Birds face a tough chal­lenge in Chicago

Birds will feel­ing op­ti­mistic de­spite tough chal­lenge in Chicago

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

Sol­dier Field can be an un­for­giv­ing place.

No one knows that bet­ter than Jim Schwartz, the griz­zled de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor who has tried to con­vey its quirks to the Ea­gles, who op­pose the Chicago Bears there Monday night (8:30, ESPN, WYSP 94.1FM).

Schwartz went 2-3 at Sol­dier Field as head coach of the Detroit Li­ons. He knows every draft and every slick blade of grass in the venue where rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz will be try­ing to fig­ure out what length of spikes work best, among other adventures.

“The wind’s al­ways a fac­tor there,” Schwartz said. “You can never pre­dict it. And some­times it’s very dif­fi­cult to throw the ball in one area of the field, or in one di­rec­tion. You sort of have to be ready for that. And some­times the grass gets a lit­tle bit longer there than other places. That field, be­ing so close to the wa­ter­front, can hold a lit­tle mois­ture par­tic­u­larly in a night game. We’ll have to do a good job of find­ing the right shoes in the pregame.”

Un­pre­dictable is an un­der­state­ment. The Bri­tish rock band Cold­play had to cut a con­cert short at Sol­dier Field

this past July due to tor­ren­tial rain. There’s a chance of show­ers Monday night.

Wentz’s coun­ter­part, Jay Cut­ler, knows ev­ery­thing there is to know about Sol­dier Field, where un­til the last three sea­sons he was a ter­ror. Cut­ler was 20-10 at home in his first three years with the Bears. He’s 6-15 with two head coaches the last three years.

Cut­ler led the Bears to a 1410 lead in their opener but was sacked five times, mostly in the sec­ond half of what be­came a 2314 road loss to the Hous­ton Tex­ans. The Ea­gles have seen enough film of the Tex­ans’ pass rush to re­al­ize that’s the key to win­ning.

“They tried to put his flame out,” de­fen­sive end Vinny Curry said of the Tex­ans. “They got after him a lit­tle bit. They did a good job. He was ready to get hot. He’s one of the best quar­ter­backs in our league. And he’s one of the tough­est quar­ter­backs in the game. Cut­ler is a beast, bro. There’s just no other way to put it. He’s just a good player, an al­laround good player. If he gets hot, it’s over.”

Wentz en­ters the game with­out one of his fa­vorite tar­gets in tight end Zach Ertz, who will be side­lined with a rib in­jury. Ertz would have been a matchup night­mare for the Bears, who strug­gled in cov­er­age against the Tex­ans. Tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Bur­ton will fill in. The Ea­gles also in­tend to take the wraps off deep threat Bryce Treggs, the un­drafted rookie wide re­ceiver out of Cal­i­for­nia.

Wentz took more than a hand­ful of big hits in the opener, at least half of them his fault. Work­ing with the line on pro­tec­tion calls and im­prov­ing ac­cu­racy by not rush­ing throws are a cou­ple of weak­nesses that can be im­proved.

“He showed, at least in this one game, that he would stand in the pocket two or three times and make big plays in the face of guys breath­ing down his neck,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Re­ich said. “It’s a very un­for­giv­ing game. If you’re just a lit­tle bit off and you’re not quite synced up you can look re­ally bad, re­ally fast. That’s why you’ve got to be di­aled in all week in prac­tice. You’ve got to put your­self in that mo­ment.”

This week the chal­lenge for Wentz is to stay up­right against a phys­i­cal de­fense that has film of his strengths and weak­nesses.

“They do some good things, they’ve got some good play­ers, play­mak­ers so they’re go­ing to be

a chal­lenge,” Wentz said. “It’s go- ing to be Monday night foot­ball. Ev­ery­one is go­ing to be hyped and ready to go. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how they want to at­tack us. And we’ll be ready for them.”

Wentz made a rookie-of-the­week de­but to lead the Ea­gles to a run­away vic­tory over the Cleve­land Browns in the opener, throw­ing for 278 yards and two touch­downs with no in­ter­cep­tions. Yet he was this­close to three turnovers.

The Ea­gles also dropped four of his throws, sec­ond-most in the league. Jordan Matthews led the Ea­gles with seven re­cep­tions for 114 yards and a touch­down. With two drops, he’s also tied for the league lead — along with team­mate Dar­ren Spro­les — in that du­bi­ous cat­e­gory.

The Ea­gles al­most cer­tainly won’t be able to get away with those mis­takes this week. Not against Cut­ler, who would be fool­ish not to tar­get Ea­gles vet­eran Ron Brooks and rookie Jalen Mills in the pass game. The Birds will play with­out start­ing cor­ner Leodis McKelvin, who’s in­jured.

For the Ea­gles, it starts in pregame.

Head coach Doug Ped­er­son ac­tu­ally quar­ter­backed the Ea­gles to a win over the Bears in 1999 at Sol­dier Field.

“This time of year, the weather is good,” Ped­er­son said. “The tem­per­a­tures are go­ing to be nice and mild for us. The big­gest thing you talk about when you go to Sol­dier Field is their sur­face and the (long) grass. I’ve prepped our guys this week about check­ing their cleats and mak­ing sure things are right go­ing up there.”

Schwartz will make that a dou­ble-check.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence there is that what­ever game you start in shoes, you don’t fin­ish in the same ones just be­cause as the game goes on the ground mois­ture starts com­ing,” Schwartz said. “It’s tough. And their fans are be­hind them.”

ERIC CHRIS­TIAN SMITH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chicago Bears quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler, right, is tripped up by fallen Tex­ans de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt dur­ing a Bears loss last week in Hous­ton. Cut­ler might be a bit more dan­ger­ous Monday night in the Bears’ home opener at Solider Field.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ravens play­ers leave the field in 2013 after play was sus­pended for a thun­der­storm blow­ing through Sol­dier Field in Chicago.

MATT ROURKE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz throws a pass dur­ing the first half against the Cleve­land Browns last week.

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