Pollock: Thursday games a major test for coaches, players

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley scores a touchdown after catching an 18-yard Josh Allen pass in the 3rd quarter against the Denver Broncos on Sunday at New Era Field.

Coaches don’t like it, players, for the most part, hate it, but alas, the viewers love it.

And since, in reality, they’re the ones subsidizing the television networks which are making beau coup dollars from them … the coaches and players don’t count.

That’s why the National Football League mandates that each of its 32 teams play at least one Thursday game each season.

There are 14 Thursday nights, and three on Thanksgiving (12:30, 4:30 and 8:20) and tomorrow, the Bills will play the middle game in Dallas against the Cowboys.

The reason coaches hate Thursday games is that it disrupts their routine.

In a normal week, after a Sunday game, Monday is for film review and treatment of injuries, Tuesday is the players’ day off, Wednesday and Thursday are for installing the offensive and defensive game plans, respectively, Friday is a walk-through and Saturday is for travel to a road game or another walk-through if it’s home.

For a Thursday game, coming off playing on Sunday, there’s still film review and injury treatment on Monday, but Tuesday is a full practice and Wednesday becomes the normal Saturday.

The key issue, besides preparation, is getting rest for the players.

And, tomorrow, Dallas has the edge. The Cowboys played and lost at New England in the 4:30 game, then flew home. Buffalo played the 1 o’clock game at New Era Field, but will lose most of today flying to Texas.

OF PREPARING for tomorrow’s game, Bills coach Sean McDermott allowed, “The staff started working on Dallas the end of last week, best they could. Then, we came back here (Sunday) night and then early (Monday) morning.

“The biggest thing is we try and give the players as much rest as we can and then make sure we give them clarity on the game plan ...making sure our players understand the plan and that we’re clear on what we expect. We’re focused on what we’ve got to get done.”

Of playing a nationally-televised game in an iconic stadium on a popular American holiday, McDermott added, “It’s an opportunity that they’ve earned so to speak. I know it’s on the schedule but they’ve worked hard going all the way back to the spring. That said, it’s another game on our schedule and we’ve got a lot of work to do to get ourselves ready.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll admitted, “It’s a short turnaround. You put together a game plan. You install it. Players work really hard to go out there and to learn it in the classroom, go to a walk-through, and then do it in practice.

“Obviously, practice is a little bit lighter. You have to do a good job of making sure there’s not too much to (learn) so the guys can play fast. They’re coming off a short timeframe … everybody just has to be doing their job. “

For defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the short preparation time is a factor but “these guys have all played in games where lots of people are watching, they’re professionals and coaches are professionals. You have to try to remain consistent in your approach, even though it’s a short week.

“You have to try to get ahead when you’re on a Thursday night game. No easy task, and it comes down to the preparation, and then going out there, the players playing well, giving them good plays, and collectively doing a good job. It’s a challenge.”

Especially for coaches crafting a game plan on the fly.

“That’s just the nature of it,” Frazier said. “We’re all doing this, that’s the job. You have to get ready whenever they ask you to play. However long that takes, that’s how long it takes. On a short week you’re cramming so much in, in comparison to when you have a normal week.

“So the challenge is to try to keep the guys fresh and at the same time give them enough information, where they can go out and play fast and execute and not overwhelm them with a lot of information in a short period of time.

“Tying to balance that, but give them enough is probably the biggest challenge along with making sure to get the proper rest.”

Does it help that in Sunday’s dominating 20-3 win over Denver the Bills defense was on the field for only 46 snaps?

“I hope so,” Frazier said. “I hope we look back at it and say that game, with so few snaps, was good for us. Time will tell. For sure, rest is at a premium this week. (Those 46 snaps) sure didn’t hurt us.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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