The Baltimore Ravens decided to play their starters in the team’s final preseason game against the Washington Football Team. It was an opportunity for Baltimore to see their stars in action and get them some live-game reps before the 2021 regular season begins.
The starters only played one series during the contest, but disaster struck rather quickly as starting running back J.K. Dobbins left the game with a season-ending torn ACL in his knee after being hit low. It was the worst-case scenario for the Ravens, as the team lost a key contributor in a game that was meaningless from a win-loss perspective.
Head coach John Harbaugh was asked to respond to the notion that Baltimore should have rested their starters against Washington, and said that it was “a fair conversation”.
John Harbaugh said it was “fair” to question why J.K. Dobbins was playing Saturday night, noted there is a wide range among NFL teams in terms of starter usage in preseason. He said #Ravens play the starters in the preseason probably less than they ever have in his tenure.
— Bo Smolka (@bsmolka) August 30, 2021
John Harbaugh says the Ravens got as close to holding out their starters this season as they ever have. He understands why there’s frustration with J.K. Dobbins playing.
“Every time someone gets hurt, we ask ourselves that question.”
— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) August 30, 2021
The full quote is below:
John Harbaugh was asked to respond to people who think he shouldn’t play starters in the preseason in order to protect players like Ravens RB JK Dobbins: pic.twitter.com/jWMgKAtsrA
— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) August 30, 2021
As Harbaugh noted, Dobbins only played 23 snaps during the entire preseason, and the starting offense as a whole played for just the opening series against Washington. It’s completely understandable why teams would want to get their starters live-game reps during exhibition games, but in the past when there was a four-game preseason format, many teams held out their starters for the final contest, while playing their starters for a quarter or even a half during the second-to-last game.
It makes sense to hold starters out during the final exhibition game, but with the same amount of time in between the last week of the preseason and Week 1 in both the four-game and three-game formats, it appears some organizations are still treating that third preseason game as they have in the past by playing their starters, albeit for not as much time.
The Ravens didn’t do a horrible or terrible thing by putting their starters in during a preseason game. However as Harbaugh said, it is a fair conversation as to why they decided to do it, especially after injuries have been one of the major storylines throughout camp. He and so many others are obviously devastated for Dobbins, and while injuries can happen at any time in football, Baltimore took a risk by playing their starters in the preseason, and this time it didn’t pay off.