The Dallas Cowboys have owned one of the league's best offensive lines in the last couple of years. It has significantly contributed to the success of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
But with two weeks to go before the regular season kicks off, Dallas is suddenly looking at a weakened group.
Starting center Travis Frederick faces an uncertain road back to the field with a timetable for return becoming secondary after he was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. There's no firm guess on when he might return, forcing career backup Joe Looney into the lineup. The immediate results weren't promising in a 21-13 loss to Cincinnati in Week 2.
Compounding the issue is the absence of guard Zack Martin, who suffered a hyperextended knee in the loss to Cincinnati. Rookie guard Connor Williams has also shown struggles as he acclimates to the pro game.
The result is a once-reliable group becoming much less than that. As a result, Dallas is considering keeping its starters on the sideline for the traditional dress rehearsal that is the Week 3 preseason contest.
"There's a good chance," Jones said Friday of quarterback Dak Prescott sitting, per the Star-Telegram. "I don't think we've completely decided yet, and that is Jason's [Garrett] call by the way. But I think we'll be pretty conservative here."
Coach Jason Garrett opted for the more traditional response when asked about his decision entering Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's always a balancing act. It's always has been about how much you play guys to get them ready for the season versus putting them in a situation where they expose themselves to injury," Garrett said, via ESPN. "We believe it's important to play guys at some point in the preseason to get them ready for regular-season action. We feel like they're more compromised in the regular season if they don't play at all in the preseason."
Game reps are important, yes. But health is arguably more important, especially when these games don't exactly count. The risk has been increased with two key members of Dallas' usually stellar line sidelined.
"You do lose people ... you're supposed to make adjustments, we didn't adjust," Jones said of last season. "That really, really was a focal point of our offseason. Just to remember ... We don't want to have another Atlanta happen to us. 'The Burning of Atlanta.' That was called 'the Burning of Atlanta.' Gone with the wind."
Jones was referring to a nightmarish Week 10 loss to Atlanta in 2017, in which left tackle Tyron Smith spent his afternoon off the field while replacement Chaz Green was undressed by Falcons end Adrian Clayborn, who finished with six sacks, the second most in a game in NFL history. Prescott emerged unharmed, despite the nearly constant contact, but the lesson about the importance of reliable offensive linemen wasn't lost on the Cowboys.
In a much less meaningful contest, it would seem wise to keep the most important members of the Cowboys' offense safe from potential harm.