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Minnesota's Defense Begins Prep for 'Gunslinger' Cutler's Return

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Captain Munnerlyn considers "gunslinger" to be a compliment for a quarterback, citing the risk vs. reward equation in which reward can trump the risk.

Munnerlyn compared Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's approach to that of Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

"He's got a little Brett Favre in him, takes a lot of risks, but at the same time, they're great quarterbacks," Munnerlyn said Tuesday. "He takes some risks, but at the same time, you can live and die by that."

Asked if "gunslinger" is flattering, Munnerlyn said, "It's good for me."

"Brett Favre was my favorite player. I take risks and chances, and that's something that quarterbacks do when you label them gunslingers," Munnerlyn said. "Brett Favre was a tremendous player, a Hall of Famer. If I was a quarterback and they said I had a little Brett Favre in me, I'd be like, 'Oh, shoot,' I might have a chance to go to the Hall of Fame."

Cutler suffered a thumb injury in Week 2 against Philadelphia but was cleared on Monday to return to action. He is 28-of-46 passing (60.9 percent) for 373 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of 75.7 this season.

His first game back could be against a defense that has limited six opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate of 55.7 percent and recorded nine interceptions while allowing five touchdown passes.

Opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 63.7 against the Vikings defense this season, and have fared much worse on deep attempts. When opponents have tried passes of 21-plus yards, they are 5-of-22 passing (22.7 percent) for 143 yards with four interceptions and a rating of 14.6. The next-lowest rating allowed on such passes is Arizona (39.5).

In his 11-season career, Cutler has completed 62.0 percent of his passes, thrown for 205 touchdowns and 143 interceptions. He has twice led the NFL in interceptions in a season (26 in 2009 and 18 in 2014).

Against the Vikings, Cutler is 8-5 as a starter on 295-of-447 passing (66.0 percent), 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a combined passer rating of 91.8.

Harrison Smith has recorded an interception of Cutler in 2012, 2013, 2014, but did not record one last season. He is expecting a challenge from Cutler.

"He's got a big arm and can throw it pretty much wherever he wants," Smith said. "I know he's dealt with a thumb issue, so he'll be back out there and has a lot of guys to throw it to, good players, really good receivers. Alshon [Jeffery] is one of the better guys in the league, so we've got our work cut out for us."

Jeffery leads the Bears with 520 yards on 32 catches (16.3 yards per reception), but is still seeking his first touchdown of the season.

Confidence booster

Andrew Sendejo recorded his second interception of the season on Sunday against the Eagles but suffered an ankle injury during a 16-yard return. Sendejo was replaced by rookie Jayron Kearse, who played his first significant action on defense in a regular-season game.

"It helped me tremendously with confidence, knowing how a regular-season game would be," Kearse said. "It helped me if I get that opportunity again."

Added Smith: "He got a lot of reps. A lot of the things are base plays that we do, just getting that game speed and those game reps is big," Smith said. "It settles you down, so I think that will help us going forward with him and should make him more comfortable to be the playmaker that we know he is."

Tops in yardage, points allowed

The Vikings defense has reached the top.

Minnesota moved to the league lead in yards allowed on Sunday, despite falling to Philadelphia.

The Vikings (5-1) are allowing 279.5 yards per game and are the only team limiting opponents to less than 300 yards of offense. Minnesota ranks third in rushing yards allowed per game (81.7) and fourth in passing yards allowed (197.8).

The Vikings also are tied for the NFL lead with 14 points allowed per game. The 84 points allowed through six games is the best by Minnesota since the 1988 team allowed the same amount to open the season.

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