Should Atlanta Falcons sit Julio Jones for rest of preseason?


What would the Green Bay Packers do to rewind time and not play Jordy Nelson against the Pittsburgh Steelers in what Aaron Rodgers described as a ‘meaningless’ game? Nelson went down in a heap without contact. He limped off the field under his own power, but a torn ACL has wiped out his 2015 season.

Fortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones is upright and healthy, but should Dan Quinn avoid losing his star by sitting him for the remainder of preseason? Jones is one the NFL’s elite wide receivers, and losing him for any significant period of time would have devastating effects on the Falcons’ season.

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The Packers are lucky. Nelson’s injury hurts them a lot, but they are probably the only team in the NFL capable of absorbing the blow with so much talent at the wide receiver position. The Falcons can’t make the same claim. Sure, Roddy White and Leonard Hankerson are talented players, and we can be excited by the potential of rookie Justin Hardy, but the unit doesn’t look half as dominant without Jones.

In the third preseason game, teams typically aim to give their starters the most time on the field before real football kicks off two weeks later. Dan Quinn has said he will be treating this week as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, but should he protect team’s most important players?

To answer that question, we first need to determine the potential benefits of him playing in the two contests. The main reason for a receiver to get playing time is to establish rhythm and chemistry with the quarterback. If the opening two games are anything to go by, they are on the same page already. Of course, taking more reps will only improve the timing and efficiency together. That’s all well and good, but now it’s about evaluating the risk-reward of playing Julio.

Nelson didn’t really need to play against Pittsburgh, and if he had sat out Rodgers would still has his favorite target. The potential reward for that game was Nelson and Rodgers improved their chemistry, but that was hardly a problem in the first place. The risk was, and always is, a significant injury. While you never expect to lose someone for the season on a simple catch, the Packers rolled the dice and got burned in the worst way possible.

Green Bay has the firepower on offense to overcome his absence, and they are led by one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has seen. The Falcons too have a multi-talented offense, but losing Jones could sink any playoff ambitions.

It’s understandable why Matt Ryan needs reps. It’s not as much about him needing to find rhythm, but more the opportunity to get on the same page with the younger receivers like Justin Hardy and new additions to the offense like Leonard Hankerson.

It’s a constant struggle for coaches trying to strike a balance between protecting their players and not being underprepared for the season opener. Playing the starters is important, but even more crucial is avoid putting your stars at risk. After all, Jones is an elite player because he plays at such a high level without needing to take as many reps in preseason.

The Patriots don’t risk Rob Gronkowski; the Texans take no chances with J.J. Watt. The Packers might rethink putting their most important players in unnecessary risk in future. Dan Quinn wants this week to be a dress rehearsal for the games that matter, and doing this is of paramount importance for the younger plays.

But the reward of playing Jones in the remaining preseason games is relatively low.

The risk? Potentially devastating.

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