Birds face a tough challenge in Chicago
Birds will feeling optimistic despite tough challenge in Chicago
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.”
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.
Ravens players leave the field in 2013 after play was suspended for a thunderstorm blowing through Soldier Field in Chicago.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz throws a pass during the first half against the Cleveland Browns last week.