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With or without Cutler, Bears still fall short on talent, depth

Personally, when I watch the Bears, I see a team with some impressive young talent, but not nearly enough at this point to be competitive over four quarters. I also see a team lost at quarterback, with or without Jay Cutler, who returns by default to the starting lineup for Monday night’s game against the Vikings at Soldier Field .

The Bears don’t want Cutler anymore. But coach John Fox has no other choice. Brian Hoyer’s left arm is broke and Matt Barkley’s right one is useless (see: 18.3 passer rating in relief of Hoyer in last week’s 26-10 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field).

Even Cutler, who’s been out since injuring his right thumb in Week 2, knows he’s just being handed a mop to clean up until the divorce is final or he’s hurt again. This week, a reporter asked him if he thinks he’s still got Fox’s support. Cutler’s answer: “He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point.”

Captain’s take on Cutler: Cutler didn’t play in the Packers game, so watching that tape helps little in terms of the Bears’ passing game at this point. But I think we all know Cutler. He’s either one of the worst good quarterbacks in recent years, or one of the best bad quarterbacks in recent years. He’s 67-69 as an NFL starter, including 50-49 in Chicgao. He’s played in only two playoff games, going 1-1 with the Bears in 2010. And he stood on the sideline with a bum knee for most of the NFC title game home loss to the Packers that year. Cutler’s career in Chicago has been one of arm-strength promise followed by inconsistent decision-making behind inadequate pass protection.

Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was asked about Cutler on Tuesday. Here is his take:  “He’s got a little Brett Favre in him.  Brett Favre is a Hall of Famer. People also label [Cutler] as a gunslinger. They feel like he can fit the ball through any windows. So he takes some risks, but at the same time, I think you can live and die by that. And I think their team does that.”

That’s both comforting and scary for the Vikings. Cutler has nothing to lose. His team is 1-6 and he has no future in Chicago. He has nothing to lose and he does have elite arm strength. He’ll either use it to make some big plays down the field to big targets such as Alshon Jeffery, or carelessly sling the ball downfield to defenders such as Harrison Smith.

Considering Cutler hasn’t played since Week 2, I’d lean toward the latter.

Overview: I can’t recall the last time the Vikings were favored by 5 1/2 points in Chicago. The Bears opened with three straight losses to Houston, Philadelphia and Dallas. They beat Detroit at home and then lost to the Colts, Jacksonville and Packers. The low point has to be the 17-16 home loss to the Jaguars. It highlights the teams’ NFL-worst 15.9 points per game average.

To the tape: …

Top 5 thoughts while watching the Bears’ 26-10 loss at Green Bay:

—If I were a Vikings’ fan still trying to recover from how poorly the offensive tackles protected Sam Bradford in Philadelphia, I would be very worried about two Bears named Willie Young and Leonard Floyd. They’re outside linebackers in Chicago’s 3-4 defense, which often goes to a 2-3-6 look. Young is the 6-4, 258-pound veteran who’s all arms, legs, quickness and deceptive power going after the quarterback. Floyd is the 6-6, 240-pound rookie first-round draft pick who looks the same but is better. Young has a team-high six sacks. Floyd had two of his 2 1/2 in a breakout game against the Packers. Right before the half in Green Bay, Floyd was lined up over the left tackle when he made an inside move. The tackle lost him, but the left guard chipped him effectively. Floyd went to a knee, but was so quick and relentless that he still got up and made the sack. But the play that should concern the Vikings the most came on the third snap of the second half. The Bears loaded up the left side of their defensive front with three rushers. Two of them were Floyd and Young. Ouch. Especially when the lone rusher on the other side was so effective that he drew a holding penalty. The Packers were overwhelmed by a creative four-man rush. Aaron Rodgers ducked in the pocket to try and avoid the pressure, but was hit by Young. Young couldn’t bring him down, but Floyd quickly crashed in off the corner, stripping the ball and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown and a temporary 10-6 lead.

—I like a lot of what I saw from another defensive rookie named Cre’von LeBlanc. He’s a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback with a safety’s mentality. He’s a physical player who went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic before being signed by the Patriots. When New England released him, the Bears pounced. LeBlanc made some mistakes, missed a tackle, gave up an 18-yard completion on third-and-five and was flagged for illegal use of the hands. But he’s such an active player who was around the ball constantly. He had seven tackles and two passes defensed. The Bears send him on delayed corner blitzes a lot, but they were mostly useless against the Bears because LeBlanc starts his rush from too far away. Perhaps the most impressive play of the game for Chicago came when the Packers went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first half. Ty Montgomery, a tight end playing running back, took the handoff up the middle. But he fell short of the goal line because LeBlanc crashed through the line of scrimmage and undercut Montgomery at the 1.

