Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Vikings defensive end Jared Allen renew a rivalry Sunday that goes back to 2007, when they were AFC West opponents.
Cutler was running the Denver Broncos' offense in his just second season in the league, while Allen was racking up 15½ sacks in just 14 games in his fourth and final season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
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Cutler's 88.1 passer rating that year still stands as his best for a full season. Allen began his current streak of six straight double-digit sack seasons -- he has seven overall -- and he was voted to his first of five Pro Bowls.
In two games against the Chiefs in 2007, Cutler was sacked just once, but it was by Allen. After that season, Allen was traded to Minnesota, and a year later Cutler was dealt to the Bears, rekindling the rivalry.
"I remember playing against him in Denver back when he used to run his mouth at the D-linemen," Allen said. "That was always fun. He's a competitor; he's not just the silent (type). He likes to mix it up.
"You can hit him, and you can get him talking with you. Whether that distracts him more or not, I don't know. Some guys it pumps up, some guys it distracts.
"I wouldn't say he's one way or the other -- easily rattled or not -- but you can definitely get him engaged in a conversation."
Oh, to be a fly on the football for a Cutler-Allen debate. Cutler downplays his role in the dialogue, though.
"He's talks a lot," the Bears' QB said. "I kind of just listen to him. He's a fun player. I've gone against him a number of years, got a lot of respect for him as a player -- and as a person, I suppose."
Since they've moved the rivalry to the NFC North, Allen has dropped Cutler five times, including twice in one game two times. Allen's 3½-sack game against the Bears in the 2011 season finale came with Josh McCown subbing for Cutler, who was out with a wrist injury.
Since he entered the league in 2004, Allen leads the NFL with 117 sacks, and he remains a player who must be accounted for on every pass play.
Cutler and the Bears have a greater sense of security this year than they have in the past, thanks to the off-season free-agency addition of two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
"You worry about him," Cutler said of Allen. "(But) I've got all the confidence in 'Bush' to block him 1-on-1. We're going to throw some different looks at him. I don't care how good you are on the offensive line, if you just go 1-on-1, 1-on-1, 1-on-1, and you take big drops, at some point (Allen) is going to get to you.
"So we're going to help him out from time to time, but at the end of the day (I have) a lot of confidence in Bushrod being able to block him."
Bushrod takes great pride in last week's performance by the offensive line, which did not allow Cutler to be sacked by an excellent Cincinnati Bengals defensive line.
But he knows Sunday presents another challenge.
"We're going to fight for (Cutler)," Bushrod said. "It's the same thing with me week in and week out; we just want to try to minimize mistakes and let our playmakers make plays.
"That's what it's about. We don't want any credit; we just want to go work and see those guys do what they were born to do, score touchdowns and make plays."
Allen says the best way for the Vikings to prevent that is by getting after Cutler, who posted a 93.2 passer rating a week ago when the line kept him clean all afternoon.
"With Jay, you've got to put pressure on him constantly," Allen said. "If he can sit back there and set his feet, he's deadly. When he runs (the offense) on his terms, when he gets outside the pocket and does things on his terms, he's a very dangerous quarterback.
"You've got to be around him; you've got to hit him. Just like any quarterback, the more you can get pressure on him, the more you can get him focusing on the rush, or missed assignment by an (offensive lineman).
"Then his eyes aren't downfield and (he's not) making plays that he's capable of making."
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