Arizona Cardinals prepare for reality of Thursday Night Football
TEMPE, Ariz. — Every team has to do it at least once.
No team seems to like it.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for Thursday Night Football, Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams style.
“Thursday puts a strain on you as far as you really can’t practice. You can have walkthroughs if it’s less than 24 hours from a game. Tuesdays are normal days off, and those are going to be your two practice days,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “You do basically everything as a walkthrough. The coaching staff did a good job of preparing for this game last week, so everything’s ready for this practice today – installation, game plan, everything’s in from the meetings this morning. You just do what you have to do.”
Historically speaking, Thursday nights have not been particularly kind to the Cardinals. In 2008, they traveled to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving and were beaten by the Eagles 48-20. Two years ago, they struggled in a 17-3 road loss to the St. Louis Rams. And last season, they fell to the Seattle Seahawks at home by a score of 34-22.
So far this season, road teams have won five of 12 Thursday night games, so it is not as if needing to travel is a death knell for the Cardinals. However, Arians said the schedule is a whole lot tougher on the road team, especially when it comes to preparing one’s body for the game so soon after just playing in one.
“You have to travel on Wednesday and flying at any time you have swelling; it’s not a good match,” he said.
There are absolutely disadvantages to playing on a Thursday night, and they are not just related to health or recovery. NFL teams are about as habitual as you will find in any sport, and any change in routine can be an issue.
For instance, in a normal week, Monday at the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility would have been a “Victory Monday,” with veterans having the day off. Tuesday would be followed by an off day for the entire team, and then they would get back on the practice field Wednesday to begin preparing for the upcoming game.
But for this week, Arizona’s Monday was like its Wednesday, Tuesday will be its Thursday, and so on and so forth.
“You have to love the NFL schedule, though,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said following Sunday’s 17-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. “You have to love it. You won a tough game against a great football team. Eight o’clock meetings tomorrow morning and six o’clock treatment. This is the schedule.”
Essentially, it’s not an ideal situation for anyone involved in the game.
“Thursday night games always test your mental toughness,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “You have to be very mentally tough as a football team.”
Campbell added it is because practice will not involve any pads or hitting, so everyone has to be sharp in getting the mental part of the game down while not being able to work on the physical. He also said it’s a little more difficult because of the travel day.
“But good teams have got to find a way to win games no matter what the circumstances are, and this is a big opportunity for us. We’ve got to find a way to be mentally tough and find a way to get a win.”
Though there is little doubt no one in the locker room is fond of the idea of having to play on Thursday, there was also one other truth that each player made sure to mention: their opponents have to do it too.
So, while the Cardinals may have to struggle with trying to get their bodies prepared and minds ready sooner than normal, so do the Rams.
“So it’s not like it’s a disadvantage or anything,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “We both have got the same amount of days; the only difference is we’ve got to go there rather than them coming here.
“But guys that are nicked up and hurt, it’s a short week so we’ve got to do what we can to take care of our bodies and get guys back healthy to be ready to play at a high level on Thursday.”
On the official injury report, which was released Monday afternoon, seven Cardinals were listed as “limited” participants, while two did not practice at all and one is already listed as out for the game. For the Rams, the report showed seven players who did not participate due to injury, while one player was “limited,” though the team noted it was more of an estimation of what the players’ status would have been had they gone through a full practice.
So while playing on Thursday is not ideal, it may not really be an advantage for anyone, and that’s why the Cardinals, Lorenzo Alexander said, have to be careful not to make too big of a deal out of the schedule.
“It is a challenge, but they’re facing the same challenge, so there’s no excuses,” he said. “We’ve still got to travel; it will be a regular road game. If you focus on that, sometimes you can allow that to kind of hinder yourself and hinder what’s really important, and that’s focusing on the scheme, what the coaches are going to be calling, and going out there and executing.”