There has been a lot written on these message boards and throughout social media on Kliff’s reluctance to play stars in the preseason and, specifically, Kyler’s seeming avoidance of it. Most of the arguments center around "Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are playing in the preseason" or "Belichick and Reid are playing their guys in the preseason". While those statements are factual, I contend they are prime examples of cherry picking facts to fit a narrative.
Obviously, our hope as Cardinals fans is that Kliff and Kyler are hoisting the Lombardi at the end of the year, so it is natural to compare our guys to men in the game that have reached those heights. Is playing superstars in the preseason a lock among respected (read: winning) coaches in this league? After reviewing the facts, absolutely not!
Let’s start with our own division and two of the more respected coaches in football, Sean McVay and Pete Carroll. We would love for Kliff to match the success that either of those coaches have had in this league. Do they start their stars in "meaningless" preseason games? There hasn’t been a single stat logged for either Wilson or Stafford in this preseason. The lack of snaps for Matt Stafford is especially surprising considering he’s in a brand new offense and would presumably like to build chemistry in game situations with his new teammates and play caller. Apparently, though, Coaches McVay and Carroll feel that the risk of playing their stars isn’t worth it. I’d also like to add that even if Budda Baker had played only one snap this preseason, he would have outplayed the snaps for Seahawks safety Jamal Adams. I can’t find a single stat logged for Lockett, Metcalf, Woods, Kupp, or Henderson this preseason, either.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to these two coaches in the NFC West. Aaron Rodgers, perennial MVP candidate and NFC Championship runner up for two straight years, hasn’t played in the preseason. Super Bowl winning coach John Harbaugh played Lamar Jackson exactly one series this preseason. Phenom and last year’s OROY, Justin Herbert hasn’t played any snaps this preseason, and he’s transitioning to a new coaching staff himself. Playoff quarterback Ryan Tannehill and four-time Pro Bowler Matt Ryan haven’t logged any snaps this preseason at all.
At the end of the day, it’s risk vs. reward for all these NFL coaches. There probably is a benefit to be gained from playing in the preseason, though how much of a benefit isn’t quantifiable. The risk certainly is quantifiable, though. We’ve seen two starting running backs lost for the season over the past two weeks due to injuries sustained in preseason game action (Dobbins and Etienne). An injury to any team’s starting quarterback, especially those teams with an MVP caliber one, is incredibly harmful to playoff chances. In a year where Kliff Kingsbury is fighting for his career, losing Kyler in a preseason game is more likely to cause termination due to mismanagement of his most precious resource rather than buy him a mulligan and an extra year.
There are coaches doing it both ways. One way doesn’t necessarily make you a more successful coach than the other. After 17 (haha had to come back and correct this from 16) games, it’s highly unlikely we’re talking about Kyler’s lack of playing time in the preseason as a reason for our record.