Vikings defenders dish on Cutler

The Vikings' defenders have seen all the numbers, but some of the defensive backs have more intimate knowledge of Jay Cutler. Karl Paymah played with him in Denver and Benny Sapp played against him with Kansas City. See what they think of the new Bears quarterback.

Roll back the calendar back six months. Word leaked that new Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and his former employers with the New England Patriots were trying to hatch a deal that would reunite quarterback Matt Cassel with McDaniels out west. The problem was that both Denver and New England had franchise quarterbacks in Jay Cutler and Tom Brady. To make the deal work, they needed a third team to take Cutler, which was rumored to be the Vikings.

Clearly, nothing materialized with the Vikings in that regard, but the trade discussion wasn't left in-house and leaked. The football world caught wind of the trade talks and Cutler was none too pleased. His fledgling relationship with McDaniels was fractured and it became pretty obvious that someone had to go.

With the Cassel deal off the table after he was traded to Kansas City, the Broncos brokered a deal with the Chicago Bears to trade Cutler for Kyle Orton and three premium draft picks – including a pair of first-rounders. The response in Chicago was overwhelming. The Bears have starved for a quality quarterback for decades. The last time they had a quarterback that was viewed as one of the best in the league was in the 1940s with Sid Luckman. The quarterbacks in the more than half-century since haven't been a "who's who," it's been a "who's that?"

A lot of NFL analysts immediately tipped the balance of power in the NFC North away from the Vikings and Packers and squarely on the shoulders of Cutler and the Bears. He was anointed as the next big thing in Chicago and it was merely going to be a matter of time before it showed up.

However, even the best laid plans don't always work out as expected. The Bears are struggling at 4-6, losers of their last three and five of their last six. Since the beginning of October, the only teams they have beaten have been the Lions and Browns. Unlike Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who played effectively despite his team's struggles in the first post-Favre season in Green Bay, Cutler has been his own worst enemy. He has thrown more interceptions (18) than anyone in the league and his passer rating of 70.4 is worse than pedestrian quarterbacks like Chad Henne, Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Jason Campbell.

His struggle to adjust to his new offense has the Bears on the verge of playoff extinction. A loss to the Vikings Sunday will mathematically eliminate Chicago from NFC North title contention with five games still to play and would all but eliminate them from the wild card. That is reason for concern for the Vikings, who know that Cutler has both the talent and ability to make teams pay. He beat them in his only previous meeting – a 22-19 overtime win in Denver to close out the 2007 season – and they've seen his talent firsthand.

"Cutler has a big arm," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "We saw him (when he played for) Denver. He can make big plays down the field and underneath. He sees the defense pretty good, so we'll have to disguise our coverages and don't show him what we're actually playing."

Perhaps nobody on the Vikings knows Cutler better than cornerback Karl Paymah, who was his teammate in Denver until this season. He faced him countless times in practice and knows the skill set he brings to the table. He said Cutler is a top-flight quarterback, but his current adjustment period with the Bears has been akin to trying to ease a round peg into a square hole.

"He is what he is," Paymah said. "He's a gunslinger. He's a guy that wants to make plays. He's sort of like a young Brett Favre. He has all the tools and wants to utilize that. The Bears system is about not making mistakes and, if nothing is there, throw the ball away and leave it to your defense. He's always been willing to take chances. It seems that, right now anyway, their scheme and the way he plays are conflicting. They're trying to find their identity with him and it's just not clicking right now."

His interception numbers have jumped out at Vikings defenders, who, as a group, have just six interceptions this season. Griffin said he wouldn't mind adding to Cutler's atrociously high interception numbers Sunday.

"I'm not sure if it's his mechanics, his coaching or the receivers," Griffin said. "Whatever it is, if he can continue to throw them to us, we'll take it."

Another Viking with shorthand on Cutler is cornerback Benny Sapp. He played with the Chiefs at the time Cutler emerged for the division rival Broncos. He has seen what Cutler can do in an offense he is familiar with and comfortable in. He believes it will only be a matter of time before Cutler and his offensive teammates are on the same page, pointing out that even Hall of Fame quarterbacks have struggled when introduced to a new offensive system.

"He's in a completely different offense," Sapp said. "Everything is new to him. Eventually, he's going to get it. He's a good quarterback. He loves the game, but just has to be patient. Peyton Manning in his first year in his new offense struggled a lot. They were horrible at times. You can't base it off it what he's done so far. He's very good and it will come eventually."

When Cutler takes the field Sunday, he will do so fully aware that one more bad game will put the final nail in the coffin of the Bears' disappointing 2009 season. The Vikings will look to continue his recent regressive trend, but will prepare for Cutler with the expectation that he is going to bring his absolute best to the table with his season on the line.

"When you're struggling like he has in some games, it's usually a combination of things going wrong," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We know he's capable of making a lot of big plays and can make all the throws. We have to prepare for the best Jay Cutler brings, because that may be what we're facing Sunday."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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