There are rumblings out of Chicago that this could be quarterback Jay Cutler’s last season with the Bears. The Vikings probably wouldn’t mind if he left the division.
While Cutler’s aggressive — and at-times-seemingly-careless — style of play has cost the Bears games over the years, he has historically fared well against the Vikings, especially at Soldier Field, where the Bears host the Vikings on Monday night.
Cutler, after missing the past five weeks with a thumb injury, will be back to start.
“The thing about Cutler is he can move around in the pocket. He can read the coverages well. He can get the ball down the field. He can make all of the throws,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said Friday. “So he’s always a tough opponent when we play him, especially [down] there.”
In seven career starts vs. the Vikings at Soldier Field, he is 6-1 with 17 touchdown passes against eight interceptions. Cutler has tallied a passer rating of at least 86.5 in every one of those games, including the Vikings’ 23-20 win there last season.
Cutler threw for 211 yards and a touchdown in that game and also scrambled for a late touchdown that put the Bears up by seven points. The Vikings, though, scored 10 points in the final two minutes to snap a seven-game losing streak there.
Cutler’s return to the lineup could ignite Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who ranks 13th in the NFL in receiving yards but has yet to score a touchdown in 2016.
“He’s definitely a point of attention for us this week,” Edwards said of Jeffery, who will likely be shadowed by top Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Bullish on special teams
Special teams, with the exception of placekicking, had been an area of strength for the Vikings in their five straight wins to start the season. But a kickoff return for a touchdown played a role in last week’s 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Vikings, as they have often done this season, tried to pin their opponents inside the 20-yard line with a high, direction kick toward one of the pylons. But the Eagles were able to create an opening for returner Josh Huff on a 98-yard touchdown.
Despite that play, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer vows to remain aggressive.
“I don’t know if I’m too cocky or arrogant or whatever, but I do believe in our kickoff team,” Priefer said. “I think we’re better than we showed last Sunday.”
McKinnon on mend
Running back Jerick McKinnon on Friday was no longer wearing a walking boot to support his injured left ankle. But he still missed his second straight day of practice. Asked whether he will be healthy enough to play Monday, McKinnon said he is feeling better but deferred to his head coach about his gameday availability.
If McKinnon does sit out, Ronnie Hillman would likely see an increase in playing time.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable with our offense,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said of Hillman, who signed with the team last month. “We know he’s had success as a runner. I think he’s getting to where he can contribute more.”
Also sitting out practice Friday were safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle), wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (concussion), guard Zac Kerin (hand), cornerback Marcus Sherels (wrist) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee).
Going big not answer
The Vikings squandered their first three red-zone opportunities in the loss to the Eagles before finally finding the end zone, in garbage time, on their fourth red-zone trip. They now rank 27th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown rate at 47.1 percent.
But Turner scoffed at the notion that wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, drafted in the first round this year because of his physicality and wide catching radius, might help the Vikings score touchdowns inside the cramped quarters of the red zone.
“The red zone, it always ends up coming down to [media and fans] thinking that you need a big receiver. We false started. We gave up a sack,” Turner said. “Those things we have to fix before we have to worry about who is running the routes.”