Getting prepared for an NFL game is hard.
Getting set to play in a game that kicks off 3.5 hours earlier than normal kickoff time, in a foreign country, is even harder. Thats what the Bengals are tasked with doing this week. As part of the NFL’s London series, Cincinnati will ‘host’ Washington on Sunday, but this will be a different experience than both clubs are used to.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has to evaluate what the best method of getting ready for this new atmosphere will be, and it sounds like he has a plan.
If you recall, Lewis implemented a practice plan last year that saw the Bengals practice hard Wednesday and Thursday, go through a walkthrough on Friday and then get in a game-like practice on Saturday.
Teams playing on Sundays tend to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before getting a rest day on Saturday. Instead, Cincinnati is limiting their Friday sessions to mostly just a weight room and strength period with the conditioning staff for what they're describing as "recovery and modality periods."
Then on Saturday, instead of what normally would be a walkthrough, they go through a quick and up-tempo practice session in hopes of better simulating a game-like atmosphere the day before games.
That’s part of why the Bengals, in preparing for the London game, are practicing Wednesday and Thursday in Cincinnati before leaving Thursday night for London and then do the walkthrough Friday and practice Saturday in the U.K.
"We said we were going to make it as close to a normal [trip] as we could," Lewis told ESPN.
Many teams who play in London leave for Europe right after the previous week’s game. Lewis wanted to take a different approach in part because of how two previous teams to play in London fared, both of whom Cincinnati happened to play prior to the teams heading west.
In 2015, the Bills left for London almost immediately after their loss to the Bengals. Buffalo went on to lose to Jacksonville the next week, effectively ending any hope of reaching the playoffs last year.
"We played two teams -- last year Buffalo, the year before Jacksonville -- they were leaving after we played them, we beat them in both games, beat them up, and their teams [were] all over the place, because guys were hurt, they've got to do this, they've got to do that, and it just causes anxiety," Lewis said. "So, in my opinion, the best way to operate is to get everything done [first]."
One team who seemed to make a seamless transition to playing in London was the Jets in 2015. Head coach Todd Bowles chose to fly out his team on Thursday night before blowing out the Dolphins in London.
Lewis called Bowles this year to talk about taking that approach, and that’s a big reason why the Bengals are taking the same approach this year. Given the Bengals’ normal practice routine, it sounds like this approach was the best option for the team.
It gives Cincinnati a chance to slowly work their way into getting acclimated to play in London instead of going right to it. This also gives the Bengals a chance to do their normal routines in Cincinnati, but also get in a practice in London right before they face Washington.
“We’re playing the Redskins, and that’s what were getting ready to do,” Lewis said this week. “The people who have handled the trip have done a great job putting us in the right situation. Our job is to get the football team ready to go. We’re preparing for the Redskins.”