Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera is facing a balancing act this weekend every NFL coach dreads to a certain extent. How long is too long to play his starters in the final preseason game of the year?
There's no right answer, at least no one right answer. The line between preparation and preservation gets thinner every time a star player gets injured in the final exhibition game of the year.
Speaking to media ahead of the game this weekend, Rivera commented about the shift in focus he's noticed over the years.
"It's changed a lot," Rivera said. "...For whatever reason, the concern about guys getting hurt has really kind of gotten in a lot of people's heads about how much you play them. So, you really do want to be careful. You'd rather start your season with your best players healthy."
Rivera expanded on the comments discussing how these concerns translate into how much playing time specific players will or won't get.
Early in his coaching career, the WFT head coach was part of a staff that lost a key player in this exact situation. An experience he identified as having an influence on how they gauge playing time in these contests.
Complicating matters further is the existence of multiple metrics for playing time. Whether a staff targets snaps, series, or quarters, has an influence as well. For example, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has already publicly committed to his starters playing the first half of their final preseason game against the Houston Texans.
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Even more, if he doesn't like what he sees from the first unit by halftime.
Perhaps this is one coach's way of solidifying a plan in the face of unanswerable questions. In a copycat league, it doesn't sound like Rivera is following suit.
Instead, the Washington Football Team head coach seems to be keeping things more fluid and up to in-the-moment analysis versus a rigid timeline.
The success of either method won't be graded until the final whistle and will be judged based on the health of his starting roster.
So, what was Rivera's answer when asked how long he'll play his starters?
"The starters will play what we think they need to play."