Slip-Sliding Away At Soldier Field

WR Johnny Knox (Andy Lyons/Getty)

The stadium's turf, always a source of contention, could be a major story for the NFC Championship Game. Brian Urlacher said it "stinks," and, related or not, Green Bay's offense and Chicago's defense have struggled at Soldier Field.

Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has played 11 games at Soldier Field this season, including Sunday's divisional playoff win over Seattle. So, we leave it to the veteran to offer the definitive word on the stadium's turf.

"It stinks for both teams," Urlacher said after the 35-24 victory over the Seahawks.

Whether it's a field of dreams or a field of divots, the venerable stadium – coined the Eyesore by the Lakeshore after its bizarre remodeling job several years ago – will host Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

On Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and the high-flying Packers offense ran circles around the Atlanta Falcons in the warmth and precise footing of the Georgia Dome's FieldTurf surface. Soldier Field, with its notoriously high grass and banana-peel footing, is a long ways from Atlanta in more ways than just miles and climate.

"Should I criticize it even more?" Jennings quipped on Monday.

"I did watch the game," Jennings added when asked about the Chicago-Seattle game. "I know it affected (the Seahawks' receivers) on a couple of routes that I saw, couple guys slid. But that's going to happen regardless of what field you're on, if you're in that type of climate. You have to be mindful of your footing and your body lean and things like that. So, I mean, their field is not the best. Their players know that. But it is what it is. And we have to go down there and play a great game against a good team."

Obviously, the footing is an equal-opportunity nuisance that affects both teams equally. The stadium, which is owned by the city, was resodded before the Dec. 26 game against the Jets, so the playoff game against Seattle was the second game on the surface. But, obviously, not much grows in a northern climate in December and January.

The Packers, who seem to thrive on the fast tracks of tightly cropped Lambeau Field or an artificial surface, have struggled in late-season games in Chicago. Last year, the Packers won 21-14 – far below the 36.1 points per game that they had averaged in the other seven games of their second-half offensive explosion. In 2008, the Packers lost 20-17 in overtime. In those two games, Rodgers completed 40-of-63 passes (63.5 percent) for 440 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 88.0. That passer rating is more than 10 points below his NFL-record career mark of 98.4.

"The field, you never know what you're going to get. It kind of depends," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "The weather will obviously have a little bit of an impact on it. But it's something (where) we've been there a number of times, I think most of the guys on this team, that we'll figure out that both teams are playing on the same field. It's not like anyone is going to have an advantage."

Every two years, the NFL Players Association conducts a player survey of playing surfaces. In the most recent one, 2008, Soldier Field finished as the fourth-worst. Pittsburgh was at the bottom of the list, followed by baseball-football stadiums in Oakland and Miami.

Last week, Urlacher complained that, because of the turf, "we're not able to use our speed like we want to." And maybe there's something to that. Chicago finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed at 17.9 per game. But in the last four home games, Chicago allowed 29.8 points per game, including 34 to the Jets and 36 to the Patriots.

"We're not going to concern ourselves with it," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's something that they go through every week, every game we play in, particularly on the road – get out early and make sure you have the proper shoes on.

"Both teams are playing on it. I don't even think it's a big deal. I'm sure they'll get it in the best shape they possibly can and we'll go down there and play football."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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