what’s even more confusing is how unfinished the logic is here.
If you’re sitting your starting offense out of an abundance of caution...why would you play your backups?
For all the opprobrium backup QB Sean Mannion has had to endure this preseason (and fairly at that), he remains the QB2. The backup to starting QB Jared Goff. So if the threat to Goff’s readiness is so severe, should it not be equally severe to the man that would have to fill Goff’s shoes in case of emergency? Or conversely if the threat is so inconsiderate that it doesn’t merit saving Mannion from it, would it not be so for Goff?
The logic goes even deeper if you apply the threat beyond the preseason.
Take training camp.
DE/OLB Morgan Fox is going to miss the 2018 season with an ACL injury. DE Dominique Easley missed last year with the same. Should we hold out the starting offense from drills in training camp for fear of losing them for Week 1? I could copy and paste from the thousands of tweets we’ve gotten @TurfShowTimes backing McVay’s decision to hold the starters out of the preseason. They’d seemingly apply to training camp too, if we’re just resting on the logic alone.
So let’s be honest. Much like the decision to rest the starters in Week 17 against the San Francisco 49ers last New Year’s Eve and it’s relationship with the Wild Card playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. This decision means nothing save for the result two weeks from today. If the Rams beat the Raiders, nobody will ultimately care that the starting offense took their first actual in-game snap for 2018 in a regular season game and not a preseason one. If we lose...well, we’re going to have to re-visit this.
But it’s worth making this point very bluntly and in boldface to make sure nobody misconstrues it or misunderstands it (and let’s be clear the number of people who are going to do that are more than 0 and perhaps by the tens of thousands).
I’M NOT DISAGREEING WITH THE DECISION TO SIT THE STARTERS.
THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT TO SIT THEM.
THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE INCREDIBLY RADICAL NATURE OF THE DECISION TO DO SO AS IT HAS NEVER HAPPENED. NOT ONCE.
It might not matter at all but on the surface it's crazy. Guys are expecting to have timing down and cohesive play with no live reps?— Cian (@Cianaf) August 27, 2018
Cult of McVay + success from last season. No team with a bad offense could get away with this.— Cian (@Cianaf) August 27, 2018
So let’s at least this is history in the making.
For better or for worse.