Recovery time and game-planning are crucial aspects of Sunday prep for NFL players.
With strict treatment schedules, weight training, practice reps and install meetings, players are accustomed to specific routines throughout the regular season.
However, when the schedule is limited or reduced due to a Thursday night matchup, the quality of play often fails to meet pro standards.
Today, let’s discuss why Thursday Night Football has been a bust to start the 2014 season, with a focus on the issues surrounding the game prep for players.
Monday mornings in the NFL are tough on veterans.
With beat-up bodies and injuries suffered on Sunday afternoons, the recovery cycle starts all over again through treatment, the cold tub, weights, advanced stretching, etc., to prepare for the next game on the schedule.
While rookies and young talent recover at a much faster pace due to increased flexibility and bodies that haven’t yet taken the pounding of a true NFL career, the vets are hurting when they get out of bed to start the work week. For some veterans, that game soreness is still an issue when they line up on Wednesday afternoon in practice for the first day of install.
And at this point of the season, no one is really "healthy" in the NFL. Maybe it’s a sore hamstring, shoulder or knee, muscle strains and contact injuries that need to be managed through treatment and rest.
However, because of the maintenance and recovery plans these players lean on throughout the week, they can still produce at a high level on Sundays when they stick to their routines to prepare for the speed and hitting of the NFL.
That changes with a game scheduled for Thursday night, since the recovery time is cut in half. Think about the amount of treatment time the players miss or the core lifts in the weight room (squat, clean, bench) that are limited when the game prep is shut down for the week on Tuesday.
That impacted the Vikings last Thursday in Green Bay, when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had to sit with an ankle injury after filling up the box score the previous Sunday in his first pro start. Bridgewater missed two-and-a-half days of treatment with the Thursday game, and the Vikings had to turn the ball over to backup Christian Ponder in another prime-time blowout.
Leading up to that Vikings-Packers matchup, veteran Green Bay offensive lineman Josh Sitton was very honest in stating his opinion of Thursday night football when speaking with Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"It sucks, man, I hate it," Sitton said. "I felt like crap today. Will probably feel like crap on Thursday. I think it’s stupid. I think it’s all about money for the NFL. Obviously. That’s what this league is about. It’s about making money."
I like that quote from Sitton, and I would bet that the majority of veteran players agree with the Packers' veteran offensive lineman. These games are hard, and there are guys who still have to take a Toradol shot (pain injection) to make it through three hours on a Sunday.
When the NFL takes away those extra days of recovery to boost revenue in a prime-time slot on Thursday nights, the game looks noticeably slower, and the level of execution on the field takes a step backward.
Reduced Game Plans
With a short work week—and limited time for new install—the game plans are reduced.
We have to understand that new install at the NFL level means time spent in walk-through periods on the practice field and in the film room until the actual scheme makes it into the game plan. That’s one of the reasons the league scheduled divisional matchups on Thursday night; veterans can lean on core schemes and win one-on-one matchups based on familiarity with the opponent.
But I still see teams that come into Thursday night unprepared from a scheme perspective.
Take the Bucs a couple of weeks back versus the Falcons. That game was a disaster on both sides of the ball (and special teams) for Tampa Bay, but the lack of execution from Lovie Smith’s defense was shocking from my perspective.
Smith can coach defensive football, but his unit failed to execute, tackled poorly and gave Matt Ryan inexcusable throwing windows in Cover 2 and Cover 3. Did the Bucs defense get enough time on the practice field to work against the Falcons' base route concepts, and were they prepared to match up versus the Falcons' three- and four-wide receiver sets?
We can also look at the Vikings' inability versus the Packers' zone-running game this past Thursday, the Steelers' failure to match the Ravens tight ends in Week 2 or Washington’s red-zone game plan versus the Giants’ Larry Donnell.
Coaches are still going to install some new schemes in a reduced week to supplement their game plan, but are the players getting enough reps on the practice field and enough work in the film room to feel comfortable with the call sheet when they get to the stadium Thursday night?
I don’t see it on the tape. Too many mistakes, poor technique and scheme busts are reflective of the lack of game prep in a short week.
Will the Thursday Night Games Improve?
The games will eventually be more competitive on Thursday this season, but is the quality really there? In my opinion, we have to take a deeper look at these matchups beyond the final score, the stats and the big plays shown on the highlights.
What is the tape telling us? Is the execution there? And how about the technique within the scheme?
At times, we get all of that on Thursday nights, but I’m not seeing enough consistent play when compared with the majority of the Sunday matchups.
Looking ahead to the Colts-Texans matchup this Thursday night, I want to focus on the game plans from Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. How will they script their call sheets given the lack of time they have to work with the players on the field?
Plus, do we see the best from Andrew Luck? And will Arian Foster (who also spoke out against the NFL's Thursday night schedule) produce numbers on limited rest coming off a physical matchup in Week 5?
It's possible that the Colts and Texans could play a great football game Thursday night. But I still can't get past the idea of these players getting back on the field again when they are still trying to recover from the previous Sunday while cramming an entire week of game prep into a couple of days.
This game is too physically and mentally demanding to expect the quality of play on Thursday nights to improve over the course of the season.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.