—As Munnerlyn noted on Tuesday, “it’s weird” not seeing Matt Forte at running back for the Bears. The Bears are 25th in rushing. But don’t assume they can’t run the ball. They should have run it more at Green Bay, but the time of possession was ridiculously lopsided in favor of the Packers (39:36-20:24). The Bears have some beef in the backfield in 5-10, 215-pound Ka’Deem Carey and rookie fifth-round draft pick Jordan Howard, a 6-1, 222-pounder with a team-high 352 yards rushing. Howard had 100-yard games in his first two career starts. He only had 22 yards against the Packers, but Carey had 48 on 10 carries. One play showed that the Bears do have some power occasionally. With prized lineman, right guard Kyle Long, already out with a triceps injury in the second quarter, the Bears lined up with two tight ends to the right and ran a play the Vikings liked to run with Adrian Peterson. With backup center Ted Larson in at right guard, Carey went over that side for a 24-yard gain. He had two more nice power runs on that drive. It doesn’t appear that Long will be able to play against the Vikings. He’s their best lineman.

—The Bears tend to wear down throughout the game. And you can tell they’re still in the process of getting a feel for what they’re supposed to be doing, particularly on defense. There was almost comical miscommunication on the 4-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams that gave the Packers a 20-10 lead in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. The Packers had two receivers to the left. Nine-year cornerback Tracy Porter was out wide, across from Adams. Second-year safety Harold Jones-Quartey was lined up over the slot receiver. Before the snap, Porter motioned to Jones-Quartey in what almost certainly was a sign for zone coverage based on Porter’s reaction to the ensuing blunder. The receivers crossed quickly. Porter stayed to the outside, Jones-Quartey followed his receiver to the outside, and Adams was left all alone in the end zone.

—As already noted, it was impossible getting a feel for the Bears passing game by watching the Packers tape. The Bears completed only six passes for 67 yards. But Jeffery is still a big body with long arms. He snagged one high throw in traffic for 11 yards and a first down. He’s averaging 16.3 yards per catch this season. Joshua Bellamy has only three catches on the year, but two for 32 came against the Packers. Leading receiver Zach Miller was shut out, but the tight end did have a nice catch for a first down nullified by penalty.

Key stat: 15.9.

Average points scored per game by the Bears. That’s the worst in the league. The Bears have been outscored by an average of 8.3 points per game. That’s fourth-worst in the league.

Under constant pressure: How many times was Bradford hit in loss to Eagles?

Every Wednesday morning, beat writer Matt Vensel will share five Vikings stats that actually mean something heading into that weekend’s game.

20 — times Sam Bradford was pressured against the Eagles

Bradford had a rough afternoon is his return to Philadelphia, taking more hits in the City of Brotherly Love than Rocky. The Eagles pressured the quarterback on 20 of his 47 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and he had a 16.4 passer rating when he wasn’t getting the ball batted out of his hands. Bradford was sacked six times and the Eagles also recorded 13 quarterback hits as the Vikings allowed the highest pressure percentage (42.5) on Bradford since his debut win over the Packers.

4 — quarterback pressures allowed Sunday by Matt Asiata

The Vikings offensive line, especially the tackles, struggled in the 21-10 loss, but there was plenty of blame to spread around. Even Asiata, typically a reliable pass protector out of the backfield, failed to protect the Vikings quarterback on a few occasions. The veteran back uncharacteristically was beaten for a sack, another quarterback hit and two other QB hurries, according to charting by my colleague, Andrew Krammer. Asiata also had issues trying to catch the ball, with a pair of drops on eight targets.

5 — turnovers in 11 plays between the Vikings and the Eagles

The Vikings and the Eagles had combined for three takeaways before last Sunday. Then they went out and collectively coughed the ball up five times in an 11-play span in the first quarter, though neither team could convert any of them into points. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the first time there were turnovers on five straight possessions in an NFL game since the Steelers and the Browns did it on Oct. 18, 2009. By the end of last Sunday’s game, the Vikings and the Eagles had totaled eight takeaways.

16 — catches for Cordarrelle Patterson the past three games

Since Week 4, the team’s leading receiver, at least in terms of catches, has not been Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen or Kyle Rudolph. It is Patterson, the resurgent former first-round draft pick who has now caught touchdown passes in consecutive games for the first time since late in his rookie year. Patterson led the Vikings with seven catches and 67 receiving yards against the Eagles, and he has caught 16 of his 19 targets, many of them shorter throws, the past three games for 144 yards and two scores.

3 — times Harrison Smith has picked off Jay Cutler in his career

The Pro Bowl safety is probably one Vikings defender who is happy to see that Cutler, the Bears quarterback who has historically fared well against the Vikings, is expected to be back in the starting lineup Monday night after missing the past five weeks with a thumb injury. Smith has picked off Cutler once every season except for last, giving him three career interceptions of the reckless QB, including a pick-six as a rookie in 2012. Smith, who has a dozen career interceptions, doesn’t have one yet this season.

7:30 PM, 10/31 (ESPN)
Minnesota 5-1
Chicago 1-6

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