— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 27, 2021
#Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said QB Baker Mayfield will play Sunday night. Not sure how much.
"We have a plan and we'll see how it goes," he said.
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 27, 2021
Rookies and reserve players played in the two prior preseason games so this marks the first time since January fans will see starters in a Browns football game.
Is this a good decision?
The answer is yes, and here is why.
1. Starters Used To Play In Preseason
Looking back at the good old days circa 2019 when there were four preseason games, the starters played in the third preseason game.
The idea behind the strategy was to allow them time together on the field to shake off the cobwebs before the regular season began.
This was in the days of four preseason games so the third game was the one when they played the most.
The fourth game was a rest day for starters since it was one week before the regular season kicked off.
This year is the first time we have three preseason games.
The traditional fourth game has been taken away (or added as the 17th regular season game depending on how you want to look at it) so the NFL is idle on Labor Day weekend.
Coach Stefanski is treating the third preseason game as it used to be treated.
He is the reigning Coach of the Year and clearly knows what he is doing so we do not need to question his decision making on this move.
2. Starters Need Reps In A Game Situation
For those who say that the preseason games are unimportant, just look at 2020.
The preseason games were cancelled so some teams (including the Browns) had a rough Week 1 which ended with the Browns getting blown out by the Ravens.
Timing, execution, and tackling need to be practiced in a real game.
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are both playing in the preseason. Baker Mayfield can too. It'll be ok ya'll.
— The Kennel (@FootballKennel) August 27, 2021
Joint practices or inter squad practices do not provide the same rigors as a real game.
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt echoed this sentiment.
“No question, there’s nothing that replaces game reps for sure. Hopefully we can get him out there, have a nice, clean drive or two and then get him out and get ready for Kansas City.”
“[There are] a lot of different philosophies, but I think coach feels like if get he can get him out there, get his feet wet a little bit so he doesn’t step out on the field at Arrowhead the first time in live action.’’
There are always the people who say that playing starters is not worth the risk of serious injuries in preseason games that do not ultimately count.
Everyone agrees that preseason injuries are horrendous, but sadly injuries are part of the game.
They can (and often do) happen in training camp practices so sitting starters in preseason games does not completely prevent them from happening.
Finally, Coach Stefanski did not elaborate how long the starters will play.
He certainly will not leave them in the game for all four quarters.
Van Pelt hinted at what the coaches would like to see from Mayfield.
“You’d love to have two long drives for touchdowns, that’s what you’re looking for ideally. We’re looking for clean operation, no pre-snap penalties. Good mechanics, see some third downs, hopefully get into the red zone a little bit, and be a good dress rehearsal for him.’’
Coach Stefanski has managed the players throughout training camp very meticulously to keep them as fresh, healthy, and as injury-free as possible.
There is no reason to believe he will abandon that strategy in the final preseason game of 2021.