Bears' 'Viewers Guide' to the Divisional Round

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Bears' 'Viewers Guide' to the Divisional Round

The playoffs generally make for compelling viewing in Chicago even if the Bears are not in the games. But the state of their roster and head-coaching situations should raise the interest level in the 2012 postseason.

GM Phil Emery declared last week that his quest was for excellence in his coaching candidate. Some of that is organizational, as Emery said, but ultimately the only excellence that matters is on the field. That applies to coaches and players.

To enhance playoff viewing, CSNChicago.com has selected a small number of figures of note to keep an eye on during the weekends games. Some are current coaching candidates (How is this guys system working?); others are among the better free agents (How would this guy look in a Bears uniform?) in areas of need for the Bears offseason. For instance, the value of Bruce Arians may have been subtly evident last weekend when the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator was hospitalized for the playoff game against Baltimore, in which the Colts never got into the end zone and lost.

Baltimore at Denver (Sat., 3:30 p.m.)

Ravens to review

Dannell Ellerbe, LB - The Bears went into 12 thin at linebacker and came out even thinner with Brian Urlachers status unclear. Nick Roach should be re-signed but the corps needs stocking and Ellerbe, who had nine tackles in the win over Indianapolis, has played both MLB and SLB at 6-1, 240, picking up 5.5 sacks this season.

Dennis Pitta, TE - The Bears have picked up restricted free agents in the past, but the question here is how highly the Ravens regard this restricted free agent and the tender on him. Best guess: very high, after 61 catches and seven TDs. But there are few pass-catching tight ends available at this level.

Broncos to browse

Mike McCoy, OC - The Baltimore defense is not what it was when Ray Lewis was in his prime. But the Ravens are about pressure, and how McCoy and Peyton Manning conspire to exploit a good unit will be a solid test for a head-coach hopeful.

RELATED: Papa Cutler's (lack of) role in Bears' coaching search

Ryan Clady, LT - Denver may never let Clady hit the market but he is the highest-rated available, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Baltimores Paul Kruger was an edge-rushing force against Cincinnati and will be Cladys assignment.

Green Bay at San Francisco (Sat., 7 p.m.)

Packers to peruse

Tom Clements, OC - Mike McCarthy is the acknowledged coach of the offense so Clements role is always a little fuzzy to isolate. But hes part of the plan.

Aaron Rodgers, QB - Rodgers doesnt win every game he plays; it just seems that way when the game involves the Bears. The Bears need to figure out how other teams do it.

Niners to notice

Delanie Walker, TE - Vernon Davis is a foundation part of the offense but Walker is a consistent producer: averaging 20 rec. per year for the past six. Bears interest may be limited given that hes 6-1, 241, which is Evan Rodriguez-ian.

Seattle at Atlanta (Sun., noon)

Falcons to follow

Keith Armstrong, STC - Former Bears assistant Armstrong is in charge of Atlanta special teams and was among the first interviewees in the Bears search process. The Falcons have been solid but not at the Bears level on teams.

Sam Baker, LT - A thoroughbred from the USC OT tradition, Baker is old school, smaller (6-5, 301) than the preferred current prototype. But Matt Ryans blind side has been well protected and Baker has worked in a zone-blocking scheme.

Seahawks to survey

Darrell Bevell, OC - Somebody has brought rookie QB Russell Wilson along very nicely and Bevell is a name in play with the Bears. His head-coach opportunities have been sparse but Seattles offense has done more than just pound with Marshawn Lynch.

Alan Branch, DT - Branch is a massive (6-6, 325) interior player who does not fit the mold of Lovie Smith linemen. But he is a 4-3 fit who can dominate at the point, and if the Bears cannot retain Henry Melton, they will need interior help.

Houston at New England (Sun., 3:30 p.m.)

Texans to target

Rick Dennison, OC - The Texans offensive coordinator is on GM Phil Emerys candidate list. Houston is a run-based offense going against a Patriots front that controlled the Texans in their week 14 meeting. How Dennison schemes against in a rematch against one of the NFLs top defenses is a working interview.

Ryan Harris, RT - An under-the-radar right tackle, Harris allowed just two sacks playing 438 snaps in 2012. Harris 6-5, 300 pounds and a five-year veteran out of Notre Dame, already is a fit in a zone-blocking system that could come in with a new coach. Has had some health concerns and Derek Newton has had more playing time.

Patriots to ponder

Sebastian Vollmer, RT - Vollmer, 6-8, 315, is one of those draft hits that keep New England stocked. He was a No. 2 in 2009 and has been a quality starter at both tackles but has had some injury downtime that may be too much of a red flag. Hell see a lot of J.J. Watt for evaluation purposes and pass-pro is Vollmers strength.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.