John McGrath

For Seahawks, schedule presents challenge that is both physical and mental

Seahawks defensive lineman Marcus Smith is helped off the field after colliding with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright during a play in the third quarter against Washington. With a short week because of a game on Thursday, the Seahawks have less time to heal – both mentally and physically.
Seahawks defensive lineman Marcus Smith is helped off the field after colliding with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright during a play in the third quarter against Washington. With a short week because of a game on Thursday, the Seahawks have less time to heal – both mentally and physically. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

The Seattle Seahawks have appeared on Thursday Night Football six times since Pete Carroll was hired as head coach in 2010. It is not a coincidence that they’ve won five of those six games.

“We have a whole format of how we go through this,” Carroll said Tuesday of the abbreviated week that will find the Hawks taking on two opponents in a span of 100 hours. Like a five-star chef reluctant to share details of a signature recipe, Carroll is vague about how the format works, but it’s clear that time management is essential.

“Coach Carroll and his staff do a really good job monitoring the schedule,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said before he and his teammates took the field for practice in anticipation of their Thursday night contest at Arizona.

During a normal week, Mondays are devoted to meetings and postgame physical evaluations, and Tuesdays are open. Practices based on a new game plan begin Wednesday.

This week’s schedule required the Seahawks to practice Tuesday, depriving them a break from a sport that can be as mentally taxing as it is physically.

“You need a day off to kind of clear your head and rest your body,” said Wagner. “When you don’t have that day, it’s hard. You have to push everything up and crunch everything you do in a week into two days.”

If it’s any consolation, the athletes on the other side are confronting the very same challenge.

As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said on a Tuesday conference call, “getting the guys mentally fresh,” is a underrated aspect of the truncated week. “I mean, it’s an exhausting game physically, but it is also exhausting mentally. To try and get a team ready for a different style of offense and a different style of defense in two days – with primarily walk-throughs – it’s hard.

“The first day, they’re still mentally shot and they need that day off to refresh their minds and their bodies. The physical part, yeah, you know that’s tough. But the mental part is really hard.”

Quarterback Russell Wilson is famously tethered to the Seahawks practice facility, but he notes that Tuesdays, when he visits Seattle Children’s Hospital, “is the best part of my week, every week.

“One of the things I do after being here all day is when I come home, I try to be home,” Wilson continued. “I really try to spend one-on-one time with my family. That kind of gets me ready for everything else.”

And there is a lot of everything else. Since Arians replaced Ken Whisenhunt as the Cardinals head coach in 2013, Arizona has a respectable 4-5-1 record against a Hawks team that has qualified for the playoffs five consecutive seasons.

In recent years, the series has featured a 39-32 shootout victory for the Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in 2015, and a 6-6 tie at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2016.

“A lot of good football and a lot of poor special teams – missed field goals for both teams, and a blocked punt – but that game was physical,” recalled Arians. “You just can’t make those kind of critical errors and win ballgames. I still feel like it was a loss.”

Such mistakes contributed to the prevailing narrative about Thursday Night Football: That the quick turnaround prevents players from exerting an optimum effort on national TV.

Thursday night assignments are no more appealing to the Seahawks than they are to anybody else in the NFL, but they’ve learned, as Wagner said, “to roll with it.”

Apparently. Seattle has outscored its six Thursday night opponents, 177-71.

“Thursday Night Football is always a hard game for both teams,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said after the Seahawks lost to Washington in, well, a hard game for both teams. “It’s about who can prepare mentally the best and who can be ready for the game on Thursday.”

Ready or not, a road contest against an NFC West foe awaits, to be followed by a “Monday Night Football” home date against the Falcons on Nov. 20.

In other words, a few extra days of rest and relaxation are in store for the Seahawks, whose minds can use the break as much as their bodies.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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