In the long and stories history of the NFL, certain places carry a kind of aura that make them difficult to win.
On Sunday, the Rams venture to one of those places, Soldier Field, to take on Chicago in a noon kickoff against the Bears.
As one of the league’s original franchises with one of its richest traditions, Chicago remains one of the hardest places to win in the league.
Perhaps nobody knows that better than Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, who coached in Chicago from 1986-95. For a brief spell, McGinnis was even elevated to the head coaching job there. He likes to joke that he was head coach of the Bears for six hours, three of which he actually knew about.
Even today, though, it still holds a special place in McGinnis’ heart and nobody knows better the challenge that awaits the Rams in the Windy City.
“I’ve got nothing but great respect for the organization and the city of Chicago,” McGinnis said. “I loved Chicago. It was an honor to be a Bears’ coach for 10 years because it’s about football. Soldier Field, even though it’s reconfigured, it’s still there on Lake Michigan between the columns. I had a lot of great, great memories there. You go in there and you play, you can feel the ghost of those people that have played there before. It’s cool.”
Much like McGinnis, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher also has a long history with the Bears. Fisher, of course, was drafted by the Bears in 1981 and spent five seasons as a defensive back and returner for Chicago.
Since that time, Fisher has coached in Chicago plenty of times and says it doesn’t mean as much anymore since he’s been back so many times. Not that Fisher doesn’t appreciate the opportunity he got from the Bears; it’s just that his concern is finding a way to beat the team he once played for.
When Fisher and his coaching staff looks at this year’s incarnation of the Bears, they see a difficult challenge in all phases.
Starting with the offense, Chicago represents a much different task than what the Rams have seen the first two weeks. While Detroit wanted to spread it out and throw it all over the yard and Washington wanted to pound away in the run game, the Bears represent something of a combination of the two.
Coming off a disappointing loss in Green Bay in which quarterback Jay Cutler struggled with turnovers and the offensive line had some protection issues, Fisher is expecting to see a group ready to recover.
“Well, Jay’s, I think if you look at his history, he’s pretty good at bouncing back,” Fisher said. “His issues weren’t his issues, they were, the fact that they played a pretty good defense in Green Bay. So, he’ll bounce back and then just hope it’ll take at least another week to bounce back.”
The Rams will look to turn up the heat with the pass rush against Cutler in hopes of forcing more mistakes but the Bears will also look to grind it out on the ground. Running back Matt Forte suffered an ankle injury last week and hasn’t practiced this week which means free agent signee Michael Bush will likely get the call.
While Bush doesn’t bring the receiving skills of Forte, he’s a powerful back who can make you pay. With injuries at defensive tackle, the Rams will need to be more stout in the middle and big
“They’re going to run the football,” Fisher said. “(Offensive Coordinator) (Mike) Tice has always ran the football wherever he’s been, so if it’s not Forte then it’s somebody else that’s going to run the football. They’re going to be well coached and they’re going to take their shots and we just have to be patient and not give up big plays.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears boast one of the league’s most talented defenses. Bears coach Lovie Smith has long had a reputation for running a fairly simple Cover 2 defense but Rams quarterback
Against Green Bay last week, the Bears spent most of the game in their patented Cover 2 but in the first week against Indianapolis, they played more of what Bradford called “float safety” with the safeties moving around in different spots. That means it’s up to the Rams to be on point in recognizing what the Bears are doing before the snap.
“They do a good job of mixing it up,” Bradford said. “Their corners are playing extremely well. When they are singled up, they are winning a lot of those one on one battles. Obviously, they have created a lot of turnovers on the back end too so we are going to have to be sharp at the top of routes this week.”
The other thing the Rams will have to deal with is a Bears defensive line that wreaks havoc in the pass rush. End Julius Peppers is one of the most dominant ends in the league but he has talented teammates such as tackle Henry Melton who don’t get the credit they deserve.
The challenge for the Rams in protecting Bradford and in establishing the running game – back
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has never had a line deal with so much so early in the season.
“I’ll be honest with you: I have not,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s, unfortunately, part of the business. I’ve been very pleased with the way the guys have worked. I think I probably talk about (offensive line) Coach (Paul T.) Boudreau and (assistant offensive line coach) Andy Dickerson all the time, the job that they do with those guys up front. They work them, they train them. Both ways, both spots, that’s what you’ve got to do. I’ve never been around it, but it’s the hand we’re dealt and the guys that we’ve got are going to step up and perform well.”
After an offensive explosion last week, Schottenheimer believes his group can still take off further.
“I think we’re just still trying to improve each and every week,” Schottenheimer said. “There’s been good things in both games; there’s been bad things in both games. It’s a process. It’s a bunch of one-week battles, if you will. This will be a great test, going up there, playing on the road. We need to play better on the road. We’ve talked about that and it starts by doing it one play at a time.”
The task for the Rams will undoubtedly be a difficult one Sunday with the moving parts on the offensive line in a difficult and hostile environment against a team looking to bounce back from a tough loss last week.
Through two weeks, the Rams have been wildly competitive in both games but only have a 1-1 record to show for it. The next step for this young team is finding a way to win on the road.
“It would be great,” fullback