Robert Saleh undecided on playing New York Jets starters in second game of preseason

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — New York Jets coach Robert Saleh can’t decide whether to face his starters Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I’m torn,” Saleh said Saturday after the second joint practice with the Falcons. “I wake up one day and I’m like, ‘OK, they’re going to play.’ The next day I wake up and they’re not going to play.”

It’s a multi-layered decision for Saleh. The starters only played two series in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, and they usually don’t play in the final game. If they sit out against the Falcons, it would be like having three straight weeks off before the 9/11 season opener.

On the other hand, there is the injury factor. The Jets have already suffered key injuries to right tackle Mekhi Becton (season-ending knee surgery) and quarterback Zach Wilson (arthroscopic knee surgery). Wilson, injured against the Eagles, is expected to miss about a month, making it likely that Joe Flacco will face the Ravens in Week 1.

Flacco, 37, didn’t see any action against the Eagles so he wouldn’t have game reps before Game 1 – a dicey proposition for a quarterback who hasn’t seen much game action these last years.

“He doesn’t need it, but I feel like everyone can use it to remember how to prepare and make sure every game is just a normal game,” Saleh said, shielding himself one more time.

Saleh said they had two productive days of work against the Falcons, reducing the need to see his starters in the game. The Jets were in a similar situation last year, and those memories aren’t pleasant.

They lost defensive end Carl Lawson to a season-ending Achilles injury in joint practice against the Green Bay Packers, then played their starters in the following game. One of them, linebacker Jarrad Davis, suffered a serious ankle injury and was sidelined for two months.

“It was like a bloodbath,” Saleh said, recalling the trip to Green Bay.

The Jets have also been dogged by injuries this season, which may explain Saleh’s cautious approach. In Philadelphia, he decided at the last minute to rest key veterans, including Lawson, linebacker CJ Mosley and tackle George Fant.

A potential problem is the offensive line. Due to Becton’s injury and the late arrival of Duane Brown, the top five have yet to train together. Brown, 36, who signed Aug. 15, has spent the entire week with the conditioning staff, working his way into football form. He won’t play Monday night, which means the offensive line might not be together in a game setting before Game 1.

Safety Jordan Whitehead said the joint practices are “like pre-season” but acknowledged that real game representatives are also important.

“As you come into the game it picks up speed, so you definitely need a few reps to get you ready for the season, he said. Another factor for Saleh: Monday Night Football.

“There’s tremendous value in this one. This one is different because it’s Monday Night Football,” he said. We’re such a young team and that’s what a lot of guys dream of.”

Saleh said the Monday Night Football scene creates a “reinforced environment,” which he says helps prepare players for the intensity of the regular season.

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