Jay Cutler had perhaps his most efficient season in 2015, but he hasn’t been able to establish a rhythm this year as an injury knocked him out in Week 2.
Despite the struggles of the Chicago Bears in general this year, the Minnesota Vikings know Cutler’s return to action after a thumb injury could present them with a dangerous proposition, especially in Soldier Field, where the Vikings won last year after dropping their previous five in Chicago.
“Obviously, he’s got a great arm. They’ve got some very excellent receivers,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He moves in the pocket well and scrambles well. He can make the throws from pretty much anywhere. He’s not afraid to throw it into tight places. I think he understands the strengths of his receivers really good. You know the things that they can do and the matchups that they have. He’s always been an impressive quarterback to me.”
Last year, Cutler had the highest passer rating of his career, throwing 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But with only two games under his belt this season with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, Cutler has one touchdown and two interceptions.
His return to the field couldn’t get much more challenging, with the Vikings creating more takeaways (16) than any other team to this point, despite already having their bye week.
“They’ve got guys on every level that play really well. The more you watch them, the more you realize how well they play together, how well they know the scheme, the strengths and weaknesses of the defense, where people are trying to take advantage of certain things that they do,” Cutler said.
“They’ve got every combination known to man so it makes it hard.”
Last year, the Bears lost both of their matchups against the Vikings, but Cutler played well, throwing three touchdowns and one interception in the two meetings, with passer ratings of 94 and 93.
This year, the Bears offense has struggled. The Vikings give up an average 14 points per game. The Bears are 11th in yards, but they are last in points, averaging 15.9 per game.
“I don’t think they’re bad, honestly. What I do think is they’ve moved the ball offensively but they haven’t scored very many touchdowns and very many points,” Zimmer said. “They’ve had the lead in three out of the six losses in the fourth quarter and didn’t finish the game. Like a lot of young teams and programs, I think they’re trying to figure out how to finish games.”
The Vikings respect Cutler’s ability to move around and extend plays, but defensive end Brian Robison said the Vikings won’t really scheme to stop Cutler specifically.
“I don’t think you can necessarily game plan around one guy. You have to game plan on what you’ve seen on tape,” Robison said. “You have to game plan on the team itself, not necessarily one guy. We know that Cutler can scramble around and make some plays with his feet just off of what we’ve seen in the past. We know we’re going to have to rush him smart, but as far as game planning, you can’t do that around one guy.”
Cutler pointed out two areas in which the Bears need to improve offensively – in the red zone and on third downs.
The Bears 20th in the red zone, scoring touchdowns 47.4 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. They have converted only 32.5 percent of their third downs, 30th in the NFL.
“We’re top 10 in yards and I think last in scoring,” Cutler said. “It’s kind of hard to do, so we’ve got to do better when we get down there.”