Of all the ways Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay’s rapid ascent has affected the NFL, how teams approach the preseason seemed to be far down the list.
However, McVay’s approach to the preseason — which is basically to blow it off — seems to be catching on.
Over the last two years McVay and the Rams have sat practically every starter through the preseason, including stars like quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. That goes against the way teams have approached the preseason for decades.
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But the Rams will be healthy going into September. Teams like the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Detroit Lions, who all saw key players get injured this month, perhaps wish they had followed that path.
Sean McVay comfortable with preseason approach
For as long as anyone can remember, the preseason went like this for just about every team: The first game, the starters got a series or two. The second game, maybe a quarter or more. The third game would be the so-called dress rehearsal, with a half or more to the starters. Then teams would sit everyone in the fourth game.
For some teams this year, every preseason game looks like the fourth game. That is McVay’s influence, after the Rams sat everyone last preseason, came into the regular season healthy and went to a Super Bowl.
“We feel confident and comfortable with the approach we’re taking, and we understand that it might not be for everybody,” McVay said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“You never want to see your main guys that you’re counting on get injured, especially in games where it’s really just tuneups for the regular season.”
Teams are starting to blow off preseason
Here was the Chicago Bears’ inactive list from the third preseason game, which traditionally has been for starters to get a half or more:
Even old-school coach Vic Fangio of the Denver Broncos sat almost all of his starters in the third preseason game. Last week’s Rams-Broncos preseason game, before an announced crowd of 66,899, featured very few players who will have any significant role in Week 1:
Warren Sharp of SharpFootballAnalysis.com pointed out how many teams barely played their quarterbacks this month:
Four projected starting QBs didn't play a snap this preseason:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 26, 2019
• Trubisky (3 snaps, 0 dropbacks)
• Carr (6 snaps, 2 dropbacks)
• Brees (8 snaps, 6 dropbacks)
• Newton (11 snaps, 8 dropbacks)
• Watson (13 snaps, 8 dropbacks)
That list should grow. One quarterback on that list, Cam Newton, suffered an ankle injury in his limited snaps. The Texans lost running back Lamar Miller to a torn ACL. The Lions had center Frank Ragnow and linebacker Jarrad Davis get carted off and while neither injury seems to be as serious as it looked, both will likely enter the season at less than 100 percent.
Some coaches value the preseason. Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid plays his starters a lot in August, and he has had a lot of success. But a movement seems to be afoot. Teams can get ready for the season through practices, or even joint practices with another team. The preseason is already a dubious sell to fans, and it’ll get a lot tougher if most of the league adopts the McVay model and never plays starters.
Teams are starting to see that the risk of getting key players injured isn’t worth the reward of possibly being sharper after a couple dozen preseason snaps. If that approach becomes widespread in the NFL, thank McVay for it.
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