Green Bay remains real test for Cutler
By John McMullen, Sports Network
|Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks to throw as Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy rushes during an NFL football game Chicago, Oct. 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
You hate to make light of the NFL’s concussion protocol but let’s just say its inconsistency from week-to-week could certainly raise some eyebrows if you’re in the Oliver Stone crowd.
Jay Cutler missed Chicago’s Week 11 meltdown in San Francisco after suffering a concussion right before halftime against Houston back on Nov. 11 but damn any protocol — he was never going to miss Sunday’s game with Minnesota.
All the hand-wringing during the week regarding Cutler’s health was just white noise to keep the media guessing. The veteran gunslinger owns the Vikings and would have flown in his own “independent” neurologist to get clearance to play the Purple if he had to.
“I felt confident about it. I felt good with the test,” Cutler said after a dominating 28-10 win over Minnesota. “I had no symptoms of concussion, so I felt good. It was just a matter of going through the motions and talking to the doctors. I had a good week of practice.”
An early Matt Forte fumble gave the Minnesota life for a few seconds on Sunday but as soon as Adrian Peterson gave it right back with his own miscue, it was game, set and match thanks to Cutler.
The box score for the Vanderbilt product wasn’t out of the ordinary, reading 23-for-31 with 188 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but it hardly told the whole story.
Cutler finished 15-for-17 in the first half when it counted as the Bears built a virtually insurmountable 25-3 lead against a Vikings team simply not built to play from behind.
“We wanted to see some rhythm and a little sense of urgency,” Cutler said. “Guys just doing their job, play after play and getting some drives together.”
Cutler used his Brett Favre-like arm to direct pinpoint passes into tight window after tight window as Chicago converted 10 of its first 13 third down conversion attempts.
Minnesota was unable to muster much of a pass rush from Jared Allen or Brian Robison, who have both been dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, and Cutler, who always seems to look like Dan Marino against the Vikings, played pitch-and-catch with Brandon Marshall all day.
“They had a great game plan. They executed well,” Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “I don’t know what their third down percentage was. They kept converting, kept converting. Once they got in the red zone, they were scoring touchdowns. We can’t allow that to happen. The game got out of hand really early. We didn’t really give ourselves a chance.”
Part of it was certainly Minnesota’s fault. You would think a player coming off a concussion with a left tackle named J’Marcus Webb opposite Allen would be as skittish as a cat but Cutler knows what the Vikings are about and that’s why he has such a comfort level against them.
In fact the Vikings’ plan on defense was so vanilla against a guy who was concussed two weeks ago, it was almost like Leslie Frazier, a member of Chicago’s famous 1985 Super Bowl team, was a mole, intent on helping his old organization.
Mike Tice, the Bears’ offensive coordinator and an ex-Vikings head coach, had no such divided loyalties, employing max protection schemes and instructing Cutler to take advantage of simple and ultimately futile zone coverage as the Bears halted a two-game skid and opened up a one-game lead over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North after the Pack fell to the Giants later on Sunday.
Minnesota seemed to game plan based on media reports on how bad the Bears’ offensive line is. By the time Frazier and his defensive coordinator Alvin Williams finally woke up and decided to take a chance here and there, the game was long decided.
“We knew that coming in with (Jay) Cutler coming off a concussion and what the 49ers defense did to them last week. We knew they were going to max up and run two- or three-man routes,” Winfield said. “Their game plan worked today.”
It always does against the Vikings.
Cutler targeted Marshall 17 times on Sunday and connected on 12 of them for 92 yards along with a 24-yard pass interference penalty Marshall drew on Winfield in the second quarter which placed the ball at the 1-yard line, setting up a Chicago score.
To be fair, the Bears are very good against just about everyone these days with Cutler on the field. Chicago is a gaudy 26-11 with him as their starter since 2010. Since Week 6 of 2011 the Bears are an even better 13-2 versus a dismal 1-6 without him.
But the Vikings were never the real test for Cutler. He’s won six straight against them and excels against Tampa-2 coverage.
“This is becoming deja vu coming here,” Allen said. “It’s the same script, just another year. We’ve got to fix something.”
The Vikings will get another shot at solving Cutler in Minneapolis on Dec. 9 but unless Frazier changes his whole philosophy in two weeks expect similar results.
In the Second City, the Vikings are the speed bump while Green Bay remains the yardstick.
The Packers have won four straight against the Bears, including a dominant 23-10 win in the Badger State back in Week 2 when Cutler was sacked seven times — 3 1/2 by Clay Matthews — as he completed just 11-of-27 passes for 126 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions,
The Cutler who oozes confidence against Minnesota is the same guy who tends to look like Babe Laufenberg against the Packers and Dom Capers’ far more complex defensive schemes, which make pre-snap reads a tad more difficult than Frazier’s antiquated offerings.
While the Vikings throw defense 101 at Cutler, Capers hurls a graduate-level course at Chicago’s signal-caller.
Cutler will get one more opportunity to solve the Packers this season at Soldier Field on Dec. 16, a game which will likely decide the NFC North and whether Cutler will ever get the credit he deserves in ChiTown.