Notes, Quotes

The Sports Xchange

December 13, 2018 at 12:54 am.

–No team in the National Football League seems to enjoy playing on Thursday nights, and instead of relishing an opportunity for two of the top teams in the AFC to clash at Arrowhead Stadium in prime time, the Chiefs and the Chargers both seem striving to merely survive a quick turnaround.

Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said preparation began immediately following Sunday’s win against Baltimore.

“A bunch of the linemen, we jumped in the cold tub after the game,” Schwartz said. “We don’t typically do that but trying to get a jump start on it.”

Standard measures such as sleep, hydration and stretching remain critical components of recovery for Schwartz. He also uses an unconventional method, using devices he compares to moon booths that use compressed air to massage the legs, mobilize fluid and speed up recovery.

“It helps flush the legs, it’s got different air chambers and it kind of fills up,” Schwartz said. “It’s kind of nice. You’re going to be sitting on the couch anyway watching TV, so you might as well throw them on for an hour, get your legs elevated and get the blood flow out.”

For the coaching staff, Thursday night games compress preparation as well. That’s why Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is thankful for a familiar opponent with the Chargers.

“We know these guys just like they know us,” Bieniemy said. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of tricking going on. These guys are going to do what they do.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Thursday night games requires coaches to throw out much of their situational game planning and depend more on their base schemes and packages.

“You have to stay close to your main stuff I think and you have to play like that and count on your system to help you handle any of the things that might be challenging in the game,” Sutton said.

Schwartz concedes the Chargers face an additional hurdle traveling from the West Coast, but he feels Thursday night games offer no team an advantage, despite the 10-2 record of home teams on Thursday nights this season.

“It’s a pretty even playing field,” Schwartz said. “I feel like people make too much of a big deal of how the teams play on Thursday, but at the end of the day it’s pretty equitable. Both teams have to deal with it.”

Bieniemy believes ultimately Thursday night games come down to execution and willpower.

“There’s a lot on the line,” Bieniemy said. “We have to play harder, we have to play faster, and we have to make the most of every single play that presents itself.”

–When the Chiefs and Chargers meet on Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, fans might need a scorecard keeping track of who’s running the football for both teams.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon returned to practice Tuesday on a limited basis with a knee injury while backup Austin Ekeler remained sidelined with a concussion. Head coach Anthony Lynn wouldn’t commit to whether either back might play Thursday night.

“If guys are ready to play, they’re going to play,” Lynn said, “but I’m not going to put an injured player out there or a guy that could maybe not go the whole game because healthy bodies – you only get 46 of them available on game day, so I have to be comfortable there.”

The Chiefs have their own running back dilemmas as well. The club released Kareem Hunt two weeks ago, and new starter Spencer Ware did not practice Tuesday while nursing both shoulder and hamstring injuries. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy gave no indication whether Ware might play against the Chargers.

“First of all, we’ll just see how it goes,” Bieniemy said. “All hands on deck. But when it is all said and done with, we just roll. We go out and play.”

Both teams could see their depth tested in the contest. The Chargers’ No. 3 back, Justin Jackson, has just 27 carries on the season for 139 yards and a touchdown, while fellow rookie Detrez Newsome has five carries for 15 yards.

The Chiefs have a more experienced bench with fifth-year running Damien Williams rushing 16 times for 53 yards along with nine catches for 41 yards. The club also re-signed veteran free agent Charcandrick West last week, but he has yet to play this season. Rookie Darrel Williams has one catch for 8 yards in three games.

Bieniemy said Damien Williams played well while accepting his status as a role player.

“One thing we have been talking about all season long, you never know when your number is going to be called, so it is important that you are ready,” Bieniemy said. “I thought he did a heck of a job stepping up and making the most of that opportunity.”

Thursday’s game has meaning to both teams. The Chiefs can clinch the AFC West title with a victory and can secure home-field advantage in the playoffs if they win and the Patriots lose or tie. The Chargers can secure a playoff berth with a victory and enter a battle for the divisional crown with two weeks to go. That puts head coach Anthony Lynn in a difficult situation between balancing what’s best for his team both now and later.

“We need to win football games, we need to try to get into the playoffs and we’re still in the division hunt, and so I want as many of my best players to play as possible,” Lynn said, “but I’m just not going to put them out there if they’re not ready.

–Newly acquired Chiefs wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin appears likely to see his first playing time for the club on Thursday night against the Chargers, just six days after the club signed him to a free-agent deal for the remainder of the season.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy says Benjamin looks capable of helping the offense after his first couple of practices with his new teams.

“First of all, he is a good-looking kid,” Bieniemy said. “He gives you a lot of flexibility on the perimeter because of his size. We know he can go up and get it.”

The Chiefs prized Benjamin on the free-agent market due to his size. At 6-foot-5, 239 pounds, Benjamin provides a big target for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, particularly in the red zone. The club doesn’t expect Benjamin to pick up all of head coach Andy Reid’s playbook, but they hope he can pick up enough to play a small role as a possession receiver and red-zone option. That would replace some of the flexibility lost with wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the sidelines with a foot injury.

Bieniemy emphasized, however, the club doesn’t want to bring Benjamin along too quickly and force him into a role that he can’t handle.

“We just want to make sure we are bringing him in and not throwing him to the wolves and making sure he is mentally prepared for him to execute the things that we want him to do,” Bieniemy said. “When it is all said and done with, we just want our players to go out there and play and perform when called upon.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – Number of consecutive games with a sack by Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones. The 24-year-old from Mississippi State finds himself in a breakout season in his third year in the league, leading the club with 11.5 sacks. Jones set a franchise record with a sack against Baltimore giving him his ninth straight game with a sack. If he can bring down Philip Rivers for a loss on Thursday night, Jones can tie former Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware and former Denver Broncos linebacker Simon Fletcher for the longest streak of consecutive games with a sack since the statistic became official in 1982.