Before the end of today’s Bears game, Soldier Field could resemble a mud pit.
Temperatures will drop throughout the evening. Gusty winds will arrive. Rain could, too.
“We hope so,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said with a smile.
If the Bears were playing one of their rivals from the NFC North, maybe weather conditions would not matter so much. But Smith has been watching forecasts throughout the week while hoping for Mother Nature to harass the Houston Texans with a wet, cold night.
Regardless, the Bears (7-1) know they have to do their part to beat the Texans (7-1).
Both teams have looked forward to today’s game since the NFL released its prime-time schedule April 17. The forecast for an intriguing matchup was spot on.
In the past 20 years, it’s only the third time in which two teams with one or fewer losses have met after Week 8.
If the Bears and Texans meet again this season, it will be Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Until then, the teams will have to settle for a sloppy field on the lakefront.
Sloppy, that is, if Smith gets his wish.
“It’s November, and I’m sure Houston is expecting to play in bad weather,” Smith said. “I’ve been watching the forecast a little bit closer than I normally do, and I hear there’s a lot of rain and wind supposed to come in. Just make sure that you guys report that, OK?”
The implication of Smith’s request was clear.
The Texans, who practiced under sunny skies with temperatures in the 80s throughout the week, could be uncomfortable as guests in a stadium that is anything but climate controlled.
But Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and his teammates have played in the rain before.
“It’s just something you have to work through,” said Schaub, who was born in Pennsylvania and played collegiately at Virginia. “There were times, I remember back in college, we used to do a wet-ball drill day. Throw the ball in a bucket of water and then go play.
“You’ve just got to learn to adjust to it. It is what it is. It’s that way for both teams. You’ve just got to go play. The worst thing, though, is the wind. That’s the thing that affects [you], as far as the quarterback standpoint, more than the rain.”
If it does rain before or during the game, players on both sides of the ball would be wise to pump the brakes.
Take it from tight end Kellen Davis, who is in his fifth season with the Bears.
“[Offense and defense] can play fast by keeping it under control,” Davis said. “I think that’s the big thing if it gets rainy and sloppy.
“Because as offenses, you can’t go into your breaks running too fast like you normally would. And as defenses, they’ve got to be good and solid with their footwork when we do break, so they can come and hit the ball. I think [the advantage goes to] whoever is good at handling that and adjusting to the surface.”
Bears safety Chris Conte knows which side of the ball he would prefer on a rainy night.
“Defense, for sure,” Conte said. “We don’t have to worry about ball security. When that ball gets wet, it gets really slippery. I think that’s the biggest thing.
“Especially on our field, making cuts and things like that, it’s going to be hard to do. I think that’s to our advantage as a defense if it’s sloppy and muddy.”
And if it is sloppy, Conte won’t complain.
“It’s fun being a little kid out there again,” Conte said. “You always love those messy, dirty games when you get a little mud on your jersey. It’s a lot of fun.”
Five things to track during today’s Bears game against the Texans.
1. Peanut punch
Charles Tillman starred last week with a career-high four forced fumbles at Tennessee. This week, Tillman will face off against Houston Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson. Tillman will have more than football on his mind. His wife is expected to give birth Monday.
2. Snapping the streak
The Texans are the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The Bears have seven rushing touchdowns this season, and they’ll look to snap the Texans’ streak with a no-frills running attack led by Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
3. Secondary target
Brandon Marshall has been terrific in his first season with the Bears, averaging 7.4 receptions and 99.6 receiving yards a game. But if the Texans decide to consistently double-team or triple-team Marshall, then Earl Bennett or Devin Hester must step up.
4. Block, block, block
The Bears faced several high-caliber pass rushers in the first half of the regular season, but J.J. Watt of the Texans might be the best of the bunch. Watt has 10 ˝ sacks to go along with 10 pass deflections, and he could feast against a subpar Bears offensive line.
5. Be careful
In a prime-time game between two teams with lofty aspirations, the difference might come down to which quarterback makes fewer mistakes. Jay Cutler (12 TDs, 8 INTs) is prone to making high-risk, high-reward passes, while Matt Schaub (12 TDs, 4 INTs) tends to play it safe.