O-line hurting as Bears, Cutler face NFL's top defense

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long (75) may not be available to protect quarterback Jay Cutler against the Minnesota Vikings and their No. 1-ranked defense. The Bears and Vikings play Monday night at Soldier Field.

    Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long (75) may not be available to protect quarterback Jay Cutler against the Minnesota Vikings and their No. 1-ranked defense. The Bears and Vikings play Monday night at Soldier Field. Associated Press/file

 
 
Updated 10/26/2016 2:37 PM

As quarterback Jay Cutler noted, he could have picked a better time to return from the sprained right thumb that sidelined him for five games.

Not only is Cutler's first game back against a Minnesota Vikings defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL, but his protection Monday night could be shaky, as the status of both Bears starting guards is uncertain.

 

Left guard Josh Sitton was inactive for last week's loss to the Green Bay Packers because of a sprained ankle, and right guard Kyle Long left in the second quarter with a strained triceps.

"Yeah," Cutler said, "I could've picked a different game to come back, huh?"

Eric Kush started for Sitton, and Ted Larsen replaced Long in Green Bay. The Bears allowed just 1 sack but pass protection was poor across the board.

According to Pro Football Focus, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley were pressured on 37 percent of their dropbacks, the highest percentage of pressures the Bears have allowed since Week 1 against the Houston Texans.

Even if Sitton and/or Long return Monday night, neither will be close to 100 percent, and Cutler wasn't optimistic that either would play against the Vikings.

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"It's how it goes," Cutler said. "We've got a bye week after this, so hopefully we'll get those two guys back. Kush played well. Ted has played a lot of football.

"The good thing about it is we have had a lot of different guys in there through camp and during the games and stuff. We shouldn't miss a beat with those guys."

That's a clear case of wishful thinking, given the six Pro Bowls that Sitton and Long have combined to earn.

Open competition:

Former starting running back Jeremy Langford is practicing for the first time since he left the Week 3 Cowboys game with a sprained ankle.

But Langford, who averaged 3.7 yards on 31 carries in the first three games, isn't expected to regain the No. 1 spot immediately, if at all.

Rookie Jordan Howard rushed for more than 100 yards in Games 4 and 5. Ka'Deem Carey, after battling back from a hamstring injury, led the Bears in rushing in past two games with a combined 98 yards on 19 carries.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You're going to play the best guy, and there's competition to be involved in that," coach John Fox said.

"Back in the day, if you were the starter when you got hurt it was yours when you came back. Well, that's not really the case as much anymore."

Long way up:

Buried in the cellar of the NFC North at 1-6, the Bears could tighten up the division race with an upset win over the 6-point favorite Vikings.

"Right now we're at the bottom looking up," coach John Fox said. "You have to have success in your division to be successful, and that's our goal. At some point we'll get there, hopefully sooner rather later."

The 4-2 Packers and 4-3 Lions are both road underdogs this week against the 4-3 Falcons and 4-3 Texans, respectively.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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