Broncos' home-field edge rates a towering concern for Bears

Gene Chamberlain

The Bears will be high when they try to avoid an 0-2 start to the season against the Denver Broncos. Well, after all, it is Colorado.

Enough with the pot jokes.

The Bears are going to have to deal with playing at a higher altitude this week in Denver and the Broncos usually hold a distinct advantage at home especially, for some reason, at this time of year. Whether this advantage holds true under a new head coach in former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio remains to be seen.

The Bears were 5-3 on the road last year and seem to think they know how to handle the altitude as well as road conditions.

"I played out there numerous times and I felt like one thing that got me prepared was just hydrating," wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. "Yeah there's less oxygen but I feel like if you can hydrate, just kind of go hard during practice and just try to get more of your wind I feel like we'll be OK."

The Bears last year played a preseason game in Denver and held two practices in Denver before this.

"We had a joint practice there last year so we're kind of used to it and know what we're walking into," safety Eddie Jackson said. "So we've just got to hydrate and everyone has to fly around to the ball.

"That's going to be big for us conditioning-wise -- everyone to the ball, you know, 11 hats flying to the ball -- especially on the defensive side. So for us right now its just taking care of your body right now. That's going to be one of the biggest things, conditioning."

Staying hydrated might sound more like advice for playing in Miami, but Colorado has dry, desert-type air with less water vapor so it's said the body needs almost twice as much water as elsewhere.

Foods high in potassium are recommended, as well.

The Bears used preparations like that last year before they went to Miami for their one road game in unusual weather conditions, and it didn't help much. They lost 31-28 in overtime when temperatures rose up into the 90s during the game, with 67 percent humidity.

The altitude is different. There's more to consider than humidity and fluids because of it.

"With the altitude, there's some obviously with kicks, you can kick the ball further," Nagy pointed out. "You have kickoffs; there's a lot of touchbacks."

It's said golf balls go 10 percent longer on shots, so it's reasonable to assume the same for field goals. In 2011 during the last Bears game in Denver, Robbie Gould made a 57-yard field goal and Matt Prater made kicks from 59 and 51 yards.

"As far as conditioning, we've had instances where guys have had the oxygen masks that have helped out," said Nagy, who had to coach there every season while in Kansas City. "It is an advantage for them, they’re used to that. It’s like anything.

"I don’t know what you can really replicate here to make it the same as there, other than maybe condition your guys and make sure they’re running around pretty good. And then just prepping ahead of time for that."

Denver does have a unique record at home early, with 22 wins in their last 24 games held in the first two weeks of the season. The Broncos have won 12 straight those weeks at home.

"I don't know about the early in the season part, that number," Nagy said. "But I do know that there was a time there where they had a quarterback there named Peyton Manning where were 6-for-6. And we finally broke that streak. And that wasn't just on the road, that was home and away. But, you know, all streaks are a little different."

The thing is, Elway isn't Denver's quarterback anymore, and overall at home without him the Broncos are no more of a daunting task than any other NFL team is at home. Denver had a winning (5-3) record at home in 2016 but in seasons without Elway they haven't had a winning record in another season at home since 2007.

"I just know for us that we know where we're at right now," Nagy said. "And whether it's in Denver or at home, we want to be able to play better football."