The Buffalo Bills were cramming like it was a college final-exam week Tuesday as they prepared for Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Browns in Cleveland.
With just three days to prepare for the game instead of the usual six, the Bills were focused on watching as much video of the Browns as possible after spending two hours on the practice field on what normally is their day off.
“I usually get a massage before a game, but right now that’s probably the last thing I’m worried about,” said receiver Stevie Johnson.
“I just want to get in the meeting rooms, talk with the coaches, talk with the players and watch film. I want to be ready.”
For many players, the video watching started Sunday night, just hours after their 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
“After the game Sunday night, I kept checking my iPad to see if their plays were pushed out,” said safety Da’Norris Searcy, referring to a private site players can access to watch game video. I got them about 8 or 9 p.m. I was watching the Patriots and Falcons game. During commercials and the breaks, I was watching film of the Browns. Normally on Sunday nights, I’m just sitting back relaxing and watching whoever’s playing that night. The extra meeting time is big this week, because we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.”
The NFL has played a regular schedule of Thursday night games since 2006. Starting last year, each of the 32 teams was guaranteed one Thursday game.
The purpose is to increase revenue. The games are the featured content on the NFL Network. The Thursday games last year averaged 7.3 million viewers nationwide. ESPN’s Monday night games averaged about 13 million viewers. NBC’s Sunday night games averaged about 22.6 million viewers.
Thursday games cause a lot more preparation stress.
A normal NFL week goes like this: Monday, get treatment and review video from Sunday’s game; Tuesday, off; Wednesday, install the game plan and work on first- and second-down preparation; Thursday, install the third-down plan and the sub-packages (for passing situations); Friday, work on red-zone and two-minute situations; Saturday, have a walk-through session and travel to the game.
This week, the Bills’ coaches went right back to the office Sunday evening to work on the Cleveland game plan.
“The coaches got to see our families for a little bit, but after the game was over we immediately came here,” coach Doug Marrone said. “So we started working and looked at the previous game we played and tried to get that put to bed. Then we started working on the game plan that night.”
The coaches gave a brief review of the Ravens game to the players Monday, then introduced them to the Browns game plan in a walk-through practice late that afternoon. Tuesday was a heavy work day at One Bills Drive.
“Your meetings are a little bit longer, extended,” Marrone said. “Your practice time and practice reps are a little bit shorter. We extend the walk-through time for the players. Basically we’re getting our Wednesday and Thursday in. Then tomorrow, on Wednesday, we’ll get our Friday and Saturday in.”
Center Eric Wood said by game time Thursday, he will feel as mentally prepared as he does for a Sunday game.
“We generally break down at least four game films on our own, and I’ve gone through all of their games so far,” Wood said. “You just kinda gotta speed it up. You could have watched film Sunday night after our game if you wanted to, and I know a lot of us took advantage of that opportunity.”
“Personally there’s no worse feeling than going into a game unprepared, and if you want to play confident you’ve got to be prepared. I think Doug’s done a great job of increasing the meeting time so I think players who maybe aren’t used to doing a lot of film study on their own are really getting in the playbook this week.”
Physically, players try to stay off their feet when not on the practice field.
“I get a lot more stretching in, stay loose and stay hydrated,” said guard Kraig Urbik. “Then get off your feet obviously because you need all the rest you can get. I usually get a massage on Tuesday, but since we didn’t have an off day, I won’t get one before this game. A lot of us have been here since 8 a.m. both days.”
“Any time I get a chance to get in the cold tub this week, I take advantage of it,” Searcy said. “Normally I get a massage on Fridays but I’m getting one today instead. I get one a couple days before the game. Stay off your feet a lot, eat right and get the proper nutrition.”